In April 1995, I had the good fortune to visit Idaho, along with my wife and the author of the Weiser Wonder article, Henry Thomas. It was an appropriate place for Hank to begin marketing his book, Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train, which had just come off the presses. We brought along six boxes of the book, containing 84 copies, all of which Hank was able either to sell or donate. Our base of operations for our three day visit was my cousin Margie Calkins' home in Nampa, a town where Walter had pitched during the summers of 1906 and 1907. Each day, on our way to Weiser, we drove through other towns whose names were already familiar to us -- Caldwell and Payette.
Weiser didn't seem to have changed much between 1907 and 1995. Many of the homes and buildings appeared to date from a century ago and the population of the town hadn't increased much. We didn't see any signs of the opium dens or saloons which existed in Weiser's early days, but we were able to locate the boarding house where Walter lived while in Weiser. The Star Theatre, which might have been a vaudeville house in 1907, was being restored. We visited the railway station where Walter said goodbye to Clair Head and his Weiser teammates and boarded a train to begin his journey to stardom. We're not sure if we found the location of the ballpark where the Weiser Kids played, but in any event, Hank got to stand on the mound of a Walter Johnson Field while I took his picture.
The visit of Walter Johnson's grandson generated about as much media attention as any event would receive in such a small town. Henry Thomas was interviewed by the Weiser Signal American and appeared on the evening news on a Boise television channel. He was given the key to the city, and was invited to speak at several local schools. One of the questions he had to field was, "Did your grandpa ever pitch to Frank Thomas?"
We were greeted warmly by local residents such as Carol Odoms and Wes Higgins, who were involved in the Snake River Heritage Center. In 1994, a fire had gutted the museum building and they had been able to rescue all of the Johnson memorabilia which were on display there, including a bat which was alleged to have to have been Walter's, and two very well-preserved uniform shirts which he is supposed to have worn in Weiser games. Carol had the jerseys laundered to remove any signs of smoke damage and was keeping them in her home until Hank told her what they might be worth. She immediately turned them over to the local bank for safekeeping in its vault!
Since 1995, Henry Thomas' book has gone through two printings in hardback and is now available in paperback. The 1995 issue of Grandstand Baseball Annual has also sold out. I hope you've already bought the book and told a few friends about it and that your enjoyment of Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train will be increased by reading these two articles which dig deeper into Johnson's days in California and Idaho.
Printer Layout and Preparation: Alice Carey
The author drew heavily on the Library of Congress' files of newspapers on microfilm for the contemporary reports of games without which an article of this type would be impossible.