Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Pendleton woman drowned in steamer wreck

A holiday trip ended in tragedy for a Pendleton woman in 1921 when the steamer ship she was sailing on ran aground in dense fog on Blunts Reef off the northern California coast.

Ruth Hart, a telegraph operator for the O.-W. R. & N. Railroad in Pendleton, boarded the steamer Alaska in Portland on Aug. 5, 1921, en route to California for a month-long holiday. The following evening the steamer’s inexperienced crew lost its way in heavy fog off the northern California coast south of Eureka and, though they changed course several times, the steamer was allowed to travel too close to shore. The foghorn near Blunts Reef was heard, but couldn’t be located.

When the steamer crashed into the reef, the passengers flooded the decks in an attempt to secure a place on the ship’s lifeboats. But the green crew badly bungled the launch of the loaded boats and two were upset, throwing their passengers into the water. The ship sank in just 30 minutes. Captain Hovey was last seen on the bridge of the steamer with two wireless operators, one of whom bailed into the water just before the steamer went under.

The survivors, clinging to debris from the sunken steamer, floated for hours before the steamer Anyox, alerted by the S.O.S. calls from the Alaska, arrived at the crash site to begin rescue efforts, eventually picking up 166 of the more than 210 passengers and crew. Many of the survivors were covered in fuel oil from the steamer’s ruptured tanks. Residents of Eureka provided, food, clothing and baths for the rescued passengers, most of whom were transported to San Francisco the following evening. Fishing boats from nearby villages had the grim task of hauling the bodies of the dead ashore.

Though accounts of the accident varied, passengers and crew said the wreck would not have occurred if the steamer had not been traveling too fast along the treacherous coastline in an attempt to make up speed. The inexperienced deck crew also took much of the blame, one boatswain stating that only five of the 14 crew members were competent in their duties.

The dead washed ashore for days. On August 10, the body of a girl about 25 years of age wearing a wrist watch bearing the initials R.G.H. and a lapel pin with the letters O.R.T. (Order of Railway Telegraphers) was found. Ruth’s sister, Julia Metzler of La Grande, traveled to Eureka to identify her body and bring it home.

Ruth Hart was laid to rest August 15, 1921, next to her parents at Olney Cemetery in Pendleton.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

1979 total eclipse wows Eastern Oregon

A large portion of the United States is gearing up for a total solar eclipse that will be visible from coast to coast on August 21, 2017. Beginning at 8:46 a.m. at Yaquina Head Lighthouse near Newport on the Oregon Coast, the eclipse will darken a more than 60-mile-wide swath of the state before moving on across the continent. Most of Central Oregon is in the path of totality, and it is estimated that a million people will travel to Oregon for its cloud-free viewing opportunities. And it will be the last time in our lifetime that Oregonians will be able to watch a total solar eclipse from home — the next one to cross the state won’t happen until June 2169.

The first known documentation of a total solar eclipse was made in China in 2137 B.C. Two Chinese astronomers, named Hi and Ho, were tasked with bringing back the light by banging drums and shooting arrows at the giant serpent they thought was swallowing the sun. However, they lost their focus during an unfortunate bout of heavy drinking, and lost their heads to the royal executioner as a result.

The last time Eastern Oregon was in the path of a total solar eclipse was Feb. 26, 1979. The eclipse began around 7:15 a.m., just as schoolchildren would have been on their way to school, and school districts around the area either delayed opening or opened early so kids would have supervision during the celestial event. Many districts geared the day’s lessons around the eclipse, making homemade viewers to safely view the sun as it was gradually covered by the moon’s shadow. The 1979 event was an annular eclipse, meaning the moon was a little further away and therefore did not completely obscure the sun’s corona, even at totality.

Local pilots loaded friends and family into their planes and took off from regional airports, seeking a vantage point above clouds that threatened to block the view. Hermiston residents cheered when a break in the cloud cover appeared just as totality was imminent. Other residents traveled to the nearest public observatory, in Goldendale, Wash., where more than a thousand people viewed the eclipse from atop a butte above the Columbia River. In Portland, people had to be satisfied with photos taken by others; their view was blocked by overcast skies.

Before 1979, the last total solar eclipse seen in Eastern Oregon occurred on June 8, 1918. And though Pendleton received 99.5 percent totality, many residents traveled south to Pilot Rock and east to Baker City to see the eclipse in its full glory. The naval observatory at Baker City photographed the eclipse using a 65-foot camera, the largest in the area.

Haven’t been able to score a set of eclipse glasses? You can make a homemade viewer with two pieces of cardboard, a piece of aluminum foil and tape. Cut a one-inch-square hole in the center of one sheet of cardboard and tape a piece of foil over the hole. Poke a tiny hole through the center of the foil with a sewing needle. To use the viewer, turn your back to the sun and place the cardboard viewer over your shoulder. Use the other piece of cardboard as a screen, moving it closer and farther away to make the image of the eclipsing sun larger or smaller.

