WWII vet recalls homesteading in Bone area

Kathy Corgatelli NeVille / for Farm & Ranch
World War II veteran and longtime Bone-area farmer and rancher Ira Judy walks around in the Ozone Cemetery near his childhood home in the Bone area. Judy is the last of 10 children born to William Aaron Judy and Mary Ann Ward, who were one of 24 families to homestead in the Ozone area in Bonneville County more than 100 years ago.

At age 94, Ira Judy’s wife, Marva, drives when they go to Idaho Falls, but when they go to Ozone to check on his property, Judy takes the wheel.

It’s an understatement to say that Judy knows the roads around Bone like the back of his hand.

Born in 1919, Judy’s spent his life traveling the dirt road on horseback and by truck, farming the rolling hills. On a recent sunny, spring day, Judy maneuvered the route as he did back in the days when a bushel of wheat brought 25 cents.

“My wife says I drive way too fast, but I think I can handle it,” he said.

Not much interrupted Judy’s commentary on the area’s history, past and present residents or his time in the Philippines during World War II. He talks about all of it.

Deep ruts in the dirt road were all that slowed down Judy as he cruised past hillsides.

To negotiate the all-but-abandoned Ozone Road, which leads to his childhood home, Judy slowed down a bit and tested his truck’s four-wheel-drive capabilities.

Still waiting for repairs

Years ago, he said, he was assured the road would be fixed by Bonneville County officials. Judy still is waiting for the repairs.

“It’s a horse-and buggy-road,” he said. “If you meet someone, one of you will have to back all the way down. If someone wants to visit the cemetery, I think they should be able to do it.”

Judy believes the road should be widened and improved — not only so he can check on his ground, but so others can visit the graves of loved ones buried at the Ozone Cemetery, which sits on his brother Clifford’s property. It’s a concern that has dogged him for years, but on this day, he simply enjoys driving and revisiting memories.

Bonneville County Public Works Director Kevin Eckersell said the county schedules improvements to county roads based on how much they’re used. Bonneville County has more than 1,000 miles of improved and unimproved roads, he said.

The Ozone Road is at the bottom of the list when it comes to improvements.

“The Ozone Road is not much of a road — and because it doesn’t have that much traffic on it, it doesn’t rate very high on the board’s priority list,” he said. “If some of the land there was taken out of the Conservation Reserve Program, and was actively farmed again, then we would take another look.”

The war years

By the early 1940s, Judy had finished a church mission, married Dorothy Hammer, his first wife, and become the father of identical twin sons, and later, a daughter. By the time he was drafted into the Army, Judy, the youngest of the 10 children of William Aaron Judy and Mary Ann Ward, was running the family farm with Clifford.

His draft notice took him aback, given how late it was in the war and the fact that he was a farmer, married and had children — all of which dropped him from the prime draft eligibility rating of 1A.

“I didn’t like being drafted, but what was I going to do?” he said. “I just accepted it and figured it was my duty even though I had the farm, a wife and very young children.”

Judy paid a hired hand $170 a month to run his farm for the next two years. He earned $20 a month in the military and hoped the farm would bring in enough money to make up the difference. His dad pitched in and watched over his son’s farm and family.

“I considered myself to be a survivor,” Judy said.

Although Judy underwent combat training, he didn’t use his new skills. Sent to the Philippines, he initially was headed for Manila, but ended up in Batanes instead, where he worked in a supply warehouse. He remembered learning about weapons of the time, including the M1 rifle, machine guns and other types of weapons.

“I didn’t have to go and use them on the front lines,” he said.

Returning to the farm

After the war, Judy concentrated on raising his family, which grew to include six children. When the kids were old enough to go to school, the family spent winters on a 64-acre farm in Ammon. At that time, Judy made extra money by working at the Lincoln Sugar Factory. After it closed, he worked at Clark Concrete in Idaho Falls.

“Between the winter job and being able to borrow a little operating money, we managed to survive in farming,” Judy said.

Since erosion made it so the land in Ozone only could be farmed every other year, Judy and his brother tried everything they could think of to make extra money. For several years, they tried cattle ranching near Ennis, Mont.

“We thought we were going to make a lot of money on cattle and retire, but that just didn’t happen,” he said.

Eventually, after Judy’s first wife, Dorothy, died, and with the children grown and on their own, Judy remarried. He and Marva moved into a comfortable home in an Ammon subdivision about six years ago. His health doesn’t allow him to fish or snow machine anymore, but he still gets a kick out of driving to his farm in Ozone.

“I don’t like a lot of people and big crowds, but I like it down here,” he said.

Mostly fond memories

Judy has mostly fond memories of Ozone.

His was one of the few families with electricity supplied from batteries. He recalls drinking water from a clear spring and the big livestock barn his dad built. He remembers the days riding a horse “double” with his sister, when they would travel to the post office to pick up the mail three times a week — and sharing a telephone party line with 12 other families.

Judy slowed down at the Bone Store and bar, only a stone’s throw from his family’s farm. He recalled all the partying that went on there every Saturday night.

But these days, he mostly concentrates on the things at hand — weeds that need spraying and that darn Ozone Road.

“I named it a horse-and-buggy road because that’s all that can pass on it,” he said.