Southern Utah News Articles
Western Legends honoree Theo Judd McAllister
I, Theo Judd McAllister, was born in Kanab, Utah, into a family with a long heritage of adventure and service. I was taught as a child, “Nothing is impossible. Impossible just takes a little longer.”
While in high school, I would help Uncle George in his blacksmith shop working on movie wagons and doing repair work for the town’s people. Watching metal being brought to a malleable temperature to be tempered and reshaped to repair the equipment of that era was fascinating. At age 11, Dad and I mounted a Maytag two cylinder washing machine engine to power my bicycle. I rode this motorized bike for many miles and years. It was a bicycle built for two, “my motor and me.”
My bicycle took me and my trumpet to all the nooks and crannies in Kane County, as I weekly played for outdoor local dances. I even had the opportunity of working with Burl Ives on a movie called “Green Grass of Wyoming.” We were taught to sing and dance to the tune “Down in the Pawpaw Patch.” We were easily-recognized on the big screen.
After high school, I hit the road to attend Dixie College in St. George, where I met my bride of 62 years, Zona Prisbrey. It was love at first sight. We have worked hand in hand ever since. We began by building our own home in Kanab. We have five children; Mariam, Wayne, Annette, Wesley and Francine; 23 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren.
I was hired as a power plant operator in Kanab for Southern Utah Power Company. Four large Fairbanks power generators made electricity for our small community. I operated and maintained this power plant for 11 years. I enjoyed the thump, thump of the old diesel engines. We left them alone at night, and I could tell when they loaded up calling for power in the morning. I would dash up and make the needed adjustments.
During this time, I took a correspondence course in electronics. This in turn gave me enough knowledge to install and maintain the first television relay system into Kanab in 1957. After locating the best peak with sufficient television signal, a generator and television booster equipment were needed. A fundraiser was necessary.
As president of the local Junior Chamber of Commerce, we decided to sell house numbers. I drove the tractor with a rag on the wheel to measure the town, and mark where the houses fit. Local house numbers were then sold to help pay to bring television into Kanab and surrounding areas.
For several years, at least weekly and sometimes twice a week, trips were made in a jeep on a sandy road to Moccasin Mountain located above and beyond Pipe Spring to take fuel and service the equipment.
Kanab had been moved into the 20th century and was now connected to the world. Our youth could now learn and grow with the world, and our elderly could have entertainment and the current news in their homes. Our daughter, Mariam, remembers watching the first man land on the moon live on TV at school.
As Kaibab Industries, our local sawmill, expanded, I was electrician for the expansion of automated equipment and did the two-way radio repair. After taking a clerk’s job in the Kanab Post Office, I was able to work my way to become postmaster, and help the town by organizing and installing neighbor delivery units. These jobs kept “My kids from eating the putty out of the windows.” After serving 24 years as postmaster, I retired to restore tractors and old gasoline engines, bringing them back to life.
I remembered the EIMCO Power Horse Lester Little used in the early 1940’s. A tractor that drove with reins, “just like a horse.” Snap the reins, it goes forward. Pull the left rein to go left. Pull the right rein to go right. Pull both reins to stop. Pull hard on both reins to back up, “just like a horse.”
With my son Wesley’s help, we found one, restoring it to its original condition. Now we demonstrate the Power Horse in parades and antique tractor shows across the nation. This Power Horse from Kanab has been featured in many national magazines and books. For 11 years Western Legends Roundup has given us the privilege of demonstrating the early pioneer way of life to our youth and the public. Teaching people about the old equipment brings a twinkle to my eyes.
Life in Kanab has been good to me over the years, as it was for my father, Wesley Theo McAllister, and his father before him, W. J. F. McAllister. W.J.F. came across the plains at age 15, driving a wagon and team. At the age of 17, Brigham Young sent him back to Omaha with six head of oxen and a wagon to bring back more settlers and a load of stoves. He was one of those famed “down and back boys.” He settled in Kanab in 1874, and was a carpenter, beekeeper and a prominent figure in the community.
Wesley Theo built most of the movie sets in Kane County. My father and grandfather taught me to love and honor my heritage. This is a legacy I wish to leave with my children and grandchildren. Be proud of your heritage and the Kanab way of life. Remember “Nothing is impossible. Impossible just takes a little longer.”