Lives & Times of Valley Folks: James Monroe ‘Bo’ Hiatt
by Steve Sparks, January 7, 2010
I drove to the south end of Boonville on Highway 128 and turned into a driveway before the Brewery to the home of Bo and Bobbie Hiatt. Bobbie and dog Sammy the Chihuahua greeted me and I sat down to talk with Bo at the kitchen table where I was later given some delicious soup and cookies with a cup of coffee. I asked Bo where the name came from and he explained that his sister Edith could not say ‘Monroe.’ It came out like ‘Bo.’ And it has stuck his whole life. He then added with a grin, “We should have done this interview 25 years ago, we’d have had a chance of remembering things! I hope this talk doesn’t get me into any trouble. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.”
The Hiatts originally came to the New World in 1690 along with many other Quakers who were being persecuted in England at that time. They settled in the Shenandoah Valley in the Virginias. Many years later in the 1830s they began to gradually move westward with stops in Kentucky, where Bo’s great grandfather, Elijah Monroe Hiatt, was born in 1931. The family went on to Missouri in 1836, where they lived for a few years before moving on to Susanville, California by wagon train in 1854. There Elijah sold his cattle and mined gold for three years before settling in Woodland, Yolo County and opening a mercantile store along with a money-lending business that was very successful. However, his health was not so good and he went to a health spa at Bartlett Springs where he heard of a ranch for sale in Anderson Valley. He bought it in 1860 and moved to the Valley where he was married in 1861 and started a family — son Charles (Bo’s grandfather) being born in 1863. Elijah had 6,000 head of sheep on the 1,560 acres and he built a hotel on the property that became an important stop for the stage that came through the Valley at that time. He had bought the property from a Mr. York and the story goes that the two of them then played cards all night long with the winner getting the right to name the town. Mr. York won and so ‘Hiattville’ never happened!
Elmer Charles Hiatt, Bo’s father, was born in 1890 and later married Sydney Rose who died of pneumonia in 1922, leaving Elmer a widower with their two daughters to take care of. Ethel Ford was a divorcee with a son from her failed marriage to Charles Pulliam. She became a nanny to Elmer’s two girls, bringing her son with her and in 1923 she and Elmer fell in love and were married. They lived in Yorkville at the family ranch beside Highway 128 at the property known as the ‘Y’ Ranch. Bo was born James Monroe Hiatt in October, 1929 at the ranch in Yorkville, the fourth of five children born to Elmer and second wife, Ethel, whose family were originally from Illinois by way of Le Grand, Oregon. His siblings were Jack, Frank, Kay, and Edith, and half-brother Charles, and half-sisters, Vivienne and Kathleen.
Bo’s father was a foreman for the County Road Maintenance Department while his mother was a homemaker and also post woman for the homes on Fish Rock Road as far along as the Zeni Ranch. Bo attended school in Boonville at what is now the Veterans Building. “My Dad and his friends hauled the schoolhouse where my brothers and Austin Hulbert had gone, and which was next to our house in Yorkville, on his Model-T truck all the way to Boonville and added it to the side of the original building there and that’s where I went to school.” He later went to Con Creek schoolhouse for his 7th and 8th grades in the Little Red Schoolhouse (now the AV Museum) before going to the High School on the land that now faces the Elementary school on Anderson Valley Way.
“I was at school with people such as Donald Pardini, Floyd Johnson, John and Hoyt Ross, and Wes Smoot. I was always into lots of hanky panky when I wasn’t fishing or hunting. I didn’t have much time for school. I probably skipped more days than I went and most of all I went because I enjoyed playing sports, baseball was my favorite. I also liked to collect old cars and fix ‘em up. I was a good mechanic at an early age. Many, many years later, around 1989, I even built my own logging truck — something I had always wanted to do.”
“My mother baked everything in a wood stove — bread, hotcakes, biscuits. We did not get electricity until 1946 and before then had kerosene lights. My father would kill animals and we’d eat everything he killed. He illegally shot a deer once to feed the family and the local game warden, Harley Groves, came to the house on a tip-off. He knew father had done it but could not find the deer anywhere on the property. He even peered into the bedroom where mother was pretending to be ill in bed, but he did not go in. Which was good because she had the dead deer in bed with her under the covers! Groves left and we got away with it! Back then I had my chores at home but I was always trying to make money in various ways, such as raising rabbits to sell. I’d kill ’em after school, skin them, and the stage would pick them up from the ranch and take them to Cloverdale to the Cavallo Store the next morning and then I’d get my pay from the previous day’s kills.”
