By Bobbie Stephens Hunt
It is not often one has the opportunity to know a man who was named after an explorer of new lands. This man is Pader Briggs of the Heber/Overgaard area. He has lived here for the past twelve years. Pader is quite a versatile man. He has worked with his hands through the years, in wood and stone. As I sat in his house talking with him about life, I carefully observed the beautiful long kitchen table and six chairs made from scraps of fir wood, sanded and varnished, bringing out the elegant grain of the wood. He also made two, large, round coffee tables from wood and covered with glass. Under the glass is inlaid leather with Indians in various work poses carved into the leather. This work of art was done by his son Raymond. On the walls are many pictures in leather, also by Raymond. Another son, Roy, has several paintings of western life. Pader built the house he and his lovely wife, Irene, live in. The house was built from scratch with used lumber. He loves to lay rock and has built a rock wall behind their wood heater, inlaying the rock in a charming pattern.
Pader and I sat at the beautiful kitchen table and looked through old pictures, while he reminisced of his early life. He was born in Bentchester, England, April 23, 1915, to Charles and Carolyn Briggs and was one of seven children. His mother was born in Norway and lived in a stone house on the edge of a fjord. Her father, Pader Ulrich, was an explorer and whaler. He was with the explorer, Rould Amunson, when the North Pole was discovered. Can you imagine the cold, the ice, the vastness of the water in the small sailing ships of that time? When these men came back telling of their discovery, they were decorated by the King of Norway. A large medal was given to both men. Pader Ulrich told his daughter if she had a son and named the child after him, the medal would go to the child. So Pader Briggs bears the name of his famous explorer grandfather and has the medal received from the King of Norway. Pader’s mother moved to England, married and lost her first husband to the dread “Black Lung,” (a coal miner’s disease) so many coal miners died of. She ran a boarding house to support herself and her young son. There she met Charles, Pader’s father. They were married and of this union six children were born. Pader remembers the bombing of England by Germany during World War I. The bombs were dropped from a Graff Zeffelin dirigible. The bombs lit the skies up night after night. Much death and damage was being done by this Zeffelin, one night, without orders, a Royal Air Force man went up in his plane and shot down the Zeffelin. This put an end to the bombing, but the man was relieved of his duty for doing it without orders. Such is the strange ways of those in authority! Pader said the resulting explosion of the Zeffelin lit the sky up like noonday. Brother Bob, fifteen years old, went to fight in the war. He was on the front lines in the trenches for three years. He was in the service nine years all together. During this time, Pader’s father went to Canada, Pader and Irene Briggs 1993 seeking opportunity for a better life for him and his family. The year was 1919 and the province was Alberta. He had worked all his life in the coal mines, so this was what he hired out to do. After a year of hard work, he had enough money saved up to send for his wife and children. There was just barely enough money for them to take ship, but they had to spend the entire two weeks of the journey below deck. Only first class tourists were allowed top deck. The family only had what food they were able to carry with them. It was a miserable fourteen days, but finally it ended with their landing in Quebec. From there they were to travel by train to Alberta. This is where Pader saw his first peach. His older brother had a small amount of money and bought the peaches, passing them around so all could have one. Pader refused his. “I won’t eat that!” declared Pader. “And why not?” asked his brother. “Because it has fur on it,” returned the puzzled little boy. The family settled in western Alberta, about eighty miles northwest of Calgary and spent several years there. The older brothers went to work in the mines with their father. This was the coldest time they had ever experienced. The winters were severe, fifty-five to sixty degrees below zero, night after night. The house was cold all the time, except in the one room with the coal stove. Everyone slept in their clothes and Eskimo type moccasins with all the covers they had piled on top of them. After several years, Pader’s mother discovered she had relatives that had migrated to Wisconsin. She and Pader’s father discussed it and decided she should go and see these relatives. She went for a visit and fell in love with the land. Beautiful lakes, streams and forests were in abundance. Her uncle told her he would rent part of his farm to them. She returned to the frigid plains of Alberta and told Pader’s father what a wonderful country she had seen and how they could make a living farming. Pader’s father would be able to work in the light of sunshine, rather than the dank darkness of the anthracite coal mines. With great joy and anticipation, they made the move. Only three children went, the others staying on in Canada. The oldest boy, Bob, was out of the service and had also moved to Canada. The trip to Wisconsin took two weeks by car, a McCloughlin touring car, which Pader’s dad loved. They camped at night in a tent alongside the road and cooked their meals. It was worth the 2400 mile trip to arrive at the farm and see this magnificent green country. Pader’s dad loved the land and working out in the open air. What a relief and change from the coal mines! The children finished growing