Looking directly at the sun during a total solar eclipse, even for a short time, can permanently damage your eyesight, as 121 people discovered during an eclipse in 1970.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Soaring temps spur classic experiment

August in Eastern Oregon invariably means high temperatures. With thermometers topping 100 degrees, most folks seek a way to escape to cooler climes. For an East Oregonian photographer in August of 1967, the intense heat of the concrete canyon of downtown Pendleton created the perfect scenario to attempt to prove or disprove a classic “just how hot is it” experiment.

EO photographer Virgil Rupp wanted to know if it was indeed hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk on August 14, 1967. Rupp first enlisted an assistant, Elaine Alkio, a 1967 graduate of Pendleton High School. She donned a bikini, armed herself with a couple of eggs and a box-opening knife (having no kitchen implements at hand), and began scouting for a promising “frying pan.” Almost immediately a crowd — consisting mostly of men — formed, and a dispute broke out over whether concrete or asphalt would better serve the experiment.


Alkio gamely cracked her first egg amidst helpful advice. “Higher!” someone called. The egg splattered upon hitting the pavement.

“I’ll just scramble it,” Alkio said.

Another egg was cracked as the crowd grew larger. It splattered too. But, wielding her improvised spatula, Alkio showed onlookers that, with patience, you can indeed cook an egg on a sun-scorched patch of concrete. Rupp’s article, however, did not say how long it actually took for the eggs to cook, or what the eggs looked like when they were done.

The average air temperature of 102 degrees Fahrenheit during that week translates (according to internet research) to concrete temperatures north of 140 degrees. But in a 2013 NBC News article by Rob Lovitt, even at air temperatures of 128 degrees in Death Valley, despite monumental efforts by visitors to the state park there, eggs would not cook on pavement. Concrete and asphalt are poor conductors of heat, and cracking an egg onto either surface will cool it below a temperature sufficient to cook the egg. And it makes a huge mess, park rangers lamented.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Cartoonists need to eat, too

When 10-year-old Steven Hess got into his groove, remembering to eat wasn’t always at the top of his list. But in 1969, the budding cartoonist had already begun a career that would eventually bring him national acclaim.

The son of Henry and Betty Hess of Pendleton, Steve began drawing at a very young age when he saw a little boy’s face in a spoonful of peas. His grandmother encouraged him to draw what he saw, and a passion for art was born. “I’ll draw all day long until I am real, real tired, then rest,” Steve said. “I’ll eat, of course, then start drawing again.”

By the age of ten Steve had created a comic strip featuring two crickets, Freddy the Freeloader and his rich cousin Richy, and the conniving Baron Von Dudley, who was always scheming to steal Richy’s money, in a round-the-world chase. “The Baron is real mean, but not tough enough to fight bare-handed,” Steve said in an Aug. 14, 1969 interview with the East Oregonian. “He sneaks around and carries a sword. The Baron doesn’t know that Richy keeps his money and treasure map in his hat.”
Steve Hess of Pendleton works on his comic in this Aug. 14, 1969 East Oregonian photo.
Steve continued to draw comics throughout his school years, and then studied illustration at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland and the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle.

Steve didn’t always dream of being a cartoonist, though. When he was younger, he wanted to be a comedian. And while stand-up was never in the cards for him, he has made his contribution to the world of comedy, illustrating storyboards, characters and backgrounds for commercials, television shows such as “Saturday Night Live,” and Cartoon Network.

Steve worked as a lead illustrator and storyboard artist for Bent Image Lab and Happy Trails Animation in Portland from the early 1990s through 2008, and is currently helping care for his elderly parents.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Blue Mountains may extend to Idaho

A story in the July 9, 1987 East Oregonian speculated that the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon, commonly thought to extend from Dayton, Washington, to John Day, Oregon, may actually extend as far east as Idaho and include some of the state’s most iconic peaks.

The gentle slopes of the Blue Mountains are in stark contrast to the rugged peaks of the Wallowas and Elkhorns in the northeast corner of Oregon. But most geologists and science writers would include the Elkhorns near Baker, the Strawberries near John Day, the Wallowas and even the Seven Devils range in western Idaho as part of the Blues. And it all has to do with plate techtonics, the motion of land masses that move across the globe on a sea of molten lava far beneath the crust.

According to the theory, one of those pieces of the floating shell, the North American plate, has been colliding with and, in places, overriding the heavier Pacific plate for millions of years. The movements of the plates in relation to each other has, in the case of the Elkhorns and Wallowas, created massive mountain ranges where the North American plate has scraped up features from the Pacific plate, a process called accretion. Studies indicate that the Wallowas were at one time volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean near the equator. Geologists think that the Elkhorns, including the Anthony Lakes area, were pieces of the ocean floor. And as more pieces of the Pacific plate stack up on the North American plate the coastline — once found in western Idaho, then central Oregon — continues to move westward.

The Blues have a more complicated history. As the Pacific plate is driven (subducted) under the North American plate it melts, re-emerging as lava through thousands of fissures and volcanoes. The Columbia River Basalts, lava flows that covered more than 15,000 square miles in only a week, at depths of up to two miles, occurred sometime between six and 16 million years ago. And for reasons as yet unknown to scientists, the basalts folded in places and formed the hills and valleys familiar to Eastern Oregon residents.

