Gilbert C. McLaughlin. To many of his friends, he was simply known as “Gib”. For me he was "dad". (This is my favorite photo of my dad.)
He was an original “Okie from Muscogee”
(a Merle Haggard song of the early 70s).
Born July 3, 1925 in Muscogee, OK to Clarence and Vella (McClain) McLaughlin. He was the second child of five.
His parents, his older brother Eugene, and younger brother Dale (who was also his best friend) have preceded him in death.
His sister Doris and brother Leroy are the youngest children of the family and survive him
For eighty of his 82 years, he was a very active and independent man. A few weeks before his death he had a large stroke which affected his right side and led to complications which caused his death.
His family moved to Kansas while he
was still a youngster and his family had
a small place east of Ellinwood, Kansas. Before they moved to Kansas his folks
had a gas station-repair shop and a cafe. In Kansas, his mom ran a cafe out of
He rode his horse, “Snip” when he delivered papers on his paper route.
Snip was famous to us kids because
dad told us how great he was.
Dad was always proud of the fact that
his little pinto pony had a map of the United States on his side.
He and his brother, Eugene, joined up during WWII. Eugene went into the Navy, while dad joined the Army. He was stationed in Japan as an MP. While in Japan, his father died and he always regretted he was unable to get leave to come home during that time.
He returned to Ellinwood after the war and in September, 1947 he met and married Wanda Bolton from Lyons, Kansas. They lived in Ellinwood and Pratt, Kansas as they began their family; myself, my sister, Sherry and my brother Garry “Ray”.
From the time he got out of the Army, he worked as a ” roustabout” in the oilfields of Kansas. This meant he was gone from home a lot. I know that was the job title because it is listed on my birth certificate that way.
In 1959 we started to move to Durango, Colorado but after a visit to dad’s friends in Farmington, New Mexio; we wound up living there instead. These friends had gone to high school with dad and moved to NM years before.
We lived there over a year and then the company dad worked for decided to move it’s office to Grand Junction, Colorado. I still remember dad “selling” us on the move by describing Grand Junction as a place where the roses were blooming in January. (This, because he traveled through this area—on the train—on his way home from the war). Now that may have been a stretch but he told us people wore shirtsleeves in January, which is often true.
When we moved here it was called “the Banana Belt” because of the mild winters often experience here. It would be the place he would spend the rest of his life.
His work had him travelling all over the west for many years. He was in Ridgeway, Colorado when they were filming the movie “How the West was Won” and met Debbie Reynolds. Another time, there was a well fire over in Utah and dad had to meet (the famous well-fire fighter) Red Adair at the airport and take him to that fire.
One of the things that appealed to him about this area was the hunting and fishing available here. He loved riding horses and many other outdoors activities which lead to the purchase a small farm outside of Fruita, Colorado. Even after we moved from the farm years later, he managed to hold on to our horses for many years through several moves.
Then after years on the road, he began to work locally as a machinist.
One of the tales he had of this time was having to go to Ouray, Colorado and go down into the famous Camp Bird mine to repair an compressor. He tells of getting into the ore train and being told to keep his head down! Moments later he found out why. The “train” of ore carts travelled into the mine at a very fast rate. The tunnel it travelled through was just big enough for the train and the ceiling was very low, so if you sat up—well, let’s say you’d do more than bump your head!
The man who took him down was a man Dad knew from years before when that man was the Sheriff of the county. That night he took dad back to his place for supper and storytelling. While they had drinks and supper, the man went into another room and came back with this huge gold ring. He told how Cheif Ouray gave that ring to his father for the baby (who was the man) and told the father the baby would grow into it.
That man’s family owned the land that had the hot springs the old Ute cheif frequented for years (before their family owned it).
It must have been about that time Dad got “gold fever” that would manifest itself through the later part of his life.
In 1970, he and my mother divorced. Although she remarried several times, he never did. The closest he ever came was with a lady named Marge. Later he lived with another woman for several years. After they parted he lived in several places around Grand Junction. He finally ended up living up on the Grand Mesa the last few years of his life.
In his early 70s he ended up in Lindrith, NM working on a rig and teaching new drillers how to do it.
