Nov. 5, 2007
By Jason Krump
This mantra is as much a staple of Washington State University Athletics as the famous Cougar Head logo.
It's only two words, but when said at Cougar Athletic events, it speaks louder than the 1,000 words a picture can.
Unless of course, like the logo, it can be seen as well.
Cougar football fans who travel along a specific section of Highway 26 will see the words that express the sentiments of any Washington State supporter.
What fans see, just a few miles away from Highway 395, is a shed that sits adjacent to Highway 26 with this adage displayed on its sides. It is visible for miles, even to those traveling on Highway 395.
The shed is the brainchild of Orman and Gavin Johnson, lifelong Cougar supporters whose Washington State heritage dates back to the beginning of the school.
"We went to a Cougar football game one Saturday, and I always saw signs that would say something about Cougars on the way," Gavin Johnson said. "I thought it would be cool to have something like that."
"When we bought this land I thought someday we'll put a sign up," Gavin added. "Then we decided to build a potato storage unit."
"We were already planning on building a storage unit by the highway," Orman said. "It's the main traffic route to Pullman; that's why decided to do something."
Built in 1999, it took six months to build the shed, which is 400 feet long. The letters that spell out "Go Cougs" are 27 feet tall.
The majority of the shed's exterior is made up of white sheet metal. The exception is nine panels of red sheet metal making up a portion of the lettering. The rest of the red sheet metal is broken into pieces and laid on top of the white sheet metal. What makes the letters are the red sheets that lay on top of the white.
"When people say it should have said `Go Vandals' or `Go Huskies,' I said `Just build your own shed," Orman said with a smile.
"The building inspector on the final inspection said you spelled Huskies incorrectly," Gavin recalled jokingly.
The shed is much more than a testament to Cougar Spirit. It is a functional building for the Johnsons, whose family has been farming since the beginning of the 20th Century. Their business, Johnson Agriprises, was established in 1971.
The Johnsons harvest both organic and conventional crops. Organic peppermint is grown adjacent to the shed's location, and potatoes, peppermint, spearmint, asparagus and onions and other organic crops are also grown. Additionally, the Johnsons also grow wheat, seed peas, grass seed, and potatoes as conventional crops.
Storing the potatoes is what the shed is truly intended for. The potatoes are housed beginning sometime in late September and early October. They remain through the winter and begin to be removed in March. The removal process is not completed until June.
According to the Johnsons, most of the time the potatoes are removed from the end of the shed opposite the highway, which is why people don't see much activity at the shed.
There is activity at the site frequently, however, by Cougar fans.
"On graduation weekend, there are people who come here every year with their campers; they play football games and take pictures," Gavin said. "To a certain degree you are possessive of it, but at the same time you want everyone to enjoy it."
The Johnsons' grandfather (on their mother's side) attended the school when it was known as Washington Agricultural College, graduating in 1906. On both sides of the family, there were many relatives who graduated from Washington State.
Orman graduated from the WSU in 1969, and two of his daughters earned degrees from the university as well.
Gavin never attended WSU, choosing to fly for the airlines before coming back to the farm, but his son, Nick, is a 2002 graduate.
"From the time he was a little kid, he always said he was going to be a Cougar," Gavin said.
The Johnsons are a family whose Cougar ties have reached four generations, as have their Cougar Spirit, which is exemplified in the shed. But the work may not be done yet.
"We built the shed to store potatoes but the goal still is, on the front area, to get the Cougar logo painted on it," Gavin said "We would like to do that someday but just haven't got around to it yet."
For all Cougar fans, that would be something to see.