Phebus reminisces… 90 years of life

“Wow! I am 90 years old this year and have lived in Baker all my life except for three years while serving in World War II,” said Drury Phebus.


Drury Phebus - age 90
Drury Phebus – age 90


Drury Phebus - age 66
Drury Phebus – age 66

Posted February 7, 2014

“Wow! I am 90 years old this year and have lived in Baker all my life except for three years while serving in World War II,” said Drury Phebus. Phebus was born in Baker March 23, 1923, which was the same date Steer Montana, the world’s largest steer, was born. Steer Montana is currently on display at the O’Fallon Historical Museum in Baker. “Two bum steers were also born on the same day,” said Phebus. “How about that?”

Phebus’ father, Flace S. Phebus, homesteaded at Sumatra, Montana, which is north of Forsyth. He starved out and came to Baker in 1920 to work for the Milwaukee Railroad after his service in World War I.

Phebus’ mother’s dad, Gregor Gregerson, homesteaded in the Willard area in 1908.

Phebus graduated from Baker High School in 1941 with a class of 41. Only two or three of the class are still living. Janet Clocksene Enos is the only 1941 classmate still in the area.

In 1941, World War II was taking place, so Phebus and five other Baker men, Chester and Russell Crichfield, Al MacKay, Tom Shiskowsky, and Delmar Jensen went to southern California to work in the defense aircraft industries until they all joined the service. Russell Crichfield was killed by a car in San Diego, Calif., the first day there.

Phebus’ overseas assignment was in China, Burma, and India. They flew C-46-Curtis-Wright transport planes over the Himalayas, termed the “hump” by servicemen. Phebus went around the world while in the U.S. Air Force. He had left by way of Marmarth, N.D. and returned by way of Plevna, Mont.

After the war, the men returned to Baker and had a grand time readjusting to civilian life. The Green Dragon was their favorite bar and beer their favorite beverage. Breweries couldn’t keep up with supply. The beer truck came to Baker, and they partied until it was all gone. A local bar had an interest in a brewery in Minnesota and sold a beer called “Four Horse”. It was really bad tasting and “skunky”, but the men drank a lot of it while they were getting their heads on straight.

Some of the young men went back to college under the G.I. Bill. Phebus went to college at Montana University in Missoula for two years, but his money ran out so he returned to work. He had a job at Baker High School teaching the veterans how to farm, and taught classes in welding, economics, etc. The vets received $60 a month from the government while attending veterans’ training. Phebus spent five years in the program and farmed and ranched at Medicine Rocks on the side.

Most of the veterans were getting married around this time. Phebus married Ionia Wells Simmons, a widow from Marmarth, N.D., whom he had known in junior high school. Her husband had been killed in an auto accident in Minnesota. Ionia had a seven year old son, Don Simmons. Phebus said, “I had a ready-made family from the get go.” They ended up with two additional boys, Drury Scott and Mike Anton, and two girls, Dawn Faye and Sherry Rae.

Phebus farmed with his dad until he passed away and then bought the ranch from his mother. Phebus’ dad had put the ranch together in the depression years when land was selling for $1.00 or $1.50 an acre. Everybody said he was crazy buying land. He was making 60 cents an hour working for the Milwaukee Railroad, one of the better jobs in town.

The ranch was a cow-calf operation with some wheat, corn and barley. Many of the years were failures, and they were lucky to get their seed back, but as Phebus said, “This is next year country and I was always excited in the spring. I had a vision of hitting a good crop with good prices.” Though, many years government subsidy payments bailed them out to try again.

After the veterans’ training program, Phebus noticed the Baker Postmaster Karl Lentz was getting ready to retire. Phebus worked at the local post office at Christmas time for several years. In 1954, a postmaster had to qualify in the top three in a civil service test and have the blessing of the political party in power. He got a ten point preference for being a World War II veteran and made the cut. It seemed half the Republican veterans turned Democrat and wanted the job.

Phebus retired after 20 plus years at the Baker Post Office. Phebus has been retired for 31 years. Phebus noted, “The young people call me by my first name and I don’t have a clue who they are. It’s embarrassing because the greatest compliment you can make to a person is to know his name and pronounce it correctly.”

Phebus said, “It’s great to be alive at age 91. The Lord truly has His arm around me. Stay warm in this old fashioned winter and keep moving.”