When I was first married I was a musician. I was able to make a living at it for a long time. I didn’t work for my father. Now don’t get me wrong, at “show time” the call went out for help and we were all there every year, but I made my living doing something else.
Ginny and I had purchased the house next to my ancestral family home and one morning I walked next door to my mom and dad’s house, woke my dad up and declared that I had just quit the music business and I needed a job. My dad kind of woke up and said he’d make some calls. At that time the shows didn’t make enough money to support two families. So, he made some calls.
Eventually I got hired by the Keay-Lee Company, that was just then coming under the direction of Don Lee as Bill Keay was in the process of retiring. Don Lee was the Ranger Boats representative on the west coast. He was very close to Forrest and Nina Wood.
I had been on the job for about 5 days when I got the call from Don that I was to go to LAX, pick up Forrest L Wood and drive him to Lake Cachuma for a bass tournament where we giving away a Ranger Boat. Now, even though I wasn’t a full-time employee of the Fred Hall Shows, I knew who Forrest Wood was and I was nervous. Mr. Wood was the virtual creator of the modern bass boat.
So, anyway, Ginny and I headed down to LAX and met Forrest Wood. We then drove all the way to Lake Cachuma, chatting all the way and getting to know one another. We got there just about dinner time. The guy who was putting on the tournament took us all out to dinner ( I don’t think he wanted Ginny or I there). He was trying to impress “Mr. Wood”. He talked for hours. Forrest and Don hardly got a word in and Ginny and I didn’t say anything. This guy was impressed with himself and all he talked about was himself. But finally, and mercifully, dinner was over and we went to bed. The alarm went off early the next day for a shot-gun start and then Don, Forrest, Ginny and I went to have breakfast. After we ordered our food Don turned to me and said, “Bart, what did you think about our dinner last night?” Now I was scared. I didn’t know what Don or Forrest thought about the guy who was running the tournament. They could have been friends for all I knew. I didn’t know what to say but I figured the truth was best, so, after a very long pause, I said, “if last night was an example of how the fishing business is going to be then I think I’ll go back to the music business because there is a lot less BS in it!” Forrest nearly spit out his water. We all laughed our butts off…and then we were friends.
After the tournament, Ginny and I drove Forrest back towards LAX but we stopped at my parents home in Sherman Oaks. It was a magnificent ranch-style home on an acre and a half of land in the heart of Sherman Oaks. They had lemon trees ,orange trees, grapefruit trees, apricot trees, plum trees, walnut trees and a very impressive giant Haas avocado tree. We took Forrest out and he picked avocados. He had never picked avocados before and he loved it. We had a great meal and a good time and soon we had to say good-by, but we always felt like friends after that and we often fondly referenced the “avocado picking.”
During that time I went back to Flippin at least once a year. I got to see the “magic” that happened at Ranger Boats. Forrest and Nina were usually there and always gracious and approachable. After a couple of years my dad said, “I need your help.” So I took a huge pay-cut and went to work with my mother and father on the Fred Hall Shows. Our fondness for the Wood family and Ranger Boats has never left us.
Forrest was a unique man. He met all people in exactly the same way. He did not discriminate. I’ve often thought about the character of so-called “saints”. I figured that they had to be similar to Forrest L Wood. He was smart, funny, likeable, kind, and tough when he needed to be. He had a great smile that warmed your heart. He married Nina, his high school sweetheart, and together their life unfolded as they probably never imagined it would as young people.
They had four wonderful kids and more grandkids and even more great-grandkids.
People would often ask me, “why doesn’t Ranger build a plant out here to save shipping costs?”. The answer was simple… if you’d ever been to the plant you’d know that Forrest was there most days. That made a huge difference. Everybody used the same bathrooms, the same break rooms. The Ranger plant was a home and Forrest was the patriarch of the Ranger family.
Everybody in Flippin knew and respected Forrest and Nina. That would not be the case with a plant in California. So, thankfully, Ranger boats stayed in Flippin Arkansas.
Life is a cycle. Without death there can’t be birth and life. However, grieving is honoring the dead. We mourn good people not bad people. We mourn the best ones the most. For the rest of my life I will mourn his passing and be thankful to god that we got to know him even if it was just a little bit. Go with god Forrest Lee Wood. Ginny and I are going to miss you.