JUNE 24, 2010

Get out of her way; she’s headed for a card game! Marty Johnson astride her Honda Rancher SE 4-wheeler.

Marty Johnson, from a streetcar to a homestead

By Alannah Allbrett

   Prior to the war (WWII), most of the bank teller positions (and several other types of jobs) were held primarily by men. As more men enlisted in the service, more women were hired to take their places.

   As a young, working girl in 1941, Martha (Marty) Johnson held the position of a “go back runner” for a downtown L.A. branch of the Bank of America. Processing checks was all done by hand and in person in those days. Marty exchanged checks at a distributing center, brought them back, and sorted them for the bookkeepers.     

   Her home was seven miles from the downtown area, so she caught a street car, the “J Line,” which ran on tracks in the center of the Los Angeles streets, to commute to and from her job.

   Marty was coming out of a matinee at the famous Pantages Theatre near Hollywood and Vine, It was a Sunday evening, and she wondered what all the hub-bub was that was going on when she stepped outside. She found out the military base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii had been attacked. That news, of course, changed the lives of most Americans that day.

   Marty knew a former high school teacher who worked for the concessionaires at Sequoia National Park. He offered her a summer job, and she thought that sounded kind of fun. So, during the summer of 1944, she began working at the park where there was a post office, a restaurant, a gift shop, and a filling station. She got to work as a “soda jerk” in the restaurant making sodas and milk shakes for the many visitors who came to see the huge sequoia trees in the park known as “The Giant Forest” – the world’s largest trees by volume.

   That same summer, a young Air Force officer, was stationed at Lenore AFB, west of Visalia, California. Some of his fellow officers from Wisconsin and Minnesota had heard about the “big trees,” and they wanted to see them for themselves. Gas was scarce, due to war rationing, so they set out hitchhiking – heading for Sequoia National Park.

   Marty and some girlfriends, who also worked at the park, were headed for a swim at the lake. Four fellows and four girls in a Chrysler convertible went swimming that afternoon. That is how she met her husband-to- be, Lt. Arthur B. Johnson. After a proposal, several months later, in a fancy Hollywood restaurant, the couple became engaged.

   At the end of the war, December 23, 1945, the couple married. In 1957 they moved to Idaho where Art continued his education under the G.I. Bill. They lived in what was known as the “Vets’ Village” on the campus of the University of Idaho where Art earned a degree in Forest Management and began his long (30 year) career in federal service.

   The Johnsons came to Orofino in 1960 where Arthur was assigned as Staff Officer in charge of the Lands and Recreation Division of the Clearwater National Forest. Their offices were situated on the top two floors of the Post Office building.

   Looking towards retirement in 1976, the Johnsons were searching for a place out of town because, “Town had gotten too crowded,” said Marty. The purchasing of an old homestead (which was originally the claim of George Washington Snyder) in 1972 began an interesting saga in the Johnson family.

   Snyder had come from West Virginia in 1901, staked out his 160 acres and proved-it-up by 1905. Marty has the original parchment documents (the abstract and title) to the property which were signed by President Teddy Roosevelt.

   The original 160 acres had been split; Marty and her husband bought the remaining 80 acre property in 1972. There was much work to be done to put the place in good order again, new fencing to put up, and a house to build. There was an old log building, a log cabin, located on the homestead, which was greatly in need of repair. It became the pet project of their son Ty, to restore the building.

   They began the process of dismantling the old log structure and completely rebuilding it. The Johnsons had two sons, William (Bill) and Ty, both later graduated from the University of Idaho. Ty became an architect; he is quite inventive and besides restoring/rebuilding the homestead’s cabin, he invented many unique features for it such as a dual sink where well water can be directed to flow in two different directions – one way for a vanity sink, and another way to fill the kitchen sink.

   Ty traveled to Europe and was inspired by some gargoyles of horses’ heads he viewed in Sweden. While there, he sketched the heads and later used the drawings to make the wood carvings which decorate the cabin walls and two different beds.