Stan Prowant, a geology professor at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton in 1987, suggested that the Blue Mountains actually should be called the “Blue Holes.” Familiar features such as the Blue Mountain Anticline, which extends from central Oregon to the Meacham area, and the smaller Rieth Anticline just west of Pendleton, are examples of the upward folds caused by this geologic action. And Pendleton and Pilot Rock lie along the Agency Syncline, a downward fold in the basalts.

And geologic activity continues in the Blues. Earthquakes shake the area an average of every 15 years, some registering 5 or higher on the Richter scale. And geologist Mark Ferns of the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Resources in Baker suggested in the story that future lava flows would not be out of the question. “Troy would be a good place,” Ferns said. “That’s where the most recent flows originated.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Shifting sands reveal giant mastodon near Hermiston

Frank Swaggart, a rancher in the Westland district near Hermiston, unearthed what University of Oregon scientists said was the largest mastodon find in Oregon when shifting sands revealed whitened and fossilized tusks and bones on July 6, 1954.

Swaggart immediately called local amateur paleontologists Bob Buchanan, an insurance salesman; Frank Swayze, a retired banker; Kelly Tiller, a van operator; Walter Hamm, a retired druggist; and Frank Adams, an Arlington businessman, to investigate the find. The ancient creature partially uncovered in Swaggart’s initial diggings indicated a prehistoric pachyderm of massive proportions. One of the tusks measured nearly 8 feet in length, and a bone thought to be a femur, the upper leg bone, measured more than 3 feet long. The men left the find in place and called in scientists from the University of Oregon in Eugene to perform a proper investigation of the site, located about two miles north of the Umatilla ordnance depot.
A mammoth tusk and what is either an upper or lower jaw of a mastodon are studied by Bob Buchanan, Frank Swayze and Frank Swaggart, all of Hermiston, in this July 7, 1954 East Oregonian photo.
 A research trip to the Hermiston library revealed the creature likely grazed the site, a former lake, during the mid-Pliocene era about 5 million years ago. Once Dr. J. Arnold Shotwell, curator of U of O’s museum of natural history, and his assistant Huntley Alvey arrived at the scene on July 22, they verified the mastodon was one of the late-era two-tusk types (mastodons with four tusks also existed during the early Pliocene), and the largest specimen found to date in Oregon. They carefully made plaster casts of the beast’s skull and tusk and employed the help of West End volunteers to remove the remains for study and display in Eugene. Dr. Shotwell and Alvey also unearthed the remains of rhinoceros, camel, ground sloth and three-toed horse, also dating to the mid-Pliocene, near the mastodon find.

At the close of the official dig, the public was invited to visit the area, and encouraged to report any further significant finds.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Roommate argument leads to brutal beating death

A Pendleton man was beaten with an axe by his longtime roommate on their front porch after an argument in August 1930. He died minutes after police arrived.

On the night of August 10, 1930, James Jarnagan walked up to the Pendleton fire chief, W.E. Ringold, and confessed he had just killed his roommate, U.G. “Doc” Ruud. When Ringold brought Jarnagan to the Police Chief Charles Lemons, Jarnagan went on to relate, “He’s not dead yet, but he soon will be.”

Chief Lemons loaded Jarnagan into a police car and raced to the three-room home Jarnagan, 55, and Ruud, 63, had shared for many years just across the railroad tracks from the Pendleton Round-Up Grounds. They found Ruud sitting in a chair on the front porch, his feet perched on the porch rail, and his still-smoldering pipe beside him on the floor. He was unconscious but still breathing, though barely. An ambulance was called, but before it could arrive Ruud died of his injuries.

Jarnagan told his story the following morning at the police station in front of Chief Lemons and District Attorney C.C. Proebstel. He said he and Ruud were quarreling over cooking and alcohol, and that Ruud had struck him during a struggle. To defend himself, Jarnagan said, he grabbed a heavy axe and struck Ruud in the head several times with the blunt part of the axe head. He was not nervous during questioning and did not seem worried about the outcome of the case, but didn’t seem to remember many details of the incident.

Police were inclined to doubt Jarnagan’s story, however, considering Ruud’s body did not look like it had been involved in a struggle — rather, it looked as though Jarnagan had stolen up behind Ruud and launched a surprise attack while the older man was relaxing on the porch. Officers who guarded the crime scene overnight also discovered a hammer hidden in Jarnagan’s bed. And while Jarnagan claimed he had been drinking the night of the murder, no liquor was found in the house. The owner of the home, Jim Spencer, told authorities that Jarnagan had been told he would have to move out the day before the murder took place.

Jarnagan was charged with first-degree murder, and friends took up a collection to fund his defense. Dr. W.D. McNary, who had observed Jarnagan at the state hospital for a month following the murder, was asked about Jarnagan’s sanity during the trial. Dr. McNary said that while Jarnagan was indeed sane, his mental capacity left him unable to plot and carry out a deliberate murder.

A plea of guilty to second-degree murder was accepted by Judge Fee, and Jarnagan was sentenced to life in an institution.