- Associated Press - Saturday, March 18, 2017

OAKLEY, Idaho (AP) - Idaho 27 crosses Main Street in Oakley, a remote town of 777 with a beautiful mountain backdrop. Follow West Main Street and you’ll come to stone yards, a city park, government offices and the high school. East Main leads to a bar, a grocery store, a library and - across a narrow canal bridge - a fire station.

THE PRANKSTER

In the dimly lit workshop at the back of a remodeled hotel, DelRoy Mitton pointed to a small wooden box on a shelf.

“I make music boxes,” the artist said, encouraging me to give that one a try by inserting a quarter through the slot on top.

“Can you get the quarter back?” I asked.

Mitton, wearing blue overalls over a flannel shirt, answered with a reassuring yes, so I followed his instructions.

Snap!

My hand whipped automatically to my side as I yelled in surprise. Behind me, Mitton and his wife, Sidnee, laughed.

Re-examining the small box - now lying in pieces - I discovered the source of the noise: a hidden mousetrap. I’d just been fooled by the Oakley grandfather’s famous music box trick.

Fortunately, I didn’t have long to be embarrassed, as DelRoy, 81, continued to show me the wonders of his shop. Knickknacks and jewelry were on display above a rack of canes. Sidnee held up a necklace from which dangled peculiar charms: buttons inside gears.

“When things are going rough,” DelRoy said, “you just gotta get your button gear.”

The pun might have made some people groan, but a wordsmith like me couldn’t help laughing.

DelRoy, a 50-year Oakley resident, worked for Idaho Power inside the very building he now lives in, originally the Worthington Hotel.

“That’s where my desk used to be,” he said, gesturing toward a floral sofa.

On a warm day, DelRoy might be outside, carving one of the canes he’s known for in Oakley. And he gives them away to anyone who needs one - whether a Cub Scout or an elderly woman.

As with all of his workmanship, DelRoy taught himself how to carve shapes and designs into the branches of quaking aspen.

“If you want to carve a horse, you just cut everything that don’t look like a horse,” he said. “It’s simple.”

Some of his canes are more unusual, equipped with a deer foot, antler or slingshot as a handle - or even featuring a flashlight or compass on top. One of his prized pieces: a rattlesnake skin over a corkscrew willow branch.

He never sells any of it, DelRoy explained, because he doesn’t want to have to make it.

About to leave, I stood outside chatting with Sidnee while she squashed a couple of box elder bugs. Her husband handed her an orange pill bottle.

“Give her this,” he said. “Tell her she can have it as a keepsake.”

Curious, I read the bottle’s label: “Stool Sample.” Remembering the “music box” and a horse-pie sculpture of former President Obama, I wasn’t sure whether to expect something to jump out, or worse.

Open it, the husband and wife urged.

Gingerly, I slipped open the cap and dumped the contents into my hand: a tiny, three-legged wooden stool, painted red and brown. I laughed with relief.

THE BURGER MAN

Ask anyone in Oakley where you can get a bite to eat, and they’ll point you to Searle’s Gas Grub and Goodies on Idaho 27 near Main Street.

Around lunchtime on weekdays, the place is packed with teens and smells heavily of french fries and hamburgers.

“Almost every day it’s Searle’s for lunch,” said Bridger Cranney, 18, as he waited for his chicken nuggets and fries. “We kinda go through different phases - don’t want to get used to anything.”

The menu at Searle’s contains the usual hamburgers and cheeseburgers but also has a Mexi burger (cheeseburger with jalapenos and salsa) and a BBQ Hawaiian burger (with ham and grilled pineapple).

“I raise my own beef, so I know what (the cattle) eat,” said owner and operator Brent Searle, 61.

Every year, Searle has six or seven of his Holsteins butchered and made almost entirely into hamburger. On a busy day, he can go through as much as 14 pounds of hamburger, making 6-ounce burgers for the town’s residents until closing time at 8 p.m.

I watched as Searle, wearing a blue apron, rang up a customer’s items at the cash register before filling multicolored balloons for a birthday party. Later that afternoon, he was back at the grill, serving grilled ham and cheese to a waiting customer.

Most Oakley adults, he told me, know to avoid the noon rush and come in later. Both crowds completely filled the half-dozen red booths inside the convenience store.

“It really has been very consistent for the last several years,” Searle said. “I really can’t complain.”

THE ONLINE RETAILER

A strong smell of leather was the first thing that hit me as I entered 120 on Main. The explanation: a display of cowboy hats against the left wall.

“Can I help you?” a small voice asked over the country western music on the sound system.

I looked around to find the source, a young woman behind a desk at the back of the store. The space was packed wall-to-wall with racks of Western clothing, gear and jewelry - items I imagined would be popular among Oakley’s ranching families.

The newer building had one of the more attractive Main Street storefronts, with old-fashioned lettering on its sign and a wooden porch where a bench was painted with “Ya’ll come back now, ya hear?” But not many customers come in, Bailey Boyles, 21, told me. She’d seen only one a week since she started working there in January.

Most of the business, Boyles explained, happens online at standupranchers.com. The 120 on Main storefront exists mostly because many vendors require one.

A shortage of foot traffic, however, doesn’t mean employees twiddle their thumbs. That morning, she’d received a shipment of products and was processing returns for online customers.

“Doing inventory on the store is ongoing,” she said. “. If somebody orders something online and we have it in the store, we’ll ship it.”

Boyles also needed to get an online auction started for outdated merchandise, but she wasn’t sure how to do it. She hoped a co-worker on the afternoon shift would help.

“Once you get here and start working,” Boyles said, “you stay busy pretty much all day.”

THE HISTORY COLLECTOR

If you’ve never heard the song “I Am an Oakley Man, Sir,” you’re not alone. But while the lyrics and the tune are largely forgotten, the legend behind the song is not.

Raida Black, the composer, was a well-known piano player in Oakley in the mid-1900s, said Oakley Pioneer Museum President Aleta Stringham.

“She’d come the beginning of each school year and play the piano and teach the children this song,” Stringham said.

The lyrics weren’t recorded for posterity but soon will be.

Raida’s niece, Kathy Lee - formerly Kathy McKimmon - returned to Oakley last summer for Pioneer Days. While in town, Lee spent several hours in the museum on Main Street. She later gave the museum the lyrics to her mother’s song.

The board plans to display the lyrics at Oakley High School along with other school memorabilia.

Stringham, 79, has lived in Oakley 53 years and gathers the town’s history for people to enjoy. Many of the records are organized by family name for the sake of genealogy research.

“Most people who come here,” she said, “come here because their ancestors were here.”

During my visit to the museum, she talked excitedly as she moved about the rooms, showing me an old printing press from The Oakley Herald and a local salon’s machine for giving ladies permanent waves.

“We try to preserve items that are not used anymore but are curiosity,” she said.

A back wall of one stone-tiled room displayed newspapers, sports uniforms and other school memorabilia. There, too, Stringham wants to post Black’s lyrics:

I am an Oakley man, sir

I live across the green

Our crowd is the jolliest

That ever you have seen

We will celebrate our victory

Without a single scar

And everywhere you’ll hear the cry

Of Oakley near and far

Who am I sir? An Oakley man am I!

An Oakley man, sir, I will until I die

We’re rough and tough!

We never bluff!

We’re game for any fuss!

No other gang of high school boys

Can beat us in the muss

So we’ll raise our voice and shout it out

And shout it to the sky

We’ll fight for dear old red and white

For an Oakley man am I!

___

Information from: The Times-News, https://www.magicvalley.com

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