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Poetry by Pauline

A photo album Pauline assembled during high school years yielded two of her poems.  Her first was brash and bawdy  while the second reflective and self-assured.   “Boyfriends” likely dates to her junior year (1944) judging by who’s mentioned in the poem and her album photos that year.

The second, “This world that we’re livin’ in” dates to after graduation – but it’s hard to say exactly when.  I’ve included the type-written poems plus select photos to illustrate her high school friendships.

This is my poetic tribute to the best Mom I ever had, Pauline Lucile (Morris) Kombol (1927–2011).  Happy Mother’s Day from your historian son, Bill Kombol – May 8, 2022.

Judging by the number of photos in her high school album, Shirley Stergion (right) was probably Pauline’s best friend among many.  In front of Enumclaw High School located at 2222 Porter Street.

Boyfriends

We girls and our boyfriends,
We have quite a time.
But for the ones we like best,
We wouldn’t give a dime.
I chase after everyone I know I can’t get,
But what do you care, it’s no skin off your tit.

Well, JoAnn likes muscles, Erna like chins,
But some like boys with plenty of sins.
And I’ve got one, you all know who,
It’s Howie I’m speaking about to you.
Valera likes to have about six on the string,
And her heart tells her it’s just a fling.
Now Beve likes Renton, and you know why,
Just mention Tony’s name, and listen to her sigh.

But this thing called love, has broken many hearts,
Yet it has only caused others to let a big fart.
What would you do, if there weren’t any boys?
Well, we wouldn’t be so sad and there’d be many more joys.
But as times goes on and variety is the spice,
You’ll probably be at the church getting showered with rice.

I can picture it now, Erna and her hubby,
She’ll love his chin even if he isn’t chubby.
And here comes JoAnnie showing her muscle,
With her butt held in by a big wire bustle.
And look! There’s Lois, the big old fat,
She hasn’t left the church, ‘cause that’s just where she sat.
She’s an old maid and will never get married,
She couldn’t get Howie, so now she’ll be buried.
Next comes Beve, with her big toothy smile,
There’s pompadour Tony at the end of the aisle.

And there stands Valera, all wide eyed and mad,
She couldn’t get married and am I glad.
She and Miss Calahan are figuring out a way,
That they can marry two guys and be happy that day.
But it isn’t possible and she should know,
And I’m afraid if she ever tried it, to jail she’d go.

It’s ten years later and what do you think,
Here comes a bunch of wopes and of garlic they stink.
If you saw their chins and looked at their nose,
You’d know right away they’re Erna Merlino’s.
Here’s a little boar with his hair piled high,
One look at him and you’d know who he was and why.
I said to him, “Where’s your daddy, Tony?”
He said, “Oh, home eating crackers and baloney.”
But now we will pass, through Renton right now,
And there’s a dame, sittin’ milkin’ a cow.

We look at her face and guess who it is,
It’s our own JoAnn milking a cow named Liz.
I asked her what had happened to all her husband’s money,
She gave me a dirty look and said, “Don’t be funny.”

As I started home, I stopped at the lake,
I wanted to see Howie, so I pulled on the brake.
I went to the door and rang the bell,
I heard Howie yell, “I’m out here in the well.”
In the well I thought, now’s my chance,
To corner him into the wedding dance.

I finally married him after this long time,
And after 80 long years
I’m a bride at 89!!!!!

Appearing in the poem:
Erna – Erna Jean Williams
Beve – likely Beverly Boland, but possibly Beve Rocca
JoAnn – JoAnn (Ewell) Clearwater
Howie – Howard Johanson
Valera – Valera Pedersen
Lois – Lois (Buck) Hamilton
Miss Calahan –De Lona Calahan, Tiger Tales Yearbook staff advisor
Tony – presumably Tony Merlino of Renton

Written circa 1944, during her junior year at Enumclaw High School

The final draft of Pauline’s “Boyfriends.” The first draft had typos and was missing the final stanza.
The boy she finally marries (in the poem) at the age of 89 – Howard ‘Howie’ Johanson (photo from Tiger Tales 1945, Enumclaw High School yearbook).
Valera Pedersen, Beve Boland, Pauline Morris, Erna William, and Shirley Stergion, May 1944 on the front lawn of EHS.  Interestingly, Shirley’s name did not appear in the poem, but then again she and Jimmy Puttman were a couple during high school and then married shortly thereafter. 
“Seniors” Spring 1945: Shirley Stergion, Yvonne Cross, Faye Timm, and Pauline Morris on a bicycle ride through the surrounding countryside.
Erna Williams at Enumclaw’s Avalon Theater, May 1944. Both Pauline and Erna worked at the Avalon, then located at the N.E. corner of Cole St. & Myrtle Ave.

This world that we’re livin’ in

This world that we’re livin’ in
Is awful nice and sweet–
You get a thorn with every rose
But ain’t the roses sweet.

