The man who loved the mountains
“I was born Jan. 25, 1927 on a ranch about one and a half miles from Eagle up Brush Creek. I don’t remember much until I was seven or eight years old. I remember living in “Fox Town,’ which had a sawmill owned by Fox. It was one block west of the ball park in Eagle.
I remember the first day of school. My uncle, Bob Quinlan took me to school. It was raining and the old courthouse was being built.”
So starts the brief autobiography that Eagle resident Wayne Randall, 77, carefully wrote out on yellow legal paper. Randall died Feb. 4 at a hospital in Grand Junction. The cause of death was complications from head injuries suffered in a fall at his home north of Eagle last month.
His family discovered the notes tucked away in a drawer. Brief and to the point, the two-page narrative tells the most basic details of the life of a man who spent most of his life exploring the mountains and valleys around his home town.
“He covered this country for years and years… hunted and fished about every part,” says Bill Johnson, also a life-long resident of Eagle who works for the U.S. Forest Service’s Eagle District.
Randall loved wildlife. He always purchased a Colorado hunting and fishing license; and frequently purchased similar licenses when visiting in Wyoming. In his later years, those licenses served to show his support for wildlife rather than an intent to harvest an animal.
“The license was his excuse to get out into the country,” recalls daughter Joetta Gray of Eagle.
Often, even though he had a gun and a hunting license, the only shooting Wayne would do was with a camera. He’d return from a trip up Brush Creek or out to Wyoming with envelopes full of pictures of elk or deer. Some of those photographs earned blue and purple ribbons at the county fair.
“In high school I loved sports – track, football, basketball and baseball.”
“He was good at everything. I never beat him. To this day, I haven’t beat him at playing golf, but I’ve tried many, many times,” says George Smith of Grand Junction, one of Randall’s best friends for over 50 years. Randall was a 3-4 handicap golfer.
In back issues of the Enterprise, stories indicate that Randall was often the leading scorer for the Eagle High School basketball team. After he graduated from high school, and after a stint with the Navy from 1944-1946, Randall continued to play on the town basketball and baseball teams.
“Wayne was one of the better ones. He played second base, played in the outfield. He could flat hit the ball,” recalls Smith. At one point, Randall tried out for the minor leagues, but his arm just wasn’t good enough.
Thirty years ago, Randall played on the town’s fast pitch softball team. Most of the players were 20 years younger than him; still, he held his own in the infield and at bat. When the fast pitch team turned to slow pitch softball, Randall did a stint as a player-coach.
“He was a good coach… bossy,” Johnson recalls. It wasn’t unusual for Randall to pull his son-in-law, Carl Gray, from second base and step into that position himself.
Randall was also a superb pool player. He’d explain, with a smile, that he “majored” in pool during the years he attended Colorado State University.
“I was good at playing pool… but not so good at being a student,” he’d recall. He briefly considered walking onto the CSU football team, but Randall, always a thin fellow, changed his mind once he got a look at the size of the football players.
“I’ve got pictures of him in the late 1950s. He was skinnier than a snake,” says Smith.
In 1952, Randall married JoAnn Morgan, and went to work for the local telephone company, which was a small, local operation owned by her parents. The Randalls had two daughters, Joetta and Julie.
Several former Eagle County sheriffs including Murray Wilson, Hank Knuth and Jim Seabry deputized Randall. They could call on him to help with prisoner transports, or, because of his knowledge of the local mountains, to help with search and rescue efforts. In the mid 1960s, he led a group up to New York Lake in the dark to rescue an injured fishermen. The victim’s injuries were serious enough the rescuers had to clear a space for a medical helicopter to land and fly him out. Randall’s only regret on that adventure was that he didn’t get a helicopter ride.
The friendship between Smith and Randall had rocky start. Smith, 10 years younger than Randall, lived on a ranch outside of Eagle. One of his favorite hobbies was shooting the insulators off telephone poles near the ranch.