   Another unique feature in the cabin is a handmade, three-tiered wooden bed in the loft. Children can sleep above the bed on the canopy portion by climbing a wooden ladder built into the wall. The lower portion of the bed is a trundle bed allowing for more sleeping space. The bed was featured in an article in Sunset Magazine in 1978. Art and Marty lived in the little cabin for two years while their present home, also designed by Ty, was being built.

   The land on which their home and the cabin are situated is beautiful with two ponds, many fruit trees, and cattle grazing on the hillside. Marty keeps the cabin fully stocked for guests, and the guestbook attests to the many family members and friends who have enjoyed it over the years.

   The inside looks more like a quaint antique shop than the sparse cabin one might picture. The walls are covered with art, family photos of past generations, and mounted hunting trophies – including one deer Marty says was “running too fast.” His two front hooves look as if they protrude from the walls as he made a too hurried entrance.

   Marty has a  collection of sketches she drew of all the locations she and Art lived in during his years with the forest service. Another wall has what she calls her “found collection” with articles such as buttons and artifacts found on the property from former families who once lived on the homestead.

    The outdoors area is just as unique with what Marty calls an “Out Porch.” The out building started out as a children’s playhouse and was later converted to a raised outhouse that one reaches via a little footbridge. It is fitted with a stained-glass window created by Marty who is quite the artist. This outhouse is first class all the way, with a porcelain door handle, a sitting porch alongside it, and artwork inside. Marty has designed postcards depicting “The Out Porch.”

   The cabin sports an outdoor shower on the west side of the house where one can tug on a pull-cord, tipped with deer antler handles, to turn the gravity-fed water on and off

   Marty’s artwork charms the inside of the main cabin as well with Tole paintings on pull-down window shades depicting animals and birds. The mellow light coming through the windows is filtered through these beautiful canvas shades in warm, sunlit tones. One may enjoy a pheasant on one window, quail and robins on another, and ducks on yet a third. She painted a privacy shade for the powder room which depicts a family tree; each branch represents one of the families who have called the homestead, home.

   The Johnsons are the eighth owners who have worked to maintain and enjoy their beloved area since George Washington Snyder cleared the land and planted orchards in 1901. He sold it in 1915 and moved to the Fraser-Weippe area. Marty Johnson compiled a book entitled: The History of Homestead which is available for purchase at the Clearwater Historical Museum.

   “Does Marty while away her hours in a rocking chair these days?” you may ask. The answer is a resounding ‘no!’ She plays bridge with two different groups and plays pinochle with a third. She is a member of the P.E.O., the Red Hatters, Beta Sigma Phi Sorority and one of the original members of the Golden Girls which started in 1960.

   Besides her frequent trips to town, in all types of weather, she paints, does stained glass, and reads. She keeps a copy of: The Big Burn by Timothy Egan handy, which describes the horrific wildfire that engulfed large parts of three states back in 1910. Marty says it is her “favorite book.”

   Up until a couple of years ago, Marty mowed her own property – which is a considerable chore due to the size and steepness of the land. Marty is quite the four-wheeler as well. With a cocked straw hat, a white vest over a hot pink shirt, she climbed up on her red Honda Rancher SE 4-wheeler, which flies the American flag and sports an insignia stating, “I am an American.”

   I respectfully got out of her way as she gunned the engine and backed it out of her tool-filled garage for me to take her picture. (She insisted the light would be better out there.)

   She’s come a long way from being a timid girl riding a street car down the streets of old L.A.  

Just one of the nooks in Marty Johnson’s restored cabin – displaying some of the antiques her family has collected over the years.


The Johnson cabin, located on the property originally homesteaded in 1901 by George Washington Snyder.


A hand painted pheasant (painted by Marty Johnson) graces the window of the old time homesteader cabin on the Johnson property.


Marty Johnson’s sketches of all the places the Johnsons lived while Arthur Johnson worked for the Forest Service.