up on the farm, learning farming ways, becoming strong and healthy and brown as berries. The children in their community made fun of their “Limey Canadian” accents, but in time accepted them. It took some time for the whole family to get their naturalization papers. Pader applied for and received his after he and Irene were married. Farming was hard work but rewarding. Pader’s dad bought wild broomtail horses from Montana for five dollars a head. Pader learned to break them and then they were sold for ten dollars a head. In the breaking of the horses to ride, several of Pader’s own bones were broken. A neighbor made mention that if they would harrow the rigid ground, breaking it up, it would make it harder for the horses to buck and the broken ground would soften the fall. So this is what father and son did. Pader also worked in pulpwood and logging as he got older. The pay was three cents a stick-cut and peeled at 100 inches long. About this time he enlisted in the three C Camp. The Civilian Conservation Corps improved the woods, planted trees and fought fires among other things. This Corp was established at a time when jobs were scarce and put many a young man to work. Pader learned to operate a cat and build roads. It was here he was taught the unique job of dynamite blasting. Once while fighting fire in the swamps, he set a charge of dynamite with one fuse and one pack that lit a string of dynamite a mile long! Each charge set the next one off creating a plume of smoke a mile long drifting high into the air. It was not all work and no play. He learned boxing and fought in the ring and also played baseball in his free time. He earned thirty dollars a month, twentyfive dollars to be sent home to his folks. This left a grand total of five dollars that was his to keep. Out of this five dollars a month, he bought a car that cost fifteen dollars, giving him something more to work on in his spare time.
Pader met and married his lovely lady, Irene, in 1938. From this long lasting union came four boys, Philip, Raymond, Roy and Eric. Pader and Irene worked hard building a life for their boys and themselves. He accumulated enough to own his own shop where he built and sold boats. He had heard about Arizona, and in 1949, decided with a friend, to take a trip out and look things over. What big, wide, open country! In Paradise Valley, he heard of two and a half acre lots selling for five hundred dollars. He made the decision to buy and used their five hundred dollars in savings. He quickly found a job and sent money to Irene and the boys to live on until he made a stake to bring them out. He finally saved up enough to go get the family and also bought a 1952 Ford. Back he went to Wisconsin, loaded the family and all they owned and fulfilled the. words of Horace Greely, “Go west young man, go west!”
He went to work for Hoffman Homes as a carpenter. At that time a two-bedroom home sold for $4950. He built their home on the two and a half acres and the boys grew to manhood there. Pader and his sons began to hunt in the White Mountains and the Mogollon Rim area. His heart was always where there were mountains and trees and his thoughts began to look into the future. Perhaps he and Irene could retire in this magnificent Mogollon Rim area but first he must finish raising his family. About this time he built a caboose camper for their pickup. He and Irene took a vacation back to Wisconsin to visit. While there, he was stung by a hornet and almost died from the venom. He was given an anti venom rattlesnake bite shot. This clashed with the hornet venom and like to have killed him. He was then rushed to the hospital where another counteracting shot was given. Pader says he has suffered many broken bones and some illnesses but nothing as bad as that sting! Pader retired at the age of 60, and he and Irene made a few trips to our area where they bought and built and are here to stay in this magnificent place. The Briggs and some other retired people met and formed the Senior Citizen’s Club. They first met at Capps Elementary School. They drew up a charter and voted Irene in as vice-president. Rus Riechart was the first president, but as his wife Mary became progressively ill and dependant upon him, he had to resign and Irene finished out the year as president. Soon they began to meet in the building where Hermana’s Cafe is now. (Editor’s note: It’s now Casa Ramos.) After that, they met at the Baptist Church and Pader was nominated to build the Senior Citizens Center because of his extensive carpentry and building knowledge. He drew up the blue prints, met with those in authority and was finally given a grant for $60,000 to build. Reid Smith donated the land where the building sits. Pader worked many long hours and was very instrumental in constructing the center now enjoyed by seniors. This is also a multiple use building. The building is one story, 104 feet long and has been adapted to the handicapped seniors. There is a large dining and kitchen area and a room for games and reading. When the building had been completed, the board voted to name it the Briggs Hall, in honor of Pader. Pader and Irene acknowledge many others who gave their time and substance in the completion of a dream they all had of a place for seniors to gather and have fellowship together. The seniors of our area have felt the good impact of Pader ‘s retirement years and the rest of us have enjoyed knowing him and calling him our friend. Editor’s Note: Next issue we’ll find out how we got from the RCSC’s original building to the one they’re occupying today. Also, if you have memories of the Senior Center’s early days, please call me at 928-535-4106, email me at email@example.com or mail to L&B, Inc. at PO Box 1825, Overgaard, AZ 85933.