The Jim Thomason story isn't a very old one but it's a good one. With expressive eyes and
hands he begins his tale here, in the early 1950's. "I'd just gotten home from service in Korea,
and I was traveling from Idaho to California. At the top of Dixie Mountain I saw the valley
ahead and this warm feeling inside told me I'd found home," says Jim.
He stopped - could not be drawn from these hills - and stayed. Jim found work as a fireguard and as a
lookout on Strawberry Mountain. "It was then that I met Lenora Stout, and she took my heart too,"
Feeling as though he wasn't making enough money, Jim began a series of jobs looking for the right situation.
He worked for John Day Dairy delivering milk; drove truck for Morgan Freight, and then took on a graveyard shift
at Blue Mountain Mills while selling appliances at Scotts Furniture by day.
He approached owner Kenny Scott once asking about televisions and commenting that there ought to be a way to get
reception into John Day as Prairie City could get a little from Boise. "No way to do it," was Scott's response.
One fateful day in 1955, a fellow moved into town and brought a TV and antenna with him. He told Jim he could pick up
a bit with his 10 element all channel antenna. Jim contacted Clay Roberts from the power company (then located on
Hillcrest Rd.) and they mounted the fellow's antenna on the building.
"Here come T.V. Just beautiful," says Jim, adding "After that, my only interest was T.V.'s. And it didn't take Kenny
Scott long to get real enthused either."
They decided to set up a viewing room in town. To do that they ran RG11 coax line on top of the ground from the
power company to Hanson's Wholesale. They moved the goods into other rooms, put carpet down and invited all the
bankers and city dads to watch the two Boise channels they could pick up. "We wanted to sell them on the idea that we
could put this in their houses," says Jim.
But there was a lot more needed than just a nod. They needed permission to use the existing power poles, the city's okay, and of course,
lots of paperwork. But yes, it snowballed from that spot, with Jim shinnying up poles and stringing them with cable. "I
taught myself how to install and run the cable. Nine and a half years later, I had wired the towns of John Day,
Canyon City, Mt. Vernon, Seneca, Bates, Dayville, Long Creek and Monument.
There was an air of reverence to Jim and Kenny's work too. Something of an unseen, supernatural source at work. So much so, that
when they would look for spots to place an antenna, Kenny would kneel down and they would pray over the spots. Television
reception was and is mercurial.
Jim's tale takes a bitter turn when in 1959 the banks would not loan him the money needed to buy the company. "They called it a hair-brained
scheme that wouldn't last," remembers Jim. He did succeed in talking Jack McKenna into buying and keeping Jim on as the lineman,
technician and installer.
Over the next 17 years, Jim set up 110' antenna towers, repaired equipment in remote locations on horseback, and performed high-wire acts in
windy, freezing weather that still has wife Lenora shaking her head. Funny thing too, during all these home installations, the Thomasons went
without a T.V. for years and years; the old shoemaker's curse.
In 1977 Jim fell and got hurt bad enough that he had to seek other employment (read terminated.) Jim then got busy working in the
antique shop that Lenora had opened in 1972. Looking back on his endeavors he realizes that the work was all trail and error. It was a self-taught,
learn as you go, do it yourself proposition from the start. And don't forget intuition and a natural gif for telecommunications.
Throughout the years Jim has found satisfaction in other pursuits as well. He and Lenora have two children, a son Jerry and a daughter Debra. They now have
two grandsons also. Jim was known to put on a terrific medicine wagon show for '62 days. He served as commander of the American Legion for five
years in the 1960's and as the Whiskey Gulch director for 17 years.
It would be fair to call Jim the founder of television in these parts. Just ask the fellas who once tried to relocate some of the signal
towers. They found it impossible to get reception except where they had been planted. Ingenuity rules over industry
©1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved
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