Wayne was born Feb. 13, 1922, in Omaha, Neb., to Oscar and Josephine “Josie” Armstrong Johnson. He was their youngest child. His older siblings were Bernice, who died at age 16 in 1921; a brother who died as a baby; Russell, who was born in 1908 and died in 1994; and his sister, Dorothy, who was born in 1913 and died in 1996.
Wayne was about 10 years old when his family moved from Nebraska to Payette, Idaho, because of drought and dust-bowl conditions there. “We was blowed out,” Wayne said.
From Payette, Oscar Johnson transferred from working in a feedlot to the Alvord Ranch east of Steens Mountain in Harney County. In 1932, Wayne, 10, his sister, Dorothy, and his mother, Josie Johnson, followed, and Wayne was enrolled in grade school at Crane. He graduated from Crane Union High School in 1941.
Wayne had many adventures and stories to tell. He recalled his first summer spent on the Alvord Ranch as an exciting adventure for a 13-year-old boy. He said, “It was a wonderful place. They had a creek running down off the hill through the place, through the milk house and there were frogs and everything, and there were oodles of deer and quail around. You’d go down in the field and you’d just about have to push the deer out of the road.”
Wayne would say, “I got to go with the buckaroos a lot, and I got to know the ranch pretty well. And when I wasn’t doing that, when anybody came to the ranch, I showed them around. I was pretty important, 13 years old, big hat and all.”
Wayne remembered Mustang Smith, who used wild mustangs as teams for the haying equipment. “He’d bring those mustangs in off the desert. It took three of them to pull the mowing machine. They’d have to wrestle those old ponies around and hook them up. They wasn’t broke, they’d just hook them up and go with them. That was fun to watch Mustang Smith. He was a wild man, that’s why they called him ‘Mustang,’’ ’ Wayne said.
During the school year, Wayne and his family lived in Crane. Wayne was paid $1 a day to help out at Floyd Presley’s store, the Crane Mercantile, before and after school.
About two months before school was out, Joe Fine came into Crane looking for someone to cook at the Roaring Springs Ranch. He got Wayne into the Crane school dormitory when he was in the eighth grade, and his mother and dad went out to work at Roaring Springs. Wayne and his sister, Dorothy, stayed in Crane, and Wayne worked in the store that summer, and got a raise to $60 a month.
While he was in high school, Wayne spent his summers with his folks at Roaring Springs. He remembered when Joe Fine first put the lawn in at Roaring Springs ranch headquarters, and when the trees that are growing there today were just saplings. He and his dad mowed the lawn with a push mower that was too hard to push through the tall grass.
After a couple of years at Roaring Springs, Wayne’s dad, who had immigrated to Nebraska from Sweden with his brothers, decided he wanted to go back to farm in Nebraska with family. “My mother and I said, ‘We’re not going with you. We’re going to stay here.’ And we didn’t go, and we survived.” His mother, Josie died in 1963.
After Wayne graduated from high school, he worked at Roaring Springs and at the Alvord Ranch until he was 23 or 24. When the Alvord Ranch sold, he worked a couple of months and then quit. He went to Brogan to work for a while, and then went to work at the feedlot at Payette, cleaning the corrals with a tractor.
He didn’t like the damp foggy weather along the river and came back to Harney County, where it is sunny and dry. He returned to the Lawen area, and was part owner of the Lawen Store with his sister, Dorothy, and brother-in-law.
Wayne did lots of buckarooing and other ranch work. He worked at the Roaring Springs for about 10 years until the Gill Cattle Company bought it.
He met Stella Able of Burns, and they were married in Winnemucca, Nev., Jan. 24, 1953. They were married for 46 years until her death in 1999. They had no children.
Wayne had a few cattle, so he leased the Donald Otley place near Lawen for a few years. He worked for Edward Hines Lumber Company for four or five years. Wayne said, “Then I got itchy feet, and wanted to get me a ranch job, so I went to work for Tommy Jenkins and stayed for five years.”
Wayne also worked at the experiment station, and he and Stella helped his sister, Dorothy, run the Lawen Store after her husband died. In the 1980s, Lawen flooded, and Malheur Lake rose so high that there was water to the back of the Lawen Store. Wayne said, “I put dikes up, but the water was so high in the basement that I saw the light bulbs floating. I told Stella it is time for us to get out of here.” So they moved into Burns.
He started mowing lawns in his later years to stay in shape. He took care of his wife during her 13-year battle with cancer.
Wayne married Rose Modey in Feb. 2000, and gained more family with lots of grandchildren. Wayne and Rose enjoyed retirement activities such as traveling, old-time fiddler’s music, and playing cards at the Senior and Community Services Center.
Wayne is survived by his wife, Rose, of Burns; her many children and grandchildren; niece, Nancy Dowell of Redmond; and nephew, Earl Carson and wife, Shirley, of Diamond
One of his last words of wisdom were, “You can choose to make your life happy or you can eat sour pie.”