Friends Dig Into History Mystery

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Wende Waggoner and Tami McCloud have teamed up to preserve and restore what they hope will be an important piece of the Rim country's heritage.

Waggoner has been teaching kindergarten at Julia Randall Elementary School for 19 years, while McCloud, along with husband Jim, owns Big Bear Antiques.

While browsing one day at Big Bear, which is at 422 S. Beeline Highway next to the Frozen Cow, Waggoner came across an old woodstove.

"I love woodstoves," she said. "Ever since we've been married, my husband and I have had wood heat, and this one was in great condition."

When she looked at the tag on the stove, Waggoner was amazed. It not only contained the price the McClouds were asking, but also the notation that it came from JRE.

"Supposedly, it originally came from JRE and was sold at auction when that school was remodeled in the '60s," McCloud said. "It ended up at the Reata Pass Steakhouse in Humboldt, where it was the only means of heat in the bar for a long time."

Reata Pass is gone, and the restaurant has since become an auction house. When the stove came up for auction, Jim jumped on it.

If it proves to be true that the stove did at one time provide heat for Julia Randall, Waggoner wants to see it back where it belongs. She wants to launch a fund-raising campaign to purchase the stove, which Big Bear has priced at $975, and to create an area at JRE where it and other memorabilia can be displayed.

"Sharesse (von Strauss) at the Rim Country Museum said we could have the old school bell, so I thought it would be nice to have a historic section so we could make the children aware of the school and the rock building," she said.

Woodstoves were prominent fixtures during JRE's early days.

The old rock building, which is only part of the present-day JRE, includes a gymnasium and five classrooms.

Town historian Stan Brown says there also were two stoves in the gym.

"Those woodstoves heated the building and were in the corners of the playing floor," Brown said. "The basketball players would sometimes get branded as they raced to retrieve stray passes. Hardin Ezell had the job of maintaining the stoves and keeping them supplied with wood," Brown said.

Gila County Justice of the Peace Ronnie McDaniel, a student at JRE during the late '40s and early '50s, remembers Ezell.

"We used to give him a really hard time," McDaniel said. "But he did a good job. Those woodstoves would get so hot, they'd drive you right out of there. In fact, the windows were way down low and there were no screens. If the teachers weren't careful, they'd start losing students."

While Waggoner doesn't want to see her kindergartners slipping out the window, she does want this particular stove back at JRE if it proves authentic and that's the next step.

She and McCloud would like anybody who attended JRE during the woodstove era to come by Big Bear and see if anything about the stove triggers any recollections.

"At this point, it's all word of mouth," McCloud said. "There's no documentation."

"We want to verify it before we can go any farther, because we all want to be sure," Waggoner said.

The only identification on the stove reads, "Smith-System Heating Company, 420 convection heater, Minneapolis, Minn."

Waggoner and McCloud doubt that will prove as important in authenticating the stove as the memories of some of the Rim country old-timers who attended JRE back in the woodstove era.

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