Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Civic-minded tot gathers cache of trash

Not everyone bemoaning the litter befouling the streets of Pendleton is a taxpaying grown-up. In 1969 an enterprising young man took the initiative to clean up one of Pendleton’s biggest tourist attractions — to the surprise of his father, who didn’t even know the boy was gone.

Blair Ranslam, a 3 1/2-year-old Pendleton boy, was spending Nov. 20, 1969, with his father Bob Ranslam, the manager of Pendleton Grain Growers’ feed and seed store on Southwest Dorion Avenue. Ducking his father’s watchful eye, Blair crossed busy Dorion and Court avenues and entered the Pendleton Round-Up Grounds, where he found a large plastic bag and filled it with trash.

Young sanitation tech Blair Ranslam shows off his hard work after collecting trash at the Pendleton Round-Up Grounds Nov. 20, 1969 (EO file photo).
Meanwhile, his father had finally noticed the boy was missing from the store, and Blair’s frantic parents began a search, then called the police. The boy was eventually found with his bag of litter and returned to PGG.

“The policeman came and said my daddy was looking for me,” Blair said, also remarking about the big bullets the officer carried.

“Lot of junk over there,” he said later.

When asked what he planned to do with the garbage he had collected, Blair said he planned to put it in a fireplace, but wasn’t sure where, since his family didn’t have one.

And where did the litter come from? “Some people came over there and throw it down. They should throw it in a garbage.”

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Self-inflicted gunshots just part of the job

On Nov. 20, 1929, Jim Letts borrowed a .41 caliber revolver from a deputy in the Umatilla County sheriff’s office in Pendleton and, in front of four women, the deputy and a reporter, shot himself in the side. Those in attendance laughed when Letts pulled the trigger.

After shooting himself, Letts coolly passed the gun back to the deputy, then took out his pocket knife and pried the bullet free. But there was no parlor trick involved — Letts, you see, was only giving his sales pitch. Shooting himself, sometimes multiple times a day, was how he made his living selling bullet-proof vests.

“I’ve shot myself more than 4,000 times in the past five years,” he bragged.”

The vest he wore for his demonstrations was made from laminated steel plates, and would stop everything from BBs to a .45 caliber bullet. Letts traveled throughout the country marketing his wares to law enforcement, and though heavy-caliber bullets dented the protective steel plates slightly, the vest could withstand multiple shots in the same spot.

“Of course the police and sheriff’s departments are my customers, so I always go to them to demonstrate,” Letts said.

Shooting himself caused a slight stinging sensation, he said, and there was the chance that an impact in the right spot could crack a rib, but in general he was fearless in demonstrating the stopping power of vest for all types of pistols.

Letts also carried gas bombs and other weaponry, “The proper equipment,” he said, “for a good lively defensive war.”

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Practical joke creates mad stampede

A vaudeville actor played a practical joke on a group of musicians in November of 1917 and created such a stir that the theater where he was performing was cleared in a matter of minutes.

Gerald McCormick, a member of a vaudeville team playing the Alta theater in Pendleton on Nov. 14, 1917, was a handsome Irishman with the ability to alter his features to the extreme, a useful skill for a man in his line of work. During that afternoon McCormick inserted false tusks in his mouth, ruffled up his hair, hunched his shoulders and distorted his facial features, then walked into Alta manager C.G. “Guy” Matlock’s private office, demanding whisky in a husky voice. Matlock was so frightened that he was a nervous wreck for the remainder of the day.

McCormick was so pleased he decided to continue his prank, with Matlock in on the joke. Early in the evening a stagehand heard a hoarse voice crying “I want whisky,” and turned to see the most horrible face he could imagine. He fled and told the other stagehands and members of the orchestra, who were in the restroom under the stage, about the wild man he had seen. Matlock, who was present in the company of McCormick, also related his experience. Members of the orchestra began to feel uneasy, while McCormick slipped out of the room.

Suddenly, a great shaggy head thrust itself through the door of the orchestra pit and said, in a guttural voice, “I want whisky.” The piano player shrieked and made for the door to the orchestra pit, but the male musicians were faster. Out through the orchestra pit they ran, and members of the audience, seeing the terror on their faces but not knowing the cause, joined the stampede out of the building.

Matlock, knowing the joke had gone too far, jumped to the stage in an attempt to allay the panic, but only the people in the first few rows heard him. Men, women and children joined the race for the exits, though strangely enough no one thought the building was on fire. Someone suggested perhaps an armed German spy was hiding backstage. The Alta was emptied in a matter of minutes.

Outside on the sidewalk, people began to feel a bit sheepish and questioned the cause of the stampede. No one knew, and many didn’t want to know. About half of the crowd returned to the safety of their homes to hide their agitation, while the rest braved the theater again to watch the show.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Money tiff creates literal rift

A man angry about money he felt he was owed in October of 1984 made his point in a rather destructive way.

