Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Idaho house sets speed building record

In July of 1982, a construction crew of 250 built a three-bedroom house in Post Falls, Idaho, in just under 7 hours. More than 3,000 people, a crew from the “That’s Incredible” TV show and mobs of newspaper, radio and television journalists watched the record-setting build. The home’s owners, Richard and Mindy Galbraith, spent a much longer time moving in that it took for the home to be assembled. But that was just the beginning of the race for the fastest-built house.

Habitat For Humanity, an international organization that builds affordable homes for families that wouldn’t otherwise be able to own one, took up the gauntlet in 1990. An affiliate in Nashville, Tennessee, established a speedbuild record when they built a home in 6 hours flat. A Pensacola, Florida affiliate shaved a few minutes off that time when they built a house in 5 hours, 57 minutes.

New Zealand Habitat affiliate Maukau in Auckland began plans in 1998 for the “Sub6” project. However, on June 12 the Nashville affiliate reclaimed the speedbuild title in a dramatic fashion when they built a three-bedroom house in 4 hours, 39 minutes. The New Zealanders doubled down, renamed their project “Sub4” and claimed the title in March 1999 when they built a four-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot home in 3 hours, 44 minutes, 59 seconds with just 120 in the crew.

The reigning champion, however, is the Shelby County, Alabama, Habitat affiliate. In December of 2002 the build was complete in 3 hours, 26 minutes, 34 seconds — including all interior and exterior finishing and preliminary landscaping work. A YouTube video documents the build.

How did they do it, you ask? Modular building. The exterior walls and the roof were pre-built prior to the final assembly on the homesite. Wiring and plumbing were already in place when the walls went up, and the roof was lowered onto the walls in one piece by crane. Modular homes, as opposed to mobile homes that are built on a mobile steel frame, are constructed to the same standards as site-built homes and are placed on a permanent foundation.

Habitat For Humanity has helped build or repair more than 800,000 houses and served more than 4 million people around the world since its founding in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller. Recipients of Habitat houses must meet a set of criteria to qualify: The family must be legal residents, have a reliable income that falls within certain limits, good credit and the ability to maintain a savings account, and must invest sweat-equity hours in building their own home and/or others. Mortgage payments are very affordable and the no-interest loan is paid back into a fund that is used to build future Habitat homes.

Northeast Oregon is served by two affiliates, Oregon Trail Habitat For Humanity in Hermiston and Grande Ronde Valley Habitat For Humanity in La Grande. For more information on how you can get involved, or to apply for a Habitat home, visit

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Athena bank robbery perpetrated by repeat offender

Some footprints in the snow and the idea that the thieves knew what they were doing when they tunneled through the back wall of the bank were the only clues police and the FBI had to go on following the burglary of the Athena branch of the U.S. National Bank of Portland on Feb. 5, 1948. Bank manager F.S. LeGrow said only a person who knew all about the building and the vault would have chosen to tunnel through the 30-inch-thick brick wall from the basement stairway; the floor and ceiling of the vault were reinforced with steel rails about a foot apart, but the walls were vulnerable. Bank bookkeepers Bonnie Mayberry and June Thomas discovered the theft the morning of Feb. 6.

The thieves took $8,900 in coins from the vault, mostly in quarters and dimes, and the bags were so heavy it would have been difficult to carry them far. A severe storm the night of the robbery hampered efforts to track the men, but a blockade was placed around Walla Walla when a gas station attendant reported customers who appeared so nervous they could hardly wait until the service was completed.

One week later, police arrested Theodore James Audett, 43, a Umatilla cafe manager, and recovered $8,500 of the loot from a sagebrush cache near Echo. Some of the money was found stashed in the Damsite Cafe where he worked. No other arrests were made but Sheriff R.E. (Bob) Goad said there was no way the 6-foot-tall, 180-pound Audett could have fit through the 15-inch hole chiseled in the bank wall.

Audett was well known to law enforcement across the nation as “Bum Rap” for his repeated complaints that his many sentences were unjustified. Following his honorable discharge from the Canadian army in 1921, Audett began his life of crime and served sentences for liquor theft, car and boat thefts and several prison breaks, and was released from Alcatraz in 1940 only to be caught the same year trying to tunnel into a bank vault in Whitman, Nebraska. He was conditionally released from Alcatraz again in 1945.

