Sunday, June 29, 2008

06-29-08 -- In Remembrance: Johnne Miller loved enjoying Idaho’s outdoors in every season

Their picture hangs in the lodge at Bogus Basin.
Standing in their patch-covered ski jackets and wearing the leather boots and big sunglasses of the day, the five women smile in the bright sun on the side of the mountain high above Boise.
They are the first five women ski patrollers at Bogus to be admitted into the National Ski Patrol, an elite group of highly trained patrollers known for their skill and love of the sport.
The five became four on June 10 with the death of Johnne Miller of Boise.
The breast cancer she beat 12 years ago came back earlier this year and settled in her bones. Johnne would have been 77 on July 4.
The woman who would for the rest of her life embody the spirit of Idaho recreation, began her journey early when she met Boise High School track star Zee Miller. She married her high school sweetheart soon after graduating in 1949.
From that time on, the couple spent weekends and vacations either on the ski hill or behind a ski boat.
Mary Chapel, who was much younger than her older sister, remembers Johnne as a woman always looking forward to the next adventure.
"She always felt like she had to take one of us," she said of Johnne and her five siblings. "She'd pick us up and go waterskiing or four-wheeling."
After high school Johnne spent 11 years working for the Bureau of Land Management in Boise, giving her the chance to learn more about the places she loved.
Most folks remember Johnne and Zee as the owners of Miller's Marina, which they opened together in 1960.
For the next 35 years, the couple surrounded themselves and their three children with the tools they needed to get into the Idaho backcountry they loved.
"I remember as kids, Johnne and Zee would invite (us) to go water skiing. Ever patient, Johnne and Zee would pull us almost up and then we'd go down again," said Johnne's grandson, Adam Hunter of Nampa. "They kept circling and getting us started again and again until we could water ski. ... I will always remember how fun those days were."
Johnne quit snow skiing in the late '70s when thrombosis in her ankles prevented her from wearing ski boots. But she quickly switched to snowmobiling to get her up into the mountains.
Even after she was diagnosed, treated and recovered from breast cancer in 1995, she found herself back on the seat of four-wheelers and snowmobiles, riding into the backcountry.
Framed pictures cover the walls of Johnne and Zee's home, and photo albums, jammed with pictures of Johnne, Zee and their family are scattered throughout the home. The pictures are set against snow-covered peaks in the Trinities or the spray of water behind a ski boat at Lucky Peak. There are strings of fish caught at various trips to Red Fish Lake near Stanley or Warm Lake.
In many of the shots, you can see Johnne smiling from under the face shield of her helmet while sitting on her bright red snow machine.
It is the same smile of that young woman so many years ago standing on the side of a ski mountain with her friends on the Bogus Basin ski patrol.
David Kennard: 377-6436
In Remembrance is a weekly profile on a Treasure Valley resident who has recently passed away. To recommend a friend or loved one for an In Remembrance, e-mail

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

06-17-08 -- Cannons bring back sounds of Civil War era

A Boise man spearheaded restoration of the Napoleon howitzers now fired for a variety of occasions.

Joe Jaszewski / Idaho Statesman
Specially trained members of The Idaho Civil War Volunteers fire the Napoleon cannon, an original Civil War cannon, during a Memorial Day Ceremony at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery.



THE NAME: Known as the workhorse of the Civil War, the 12-pound field gun first appeared in the 1850s in France and was named in honor of French Emperor Napoleon III. Generically, its name is the 1857 was gun howitzer.

WEIGHT: The tube weighs about 1,300 pounds. Together with the carriage, the cannon weighed almost one-and-half-tons. It was pulled by a team of six horses.

SEE THEM IN ACTION: The Napoleons will be fired again Oct. 4-5 at Freezeout Hill in Emmett.


The sound of 12-pound Napoleons echoing across the hills and valleys of Virginia, Pennsylvania and the battlefields of the Civil War once signaled the approach of war.

During their use in the 1850s and '60s, the two-and-a-half-ton cannons struck fear among troops ordered to fight within their range.

They could fire a 12-pound cast iron ball or exploding shot about a mile and were accurate up to almost a half a mile.

For close-range fighting, their gunners filled the cannons' bellies with shrapnel and fired them like giant shotguns, cutting down wide swaths of enemy forces.

By the end of the war, factories in New England had manufactured more than 1,100 of the Napoleons. Confederate troops reproduced about 600 for battle.

But after 1865, the roar of these feared giants fell silent. Many found their way to scrap yards; other were kept by collectors.


Two Napoleons turned up in Boise as sentinels at the entrance of the Old Soldiers Home built in 1893 west of Boise where Veterans Memorial Park now sits.

They remained resting silently on their massive wooden carriages as veterans of the Civil War passed away.

They later welcomed veterans from the Spanish American War and then World War I and World War II.

Sometime in the mid-1960s, 100 years after fire and smoke last belched from the solid bronze weapons, the Napoleons found a new home - presumably their final resting place - cast in cement as monuments on the Veterans Administration grounds in North Boise.

And there they sat for 30 more years. Waiting. Unnoticed. Silent.


Ken Swanson of Boise was a 13-year-old boy in 1963 when his family loaded up the family car for a summer trip to Gettysburg, Pa.

They didn't know it at the time, but the battleground, the bloodiest in Civil War history, was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Dressed in Union and Confederate colors, "soldiers" re-enacted the three-day battle credited as the turning point of the war.

The sound of drums and bugles competed over the drone of cicadas in the nearby locust trees. The smell of black powder from pistols and rifles hung in the muggy July air.

And cannons fired. Big ones, Napoleons.

Swanson grew up, served in the Vietnam War and came home with an appreciation for military history.

