Orril Fluharty: Blueprint for Living was written by Mary Barbour Schumacher and originally appeared in the 1977 book, Transitions: Montara to Pescadero, an oral history, a project edited by Canada teacher Aida Hinajosa.
Photo of Orril Fluharty by Mary Barbour Schumacher, the author of the article.
“I am responsible and you are responsible for what happens in the world: nobody else is. I think that right now the world is on the verge of one of the greatest revivals that ever was. There’s no time in the world I’d rather live than right now. Look at the accumulative knowledge we have to work with. Look at communications the world over that has never been known before. This means that we’ve got to learn to get along together or annihilate ourselves!”
Orril Fluharty talked as he scrambled a meal of sheepherder’s stew over the campstove at the millsite on Lemon Hill where he and his crew were clearing away a parcel of land and milling logs into rough, cut boards. Besides logging and the operating of his own portable sawmill, a trade that he learned as a boy, Orril is also a part-time minister at the Congregational Church in Pescadero.
He was born July 2, 1912 on a homestead and timber claim in Eureka, Montana, which is five miles from the Canadian border in the heart of the Rockies.
“Early life was an experience of primitive existence,” he reflected. “Kerosene lamps and lanterns were our night lights, wood stoves were the only source of heat and household water was carried in buckets from a spring about 200 yards from the house. Swamp land prevented us from hauling our water in barrels by team. Wild game was plentiful and was a primary source of our food supply. This was supplemented by a large ‘dry land’ garden. Our transportation was either by horse-drawn vehicles, by horseback or by walking which meant that our world was limited to approximately fifteen miles in radius.”
The aroma from the campfire and the cooking stew was diverting our attention from the interview. We were invited to share the pastoral feast with his logging crew of three. Spoons and plates were fashioned for us, by one of his crew, out of whittled wood and big logs served as our chairs.
“Was this mean cooked especially for us?” we asked.
“Oh, no, we do this every day. A hot meal is important for a logging crew,” Orril replied with a grin.
Orril Fluharty’s father made a living sawing and hauling wood with a team of horses.
“The only way we had to make a living was to live off the land. Dad would go out and hack railroad ties with a broad ax.
“Yeah,” he continued, “we cleared a lot of land. That was quite a tough job in those days, only way to get the stumps out was with a horse, dynamite or dig around ’em. There’s a fella came in there (I was a pretty young lad), this fella brought in a horse stump[puller. All it was was a wench. Horse and a wench. The horse would walk around and tighten this cable up around the stump and just pull the stump out. I remember I thought it was an amazing thing.”
He then peered over this glasses and tipped his head to the side and said, “That stump-puller wouldn’t pull out these Redwood stumps, though. Redwoods have taproots. Any tree that you look at, they say, there is just as much under the ground as above the ground.
“I have strong feels of a kinship with nature. I worked in the woods before World War II. Worked as a timber bucker–sawed logs with an old handsaw. Worked in Montana, Idaho and Washington. I never worked in the big timber in Washington, though, only in the small timber in the eastern part of the state. Rock Mountain timber is smaller. The big trees there are about five feet in diameter; most of the timber there runs an average of about two-and-a-half to three feet in diameter.
By now the meal was ready and we all sat down to eat. A brisk breeze commenced to blow so we all moved to the leeward side of the fire, occasionally changing our positions as the breeze was shifting.
“We’ve had this particular mill about two years,” Orril continued. “One of my reasons for getting this mill–I saw one about twenty years ago–was because I think that it is a waste to do this kind of work with a big operation. A big operation would come in here and cut up through there,” he gestured widely as he spoke. “They wouldn’t be careful about fallin’ the trees in between the other trees and they’d just leave a big mess with big piles of brush all over the countryside. That hillside over there will be all cleaned off when we get through. You won’t even be able to tell that we were here. This is my reason for having the mill, and besides,” he chuckled, “I like it, it’s interesting work and I keep my body in shape physically.”
Orril Fluharty calls himself a happy-go-lucky guy in his earlier years, he just let things go as they go until he finally took up the calling of the ministry after many people kept telling him over the years, “You’ve got to preach, Orril.”
We asked him when he finally realized he would become a minister.
“I was out in the woods working with my friend. I was working way back up on the job, over a little knoll, and my friend was working back near the camp. As I worked my way up to the top of the knoll, the sun was shining, this beautiful sun and the sunset. I felt so near to the spirit. I felt God’s voice in the heavens. I just took off my hat and kneeled down and prayed to the sunset. I even preached a sermon later about God’s voice in the heavens and the feeling of closeness to the spirit.”
He related to us that his mother was a very strong spiritual influence on his early life. She was the daughter of a Baptist minister from West Virginia and she took time from her busy daily schedule to read to her family from any available material that she could find both secular and religious.
“I wish that smoke would blow in another direction,” he referred to the smoke from our bucket fire. By this time in our conversation, the air was becoming quite chilly, the sun was moving behind Lemon Hill and the breeze had increased into a pretty strong wind. We were all clinging to the fire as closely as possible, moving about to keep free of the smoke and rubbing our hands together for warmth.
