Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Train conductor welcomes new passenger at 40 mph

A conductor for the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company (O.R. & N.) in May of 1903 was flustered when a baby boy made a surprise appearance on a regular run from Pendleton to Portland.

The No. 5 train left Pendleton on May 27, 1903, under the direction of Conductor Maher. Maher was feeling pretty good about the run, which was on time and running smoothly at about 40 mph. Checking his tickets, he noticed nothing unusual about the passengers.

Near Troutdale, however, about 30 minutes outside of Portland, Maher was approached by an elderly gentleman who turned out to be a doctor. The man told him that a woman in the chair car, a Mrs. Sears from Sumpter, was in a “delicate situation” and would be adding another passenger to Maher’s list in very short order.

At first Maher was horrified, and then annoyed, that Mrs. Sears’ impending delivery might ruin his perfect run by creating a delay. Then Maher was furious at Conductor Nash, who had turned Mrs. Sears over to his care in Pendleton without giving him a heads-up about her condition, but soon realized it was not Nash’s fault. Maher dithered about asking the advice of the train’s engineer, Jim Randall, as he usually did when he had a perplexing problem, but realized that Randall had no experience with childbirth, either — his wife generally took care of that sort of thing while Randall was away from home.

Maher finally decided he would talk to Mrs. Sears in hopes that she could be persuaded to wait to deliver until they arrived in Portland; she had waited all this time, certainly she could wait another 25 minutes? But by the time Maher had decided to just make the best of the situation, news came that a 10-pound baby boy had joined the passenger list.

Mother and child were made as comfortable as possible, and the other passengers were so impressed with the graceful handling of the incident that they assured Maher they would not hesitate to entrust themselves to the O.R. & N. in a similar situation.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Arlington relocation work unearths ancient ‘god’

Hermiston resident John Estes was working on the relocation of the city of Arlington in May 1963 when a piece of heavy equipment he was using started giving him trouble. Angry, Estes picked up what he thought was a rock to throw at the machine in frustration. Just before it left his hand, Estes took another look at it and, fortunately, had second thoughts. The “rock” turned out to be a tiny depiction of an ancient Aztec god of wind, sky and water. The original statue, Estes found after doing some research, was six feet tall and made of solid gold.

The unusual thing about Estes’ find was its location — 75 feet down in the top of a mountain. Also found in the same area were camel bones, part of an elephant and a huge tusk thought to have come from a prehistoric mammoth. The finds were carbon-dated at Oregon State University in Corvallis to around 12,000 years old.

But the little Aztec god wasn’t Estes’ first find. In 1954 he was digging near The Dalles on another relocation project and unearthed what the Smithsonian Institute thought was an Indian chief’s grave, containing a 250-year-old ceremonial hatchet made from pipe stone. One side of the hatchet showed an “Indian calendar” and a Spanish gaucho, while the other side depicted a symbolic map of the rivers. Estes learned about the hatchet from a book “as big as the front end of my car.”

Estes said in an interview that one collector offered to finance a college education, including a doctoral degree, for one of his children in exchange for the hatchet. Estes turned him down.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

‘Dirty book’ creates uproar in Weston

A novel published in the 1930s by Eastern Oregon native Nard Jones caused quite a stir with residents in his home town of Weston, who thought some of the characters and scenarios were just too familiar.

The book, “Oregon Detour,” follows a group of teenagers from the fictional town of Creston through high school, graduation night, their first sexual exploits and the early years of marriage. And though Jones published a note in the Weston Leader newspaper claiming the book was a work of total fiction, critics, including Weston’s powerful Saturday Afternoon Club and the Methodist Church, attacked the book as “dirty” and the characters and situations as only thinly disguised — the town’s minister appeared as a doctor in the book, and the fictional high school principal was named after Weston’s real-life derelict.

George Venn, a literature professor at Eastern Oregon State College, read a student’s paper on the book and applied for a grant in 1982 to investigate what really happened, he told a group of Pendleton library supporters on April 21, 1983. He talked to Weston residents, some of whom thought the book was funny. Others told Venn they’d tried to find the book for years, but every copy placed on the shelves of the Weston Public Library had mysteriously disappeared for years. Local libraries were told not to loan copies of the book to Weston, and the few copies that did exist in 1983 could be read, but not checked out. One resident Venn interviewed figured there was a chest somewhere filled with copies of the book.

The book still had its critics, though. Members of the Saturday Afternoon Club asked Venn during his inquiries, “Why are you going around trying to get the skeletons out of the closet?” And the son of a member claimed his mother was one of the story’s characters, and that Jones was trying to “drag people in the dirt.”

Jones, a graduate of Weston High School and Whitman College, distinguished himself as a writer and actor, and penned 17 novels including “Swift Flows the River,” a bestseller. Venn figured Jones wrote “Oregon Detour” during a brief stint working at his father’s store in Weston after college, but the book was published while he was living and working in Seattle as a columnist, editorial writer and associate editor for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Despite the controversy, Venn thought the book was worth reading for its “insight into the life in a small community.” For those interested in reading “Oregon Detour,” 28 copies are currently available in Eastern Oregon libraries, including two at the Weston Public Library.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Lucky lamb brings coolness to school

The last survivor of triplet lambs born in early February 2000 near Umatilla took up residence at Umatilla High School after being rejected by its mother at birth. Too small and fragile to be left on his own while his owner was at school, Lucky the lamb quickly became the school’s center of attention, and showed that farm life can be fun and educational at the same time.

