Thursday, February 25, 2016

Pendleton grade school welcomes film star

An East Oregonian reporter on March 18, 1943, stirred up the town when a story announced that Mickey McGuire, star of “Our Gang,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Boys Town,” was attending the second grade at Hawthorne School.

But you can’t believe everything you read.

Mickey Ross McGuire was indeed a child actor and singer who inherited his musical talent from his grandfather, an accomplished stage musician. But his most notable roles included “Danny Boy,” “For the Love of Rusty” and “The Return of Rusty,” all of which were released after he spent time in Pendleton. According to the EO story, his parents, Mr. and Mrs. C.A. McGuire, moved to Pendleton where Mr. McGuire was employed with Union Pacific Railroad.

The Mickey McGuire associated with “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Boys Town” was in fact Mickey Rooney (born John Yule Jr.), who at age 23 in 1943 was much too old to attend the second grade. And “Mickey McGuire” was a character played by Rooney in a rival series of short films to the “Our Gang” series in the 1930s.

Young Mr. McGuire did put on a public appearance in his new home, for the Girls’ League date dance at Pendleton High School, accompanied by Darcia Skiff.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Main Street Cowboys exemplify Round-Up spirit

“Pendleton has lost its Round-Up spirit,” Mayor-elect Morris Temple told the Junior Chamber of Commerce June 14, 1950, in a plea to return to the spirited community celebrations of the old days and away from just a commercial show. He asked the Jaycees and the senior Chamber of Commerce for their opinions and support on bringing a community show to downtown Pendleton during the Round-Up.

Temple felt that the Round-Up had become too commercialized, and that community support was lacking. Happy Canyon had changed from its Wild West show beginnings to the current pageant, and moved away from Main Street (to property now housing Western Auto and Baxter Auto Parts at Southwest Fourth and Emigrant), so out-of-town visitors had fewer reasons to visit downtown merchants after the rodeo (except to patronize local bars). He proposed bringing back the original idea of Happy Canyon: a place where visitors could go after the rodeo to get a taste of the Old West town that Pendleton used to be and kick up their heels a little with free, family-friendly entertainment.

The original idea, according to current Main Street Cowboys president Don Harsch, probably started in 1949 with conversations between Temple, Monk Carden, Dan Bell and Ray Gilham. In 1950, a group of Pendleton businessmen headed by Temple and including Gilham, Jack Fuquay, Willard Ormsby, C.W. (Swede) Fox, Dr. R.L. Whitford, Tex Bolton, Willard Crawford, William E. Hanzen, Bud Kalley, Del Brown and Lloyd Crawford made a plan to close down Main Street between the Bowman Hotel and the Pendleton Hotel to automobiles from the end of the Westward Ho! parade on Friday, Aug. 24 through Sunday, Aug. 26, allowing only horses or horse-drawn vehicles to operate. Burros, oxen, pack strings and other early transportation exhibits were to be on display, blacksmithing and other early settler skills would be demonstrated, and a German band would entertain the crowd both before the Westward Ho! parade and on Saturday morning. Stores decorated with slab-wood false fronts and staffed with store owners dressed in western garb from the early 1900s would display merchandise from the era. On Friday and Saturday nights a block-long square dance was planned in the 300 block of Main Street, an old-fashioned medicine show would set up in the 200 block with a barker, spieler, magician, western music and dancing girls, and a wide variety of musical entertainment with everything from a barbershop quartet to country crooners and accordion squeezers would serenade onlookers. The Main Street show would close by 10:30 p.m. to accommodate those who wanted to attend the Happy Canyon pageant.

Harsch provided copies of notes from the first year’s show, including a list of performers, a proposed uniform for the Main Streeters (western pants, a straw or cowboy hat and a “loud shirt”), a detailed accounting of the hours worked to set up and tear down the show (65.5 hours for the three-day show, plus two days of clean-up, paid at $1.75 per hour), and a balance sheet that shows the group actually came out ahead the first year, with a profit of $226.54. The show was a rousing success, and the Main Street Cowboys were off and running. They filed their incorporation papers with the state of Oregon and set about creating “The Greatest Free Show in the West.”

In the beginning, the Main Street show was held on Friday and Saturday only, but gradually the time frame was expanded along with the offerings. For many years a mock shootout was staged downtown, complete with outlaws, fast-draw artists and “victims” falling out of windows, but this was eventually phased out. Commercial vendors have since ousted the pioneer displays, but the musical entertainment continues with stages on every block and music for every taste. And the group’s eye-catching chartreuse-and-purple shirts mean friendly assistance and a welcoming smile are a cinch to find, even in Round-Up crowds.

The group also provides decorations for the downtown area, including flags, signs and banners, and they sponsor the annual Dress-Up Parade that kicks off Round-Up week each year. And the signature benches painted in Main Streeter colors grace many a community event.