Calvin Sullivan, a 37-year-old Spokane resident, and Helen Blanchard of Pendleton argued over money on Oct. 29, 1984. According to Lt. Ed Taber of the Pendleton Police Department, Sullivan paid Blanchard some money earlier in the day but returned in the evening asking for the money back. Blanchard called police after she refused to return the money, and Sullivan refused to leave the premises. She reported that a man was trying to enter her home at 8 S.W. Goodwin Ave., and then the police dispatcher heard a loud crash. The line went dead.

When Blanchard refused to return his money, Sullivan had jumped into his Chevy Blazer, revved the engine and drove onto the front porch, crashing into the front door. He then backed up and took another run at it, breaking through the front wall of the house.

No one was injured, but parts of the front wall collapsed. Sullivan’s Blazer received minor dings. He drove away and was picked up by police later in the evening as he drove through downtown Pendleton.

Sullivan was charged with first-degree criminal mischief, driving under the influence of intoxicants and reckless endangerment.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Torrential downpour drenches Pendleton

An electrical storm that hit Pendleton on October 11, 1951, dropped an inch of rain on the town and caused widespread flooding.

After a summer with very few thunderstorms, a storm reaching several miles in width and traveling northeast began about 3:20 in the afternoon and continued for an hour and 40 minutes. The fury of the storm was focused mainly within the city limits, with only a sprinkle occurring two to three miles both east and west of town.

A half inch of rain fell during the first ten minutes of the storm, drowning Southwest Emigrant Avenue at Tenth Street in several inches of water. Highway 30 in front of Eastern Oregon State Hospital was covered a foot deep, interrupting traffic, and after the storm the highway department had to use a blade to clear the road of silt.

Basements across town were flooded by water pouring off both the North and South Hills, including homes on the North Hill and along the Umatilla River levee, a garage in Sherwood Heights with “a river of water” running through it, Main Street businesses including Payless and the East Oregonian, and the Pendleton police station, which was located in the basement of City Hall.

Two to three inches of water poured into the basement of the First Christian Church, deflected from the South Main Street slope by cars parked nearby. On the Terall Ramage farm five miles from Pendleton at the foot of the Helix grade, the garage washed away and a tree blocked the front of it, the lawn was covered in silt and the family was trapped inside the home for a couple of hours. The gravel dike at the Harris Pine Mills log pond washed out when the Umatilla River rose suddenly.

But as fierce as the thunderstorm was, it was dwarfed by a storm on July 3, 1904, when two inches of rain fell on Pendleton in a 24-hour period.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Pendleton native among 9/11 victims

September 11, 2001: a day that shook the U.S. to its core.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, it was sometimes a long and difficult process to identify the victims. Almost a month later, after matching DNA from a sample of hair from a hairbrush, Pendleton native Mike Selves was verified as among the 188 people killed during the attack on the Pentagon.

Selves, a 53-year-old retired lieutenant colonel who had gone back to work for the Army as a civilian, was apparently in his office near the Pentagon’s helipad when the hijacked plane crashed into the building. His wife Gayle, who visited the scene, said it appeared that the impact of Flight 77 was right near her husband’s office.

A 1965 graduate of Pendleton High School, Selves joined the Army in 1969, serving in Korea and Italy. He worked for the Pentagon for 15 years before retiring in 1996, then returned to work as a civilian two weeks later, serving as the director of the Information Management Support Center for the Secretary of the Army. Selves was scheduled to retire for good in 2002, and he and wife Gayle had planned to move from Fairfax, Va., to Hilton Head, S.C., to enjoy golf at their timeshare house there.

During a memorial service in Pendleton, Selves’ friends spoke about a warm and generous man who was always ready with a smile. “He was good at jokes,” said good friend Mike Burns. “They weren’t very good jokes, but they made us laugh.”

Members of the PHS Class of 1965 presented Gayle with a Pendleton Woolen Mills “Freedom Blanket” in their friend’s memory.

Selves also left behind parents Jack and Florence Selves of Pendleton and sister Karen Hart of Umatilla.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Eerie car noises confound passers-by

Next time you take the farm rig into town, be sure you check it out underneath. You may have an unsuspecting passenger.

A woman living on a farm just outside Pendleton (who was unnamed in the Oct. 19, 1938 East Oregonian article) ran into town for supplies and parked her car on Main Street. As she got out of the vehicle, she and startled passers-by immediately notice some eerie sounds coming from the car.

“What is it?” someone asked. “A new kind of horn on your car?” The woman, equally puzzled, listened carefully. If she were at home, the woman said, she would guess the sound was a chicken in distress.

Someone thought to look under the car, and after a thorough search found a ruffled hen clinging to a fender support, probably with a very unusual feeling in its crop.

The woman placed the hen in the back seat, where it settled in comfortably and waited patiently for a ride home while her owner finished her errands.