He had planned to move there but while down there, he got sick and my brother happened to be there when this happened and he took him to VA inAlbuequerque. It was there they discovered he was having some problems with his heart. (Unbeknownest to me, he was also diagonsed with diabetes). He came home with plans to return to NM, as he was trying to buy a piece a land down there. He was never able to pull it together to get back down there.
He returned to the Mesa and hauled junk to make a living. It was while he lived up there, he had an accident while trying to load some junk on a flatbed trailer the load shifted, pinning his legs. He managed to free himself but was hurting bad enough that he decided he needed to come to town to get his legs checked. He drove himself to the VA here in town ( a 40 minute drive).
He walked into the VA and surprised everyone when the x-rays revealed he had roken both ankles! The only thing that saved his legs were the boots he was wearing. They were so good they had kept him from having his legs cut off. He wound up being admitted and they casted up his legs and while there, the doctors discovered he had some moles on his back which they took off.
So, he spent time living here for a while. But as soon as he could, he was back up on the hill. He was a tough old guy who reminded me a lot of his favorite actor: John Wayne.
During all these years, he had two dogs who were as unique as he was. The first was “Ringo”, a puppy he brought home to us kids from a trip to Farmington. One of the neighbors in the neighborhood we had lived in had a Dalmation who had a litter of mixed puppies (not what they wer after since they sold purebreed Dalmations). So Dad took one of the pups. He was a character from the first day we had him. We had an old jeep stationwagon which we loaded him up to take him out to our new farm at Fruita. He kept banging his tail on the gas can and he had this five pointed “star” on the back of his neck, so he quickly became “Ringo”. Named after the then famous Beatle, Ringo Starr.
His other unique dog was called Wags. Part Golden Retriever and part Pit Bull. The sweetest dog you could imagine for having in his parentage pit bull. Since dad lived up on the Mesa in a dry desert part of the area, Wags seldom had grass to lay on. Whenever Dad came by my house, Wags would get excited as Dad got closer to my place. First thing he would do was roll in the grass!
One time when the street in front of my house was being rebuilt, Dad came the way he normally came and was turned back a half a block from the house, boy did Wags have a fit! He knew where he was going and now he couldn’t get there! They did, eventually—by going a few blocks out of the way and coming in from the west.
In the last few years, Dad acquired some stray cats which kept him in kittens, always one or two of them surviving the wilds to carry on the next generation. When he moved to a different part of the area, he wound up with a beautiful siamese cross, he called Bluebell. She had a litter of kittens, of which two survived the winter—an orange siamese looking female, and a calico marked white female. That last spring on the hill the three had eight kittens between them.
On one of my visits, I was talking to dad and sitting on his cooler when Bluebell put her paw on my shoulder—the first time any of his wild cats showed any attention toward me. Bluebell was Dad’s bed partner along with Wags (until Wags died then she was his only bed partner).
When Dad had his first small stroke and fell breaking his hip, near his 80th birthday, he would never really return to his beat up old trailer on top of the hill. It was where he always wanted to return, either that or to go down to where his brother, Leroy lived.
I went up and rescued the cats, and loaded up as much of his stuff as possible. It took three trips to gather up what I could of his things.
After a few weeks, he was moved into a nursing home. Part of the problem was he was diagnosed with diabetes and he didn’t follow doctor’s orders as far as eating changes and taking his meds. He lived in a trailer without air conditioning and only a wood stove for heat in the winter—pretty primative conditions but t was what he wanted.
The combination of the physical problems caused the chain of events. He never really liked being in a nursing home but made the best of it, making friends as he always did. I always felt that Dad never met a stranger who wasn’t a friend in the making. I always envied that, because making friends was the hardest thing I experienced in our travels of my youth.
A few weeks ago he suffered another stroke. A bigger more damaging stroke which affected his right side. It also affected his old body. He slowly went down hill until the Thursday before he died. He wound up in the hospital and the doctors wanted to put in a feeding tube. Not something Dad would have wanted. He returned to the nursing home and on Halloween, he died peacefully in his sleep.
I will miss him and his storytelling.
He lived a long, full and adventurous life.