U.S. Deputy Marshal Frank Myers took Audett to Portland, where he waived a preliminary hearing and asked that no bond be set. He was remanded to the federal district court.

June (Thomas) Schmidtgall worked for the Athena bank for 32 years before her retirement. She still lives in Athena. The story was suggested to me by her son.

Bonnie Mayberry (left) and June Thomas, Athena bank bookkeepers, attempt to heft bags of money similar to those stolen in a bank robbery Feb. 5, 1948. (EO file photo)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Til Taylor statue the first of Pendleton’s bronzes

The other day, as I was walking home for lunch, I was stopped by a local businessman who praised my history column and chatted with me a bit about news coverage in the East Oregonian. We got onto the subject of the Main Street statue kerfuffle, and he asked about the history of the statue of legendary lawman Til Taylor, which holds court in the park named after him in Southeast Pendleton. This week, as I was searching the archives for a photo for a woman in Florida, I came across a news story about Taylor’s murder and the commissioning of the statue that memorializes him. It was kismet, I guess.

Tilman D. Taylor was hired as a deputy sheriff in 1898, and was elected Umatilla County Sheriff in 1912. He served in that capacity for the next eight years, until he was gunned down while trying to prevent a jailbreak on July 25, 1920. During his time as sheriff he was responsible for thousands of arrests, without once firing a shot. Even as he lay dying in St. Anthony Hospital he was directing the search for the three gunmen involved; they were all returned to custody by July 31 and all were hanged for his death.

Sheriff Taylor also was elected president of the Pendleton Round-Up Association in 1912, and donned cowboy attire each year during Round-Up Week. It was in this costume that sculptor A. Phimister Proctor immortalized Taylor for the 11-foot-tall statue that depicts him riding his horse. (Contrary to popular belief, while working Sheriff Taylor favored business suits and black or brown Oxfords, not cowboy attire.) Proctor was a regular visitor to the Round-Up and fascinated by the cowboys and Indians; he also knew Taylor well.

A committee was formed to take donations, the first $25 coming July 30, 1920, just days after Taylor was killed, from W.R. Frey of Vancouver, B.C. In all, $20,000 was collected, and Proctor recreated Taylor’s likeness in Rome and Brussels before shipping the statue to Portland. From there the Penland Brothers of Pendleton brought the statue by truck over the narrow, crooked highway to its new home.

The statue was installed on a 4-foot-tall granite base, surrounded by reflecting pools, and dedicated Sept. 18, 1929, before thousands of people. Speaking at the dedication were Governor I.L. Patterson; Roy Raley, who introduced the sculptor, Proctor; and Poker Jim, chief of the Round-Up’s Indian delegation, who recalled that it was because Til Taylor invited the tribes to take part in the Round-Up that they brought their camps every year. More than 200 police officers, sheriffs and federal officers from Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California also attended the dedication, as well as Til Taylor’s widow and members of his family.

Til Taylor Park is a popular one in the summer with parents of young children, where a wading pool has replaced the reflecting pools, but it is not as well-used as others in town. Still, Taylor keeps vigil at the eastern end of Pendleton, a town he protected so well until his untimely demise.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Race spectacular features unconventional athletes

Two Pendleton car dealers in February 1986 decided to stage a race down Main Street, pitting the best drivers they could find from around the world, in a bid to drum up customers during a slow time of year for their businesses. Specially built vehicles were brought in from Seattle just for the race. But special training was required prior to the big day because the racers — hamsters — were used to sleeping during daylight hours. The original brainstorming session had favored a turtle race, but hamsters were easier to procure.

Dave Rayburn, sales manager at Pendleton Ford, and Doug Bauch of Performance Chrysler each had a stable of the little furry creatures they were busily training for the big race. Special cars, powered by hamster exercise wheels, were the vehicles of choice. “We’ve had a little problem, since they’re nocturnal,” Rayburn said, as he used a foot to stop “Rambo,” who had left the practice track and was speeding backwards out of control. “We’ve been giving them vitamins and working out in the morning and they’re getting much, much better.”

