Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Clark rides into sunset

Man of the West, 96, pushed through Yellowstone Highway

Express Staff Writer

Wayne Clark in 1982. Express photo by Jeff Cordes

You can thank Wayne Clark every time you drive U.S. Highway 20 from Timmerman Hill through Fairfield to Mountain Home.

You can thank Clark each time you dress up and holler at Hailey's Independence Day rodeo staged by the Sawtooth Rangers Riding Club.

But Wayne Clark—a cattleman, horseman and rancher with deep roots in this area—wasn't big on accepting thanks for his efforts or having a sense of entitlement about his many accomplishments on behalf of Blaine and Camas counties.

Clark was a man of the West, long on action, short on words.

Ruggedly handsome, he was an extra on many Hollywood movies during the 1940s and 1950s. With the black eyebrows that came from his LaFollette side of the family, Clark looked more like famed Western writer Louis L'Amour than Louis L'Amour himself.

Hill City native Clark, 96, died of natural causes May 31 at a care facility in Star, Idaho.

Memorial services will be held June 9 at Bollman's Funeral Home in Enterprise, Ore. That's Hells Canyon country, where Clark retired 25 years ago to graze cattle and enjoy his sunset years in the country.

As president of the Yellowstone-Sun Valley Highway Association, Clark in 1944 promoted what the association called the Idaho Central Highway, or the current U.S. 20 route between Mountain Home and West Yellowstone, Mont.

Clark said, in a 1982 interview with the Idaho Mountain Express, "You have to remember there was no decent road at the time between Camas and Blaine counties.

"The local people wanted the road but the highway department needed some pushing. We tried to meet with the highway commissioners twice a year. Whenever they were getting ready to set their budget, we'd be there to see if we could get some to put on our road.

"Fairfield had a good road only down to Gooding, not east and west. Now, tons of hay and grain go out of Fairfield to the Boise Valley." Clark said Stanton's Crossing bridge near Timmerman Hill was completed in 1957 and all of U.S. 20 finished in the mid-1960s.

Large families were essential in the homesteading days around the turn of the century. Born in 1909, Wayne was one of seven children of Frank and Viola Clark, who settled on a ranch outside Hill City in 1905.

At the time Hill City was one of the largest sheep shipping centers in the Northwest and there was plenty of mining in the Camas County foothills.

Clark lived in Hill City until he was 9, then the family moved to Meridian. By the time he was a teenager, his father had traded his Meridian ranch for one in Picabo. That was in 1924. All the hay and alfalfa farming was done with horses instead of tractors. Clark got to know horses very, very well.

He graduated from Carey High School and briefly attended the University of Idaho. Clark was known as one of the best Town Team Ball baseball and basketball players around.

"Alcohol ball," was what he called it. "They still play it, you know. Sundays in the summers, we'd go to Richfield, Picabo, Gannett, Hailey or Shoshone to play baseball. It was a break from the chores and it kept you in condition."

Cattle ranching became Wayne's passion, while his father and a couple of his brothers gravitated toward the lures of mining. Clark was inducted into the Idaho Cattleman's Association Hall of Fame in 1977.

A Democrat, Clark believed strongly in community service and helping neighbors. In 1944, he embarked on his first four-year term as county commissioner from the 2nd District. He served 16 years as county commissioner. He was Blaine County watermaster.

"You know, one of the things we have to do in this country is keep an ear to the ground on what our politicians are doing," he said. "If you don't like what they are doing, you see what you can do about it."

In 1947, Clark and his first wife, Anna, helped organize the Sawtooth Rangers Riding Club as a way to preserve the traditions of the West—and to have fun with good friends.

He was Days of the Old West chairman for 15 years and also furnished the stock for the then-Sun Valley Rodeo. Truth be told, Clark almost succumbed to the lures of skiing.

Clark said about furnishing the stock, "Out of the deal I got a year-round skiing pass. It was a thrill to ride up the hill and coast down, especially because when I started skiing you had to climb up and that wasn't much fun. But I got so I wanted to ski every day, so I quit and went back to my chores."

Clark loved to break horses. In his later years, one of his biggest thrills was watching grandson Rick Walker of Richfield ride the team of Easy Idaho Flyer and Choice King Pride to fourth place in the 1982 World Championships chariot race at Elko, Nev. He and Rick would go hunting each fall.

Tough as nails, willing to disregard injuries that would sideline another man, Clark was known for his decency. "I always try to be fair. There is no other way to be," he said.

He lived a long life, just like his resourceful grandmother, Mary Elizabeth LaFollette—the daughter of blacksmith Daniel Hatfield of the Kentucky Hatfields. LaFollette taught him how to build a pig chute and put rings in their noses. She could do just about everything.

She died at 92, in Picabo. Her hard-working example left a huge impression on Clark. He said, "You have to keep busy. If you don't, you waste away until there's nothing left."

Clark never lost his love of the Wood River Valley but he sounded a cautionary note before moving to Oregon.

He said, "It used to be that we could get as many as 50 people together for branding. We'd put on a big feed and everybody had a good time. We'd work and play together. Some community spirit seems to be changing. But the people in this valley are good neighbors. They have a feel for each other and help each other. A lot of communities are not like that."

An obituary appears on Page A14 of the paper.

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