Friday, February 5, 2016

Wild Bill

A compilation of stories as remembered by OOIDA and Land Line friends

They didn’t call him Wild Bill for nothin’.

OOIDA Board member, Association Treasurer, and trucking activist William G. Rode of Eagle, Idaho, was a family man, a trucker, a ranch hand, a cowboy poet, a forest firefighter, and a bush pilot. He packed supplies into the wilderness for the U.S. Forestry Service and built bridges as an Army combat engineer in Germany.
"Wild Bill" Rode

Bill passed away Monday at the age of 82. It’s been a week of sadness for his family and friends, and a week full of recollecting the stories he had shared with us about his remarkable life.

Cowboyin’ being in the family, Bill got out of high school and went to work for the U.S. Forestry Service packing mules, opening and clearing the trails in the primitive areas of Idaho. This meant covering 1,800 miles a year on horseback and spending weeks on some pretty rough trails. Some of his duties included supplying the lookout towers with enough provisions to last two weeks at a time. Sometimes, he was a firefighter and whatever else they needed him to be.

Bill and his young wife, Mary, lived in a primitive cabin in the Salmon River wilderness area of what used to be called the Boise National Forest. The closest road to where they lived on the river was 27 miles. Everything that went in or out was by plane or horse.

“There was no electricity,” said Bill, “but there was a good spring.”

They left the wilderness in 1953. Until 1955, Bill served in the Army Corp of Engineers in Germany. As a combat engineer, he built bridges across the Danube and Rhine. He was driving 4x6 trucks, the “big ones that bend in the middle,” as he described them. When he came back, he went back to the big woods and the Forestry Service.

By 1962, he was a “GS4” and making $4,600 a year. It wasn’t much, and he thought seriously about leaving the wilderness. He told how he decided it was time to go.

“Mary went with me once on a pack trip from the guard station to a couple of lookout stations. It was 54 miles on horseback in three days and not just some nice little trails. I noticed she was a bit light in the saddle; that’s when she told me she was six months pregnant. Living in the back country was tough, and I realized it would be tougher on a growing family so we left the wilderness.”

Bill got a job as a dude ranch guide, but it didn’t pay enough either. He decided there just had to be something better.

The way Bill has told it, he was talking to a fella who had a dump truck, and Bill said, ‘Why is that truck just sitting there?’

“The fella said it was because he didn’t have a driver. He asked me if I could drive and I said, ‘Well, does it have a steering wheel?’” That’s how Bill became a trucker.

He started driving 18-wheelers for a living in 1964, first as a company driver and then as an owner-operator leased to a company. For many years, Bill has had his own authority, pulling mostly flatbeds. He saw about 4.5 million miles out the windshield of a truck and was the owner of a safe driving award of 45 years, with no chargeable accidents.

Bill was a life member of OOIDA. He joined in 1988. He was elected to the board of directors in 1992. He has represented the Association at FHWA safety summits, working on issues such as hours of service, serving on various industry committees, and even testifying. For two years, he served on a committee of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

His theory on life is “it’s just like putting water in a bucket; you only get back what you put into it.” For years, he was a leader of his local 4-H horse club (with 30 kids). He also enjoyed sponsoring a Little League baseball team.

One of his hobbies was writing poetry. He also enjoyed taking his boat on the lake and catching his supper. Another hobby was smoking his own beef jerky.

The cowboy/trucker’s formula for life is to take the complicated things and simplify them. This is why Bill was such an asset on the finance and bylaws committee at OOIDA. He used this ability to simplify complicated issues and financial strategies.

One of Bill’s best stories
Bill was married for 59 years to Mary, whom he always described as a “wonderful lady.” They have two daughters, as well as grandchildren and great-grandkids. We all talk about trucker’s wives being self-reliant. Bill said Mary Rode wrote the book.

Our favorite Bill and Mary story is about the time he came home off the trail, was putting his horse away and heard his wife calling to him. He found her next to a tree with a gun in her hands. In the tree was a dead bear.

Mary told him she was in the yard when the bear surprised her. She yelled and scared the bear up the tree. That was OK until he decided to come down. Mary figured it was her or the bear, so every time the bear decided to come down she simply shot him with her .22 to keep him in the tree. The end result, says Bill, was smoked bear meat for a year.