The Zink kids grow up

John W. and Ruby might have wanted some boys to help work the ranch. But at first they got girls, so they put them to work. When Nelson, their first boy, was born February 5, 1945, Anne was 6 and Ida nearly 4.

Ida, left, and Anne, right, with Grandma Myra Nelson.

The war continued to drag on. On April 12, 1945, Anne was at a neighbor’s house when they heard on the radio that President Franklin Roosevelt was dead. Anne ran across the road to tell her parents the sad news. The Zink house had no radio, and wouldn’t until 1948.[1]

The world conflict, having dragged on for nearly four years, finally ended that summer. It took a couple years for the economy to get rolling after the war, but when it did, it was a good time to be a farmer, and opportunities throughout the country in many other lines of work were plentiful.

John W. made changes to the farming operation soon after he took over. He removed an old apple orchard southeast of the stone house, and used this acreage to grow corn and potatoes. (The condos of Waterfall Village now inhabit this land.)[2] John grew the ranch boundaries when the opportunity arose to purchase adjacent farms. It contracted, too, when he sold off marginal farm land for building sites.[3]

Primarily, they raised sheep and potatoes. There were a few cows to milk, too. Anne Zink Putnam describes it well:

Grandpa John J. with Anne and Ida.

“We had a big garden which included raspberries and strawberries, a small greenhouse, and an orchard of apricots, peachcots, apples, pears and pie cherries. We raised a few hogs for family pork and kept a milk cow. We kids helped with herding sheep, picking fruit, canning and freezing vegetables, driving tractor, feeding chickens and helping in the farm harvesting of potatoes, hay, and corn.”

When the team of two horses (Max and Minnie) died from eating poisonous hemlock, they weren’t replaced. Post-war prices for tractors had dropped. Thus, a new era of mechanization had set in.[4]

“JWZ (John W. Zink) … bought his first small Ferguson tractor which I drove for cultivating spuds and corn in the summer when I was ten. Ida helped mom butcher and freeze fryer chickens.”[5]

Anne and Ida wished for a little sister to play with and dress up. They were already disappointed once when Nelson arrived, and they were destined to be disappointed twice more.

Ed and Jerry

Edwin Albert Zink was born November 13, 1947, the first of John W. and Ruby’s children not born during President Roosevelt’s long run. Gerald Paul Zink, another Truman-era boomer baby, came next, early on January 2, 1950. John hustled Ruby indoors at the hospital just before she was about to give birth on the sidewalk in the cold. So the story goes.[6]

Ed’s fascination with bicycles began early.

Nelson, Ed and Jerry, around 1952.

Work became second nature to all the Zink children as they grew up. They weren’t extreme or mean about it, Ed says, but “our parents expected us to work. It was not negotiable.” If they were involved in 4-H (Ed and Jerry both had 4-H grand champion hogs) or sports, that was acceptable and encouraged; otherwise, there was work to see to. In the summer, you’d start work in the morning and pretty much go all day until near dusk, Ed says.

There were 30 to 45 minutes of chores in the morning before school. After school came another hour or more of work. They’d get off the bus, change clothes, have a snack and do more chores, Anne remembers.[7]

One of Anne and Ida’s chores was laundry, and that included washing everyone’s Levi’s, including the hired hand’s. Anne recalls one day, probably in the mid-1950s, where they wrang out 28 pairs of Levi’s and flopped them over the fence to dry.

There were chickens to feed, sometimes orphan lambs to feed in the spring if the mother died or abandoned them, milk to strain, the garden to hoe, hay and corn to tend. And of course, there were potatoes. After supper the kids would tramp across the highway (now County Road 203) to the potato cellar, where they’d get on their knees and sort the spuds. There were No. 1s, the good, full-sized symmetrical ones, and the No. 2s, the oddballs that were sold cheaper.

A family ledger from around 1960.

The type of work the kids did changes over the years as the farm and ranch emphasis changed. John Zink bought more land, expanding his crops, adding more sheep and cattle. At one point about 400-500 sheep and 100-200 cattle roamed the ranchland or up the valley. The animals required herding, branding, vaccinating, and of course, nourishment, often in the form of hay or corn. Often a hired man would be living with them. During busy times, particularly during the fall potato harvest, the ranch became a tricultural gathering place of Navajo, Hispanic and Anglo laborers.

The five kids learned basic accounting, keeping transaction records in a day book, and tending to a cash box kept by the back door. Most customer sales were potatoes. At year’s end the kids earned a percentage of annual sales, both in gross and net. (Net sales subtracted operational costs, and the hope was the kids would thus learn to take good care of the equipment.) But kids will be kids, and there was always a reluctance to be the one to make the sale.

