I think his official retirement, 15 years ago or thereabouts, lasted around six months before he found a job and he was back doing hard physical work, which most of the work in Wyoming is.
Dad, JD Alexander, eldest son of John Garrison and grandson of Marcus Lafayette, great-grandson of John passed away unexpectedly yesterday in his Wyoming home at age 83.
He was one of those great Americans who accomplished great things through his work. He drilled oil wells, dug massive pits, built roads, worked in one of the the largest open pit coal mines in the country, welded together coal shovel buckets that were too huge—40-60 yard capacity—to assemble.
You can always tell a good welder from a great welder by the “bead” they lay, joining two pieces of metal. Look at this bead and tell me that’s not art.
I would like to be able to do it, but it’s not much of a hobby unless you are an artist. I’ll stick to my Nikons. Besides, my Dad welded in 110 degrees and -5 below, it’s a lucky day when you can weld inside.
I decided early on that welding wasn’t in my future.
I watched him “skid a rig” (pull a fully operational oil rig short distances so it does not have to be broken down for transport) by attaching cables to it from a D-9 Caterpillar and dragging it across the tundra.
A technical film crew working on the 1968 John Wayne movie, “Hellfighters”, filmed my Dad’s dirt work with his Cat while he was helping on an oil well fire in Wyoming. The footage was recreated in the final film based on the exploits of legendary oil fire fighter, Red Adair.
Naturally, Dad went to see the movie, and naturally he said they screwed it up.
As a child I watched him “cut” and “blade” a road into existence. I learned that only the uninformed called it a “road grader”; it was a “motor patrol”. Sometimes I rode in the cab, but the best seat in the house was 30-40 yards away from the road bed where after 60-100 “passes” there was an elevated road that would shed water, incline or decline, crown and do all that good roads have to do.
To a 10-year-old it was a minor miracle—now I’m over 60 and it truly is a miracle.
As a very young man he helped build the Turner Turnpike between Oklahoma City and Tulsa which was authorized in 1947 and finished when I was five… in 1953. It’s the oldest of Oklahoma’s 10 turnpikes and is now designated as Interstate 44.
We moved a number of times, following the progress of the road.
Then came the move to Colorado for the oil boom in the 1950s when an army of Oakies and Texans made millions for hard-headed German farmers who called them “oil field trash.”
It was the 50s version of the Grapes of Wrath, but our arrival in Colorado and Wyoming meant that money would soon be flowing to the locals.
I didn’t realize until years later that I’d grown up in a minority. Not unlike the Jews, we were blamed for everything and given scant credit for the work we did.
That… and we were Southern Baptists.
Dad ate ribbon cane syrup on his pancakes which required sticking a “case knife” into the ribbon cane and digging out an ample amount, which resembled resin.
Left alone, the knife stood at rigid attention in the black syrup, like a bayoneted rifle awaiting a helmet.
Ribbon cane came in a tin can because it wouldn’t come out of a bottle.
The glob laid on the pancake somewhere between solid and peanut butter-like until mashed over the cakes with great effort. If you actually ate some it would clinch your teeth together like a Black Cow candy bar.
The taste—rather like motor oil, didn’t bother JD because he had all the time in the world… to eat. Eating was something that occurred between anecdotes, jokes, musings, stories, observations, opinions, pronouncements, and declarations… all his.
Many a time he was the last at the table, quietly finishing a cold meal which I think he believed was the price of eating slowly… infuriatingly slowly.
But… that’s why he was seldom heavier than his high school playing weight of 145.
I was 145 in the third grade…. but then I didn’t bother chewing.
Dad and I in front of the family homestead where he lived for many years growing up and of which I have vivid memories. --------------------------------------
One day, after smoking mostly unfiltered cigarettes for a half-century, he up and quit; just like that.
Dad was a so-so hunter and a great fly fisherman; he’d agree with the first assessment and shrug off the second. But he was deft with the rod, a good reader of the water and rise forms, and knew his bugs so he could “match the hatch” and produce fish quickly.
I never wanted to hunt, though we shared a love of firearms; and I wasn’t mature enough to learn fly-fishing until I was in my late 30s. It is the only time I feel at ease… a secret he learned as a very young man.
Many, many times, as I study the economic, physical, moral and political destruction this nation has suffered during my life, I think back to the days when JD ranted that we should be out of the U.N. and that if we didn’t protect our individual liberties, the government would soon take away our Second Amendment rights.
At the time I thought he was a bit of an alarmist.
Today our right to defend ourselves against an oppressive government hangs by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision, we pay for much of the U.N., give it a home, form the backbone of its “military” and it constantly tries to undermine and destroy us and Israel.
And our nation is in greater peril than at any time since WWII.
I have his hands, and the older I get the more I resemble him; I am reminded of that when I shave the face in my mirror.
He was frail the last few years… I was literally twice his size.
Like most Okies and Texans, he had his own vocabulary. For some reason baseball innings were “indens”, a baseball catcher was a “hind catch”, and milk was “sweet milk” unless it was buttermilk, yeeech.
I was fortunate to spend a week with Dad during a trip last fall when he received a 50-year award from the Oklahoma Masons, and a luncheon in his honor. ------------------------------------------------------------
Imagine going through life correcting people about your name, especially bureaucrats who insist that your name had to stand for something… like your “real” name.
He always said he was named by a doctor, and told this story:
Born in rural Southwest Oklahoma in 1927, his mother and father couldn’t decide on a name and the traveling doc who delivered Dad was eager to get the birth certificate filed and registered with the country.
After three days he drove back out to the homestead.
Still, no decision was forthcoming; he looked at the new parents and said, filling out the form, “…then it’s gonna be J for ‘John’ and D for ‘Dolly’.”
He turned and made the long drive back to the county seat.
My parents divorced when I was 12 or so, and naturally things changed drastically. Later, Dad was fortunate to have married Carol, a Colorado gal who had two young children and the moxie to put up with a male Alexander.
They made a good life together.
It will be hard to adjust to the loss of a mate of almost 50 years.
I learned many things from my father. He led by example and let his life speak for itself. He was honest, unfailingly willing to lift a hand and a great believer in second chances.
He groused but never complained despite the rigors of age, illness and infirmity. He was good in an emergency, could fix most anything, he was generous, a man of faith and a patriot.