A Century to Remember

Teton Valley Magazine

The late Victor resident Mike Calderwood saw a lot of changes in his lifetime

By Mary Lou Hansen

Winter 99-00, pgs 36, 37

Victor resident Mike Calderwood has seen a lot of changes during his 94 years of life in southeastern Idaho—electricity, automobiles, radios, television, airplanes, space flight, tractors, sprinkler irrigation, indoor plumbing, medical improvements, growth in Teton Basin, the loss of the railroad in Victor, to name a few.

Mike was born in Swan Valley on December 27, 1905, and he grew up in a home with no electricity and no telephone. His parents, Frank and Martha Calderwood, had 12 children, but four died of childhood diseases. The family used a bucket on a rope to haul water up from their shallow well, and then had to carry the water into the house. Mike says his mother thought indoor plumbing was the best invention ever. Electricity didn’t reach the homestead until 1941. He remembers the family’s first radio, an Atwater Kent that ran on a battery. “It squealed and squawked to beat heck. The speaker was round and was about a foot square.”

Mike’s family “pretty well survived on our own, raising about everything we needed.” They doctored themselves using remedies such as pig fat or fresh cow dung to draw out infections and lots of mustard plasters for colds.

Mike remembers going on a lot of picnics as a kid, but it wasn’t nearly as simple as picking up some fried chicken and salad at the grocery store like folks do today. “Mom’d go out, grab a chicken, cut its head off, skin it and fry it, all within an hour. That’s the way they used to do it.”

Mike was about 12 when he received his first Christmas present. “The guy staying with us (a bachelor) bought I and my brother a hand sleigh and my sister a doll,” he remembers.

When he was a teenager, Mike traveled all the way to Omaha, Nebraska, to help his father transport some sheep. He laughs while telling a story about that trip: “Times was tough, the Depression was on…It cost 15 cents to ride the trolley across the Missouri River, and…I decided we’d save that money and walk across the bridge. But it cost 15 cents to walk!” Mike also recalls enjoying an all-you-can-eat meal for just 35 cents in Council Bluffs. “You paid for what you left on your plate,” he says.

When he was about 16, Mike drove a 1921 Chevy. “There wasn’t many cars at that time,” he says. “You could go to Idaho Falls and never run into a car at all.” He says the early cars had high wheels to keep the undercarriage from scraping on the road if the wheels sunk into the ruts and that roads were built using citizen labor acquired through a “poll tax,” which required people to “work so many hours on building roads.”

He also remembers his first airplane ride, in the late ‘50s. “A feller name of Johnson was a druggist here and took me for a plane ride down south…It didn’t bother me at all.” Mike doesn’t have a strong recollection of when man first landed on the moon in 1969, but he does remember the space race and that everyone “thought it was impossible.”

Victor was the railroad terminus in the first half of the century and “was quite a town back then. People from Jackson came over to get their freight and brought their stock over to ship on the railroad.” Swan Valley farmers also used the railroad; Mike hauled grain from Swan Valley to Victor. “We’d leave home early in the morning with four head of horses and come to Victor with the grain and stay overnight, then return home the next day.”

Mike laments the loss of the railroad in Victor and also regrets the valley’s recent growth. “They say it’s progress, but I’m not too crazy about it. You used to know everybody, but you don’t know anybody any more.”

Mike moved from Swan Valley to Victor in 1944 when he bought 120 acres just south of town, along the road now known as Calderwood Lane. Mike had married Elma in 1933 and worked for seven years shearing sheep in Utah, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming to save enough money to buy the farm. The farm cost $20 to $30 per acre and included a house built in 1922, where he still lives today.

Mike moved out of Swan Valley for two reasons: “Land was cheaper in Victor than in Swan Valley,” he remembers, “and the kids could go to high school.” Since there was no high school in Swan Valley, families had to send their teenagers to Idaho Falls, “and I couldn’t afford that.”

Mike also bought his first tractor, a T-20 International crawler tractor, around the same time. Mike’s son Jay explains, “You couldn’t buy tractors or cars during the war.” But after the war ended, all the small ranchers were eager to purchase the labor-saving machines. Jay remembers his dad buying a Minneapolis Moline wheel tractor in about 1946 for $300 and a Case tractor in 1958 for $750. Nowadays a new tractor costs at least $50,000.

The family raised hay, grain, wheat, oats, milk cows, pigs and chickens on the 120-acre farm, continuing the rural tradition of self-sufficiency. Mike also drove a school bus for many years to supplement the family’s income. Before retiring from farming in 1972, Mike switched from flood irrigation to sprinkler irrigation in order to save water.

Mike and Elma raised seven children, one of who still lives in Teton Valley. Since his 94 years of life have spanned changes ranging from the invention of radio and cars to space flight and computers, who knows what changes the next century might bring into the lives of his seven children, 29 grandchildren, 50 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren. He’s not one to speculate.

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