Basketball season started well that year. I started the first practice game and scored a couple of baskets and was practicing on the starting team. After a few weeks the coach called another kid to start in my place in a practice and it made me mad. So I went to the showers, dressed and quit basketball. As soon as I quit high school [basketball], I was offered $5.00 a game to play for Safeway stores. During the second game in the industrial city league, I was guarding Ralph Dalton. This was just after the Daltons had moved out of town. Ralph was an outstanding athlete and three years older than I. I guess I was guarding him too close and he said, “Get off my back, or I’ll break your leg.” About two minutes later, I dribbled around him and he gave me a knee in the side of my leg and that ended my industrial basketball career. I didn’t walk without limping the rest the year and although I tried to run the track in the spring, I never could run without hurting and had a terrible season.
I was also taking drama that year and he had a lot of fun at that also. We produced several really interesting dramatic presentations. I was student director of a one-act play about the men who crashed into the jungle and were killed. The story was their reactions for three days before they discover they were killed when they crashed into the jungle. It was a highly dramatic, intense drama.
We wrote as a class and the instructor, an entirely original presentation using songs and poetry about the Negro people. It was highly satisfying to se the actors entertaining to the audience. It was sort of a fore-runner of the negro civil-rights movement and gave me my first understanding of the negro people and their problems.
|Vern and friend Bobby Nelson, 1938|
In the spring, I wrote an original script and original words to several well-known or popular songs and produced a short musical comedy that won a local drama competition.
In the spring, my track effort had been pretty sour. My leg bothered me and my times were much worse than even my sophomore year. I was somewhat discouraged. During one training period, I sat down on the curb after running a couple of miles, quite despondent. The coach walked over to me and simply said, “Mr. Bates (the principal) wants to see you.” My response was, “What have I done now?” He answered, “You have to give one of the Valedictory addresses. Better go see him.” That was probably one of the biggest surprises of my life. The school never published grades—just satisfactory or unsatisfactory and I only knew I had collected 12 satisfactories in the two previous years and a bunch of intermediate report cards for my senior year. Then to learn I was an honor student really surprised me. I had always tried to do all assignments but never tried to excel. I learned I had accumulated 16 As and 2 Bs during my high school years. So the remaining weeks were spent writing and practicing a speech and I was no longer a high school student. I was offered a small scholarship to Utah State Agriculture College, which I refused [in order] to attend Brigham Young University.
During the summer of 1938, it was a continual quest for enough money to go to school. My first job was thinning sugar beets. I worked for Harold Tanner, a neighbor and church advisor. I got $5.00 an acre. From there I got a job irrigating for Parley Jensen. His ranch was about three miles from home and I rode my bicycle to work. I worked nights and he worked days. We would work about five days at a time and one of us had to be there continuously. I was paid 25 cents an hour, or $3.00 a day. After the watering, he was sometimes had other small jobs around. He had me do for the same 25 cents an hour. His fields were all in grain, about 15 acres of barley and 65 acres of wheat.
|Payson High School, Class of 1938. Vern is the first person on the left side of the front row. He was Valedictorian.|
When the barley was cut and stored in an old brick granary, he had me cut the weeds around the granary so it wouldn’t catch fire if the fields got on fire. The granary was in one corner along with some old sheds and the hay stack. The corner had grown to weeds and I was clearing the weeds back about 10-12 feet from the granary. After I had cut all the weeds and piled them up on the bare ground I had hoed, I started the pile on fire to get rid of them. Suddenly the fire jumped into the weeds away from the granary and started burning. The wind was blowing from the north and the fire blew into the barley stubble south of the granary. Beyond the barley field was the 65 acres of uncut wheat. That wheat represented his entire income for the year. I immediately took a shovel and tried to beat out the flame, but I couldn’t run fast enough to keep up with the advancing flame front. In a few moments it became clear to me that I could never get the fire out before it reached the wheat. In desperation, I dropped down on my knees and prayed. I don’t know how long it took me to ask the Lord for help, but when I looked up, the wind shifted around from the south and was blowing the fire back to me. I quickly took the shovel and beat out the flames along the north end of the fire line and watched the fire burn itself out. Never again did I doubt the existence of God or the value of pray or the fact that God was interested in me and my personal problems.
When the wheat was combined, Mr. Jensen hired me and a friend, Dickie Vertal to haul the wheat into the barn. I drove Dad’s team and wagon and Glen helped load. I got $5.00 a day for a man and team and Dickie got 25 cents an hour as a laborer. When we finished the wheat, I got a job sacking the wheat on the combine working for Ralph Kester. My job was to stand on the combine and put the wheat in sacks and slide the sack to the ground after it was securely tied. There were two chutes. While the wheat was running into one, I could place an empty sack on the other chute and as the first sack was filled, I would switch the flow of grain into the empty sack, remove and tie the full sack and slide it down the chute to the ground and replace the sack with an empty one. Hour after hour, twelve hours a day and we went 32 nights without a break for even Sunday. In addition to those 12 hours a day, I had to ride my bicycle from home to wherever the combining job was—in addition to milking the cow at home. With all this, I ended up with $270. Enough for one year’s tuition and books.