“It just so happened that it was a toll route. I’d go back, and shoot for 10-15 poles, then finally, one of the wires would break, and here would come Wayne,” he said.
When Randall advised Smith’s mother that further transgressions could land her son in jail, the shooting stopped. Their friendship grew when Smith started working summers for the phone company; then, after graduation, moved into a full-time job.
“We were pretty much inseparable,” recalls Smith. Both were good athletes and great outdoorsmen, and their adventures were well known around town. There was the time they trapped a bobcat, and carried what they thought was a dead animal back to town in the telephone company truck. However, when they opened the door to show the local priest their catch, the cat was still alive… and growling.
“I loved the mountains and hunting and fishing. I spent all the time I could walking and riding in the mountains.”
Smith and Randall were good at bugling in elk bulls. Maybe too good. One bull came in close enough to force the two men up a tree, where they lingered for the better part of an hour before it decided to leave.
Randall was always determined to be the first person into Deep Lake, on the Flattops, in the spring.
Smith recalls the time that, while fishing with Tex Faulkner, he caught a 26-pound lake trout out of Deep Lake. They brought the prize back home, and were taking photographs of each other with the fish when Randall stopped in, and asked to pose for a photo with the fish. His friends complied.
Several months later, the national telephone magazine featured the photo of Randall holding the big fish… Smith’s big fish. Randall thought it was hysterical.
Smith had to wait some time to get his revenge, but he eventually did. When they were hunting on Castle Peak some years later, both of them shot at a nice buck. Smith says it was Randall’s bullet that probably killed the animal; however, Smith posed for a photo with the head, and arranged for the picture to be printed in the company magazine.
Randall shared his love of the outdoors with friends and family. Daughter Joetta remembers many an evening fishing trip where she sat by Brush Creek while her dad fished the waters. When he returned, at dark, he always tried to scare her by growling like a bear.
When his granddaughters, Kelly and Leslie, were toddlers, he loved to take them out for drives to look for elk and deer. He insisted that Kelly wear a little coonskin cap for the outings, and praised her as “old eagle-eye” whenever she spotted an animal. Wayne was the guide a few years ago on an outing when Kelly, now grown, caught her first glimpse of live bears – a sow and two cubs.
“While I was in high school and after I got out of the Navy, most of my time was on a ranch with two of my best friends and cousins, Dan and Larry (Rule). I helped with all the farming and the 150 head of cattle, learning to ride and break horses.”
The death of his wife, JoAnn, five years ago, coupled with the death of a brother, Lynn, took some of the heart out Wayne. Still, he continued to love the country, and looked for excuses to get out, driving up to Wyoming to help Larry Rule on the ranch, or helping out a bit with local sheep rancher Randy Campbell’s operation.
Mike Walck, former manager of the Diamond S Ranch for several years, persuaded Wayne to help out with hunting camp. Randall would do a little cooking, haul people around and tend camp.
“Mainly, he just liked to be there to watch the wildlife. He enjoyed being out. He loved those animals,” recalls Walck, “He was just a super-nice guy to have around. The hunters enjoyed him. We enjoyed him. He was just part of the family.”
“There isn’t much of the country for a few miles around Eagle I have not been hunting and fishing or just walking around in the mountains.”
Wayne Randall was preceded in death by his parents, Les and Florence Randall; his wife, JoAnn; and a brother, Lynn. Survivors include daughters Joetta Gray of Eagle and Julie Johnson of Gypsum and their families; granddaughters, Kelly and Leslie; and a sister, Bonnie Ross of Rifle.
A memorial services for Wayne Randall is slated for noon, Sunday, Feb. 15 at the Brush Creek Pavilion in Eagle.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Yeoman Park fishing interpretive trail. Checks should be made out to the USDA Forest Service with “Yeoman Park interpretive trail” written in the memo space. Donations may be mailed to the Eagle Ranger District, U.S. Forest Service, P.O. Box 720, Eagle, Colo. 81631.
This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.