Talon News - Good Local News



September 22, 2017

Clay Johnston grins when he remembers with affection how his two younger brothers, Sam and Ralph, got into trouble for smoking. They asked their mother how she had found out and she told them "a little birdie told me." Not knowing which "little birdie" had tattle tailed on them, the youngsters thought it would be a good idea to wipe out any bird within fifty yards of the house and so it was that they lost their BB gun privileges. It wasn't until years later that they learned their eyebrows had been singed from the matches they used to light the cigarettes.

When asked what are some other things that made him laugh over the years, Clay, ever the prankster, answers, "Some of it you wouldn't want to know but ... well, one time, I was about thirteen years old, Les Hall and I tied Sam (6) and Ralph (5) with a rope and hung them in a tree for about thirty minutes so they wouldn't bother us. We were supposed to be babysitting."

During his growing up years in Albuquerque, the family's property was adjacent to the Rio Grande River. The four brothers often went swimming there "if there was water in it." They also fished and hunted ducks. "We trapped muskrat. Tried to make a living at it by sending the hides to St. Louis where they were classified as large, medium, small. We got cheated a lot, so we gave that up."

His dad drove a propane truck. That is how Clay got into the business, first as a driver, then a manager in Yuma, AZ, then owning his own company, Arizona Gas, until he retired in 1994. "I was married twice," he says. "Nothing good to say about the first one. Nothing bad to say about the second. When I first met Pat, she bet me she could crawl through the doggy door. Cost me fifty dollars 'cause she went though there like a bullet," he said.

Eventually they moved to Turley. The north side of his property runs halfway through the middle of the San Juan River. Clay doesn't hunt ducks anymore, just enjoys watching them swim behind his place. He likes watching the deer - when they're on the other side and not trampling through his garden. Other times, he is busy getting rid of a six-and-a-half foot bull snake that insisted on climbing along his back porch.

Nothing keeps this man down. He says, "You can't stop. You stop you get old." He loves hunting oryx, antelope, elk, deer, and will travel around Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona to do it. It's real simple. He just straps a five pound oxygen tank on his back and starts tracking.

"One time I was hunting in Vallecito and this fella came along and he said, 'You're the fella we've been hearing about. We heard there was an old man hunting with oxygen." That was about three or four years ago. Clay was only eighty then. He still goes hunting but not in Colorado anymore. The altitude is too much for his oxygen levels.

Clay became a Site Steward in 2000. He kept track of old Indian ruins, homesteads, rock art. Later he became a Director for the New Mexico Site Stewards program until 2016. "I still go out and show them where everything is." He has been on the Board of Supervisors for Salmon Ruins Museum for seven years where he serves as Treasurer.

Currently he is also the Treasurer for the Turley Mandaris Ditch. In December he will be up for re-election at both the Ruins and the Ditch. Clay estimates that he attends a minimum of six meetings a month, not counting showing people where the sites are. He is a Member of the NRA, the Elks Hunting Club and the Safari Hunting Club.

Along with others, he has been to Albuquerque several times to get the Army Corp of Engineers to fix the ditch. "Just one hell of a lot of paperwork. We're after some money."

Clay is a dedicated coffee drinker. He read an article recently which, for him, proves that "drinking coffee does all kinds of good for you." Among other things, he says, "It stimulates your mind and improves your sex life." Bland, NM was an old mining ghost town in the Jemez Mountains partially owned by Clay's mother and her siblings. The Hofheins family collectively had several mineral claims. Back then the family tried poor-boying for gold and silver and Clay used to help with the mining. "We had a forest fire there and it's all burned up now."

Talking about Bland, Clay said "One time I was up there with my Uncle Sam. He went to the bathroom and I put salt in his coffee. He came back and I asked him if his coffee was alright and he said, 'Yeah,' and then went in the other room. I put more salt in his cup. Pretty soon he figured out what was wrong." Sixteen-year-old legs can outrun an angry uncle anytime.

He loves to agitate people. Every day he can find someone to pester. Sometimes though, he just likes to sit back and laugh at the good ol' days when his jokes got the best of someone special.

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