Erl McLaughlin was born in Steamboat Springs, Colo., to Hope and Harold McLaughlin in 1950. His folks were cattle ranchers during a time when Steamboat Springs was a rural community.
“We lived next to the continental divide, and it was pretty hard to raise much other than grass and cattle at that elevation,” McLaughlin said. “People ask me what we raised in Steamboat Springs and I say, ‘A good crop of snow.’”
He went to Steamboat Springs High, graduating in 1969, and then on to Western State College of Colorado, graduating in 1973 with two undergraduate degrees, one in business administration and one in economics along with almost a minor in psychology and sociology.
His family had moved to Enterprise in 1972 after LTV Aerospace Corp. moved to Steamboat Springs and the population boom began. The landscape in Steamboat Springs allowed for almost unlimited development
Erl followed his parents to Enterprise. Wallowa County reminded the family of the beauty of Steamboat Springs and they began farming there. Erl turned his attention to learning how to farm.
He now farms 550 acres of dark northern spring wheat. He met Maryann Blankenship in 1979 and the couple married in 1981 and had two children, Tyson and Tonya Castilleja, both of whom still live in Wallowa County.
Maryann passed away in 2016 at 55. Since his wife’s death, Erl has been relying on and providing support for the family as they deal with the sudden loss. She was an integral part of running the farm that Erl said he is still struggling to manage on his own. His 92 year-old mother, Hope, has picked up much of the bookkeeping and domestic chores, he said, and although he is grateful, he wants to remedy that situation given his mother’s age.
Erl is best known in the county for his hobby of collecting old agriculture-related equipment at Sunrise Iron, where he holds an open house each year. He also “hunts new iron,” enjoys artwork, church activities and “figuring out what the good Lord wants me to do in my personal life.”
Q. Why did you stay in Wallowa County?
A. I can make a living farming, and I really enjoy my farming, and my kids are right here, living in Enterprise. It’s a friendly place and a good place to raise a family. And it’s a beautiful area. God has blessed this place with the mountains and the scenery around here — people would give their eyeteeth for the view that we have. Just because you live in a place for 45 years, you shouldn’t take it for granted. You should wake up every day and praise God.
Q. What has Wallowa County taught you?
A. I guess it’s taught me to be considerate of other people. When people go through some adversity then it’s up to somebody to go alongside and encourage them. We’ve all got some adversity in our lives and some days things are really well and the next day things aren’t not so well, and you’ve got to supply emotional support for people that are going through some kind of tragedy or a life-changing event.
Q. Can you remember an early book that meant a lot to you and can you recommend a book you’ve read recently?
A. When I started school I went to school in a one-room schoolhouse with one teacher for all eight grades and we didn’t have a library. My dad used to read me lots of books. He used to read “Old McDonald’s Farm” and he used to tease me a little bit and read something else into that and I’d say “that doesn’t say that,” because he’d read it to me so many times. A book I’ve read recently that I can recommend is the “Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors.” You’d have to be fairly narrow-minded to get into that kind of literature; Tom Butterfield, Reed Kooch and Dennis Hendersen and me would enjoy that kind of reading material.