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.