"Oldies but Goodies" by Joni Stewart
To be an upstanding citizen is to rise to the occasion. To stand tall is to rise above
uncertainty. Lifelong Grant County resident Milbourn Wood has both of these qualities.
Last year at age 80, Milbourn retired from the work force, and also stepped down from the
Prairie City Council after serving the city for 14 years. Today, he looks back with fondness and
humor at what has been a life of unexpected triumph and tribulations.
From the beginning, his life was dramatically underscored by his father's crippling disease and subsequent death at age
52. Milbourn left school in his junior year to care for his ailing father and to work the
family ranch located just east of Prairie City. His memories of that time are bittersweet,
"I've lived all my life from early on wondering when and if the rheumatism would seize me, but to this day,
nothing," he says. Yet, he does have wonderfully, fun stories of his dad. Like the first family car.
"The Ford salesman delivered the car and stayed with us at the ranch for a week teaching dad how to drive,"
Milbourn recalls. "But the first time dad went to park it in the barn, well, all I can remember is going through the
stall's wall and hearing dad yell, WHOA!"
In the 1930's Milbourn worked for the Civilian Conservation Corp where he learned to work with heavy
machinery. His first go-around with Hines Lumber Company followed that work for the 3 C's.
He loaded Hines logs onto the railroad in Seneca which he claims is "the most monotonous work around." He left in
1952, got hold of a cat and began levelling land in Nyssa. He would go "from one farmer to the next," but eventually
returned to Grant County.
On his second go-around with Hines, which would last 30 years, Milbourn began building roads. He was the powder man
nearly the whole time he was building the roads. "There was a lot of walking; you'd walk the stakes to be sure you knew what you're in for,
and to see if it was common dirt or rock ahead." Back then it was a judgement call, today they have mechanical
testers using sound waves to determine ground composition. In 1942 an airstrip was built north of Seneca. Milbourn
took advantage of this advanced transportation and learned to fly from Merlin Johnson. He had his own construction
firm throughout the years which tested all the knowledge he had gained.
He and a partner then embarked on a venture to build a resort on the Owyhee reservoir. They successfully garnered a
99-year lease from the Bureau of Land Management, raised the capital and indeed did build the Owyhee Resort and all the
road from the dam to the resort. But when the stock went public an outside group purchased the controlling interest and he and his
partner were left paying for a business that was no longer, "theirs," "it could have been dispiriting," he says evenly,
"but I know I did all I could, and it was just one of those things."
His civic pride was put to the test when he was elected to a seat on the Prairie City Council in 1980. "Don Parker asked me to keep
a check on what was happening with the police department," he says. Their mission to protect
the city included the tenant that in order to operate "people needed to cooperate." He stands by that statement in the wake of last year's
He chooses to leave me with an anecdote about Alzheimer's disease, and he said if I didn't have it by now, I wasn't
gonna get it." The funny thing about that, we agree, is those who have that disease don't know it.
Guess that's the catch in life; to expect the unexpected.
©1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved
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