The inimitable Jack Shaw cornered me at 4-6 Club last weekend and said he wanted to share a little advice about my writing.
"I'm tired of hearing about how your grandmother came over on a steamship or what your fourth cousin was doing," he told me. "It's time for some real local color."
I'd been thinking about spending a little more time talking to Jack and this seemed like the perfect opening so I invited him to stop by the office.
I also know when talking to him, the best defense is always a good offense.
The sales manager at Farm Equipment Headquarters by trade, Jack appears convinced the middle booth at Dave's Chevron is really a donation land claim and if he sits there long enough and often enough, it will become his. There are homesteaders who got 160 acres of land with less residency than he has recorded in his favorite spot.
There are also some guys around town who eat yogurt with their wife and then stop by local haunts for biscuits and gravy before work. Jack vows he is not one of those. For health reasons he has cut back on his eating substantially.
That being said, he did admit he knows the best farms and ranches to visit around lunch time. And visiting farmers is pretty much how he spends his days.
He goes by the office every so often just to say hi, but for the most part, he is on the phone and out in the field. "I think I can do almost 100 percent of my work by phone," he told me. He also said he takes it everywhere he goes, or almost. "I took a cruise a year or so ago," he said, "did you know you can't use a cell phone on the ship? It's a heckuva deal. I don't like being away from the phone. That might be the first time I was without it."
Riding a desk is something he's never done. His business is about selling millions of dollars worth of farm equipment every year and he wants to know about his customer's farming operations, what equipment they have, and what they might need. "You don't learn that kind of stuff in the office."
"My boss may wonder where I'm at but he never asks," said Jack. "That's why I always keep my phone with me so I can always be working." His boss is now Dan Palm, the owner of FEH. He and Dan started there in the early 70s and both sort of looked after the place. Several years ago, Dan became the owner.
Jack's trademark is a white shirt, cowboy hat, and dark glasses. "When I was working for Pat Davis there was a company in town that wanted his business. They offered him free white shirts and we happened to be the same size. I just got in the habit of wearing white shirts and I've done it ever since the '60s.
A graduate of Pendleton High School, he says he likes the fact so many members of the Class of '61 are still around. He played football at PHS, "but I wasn't very good," he admitted. He also did a little bit of rodeoing but that was when he was very young.
That hasn't kept him from a long history of involvement with the Round-Up. "Before I got on the board I thought I was running the whole Round-Up. Then when I was on the board, it seemed like I wasn't. I got off the board about 5 years ago," he said, "and now I think I'm running the whole thing again."
In 1956, Jack, Rob Hoeft, and Frank Hoeft took a trip to Yellowstone Park. One of them was 17 and the other two were 15 or 16 at the time. "When I got home, there was a pile of boxes in my yard. When I went inside the house, it was empty. I told Rob and Frank not to leave," he said.
"Pretty soon my brother Bill came by and said 'you don't live here anymore, your parents have moved to town and I live here now." Jack said he thought to himself maybe he had been gone to Yellowstone longer than he thought.
In actuality, his parents had gotten tired of moving from one house to another around their farm on McKay Creek and finally gave up and moved to a place at 13th and Goodwin, letting the older brother have the one they'd been living in. Apparently once he found his way to the new house Jack took a liking to it because he's still there 53 years later - 44 of those years with his wife Kathy. Their family includes four girls, three of whom graduated from Eastern Oregon University and one who graduated from Western Oregon.
Kathy is in business for herself. In the early '70s, she and her brother-in-law, Gordon Leonard, founded Gordon's Electric. Now Kathy runs it along with three nephews.
As he contemplates his future selling equipment, Jack worries about the modern complexities of farming. "This used to be fun," he said. "Now it's pretty tough. When I started, combines sold for $50,000. Now some of them are $275,000 and a new group called the A Series go for $350,000."
"I'll keep working so I can buy my next tank of gas," he says. "I like to travel a little but I'm always happy to be back. It's sort of like the decision I made when I finished high school, there was no reason to leave Pendleton and I still feel that way."
George Murdock is editor of the East Oregonian. He can be reached at 278-2671 or firstname.lastname@example.org.