Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Island theater pays homage to Round-Up City

Members of the armed forces sacrifice a lot in the service of their country. In return, various types of entertainment are provided, when and where possible, to afford service members a little respite from the realities of war — the USO is a prime example. During World War II, an army detachment headed by the former commander of Pendleton Field built their own movie theater and stage on Saipan Island in the Marianas and named it after the home of the Pendleton Round-Up.

In November of 1944, Colonel Lyman L. Phillips, the former Pendleton Field commander, sent a photo to Pendleton mayor Sprague Carter from “somewhere in the Marianas” showing a large wooden platform with a curtain in the rear and featuring an upright piano. The front of the stage bore a sign with a bucking horse and the name “Pendleton Bowl.” Hundreds of sandbags were available as “reserved seats”  — reserved by whoever got to them first.

From the Nov. 4, 1944 East Oregonian

The name of the theater, according to Col. Phillips, was a unanimous decision by the soldiers that constructed it. Pendleton was well known throughout the many fronts of the war due, to the many residents serving in the armed forces since Pearl Harbor, but also because of the world-famous rodeo.

Col. Phillips also sent copies of posters for various shows staged at the theater, including ”The Mariana Melodiers,” the movie “Thousands Cheer” featuring an all-star cast, and Cpl. Stasik and his accordion.

A copy of Ground Crew, a mimeographed newspaper produced by the unit, also was included in Mayor Carter’s package. It sported the headline “Betty Hutton is Coming!!!” and assured Ms. Hutton she would have plenty of police protection during her visit. The paper also included a poem called “Horace and Lyman Were Colonels” that told of the unit’s travels in many places, each verse ending with “They’re our COs, they can do no wrong.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Injured man crawls for help after fishing accident

A Bingham Springs man who broke his leg during a fishing expedition in February 1917 displayed nerves of steel and lusty lungs when he was forced to crawl for help through deep snow to find shelter and medical attention.

Lou Bulin set out on a quest for big trout Feb. 16, 1917, despite the five feet of snow on the ground in the Blue Mountains near his home at Bingham Springs. While trying to jump over the stream at about 3 p.m. he slipped, and when he fell he struck a rock so hard it broke two bones of one leg. Bulin was two miles from the springs and the nearest assistance, so he broke up his fishing pole for a splint and began crawling toward home.

Bulin made slow progress, having to pull himself around a bluff that overhung the river, and only through the desperate strength of his hands and one good leg did he manage to keep himself from falling into the water. After crawling about a mile and a quarter through heavy snow, Bulin was exhausted and suffering tremendously from the cold and the pain, and started calling for help.

Forest Ranger Baker, who lived in a cabin above the springs, and W.W. Hoch at the mountain resort both heard Bulin yelling, but ignored it at first because they thought it was a coyote yipping in the distance. When they finally decided they were hearing a human voice, both grabbed their guns, thinking Bulin had treed an animal. Baker found Bulin first, and left to secure a horse after Hoch arrived and built a fire for the half-frozen man. Baker and Hoch finally managed to get Bulin back to the springs by 9 p.m.

Dr. E.O. Parker of Pendleton was called, and traveled by freight train and horse to arrive at the springs around 1 a.m. Dr. Parker did what he could for Bulin, and transported him to St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton the next day, where he spent several days recuperating from his ordeal.

Seniors shun transport for away game, walk instead

Five Pendleton High School students decided to forgo gas-powered transportation in February 1967 and instead make tracks for a basketball game in La Grande under their own power — on foot — in an attempt to drum up a good showing from the Pendleton community.

Seniors Dale Simpson, Dennis Vest, Alan Wilhelmsen, Mark McGee and Jim Lieuallen started out at 3 a.m. Feb. 10, 1967, on their way to a basketball game pitting the hometown Buckaroos against the La Grande Tigers, scheduled for 8 p.m. that evening. “It sure was cold until the sun came up,” one of the walkers said.

When asked if any of the quintet had done any training in preparation for their trek, Vest said no — “But I ran around the house last night.”

Two of the trekkers, Wilhelmsen and Vest, started out at a run but soon dropped back to a more reasonable pace. By 9:30 a.m. they were 26 miles into the 52-mile hike, and about a mile and a half ahead of McGee and Lieuallen; Simpson had wrenched his knee at Deadman Pass and dropped out at the 21-mile mark. He was picked up by the chase car driven by Steve Townsend and Don Paddock, who also carried fresh socks and the walkers’ lunch, which they planned to eat at Meacham.

Simpson rejoined the hike after a short rest and logged a total of 38 miles. Vest dropped out soon after he passed Meacham after only 35 miles. Lieuallen walked 43 miles, and Wilhelmsen a little more than 50 miles. McGee was the only one to make it the entire way.
Simpson said the walkers planned their trip carefully so they would arrive in plenty of time for the start of the basketball game, but at the end of the trek the boys were so tired they didn’t actually attend — they listened to the game on the car radio on the way home to Pendleton.

The following day, the hardy quintet vowed to make a second attempt to walk to an away basketball game, this time to Milton-Freewater. But Simpson said they would wait for their blisters to heal before making final plans.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Mysterious blue light baffles locals

Snow plow drivers Manuel (Swede) Erickson and Barney Thompson didn’t know what to make of a strange blue light bobbing above Highway 204 over the Blue Mountains of northeast Oregon in January of 1955. Turns out they weren’t the only ones to report the phenomenon.

The first reports of the light came in mid-January from Erickson and Thompson, who were plowing snow between Weston and Elgin on Highway 204. Erickson said they saw a blue light bobbing over the highway and stopped the plow, dimming the headlights. The light seemed to be coming toward the plow, but stopped when they did. The light then started moving up, down and sideways, and after a moment moved upward and vanished over the trees to their left with an audible hum. The light reappeared in the sky to the right of the plow team, emitting a bluish glow with the occasional blue flash, then disappeared again. Erickson and Thompson said they came within 500 yards of the light before it vanished.

A week later, another late-night snowplow driver, Robert Backus, stopped to check one of his chains and notice he was casting a shadow. He looked up to see the blue light bobbing overhead, humming. Backus got back in the plow and started up again, and the light followed him for a short time before slowly moving down a canyon and disappearing. Others reported similar sightings, including two women who saw a blue light flashing on and off near McNary Dam.

Reporters for the La Grande Observer returned to the spot where Backus saw the light on Jan. 27, but all they saw was the morning star shining with spectacular brilliance and an eerie light. Backus and others with the reporters said the star was nothing like the mysterious blue light they saw.

Erickson thought maybe the light was a helicopter, but none were known to exist in the area. Backus, a veteran of both the Army and the Navy, said while the movement was similar, the hum was not.

Another man who saw a similar phenomenon 15 years earlier while hunting offered a possible explanation. Charles DeSpain of Riverside saw a blue light on the south side of Bridge Creek about 60 miles south of Pendleton and wrote a letter about it to the Atomic Energy Commission. The AEC suggested the light might be caused by a “jack o’lantern glow” from decomposing phosphorus deposits, or a magnetic phenomenon similar to the aurora borealis.