Sophomore Daniel Bolen brought the lamb to school because 20-day-old Lucky needed constant care, including bottle feeding every two hours. Bolen finessed a deal with school officials: Lucky could tag along to school and the lamb could become a teaching tool for ag classes.

FFA adviser and ag teacher Jennifer Henning’s classroom became Lucky’s home-away-from-home. The lamb immediately adapted to his new surroundings, wandering around the room and investigating the students, occasionally nibbling at their clothes. Students vied for the chance to give Lucky a bottle of milk, and corralled him when he escaped into the hallway to follow kids to other classes. “He gets attached,” Henning said.

With the help of ag advisers from Umatilla and Hermiston high schools, including Umatilla principal Don Miller, Bolen turned Lucky from a skinny, bony weakling into a healthy and curious animal. And FFA classmates helped bob Lucky’s tail, tag his ear and give him shots as part of the class curriculum, to prepare him for his life on the Bolen farm after he was old enough to wait patiently at home for his meals.

In the meantime, Lucky changed the way FFA was perceived at the school. Henning said students “can see that not everyone in FFA has to be from a farming family.”

Bolen agreed. “Everyone thought that FFA was just the hick club. ... Lucky shows that there are parts of FFA that can be cute too.”

Organized in 1928 to encourage young people to stay in agriculture, FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America) has grown to 7,859 chapters in schools across the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The organization focuses on development of leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

McNary Dam troubled by determined beaver

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were scratching their heads in the spring of 1957 after a beaver, just doing what comes naturally, attempted to plug up the dam’s navigation locks.

Joe the Beaver became a celebrity with his attempts to shore up the “leaky” side of the hydroelectric dam near Umatilla on the Columbia River. But lock attendants foiled the resolute rodent’s activities with a series of hydraulic tests in the locks that destroyed his work and, after the Inland Navigation Company’s tug “Chief” cleared the downstream lock with its barge tow on April 15, 1957, Joe threw in the towel and followed the tug downstream in search of a more amenable abode.

A rather dejected beaver returned to McNary Dam on April 25 and resumed residence in his little pool, seemingly tolerant of the trickles that escaped past the guard wall as the navigation locks were put through their paces. With the spillway gates closed and the full force of the river routed through the power turbines, Joe was able to bask in the sun and contemplate another attempt at building his dream pond. But impending spring runoff and the possibility of opening of the spillway gates had Corps employees keeping a weather eye on Joe for any resurgence in lock-blocking activity.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

State quashes drive-up beer stands

Imagine, if you will, driving your car up to a sidewalk stand serving beer and having a frosty brew delivered to you without your ever leaving the driver’s seat. Before May of 1934, it was allowed in the state of Oregon.

A May 16, 1934 article in the East Oregonian reminded readers that the Oregon State Liquor Control Commission had issued an edict that people frequenting these sidewalk stands must be standing under the roof of the establishment while quaffing their glass of beer. And while Pendleton beer stands were following the new rules, owners and patrons weren’t very happy about it.

Beer stand owners complained that their establishments were too small to accommodate the crowds that frequented them. And customers had a different beef: Standing inside the beer stand made it more likely you would be pressured into buying a round or two of drinks for your friends, instead of just quenching your own thirst on the cheap.

The OLCC, however, didn’t put any restrictions on the number of bottles of beer that could be sold to car passengers, or even on jugs of beer as long as the cork was firmly in place as it was passed over the bar. But the customer could only drink the beer after driving away from the stand.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Bomb charge linked to love triangle

A Condon man wound up in U.S. District Court in Portland in 1975 facing charges of planting a bomb in a rival’s car.

Roy P. Urie, 61, was accused of possession of an unregistered dynamite bomb and possessing a firearm (bomb) not identified with a serial number. A federal indictment said Urie had placed a bomb in the engine compartment of a car owned by Charles W. Riggins of Portland on May 19 or 20, 1975. Riggins and Urie reportedly shared an affection for Ina Deniz, 44, who had lived off and on with Riggins and Urie at different times and had moved back and forth between Portland and Condon.

Riggins discovered the bomb as he drove to his job as a Federal Protective Service policeman in downtown Portland on May 20, because the car was “running rough.” Prosecutor William Youngman claimed a “love triangle” had led to the bomb’s placement. Defense attorney Thomas Schnieger pointed out that all the evidence against Urie was circumstantial, and that Urie was in Condon the entire time during which the bomb could have been planted in Riggins’ car.

During the trial, Urie admitted he threatened Riggins but didn’t try to hide the threats. And there were no eyewitnesses to the manufacture or planting of the bomb. Schnieger also said Riggins lied on the stand about a fight with another man in which he was knocked down a flight of stairs and suffered several broken ribs.

Urie was acquitted of the charge.