While at school Bo had his eye on a pretty girl called Bobbie Marshall who had moved from Cloverdale to Boonville and they began courting in their senior year. Bobbie remembers, “In Cloverdale we had heard all about them rough boys in Boonville who sat around on their back porches cleaning their guns and how it was a place where they did horrible things. I cried and cried when we moved there in the summer of 1946. I had a couple of jobs that summer before I started my senior year. One was at Weiss’s Restaurant in Boonville working my butt off for 50¢ an hour and the other was picking apples at what was later the Tin Man Orchard on Anderson Valley Way. One day there was this truck that kept passing with a guy waving at me. I just waved back from the tree I was working on. This happened for a few days and then one day a Model-A convertible drove up with two boys and a girl who I knew sitting in the rumble seat. She told me that my boyfriend at the time had been hurt in the woods and was in hospital. She assumed I knew Bo Hiatt who was driving, but I said I didn’t and she told me I must know him because I had been waving to him for the past week! They were planning to go the Ukiah Fair and with my boyfriend now in hospital they asked if I wanted to go with them. My mother had said I needed to make new friends in the Valley and said I should go with these kids. So when Bo asked me again a few days later I said ‘Yes.’ Then he ended up just taking me in his car and not the others. He was a real Sneaky Pete. We got married a year later in 1948 and have been together ever since!”
After graduating in 1947, Bo went straight to work for Bert Rowley, a truck driver hauling logs (even though he did not have a license). Soon afterwards he went to work for his brother Kay, who was also in the logging industry that was booming at that time. Many people were arriving in the Valley from Arkansas and Oklahoma and there were sawmills everywhere. In 1951, Bo got his first diesel truck and Kay Hiatt Logging had great success. “I was a truck driver hauling logs for my brother for many years and then I started my own trucking company. The logging industry really got going in the early 50s and there were 27 mills between Yorkville and the coast. I would have to drive over the hill to Ukiah too. It was all dirt road in those days and would take me nearly two hours to get to Calpella, just the other side of Ukiah, a little over 20 miles away. Some of the road was one-way, it was tough on the trucks and we’d always have to stop for more radiator water on the way.”
Bo says he always got along with the Arkies and Okies when they arrived although there were quite a few old-timers who did not like them being here and the changes they brought. ‘There were many bars and often bar fights in those days but we got along with most of them. Bobbie wasn’t so keen on the hippies when they came along in the 60s. She thought they were scary and there were some bad ’uns — the Manson Gang, Tree Frog Johnson, Jim Jones… The Boonville Lodge, The Track Inn, and Weiss’s were the hangouts in Boonville. Our entertainment on a Saturday night was watching the bar fights. You seemed to see someone come flying out the door most weekends. By the time the next generation was in the bars the old families and the Okies and Arkies had got together and began to pick on the hippies. They certainly banged a few of those guys’ heads, but a few years later the hippies ended up running the town for a few years, or so it seemed. The Valley has changed so much over my lifetime here and I may not like some of the changes but I guess I learned to flow along with them. What else can I do?””
Bo and Bobbie stayed out in Yorkville from their marriage in 1948 until 1956 when they moved into Boonville across from the Mountain View Road junction with Highway 128. After staying there for a few years, in 1962 they moved into the house beside the County Yard in central Boonville, where they lived for 45 years until 2007. For the last two years they have lived on the property owned by Bo’s deceased sister and his brother-in-law, Jack Brunwell. During much of that time Bo worked 15-hour days and when he was not driving he was working on the trucks. However, he and Bobbie started a family with Linda born in 1951 and Terry in 1963. In later years, Linda had a son Stevie and a daughter Jenelle, who in turn had twin girls. Terry married Steve Rhodes and they have two boys — Justin and Nick, and “we are very proud of all of them.”
For a time Bo was a partner of his brother Kay before he branched out on his own to form James Hiatt Trucking. He did all the driving and Bobbie was “the gopher” — ordering supplies and parts, doing the books, as well as taking care of the family, attending sports at the school, and maintaining the garden. Over the years all of Bo’s siblings have passed, including brother Kay who was killed by a falling log, although Bo continued to do lots of work with his nephews, Kay’s boys — Charlie and Wayne. With Bobbie constantly asking Bo to stop working — “Will you please get rid of them damn trucks and quit?!”
Bo finally did retire in 2003 at the age of 74. His health had not been good and he has had two open-heart operations and two colon surgeries. ‘I felt so bad at one point that I was about ready to kill myself if nothing could be done. The last operation had been a success thanks to the wonderful people at St. Helena Hospital but then I was transferred to another hospital in Marin and had a tracheotomy that nearly killed me. I really thought I wouldn’t make it. My daughter Terry and son-in-law Steve insisted that I be released and I started feeling better not long after I was back home. I am so much better now and am putting some weight back on. I feel great although I do miss working.”
In the late 70s Bo and Bobbie bought a motor home and did some traveling at various times for a few years which saw them go down to Mexico (with Norman and Joanne Charles and John and Meda Hanes) to Vancouver, Canada, and to visit Bobbie’s family in Washington State. Bo used to like hunting and would go on trips to Wyoming and Colorado but after killing a large buck in 1965 he never went again. “I just didn’t want to do that anymore. I am an animal lover and have given away all my guns to various family members.”