The Main Streeters for many years also served as a welcoming committee for Pendleton. Celebrities, politicians and other dignitaries stepping off a plane at the Pendleton airport could be suddenly surrounded by a group of whooping cowboys on horseback, guns blazing (with blanks), to be “arrested” for various infractions and hauled away to whatever official business they were about. While this function now rests with city government and the Chamber of Commerce ambassadors (sans gunfire), Main Streeters and their female counterparts, the Side Saddlers, continue to serve as ambassadors for the Round-Up City, taking their signature calliope to parades and events across the Northwest to promote Pendleton and its iconic rodeo.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Fog seeding leads to cockpit whiteout

An entry in the East Oregonian’s Days Gone By column spurred a letter from Michael Stratton, a Pendleton financial advisor. His father, Clair Stratton, was featured in the daily history column when a fog seeding trial at the Pendleton airport created an unseasonal snowfall in downtown Pendleton in December 1965. Mike said he appreciated the trip down memory lane, and then related a second seeding run that created a whiteout of a completely different kind.

Clair Stratton and his family moved to Pendleton in 1960, and he opened an aircraft maintenance shop first at Woodpecker Field east of Pendleton, and then at the Pendleton airport in 1962. He became a full-service fixed base operator and a Cessna dealer.

Stratton was under contract with United Airlines during the 1960s to do fog seeding when visibility was lower than legal for planes to land. He and his crew used a Cessna Skylane equipped with a storage container and a chute to deliver dry ice into the fog bank. In the winter of 1966, Stratton and his crew were called for another fog seeding run but the Skylane they normally used was not available. “Dad, being innovative, looked around and realized they had a new Cessna Turbo 206 in stock and he decided they would use it for that day’s flight,” Mike remembers.

The seeding project started out using dry ice, but by 1966 they had moved to using large bags of a white powdery substance. Stratton took a rear door off the 206, turned a passenger seat backward and then strapped himself into the seat with the bags loaded in beside him. Once his pilot, Joe Ferrucci, leveled out above the fog, Stratton cut the corner off one of the bags and started dumping the powder out the door.

The first bag was dispensed without incident, Mike said. But the wind caught the powder from the second bag and blew it back into the cockpit of the plane. Now they were flying not only by instrument flight rules, but there was zero visibility inside the plane as well. The powder was statically attracted to everything inside the plane, including the instrument panel and the insides of the windows.

Stratton and Ferrucci calmly managed to complete their mission and land safely. But, Mike said, “They literally looked like two snowmen as they exited the airplane.”

The Cessna Turbo 206 was eventually sold to Walla Walla wheat rancher Pat Lynch. One of Mike’s jobs as “ramp rat” at the airport was to clean airplanes after their annual inspections. He said for the next few years after the “in-flight whiteout,” small amounts of white powder still turned up from under the seats and other areas of the interior during the plane’s annual cleaning.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Pendleton teen shoots classmate after school party

A 15-year-old ninth-grader at Pendleton Junior High School shot a classmate after a school dance in May 1950.

John Raymond Meyer was a transfer student from the Chicago area attending school in Pendleton. He attended a dance party at the junior high school on May 26 and another student, 15-year-old Ted Kinder, noticed that Meyer was carrying a gun. Kinder suggested that Meyer get rid of the weapon, and another student later saw the young man trying to hide it behind a piano.

The party ended at 11:30 p.m. and everyone left the building but teacher Carl Kligel and about 20 students who were on the cleanup crew. Kinder went to the lavatory, and a little later came upstairs and collapsed into a chair, telling Kligel, "I've been shot." He was rushed to St. Anthony Hospital, where doctors found the bullet had missed all Kinder's bones and internal organs.

Kinder was interviewed by Police Chief Charles Lemon in the hospital, and recounted that he was in the lavatory when Meyer entered playing with the gun. Kinder again urged Meyer to put the weapon away, and Meyer left the room but returned a moment later, pointed the gun at Kinder and said, "All right, Ted, you asked for it." He then shot Kinder once in the right side of the chest and fled.

Police immediately started a search for Meyer, and found him lying on the floorboard in the back of a car belonging to his brother, James Meyer, with whom he was living. The pistol was found shoved between the back seat cushions.

After his arrest, Meyer admitted to the shooting and also to a theft at Hamley & Co. the previous evening. Taken during the heist were four jackets, a wrist watch, a pair of gloves, a suitcase and $4 in cash, in addition to the .32 caliber pistol used in Kinder's assault. He had also stolen a bicycle in a separate theft. Chief Lemons said that Meyer was on parole for a house burglary in Chicago, and had only lived in Pendleton for about three weeks.

Meyer pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon on June 6. He claimed during his trial he did not know the gun was loaded. He was remanded to the Umatilla County juvenile court, and sentenced to the Woodburn training school (now the McLaren Youth Correctional Facility).