Reverend Fluharty continued, “I was always concerned about this one incident, the one about the sunset. I knew I was going to preach. I thought I was going to receive a letter in the mail telling me what I was supposed to do with my life,” he chuckled and shook his head. “So when I was working out in the woods near Loon Lake, Washington, I went to church services down there. One day while I was visiting in the minister’s home, his wife–she didn’t know anything about this other thing you know (his revelation experience) and we talked a little bit. Of course, these people were fundamentalist people, praying. She said, ‘You know, you’re called to preach.’
“Well, I just kind a took this as the answer to the impression I was gonna get an answer from that sunset situation. So that’s where it started.”
Shortly after that, Orril went into the service, married his lovely wife, Clara, and was stationed at Fort Reno, Oklahoma. Reverend Grant of the First Methodist Church in El Reno approached him and invited him to preach in his church.
“I started in the Methodist Church in El Reno, Oklahoma. I got my first local preacher’s license and I started preaching on a local preacher’s license in 1943.”
After Reverend Fluharty was released from the service, he became a timber bucker again.
“My wife was from Spokane, Washington, so I moved with three other guys to the town of Farmington to work the timber. Farmington is about 40 miles south of Spokane. So, the four of us moved down there in the woods just batchin’ and started sawin’ logs.
“Woody Anderson, the guy I was workin’ with, a little short-legged guy, he was always mouthin’ off–talking out-of-turn anyway, so he went down to this little store in town. Somebody said something about needing a preacher in the church, so Shorty says, ‘Oh, we got a preacher up in the woods.’
“So I went down to the store in Farmington. I wore my hair short and I had about three weeks growth of whiskers on my face. I’d been running a chain saw and I was just one big blob of sawdust.
“I went into the store and started talking with this lady and said to her, ‘My partner up there in the woods tells me you folks need a preacher down here.’
“Yes, he said he knew of somebody up there, do you know him?
“Yes, I know him. He’s a kinda character. I guess he’s all right!” (soft laughter). “I went on about 15 or 20 minutes like that, describing this guy,” (more laughter, “then I says. ‘I’m him.’ She was a very sophisticated person, and that just about got through her shell.”
Then he said as an afterthought, “She must have thought, ‘That dirty looking thing, he couldn’t be a preacher.'”
By this time in his tale, Reverend Fluharty was really enjoying his joke and so were we. So we all shared together in his hearty laugh.
He proceeded in a more serious tone.
“So, I went to work in the Methodist Church in Farmington. I worked there with a local preacher’s license for three years.”
“You’ve been preaching ten to fifteen years?”
“I have an accumulation of twenty years as a licensed minister and I feel that my strongest asset as a preacher is in counseling. I feel I have been 100 percent successful with the people I’ve worked with.
“I think you yourself know the best way to counsel is to just be a sounding board, just to reflect back into them. I listen carefully with an interested mind. Not listening and thinking about something else, but listening to what they are really saying, and then, if I see a place or an opening where I think I might help them, I might make a suggestion.
“I don’t say, ‘You do this; you do that.’ No (emphatically) No, that won’t work! God, the Christian Religion has done this all right, but it’s a mistake to say that God is sittin’ up on a cloud with a big stick and he’s going to pound you on the head. It doesn’t work that way.
“And here is my main transcendence from fundamentalism to liberal view.
“I came out of the Northwest up there, very closed so far as knowledge and meeting of people was concerned. I’d just gone to high school when I went into the service. I met people everywhere in the service.One of the most amazing things to me was when I talked to a German soldier and found (because I thought Germans were animals) that they thought and felt exactly as I did. They did and didn’t like the same things as I.
“We are all created alike. We are a little part of God, not all god. Anytime I say, ‘You’re wrong, you’re going to hell,’ then I’m being God. You see, you can turn. And I’ve got a lot of ‘boiling out’ to do yet as far as looking at a person.
“Everybody wants to be a big wheel all the time. What’s there in being a big wheel? You see, you don’t amount to anything. You know, the little peas in the pod that you and I are. Collectively, we are the pods.
“I don’t have all the answers. Neither does anybody else. We’d be quite egotistical if we say we’ve got a corner on God. But I’m a democrat from the word ‘go’ as far as growth is concerned. I think that all of our ideas put together and hashed back and forth and talked over will result in the ultimate truth.
“I can’t rule out any philosophy–anything. I believe that–Why would I be afraid of any philosophy? why wold i be afraid to talk with anyone? I feel that a change in society comes through evolution, not revolution. I don’t believe in revolution myseslf.”
In a very positive tone of voice he continued, “Changes will come about consciously and continuously. I think this is the way it’s going to come about. I don’t think there are going to be big revivals and flamboyant meetings. I think that through conversations and through knowledge and education there will be an evolution of these different ideas coming together.
“I don’t know much about prophecy in the Bible; I can’t make any statements about it that I think are correct. In the Bible it says that the end of the world is coming. ‘End of the world,” what does that mean? End of the world could mean seven trillion years from now or however long.
“What I’m interested in is what’s happening right now!” he said with strong emphasis.
“Now is the time of salvation. We can’t go to the future and live in the future or live in the past. We must live right now! I think we are right on the bridge. It’sw going to change,” he nods hi head in a positive manner, ” where we’ll all be living in peace with one another.
“My purpose isn’t to be a big wheel. It is to enjoy living and enjoy people and to help us all find peace–it’s right here within us. It’s the only place you can find it. There is no other place to look.”
Story by Maqry Barbour Schumacher