These days Bo meets old friends at the Redwood Drive-In in downtown Boonville most mornings at around 6am. “It is the same guys every day. My nephews Charlie and Wayne Hiatt, Wes Smoot, Donald and Manchard Pardini, Uncle Donn, Craig Titus, Ed Slotte. I then come home at about 9am with a cup of coffee for Bobbie and start my housework! I do the dishes, the laundry, the vacuuming, make the bed, Bobbie says I’d make a great housewife someday!”
He and Bobbie like to attend some of the Valley events such as the Crab Feed and the County Fair. “We used to love the Fair but most of our friends that we used to sit with and watch everything going on are all dead now. It’s depressing sometimes. We do like to go to Libby’s in Philo for dinner sometimes and we used to do a lot more family things but they have got less and less. We do see our daughter Terry often, and her kids too. They do little jobs for us around here but overall we don’t do much these days. Bobbie did so much for so many years that now she says ‘to hell with it’ and I don’t mind doing stuff around the house.”
I asked Bo for his brief thoughts on some of the issues that Valley folk seem to discuss these days.
The wineries impact on the Valley? “I think it’s OK, really. They bring in money and keep people working. They look nice. When the logging boom came they said the same things about that and that was worse in some ways. There was so much dust in the air you couldn’t see the sky or put your washing out on a line. Before that there were some beautiful apple orchards and most of them have gone now. It’s too bad but what are you gonna do?”
The AVA? “ I like it, the local stuff mainly. Bobbie and I like Valley People, Turkey Vulture, and Bruce Patterson’s stuff.”
KZYX radio? “Don’t listen to it. We watch television mainly; I like to watch baseball.”
The school system? “It’s not bad. The kids we know seem to be doing well.”
I posed a few questions from a list devised by French Interviewer and Culture Expert, Bernard Pivot, featured on TV’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton.”
Favorite word or phrase? “That would probably be ‘sweetheart.’ Sometimes I say it to Bobbie but most times to the cat!”
Least favorite word or phrase? “Well it is not a swear word. I can keep up with the best of them there. Maybe it’s ‘you’re wrong, Bo.’ I don’t like to be told that, even though I sometimes am.”
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? “Going over to Ukiah with my grandchildren.”
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? “When people say things that I know to be a damn lie.”
Sound or noise you love? “The cat purring right next to me in bed. The cat, Zorro, and the dog, Sam, are great friends to us.”
Sound or noise you hate? “Motorcycles revving their engines and, even worse, the goddamn misuse of Jake brakes by some of the truck drivers around here. They use them on the flat just up the road here by the brewery. Those brakes are for going downhill. It’s a bunch of bullshit!”
Favorite curse word? “Fuck you.”
Favorite hobby? “I use to love making large model airplanes, some with eight-foot wingspans. Sometimes I’d build all night long. You need a lot of room so I stopped when we moved here a couple of years ago. I’ve always liked to work on things like that, and cars and trucks. I fixed up my father’s Model T once; completely restored it and then drove it in the parade at the Fair.”
Profession other than your own you’d like to attempt? “Bobbie would say ‘housekeeping’ but I have never thought of anything I’d like to do other than what I did. Trucks and trucking has been my life and I have loved it all. Maybe restoring Model-Ts would have been a good job for me. I did do some gardening and we had some good lemons, cucumbers, and tomatoes but, goddammit, Bobbie complained that they were overgrown and she couldn’t find them very easily. Then I had what were supposed to be green bell peppers which turned out to be hot jalapenos so we took them to the school and the kids loved them.”
Profession you’d not like to do? “Anything that means I am indoors, an office job.”
Happiest day or event in your life? “I’ve had some awful good times. Many very happy times with Bobbie. She’d know that if she’d shut up and listened to me sometimes! Our 61 years together have been wonderful, and not just because I was on the road a lot!”
The saddest? “Maybe when I retired finally. I really miss my work, my truck-driving. And then, after all those thousands and thousands of miles without a single ticket, I got one last month by the brewery on Highway 253 for doing 45 mph. Too slow! I told that CHP fella — ‘Mister, I’ll see you in court — go ahead and take me to jail.’ I guess I do have a temper but after all those thousands of miles…”
Favorite thing about yourself, physically/ mentally/ spiritually? “Nothing really. I was always a good, hard, honest worker. I never missed a day. It meant I wasn’t around the kids a lot but Bobbie did a great job there.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “ I guess ‘Welcome, Bo.’ That would be about the best I could expect. If I’d got to heaven, what the hell else could I want?”
To read the stories of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at www.avalleylife.wordpress.com. Next week the guest interviewee will be Navarro’s Judy Long.