Just the word gives a lot of people the creepy-crawlies. But for some people bees are a living. In May of 1967, an intrepid East Oregonian reporter braved a swarm of bees to get a story about a local beekeeper and his business, despite his natural inclination to scream, swat and flee.
Reporter Bob Woehler was on the scene May 3, 1967, when Riverside-area beekeeper Closson Scott worked his magic on a swarm of honeybees that had taken up residence on the rear bumper of a car behind Hamley’s Western Store in downtown Pendleton. “I’ve never seen so many swarms of bees so early,” said Scott. “This is the third swarm that I’ve picked up in the back of Hamley’s in less than two weeks.” He pointed to the top floor of the building with his homemade smoker. “They live up there.”
As Woehler went in for a photo of Scott, he was immobilized by a bee walking across his hand, stopping periodically to clean itself. Beads of sweat appeared as Woehler waited for the bee to move on, wishing fervently for a telephoto lens, or that he’d given the story to a different reporter. “They won’t sting you if you don’t handle them much,” Scott said, which was helpful until a couple of bees began to saunter across the back of Woehler’s neck. And his subsequent attempts at getting a photo were obstructed by bees walking across the camera lens.
Scott explained that the bees were just looking for a new home. When a colony gets too big, usually the older workers and the old queen are forced out to find new quarters, while the younger set keeps the original hive location. When bees swarm they send out scout bees to look for a new home and return to the swarm to report their findings. “You can probably hear them buzzing inside the hive I brought. They are probably telling the ones on the outside that this is the place.”
As more bees began buzzing around Scott and Woehler, the reporter began to feel a little panicked. But he checked himself when Scott mentioned that waving your arms doesn’t frighten bees at all. “They won’t hurt you,” Scott said, clutching a horde of bees in his hands and extending them out to Woehler. “Here, look at this.” Woehler managed to screw up enough courage to stretch his neck out for a peek. Sure enough, the bees were behaving beautifully, content to roam instead of sting.
Scott ushered the rest of his foundlings into the hive, then packed up his truck. Another swarm, this time at Helen McCune Junior High School, was waiting.