Rayburn’s stable included, among others, “Critter Marquis” who boasted four-leg drive, fully independent suspension and a nonpolluting biodegradable fuel system; “Refrigerator,” who worked out consistently at 4:30 a.m.; and “Percival,” a four-year veteran who trained in the Andes Mountains and was making his U.S. debut in the Saturday spectacular.

The Bauch athletes included “Hemi Hamster,” a Detroit native who had been suspended from racing after taking payoffs; “Pepe Le Pue,” who turned out to be “Penelope Le Pue,” making a comeback after a near-fatal accident; and “Road-Runner,” an Arizona racer who trained in front of hungry coyotes.

Favorites for winning the contest were Ford’s “Bubba Da Rat,” described in his biography as an underdog with a fourth-grade education, and Chrysler’s “Mr. Zee,” a virtual unknown from the Blue Mountains who had a reputation for “winning at any cost.” Following the big race, a barbecue and live music were planned on Main Street.

Unfortunately, the East Oregonian did not cover the Saturday race, so the winner is unknown.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Fugitive rescued after months in handcuffs

A man who escaped from Washington police traveled for months with his wrists bound in handcuffs before being picked up north of Pendleton in January 1915.

The man, with matted hair and beard, filthy and dressed in rags, and with handcuffs grown into the flesh of his wrists, was spotted camping in the gulch across the Lee Street bridge. Several neighbors and campers notice his strange behavior and called police. The man tried to run but was apprehended Jan. 6, 1915.

Sheriff T.D. Taylor and his officers first cleaned the man up at the county jail, trimmed his beard and hair and gave him clean clothes, and then whisked him away to the Bowman photography studio to have pictures taken to help in identifying the fugitive. The man was then taken to St. Anthony Hospital, where Dr. Guy Borden, assisted by Deputy Sheriff Joe Blakely, removed the manacles with a hacksaw after administering anesthetic. Dr. Borden said it was incredible that he had remained at large for so long without discovery, or without ridding himself of the handcuffs, and he was lucky not to have lost one or both hands, or his life. On the right arm the manacle had eaten its way almost to the bone, and the flesh had completely covered it. On his left arm the cuff was halfway concealed by skin. The man had picked at the locks until they would no longer work, and Sheriff Taylor didn’t have a key that would fit.

The man gave his name as Robeno Battiste, a Swiss-Italian immigrant who had no idea why he had been arrested. Speaking through a Portuguese inmate at the jail and a local Italian man, Battiste said he was just walking down a road near Seattle when he was grabbed and clapped in irons. He believed he was being taken back to Canada and escaped when the officer was making a phone call. Sheriff Taylor received a visit from U.S. Immigration Agent E.L. Wells, Walla Walla, two days later who said Battiste had escaped from the law in Nooksack, Wash., on June 19, 1913  — he had spent 19 months on the lam in handcuffs.

Information from the immigration office in Portland confirmed Battiste’s identity, and said he was arrested in Nooksack on suspicion of being an illegal alien trying to sneak into the country. Battiste, not speaking English, thought he was being arrested for some serious crime and in his ignorance had made his escape at the first opportunity. Wells took Battiste back to Walla Walla, declaring that if he had committed no crime he would probably not suggest deportation, considering what Battiste had gone through. He also said he would try to interest wealthy Italians in Walla Walla to take up his cause, and find him work once he was recovered from his ordeal.

Battiste, however, had other ideas. He walked out of the hospital ward at the Walla Walla county jail and made his second escape on Jan. 10. Sheriff’s deputies caught up with him again Jan. 19 at Eureka, Wash., on the Snake River, but Battiste jumped out of the buggy and fled again, to be recaptured after a two-mile chase that led over a steep bluff into a ravine.

By March 2, Battiste was still being held in the Walla Walla jail’s hospital ward, though he appeared to have certain privileges. The East Oregonian reported Battiste stirred up officers again when he once more disappeared from the jail’s confines. Deputy Sheriff Sam Bryan and Immigration Inspector Wells were soon hot on his trail, and caught up with him leisurely walking on Main Street. He was confused at all the commotion, saying he had merely gone for a stroll and was on his way back to the jail when officers caught up with him. He was okayed to take walks thereafter, but was required to tell jail officials before he left the premises. By this time his hands had improved considerably, and it was expected he would soon be ready for release.