It wasn't long after he moved to Boise in 1978 that he first noticed the guns sitting in front of the veterans hospital.

Volunteer work frequently took him to the grounds and past the Napoleons, and he quietly began to hatch his idea.

It wasn't until 1999 that Swanson got permission from the state to break the cannons free from their cement home.

"They were green beyond green," Swanson said, describing the color of 150-year-old guns. "It didn't hurt them. They were filled with trash. Paper cups, bird's nests, bugs."

TNT Auto Salvage helped liberate the 1,300-pound guns and bring them into the possession of the Idaho Historical Society, where Swanson was working as special project manager.

State funding of about $20,000 paid for the replica wooden carriages made by Paulson Bros. Ordnance Corp. in Wisconsin.

With the tubes now back in place on top of authentic carriages, the guns looked as they did when they rolled out the factory.

From markings on the barrels, Swanson learned the guns were made in the late 1850s in Boston by Revere Copper Products, the manufacturing company founded by Paul Revere that is still in operation today.

Each gun was cast in solid bronze, and then the centers were milled to accept a 12-pound ball.

Each cannon carries a stamp with a manufacture date and the order in which the Army accepted them for use.

After Swanson had each gun X-rayed, he found no cracks or other imperfections in the casting work.

The guns could actually be fired.


On June 5, 2001, the city of Boise issued an official proclamation approving the firing of a weapon "by the participants in the Civil War Skirmish and Cannon Firing at Veterans Memorial Park."

Swanson finally had clearance to fire his Napoleons.

That was a Tuesday. Then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne was designated to pull the trigger on the following Saturday in front of the crowd gathered to watch the cannons roar.

On Friday Swanson and a small group of a folks from the Idaho Civil War Volunteers wrapped about one-and-a-half pounds of black powder in a bundle of tin foil and slid it down the throat of each cannon.

A priming wire pricked the package. The primer went into the vent at the rear of the canyon. And finally the gunner pulled the lanyard that sent a spark into the bowls of each cannon.

Fire and smoke shot from the muzzle of each gun.

"It was just a thrill to see them fire after 140 years," Swanson said.

The next day Kempthorne repeated the test, this time to the cheers of those watching the demonstration of the cannons that had once been almost forgotten.

Since that day, the Napoleons have become a regular part of Memorial Day ceremonies, school events and state celebrations.

"Nobody really appreciated them for what they were," Swanson said.

He said his goal with the cannons was always to let people experience them and relive history close up instead of in static displays or books.

"I'd rather see them like they were meant to be used," Swanson said.

David Kennard: 377-6436

Thursday, June 12, 2008

06-12-08 -- Accidents put trailer safety in spotlight

Unlike many states, Idaho doesn't require private trailers to have safety chains, secured loads or state inspections.


On Monday night, a big rig was hit by a runaway flatbed trailer on Interstate 84, closing the highway for several hours. Luckily, no one was injured.

In May, a father and two of his children died when a farm trailer swung into the path of their truck, which vaulted over the trailer and into Squaw Creek.

It is a scenario that repeats itself too often on Idaho roads, according to Idaho State Police.

"In Idaho, there are no regulations that deal with private individuals and towing," said ISP spokesman Rick Ohnsman.

But on Tuesday night, safety chains kept a camper trailer attached to a truck that rolled on Interstate 84 when the driver lost control. The driver and passenger were hurt, but the trailer was not sent hurtling toward other vehicles.

It is states like Idaho and simple solutions like safety chains that have a Virginia man on a personal crusade to pass towing laws to help make roads safer.

According to Idaho law, the only regulation that applies to towing a private trailer is that it must have working taillights, according to ISP officials.

Safety chains are not required. Loads are not required to be secured. And the state does not inspect trailers before they are registered.

The one law that seems to apply is that trailers more than 15,000 pounds are required to have working trailer brakes.

Lt. Bill Reese, deputy commander of the state's Commercial Safety Division, said some states - such as Colorado, Utah and Oregon - require safety chains.

"In other states, they require that (chains) be in good working order and usable," Reese said.

State Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said he plans to learn more about the crashes to decide whether new legislation is appropriate.

"We constantly look at ways to make our highways and freeways safer," he said.

Ron Melancon, who runs a Web site called, said it is for time all states to do something about the situation, not just think about it.

Melancon, an advocate for trailer safety, began lobbying lawmakers across the United States for stiffer trailer laws after he ran into the back of a trailer being pulled by a truck. He saw the truck but not the trailer until it was too late.

He turned that experience into a mission to make hauling trailers safer.

"In Idaho, you can go to the junkyard, pick up an axle, put a box on it and get it registered," Melancon said.

Based in Virginia, Melancon tracks accidents and laws involving trailers and said Idaho's regulations are among the loosest in the nation.

"No one checks welds. No one checks bearings. And no one checks wiring," Melancon said.

Drivers who do lose a trailer in Idaho can be cited for careless driving or littering a highway, Reese said.

"If it's my personal trailer, I'm not required to secure the load," Reese said, "although it's against the law to place debris on the highway."

"We're always blown away by how people carry things on their vehicles," Ohnsman said. "We'll find people in construction or lawn companies or smaller outfits, and we usually do load securement enforcement because they fall under commercial vehicle laws"

But Reese said most farm equipment, like the trailer involved in the fatal crash in Sweet, is exempt from the commercial rules.

Idaho police officers can apply a general equipment code to private vehicles pulling trailers, but Reese said the law is very nonspecific and hard to apply in most circumstances.

"The bottom line is crashes involving a trailer are difficult to address," Reese said.

David Kennard: 377-6436