“I don’t have my shoes on!” was the traditional method of shirking transaction duties. They joke about it now.

Flooding, sheep, and cattle

Ida corrals some lambs on the ranch.

When the Animas River crested with spring runoff from the mountain snowpack, between May 20 and June 20, some of the ranchland might flood. This made the usual pastures wet and muddy, and precipitated driving the sheep up onto the mountainside above Waterfall Ranch. They’d eat the budding grass until it was safe to return to the valley.

Flooding occurred frequently in the late 1940s and through the 1950s. The highest water in that period came in 1949, when the Animas peaked at 12,700 cubic feet per second on June 19, about twice the average peak. On such occasions, keeping an eye on the sheep was something the kids could do. There was no fence, so they’d use Falls Creek as a natural barrier, and just make sure the sheep didn’t cross the road bridge and head home. Ida and Anne did this several times, once for a month. “One time we couldn’t find them and we came home,” Anne says. They had to tell their parents, “We don’t know where they went.”[8]

When they were old enough to take on this task, perhaps ages 12 and 10, Ed and brother Jerry would root for big floods. Staying with the sheep was a rite of passage, and an opportunity to be independent. Neighbor friend Carroll Rogers joined them. And they’d bring stock dogs, one was an Australian shepherd, and one a border collie, that had been trained by Uncle Bert, an expert sheep man. For a couple of years Ed had his own herd of sheep to keep track of.

There was probably no reason to spend the night up on the mountainside – a sleeping boy isn’t going to stop sheep – but bringing a sleeping bag, pitching a tent, and having a campfire became part of the adventure.

“We thought it was pretty cool,” Ed says. “We’d have hot dogs for supper, eggs for breakfast.”[9]

And they were free to investigate and do silly things that young boys sometimes do. For instance, they were fascinated by cigarettes and tobacco. So they’d try to smoke bark, or pine needles, or whatever, in a straw or other device. As might be expected, thankfully, none of these tobacco substitutes the kids tried caught on.

Land expansions

Beginning when they moved back in 1945, bit by bit, John W. and Ruby worked on and expanded their land. Nelson Zink wrote that his memories growing up on the ranch are dominated by land improvement, making it agriculturally productive irrigated land.[10]

“I think my Dad had an image of what a proper farm should look like and spent his life trying to achieve that,” Nelson wrote. “Looking back on it now, the ranch, in 1945, probably had substantially less than 100 acres of tillable land.”

The key was water, and to make the irrigation work most all the land had to be cleared and suitably leveled. “So there was an endless clearing, leveling, fencing and ditch building,” Nelson wrote. “Many Sundays were spent clearing brush and burning.”

Around 1950 the ranch was expanded to the north with the purchase of the Baumgartner place. A big hay barn near the Logans’ ranch was leveled, and various pieces of land were continually worked on for the next ten to fifteen years. The land on either side of the highway north to Uncle Ken’s were sold off over the years as home sites. The ranch also was extended southward with the purchase of the Jimmerfield place. Nelson says he still has an ancestral Puebloan pot that was excavated while doing field work south of the house.[11]

Herefords and Angus

By the time the three boys got to be teenagers, ranch operations focused to a greater degree on cattle than sheep.

Ed’s not exactly sure he’s fond yet of Angus cattle, but soon he will be.

John W. began with Hereford cattle, imported to America from England beginning in the early 19th century. Its red coat and white face make it perhaps the most recognizable of cattle breeds. To the Herefords he added black Angus, a breed imported from England and Scotland beginning in the 1870s, with beef “renowned for its fine marbling texture and superlative eating qualities.”[12] In other words, it has a reputation for being tasty. The Zinks were among the first to bring Angus into the Animas Valley.

John was excited and proud to bring in the Angus cattle, so excited that he had a brave but uncertain 5-year-old son (Ed) get on top of one for a picture. With help from the La Plata County extension agent, the Zinks bred the cattle with an eye on creating better strains.

Feedlot operations grew, and the ranch become a full-on cattle operation. Customers would come, load their trucks with one or more cattle, and drive onto the huge scales that the Zinks had installed; customers paid by the pound.[13]

John developed an excellent relationship with the extension agency, whose various outreach sites around the state are branches of Colorado State University – part of the land-grant college system developed in the late 1800s to teach skills needed for agriculture, science and engineering. In regard to ranching, for example, the extension agency would consult with John on the optimal treatment of bulls, cows, and calves.

Sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s, John served for several years on a statewide advisory board for the CSU extension program. Later, in the 1990s, Anne Putnam Zink continued the tradition, serving on the nine-member State Board of Agriculture appointed by the governor. (At the time, Fort Lewis College fell under this board’s domain.)

Whistle whilst you work?

Ed began driving a tractor before he could simultaneously push in the clutch and hold the steering wheel.

Waterfall Ranch, 1958.

“We were trusted, given lots of responsibility,” Ed says. “We screwed up but we learned a lot. (Father John) was patient if you were trying. If you were trying that was enough.”

John was intensely into his work, and believed that your work should be as much fun as your play. That basically meant that you shouldn’t constantly be wishing you were doing something else besides work. To make it more like a game, John would create contests of sorts: Who can hoe the most rows? Can you plow the field so that the last row is straight? Plowing straight demanded concentration for hours – no daydreaming allowed or pretty soon you’ve got a zig or a zag. As intense as he was, the idea was to keep the work from being drudgery, and to instill in his children a sense of accomplishment.[14]

Even his grandchildren came to understand how he’d use psychology. Heidi Zink thinks John probably got that trait from his mother, Ida, who’d tell stories as she worked through vegetable rows so her kids would have to keep up to listen.[15]

The boys mostly got along fine, but there were moments.

“Dad, in particular, would get a little tired of us bickering,” Ed recalls. He’d give the smaller boy a stick. ‘Here, let’s go ahead and fight till you get it out of your system.’ The response was often a scared, “I don’t w-w-want to f-f-fight anymore …”[16]

Call the ambulance!

Ranch life is certainly not risk-free. Injuries were common, some more serious than others.

Anne was about 9 years old when a horse took exception to her method of discipline. The task of the day was chopping corn, the chopper set up next to the silo. Lunchtime came, and John noticed the two horses messing with the stalks and eating the corn. He told Anne to take care of it. She walked down to the silo, grabbed a stalk, walked up behind the big work horse, and “whop!” swatted it on the rear.

“Of course, he retaliated,” Anne says. The horse kicked back and flattened her, leaving her with deep bruises on her right shoulder, left hip, ribs and lungs.

He had to finish work, so after John carried Anne up to the car, Ruby took her to the hospital. Grandfather John was around at the time, about 1947, and he came to Mercy to visit, giving her something still a bit of a luxury: gum. She recovered, and in a few days was back with her third-grade classmates at Central School.

Jerry was just 3 when he was run over. He was riding on a low-boy farm wagon, whose deck rode close to the ground, making it easy to load. Jerry bounced off and rolled under a wheel, which ran over him. The huge tire mark on his back looked alarming, but fortunately he was pretty much uninjured.

There was the time Ida’s guts came spilling out. Well, kind of. She and Anne were riding horses at Hermosa with cousins Peggy and Sara – Uncle Bert’s daughters. John W. and Ruby were inside a house on the property. Ida was on Nell, a horse of Uncle Bert’s known to be flighty. This day Nell took off running. Ida was unable to control the horse, and the three girls yelling at it to “stop!” caused it only to go faster. Nell rambled full-speed until she reached a fence. Seeing that finally brought her to a sudden stop, but it caused Ida to be thrown forward into the fence. Ida nicked her arm on the fence, and instead of blood, a glob of fat puffed out and stanched the bleeding. The girls went running into the house, where Anne reported:

“Come quick! Ida fell off Nell and her insides are coming out,” Anne says. “Of course, Mother had a different vision of what ‘insides’ meant.”[17]

This happened decades later, sometime in the 1980s, but was actually more serious. John was shoeing horses when he was kicked in the chest and knocked out cold. Granddaughter Kristi, only a few years old, was the only one with him, and she came running, screaming back to the house to get help. He was taken to the hospital with internal bleeding, but managed to recover.



[1] Interview with Ed Zink, Jerry Zink, Anne Zink Putnam, Heidi Zink, Kristi Zink and Patti Zink, Nov. 20, 2016.

[2] Waterfall Ranch history, Anne Zink Putnam, 2014.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Waterfall Ranch written memories from Nelson Zink, written February 2017. Nelson notes that there was a tractor on the ranch in 1945 when John W. and Ruby moved back, but they actually sold it to return to farming with a horse team.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Interview Nov. 20, 2016.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Interview with Ed Zink, February 11, 2017.

[10] Nelson Zink’s written memories, February 2017.

[11] Ibid.

[12] From Angus cattle page on

[13] Interview with Ed Zink, February 11, 2017

[14] Interview Nov. 20, 2016.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.