I’ve shut the door on yesterday,
Its sorrows and mistakes:
I’ve looked within its gloomy walls
Past failures and mistakes.

And now I throw the key away
To seek another room,
And furnish it with hope and smiles
And every spring–time bloom.

You have to live with yourself, you know,
All your whole life through.
Wherever you stay, or wherever you go,
You will always companion you.

So–it’s just as well to make of yourself
The person you’d like to be,
And spend each day in the pleasantest way,
With the finest of company.

The typed original of Pauline’s “This world that were livin’ in.”
  • By Pauline Lucile Morris

    Pauline Morris, Valera Pedersen, Bev Boland, Shirley Stergion, at Enumclaw High School, May 1944, on the front lawn of EHS.
“Sub-debs” June 1945 – Top: Nancy Bruhn, Yvonne Cross, Faye Timm, Shirley Stergion, Pauline, Morris.  Lower: Jane Smitterlof, Dolly Grennan, Martha Hanthorn , Marice Heiberg.  Photo on the front lawn of EHS looking east across Porter Street to the stile-standing 18-unit apartment built in 1926, in which Pauline lived sometime after high school.

Post Script:   Morris – Stergion  – Puttman – Kombol

Pauline Morris and Shirley Stergion, May 1944 – their children, Lynne Puttman and Bill Kombol, 1968.

Our moms were BFF before there was such a thing.  We’ve been 5-year reunion friends since graduation.  Their names were Shirley Stergion and Ponnie Morris until they married Jim Puttman and Jack Kombol.

Her name is Lynne always misspelled Lynn and I was called Billy the name she still calls me.  They were Tigers from the Class of ’45.  We were Hornets from the Class of ’71.  Their 1944 picture was taken on the front lawn Enumclaw High School on Porter Street.  Our 1968 Ka-Teh-Kan yearbook photo was taken inside the gym of the same building – by then Enumclaw Junior High.

They have both passed to the world beyond ours: Shirley in 2019 and Pauline in 2011. We reached the 9th grade Hall of Fame with our funniest laughs.  Lynne became a stand-up comedienne helping people laugh.  Bill studied Economics which is no laughing matter.

But wherever our lives have rambled, we share the bond our mothers shared – Enumclaw.  Some say it translates as a ‘place of evil spirits’ while others claim it’s a ‘thundering noise.’

Whatsoever Enumclaw may be – where so ever Enumclaw may reside – long may her spirit dwell.

Categories
History

Working at a Coal Mine

My senior year of college was as different as night and day.  It wasn’t my original plan. By day, I inhabited the rarified air of life at a university where young men and women, often preening boys and girls, proffered great thoughts fueled by a steady diet of pot and booze.  At night, I worked in a coal mine with gray-haired men at jobs they’d performed their entire lives.

I was bemused by the attitudes and mindsets of the two cultures.  For me, it was the best and worst of times – the most wonderful and dreadful of any span of my then young life.  I was fully exhilarated and completely exhausted – a caterpillar in search of a butterfly to escape from a cocoon of his own making.  For years I’ve struggled to reconcile the feelings and emotions within those discordant worlds I simultaneously ingested.

I’d grown increasingly bored with college phonies fretting over which grad school to attend.  I was steadily drawn to the stoic lives of coal miners.  My fellow undergrads bemoaned petty stresses of their own making.  Each day the miners completed the tasks set before them.  The grad school gang imagined chic careers with grand salaries.  The coal miners were content with life and their position in it.

In early September 1974, I prepared to return for my last year of college.  Over three summers past, I worked for Palmer Coking Coal, a family-owned company.  My jobs were common laboring at the Black Diamond yard and Rogers #3 mine.  That mine was a succession of Rogers #1 and #2, started in 1958 and 1959 respectively.  Located in Ravensdale, Rogers #3 was slated to close in less than a year.  It would be the last underground coal mine in the State of Washington.

End of the shift
That’s me at shift’s end I was covered with coal dust on one of my rare day shifts. The Rogers #3 hoist room and mine tipple are up the hill behind me.  Photo by Barry Kombol, April 1975

My uncle, Jack Morris was President of Palmer.  He was navigating the company’s exit from the coal business, as gracefully as possible.  It was a tough time for the firm.  Jack was drinking heavily, and Palmer’s fortunes were not promising.  There were sharp disagreements between three uncles, Jack, Evan Morris, and Charlie Falk, who collectively led the firm.  I was thankfully unaware of building tensions and unresolved rivalries. I just turned 21.  Little did I know that leadership of this company would one day fall to me.

Evan Morris, Sr. on the platform beside the portal into the Rogers #3 mine.  The sloped tunnel descender 800 feet underground.  December 1974.

Federal coal inspectors were bearing down on small mines like Palmer’s.  Our operation didn’t fit the template for a subsurface coal mine.  The Rogers coal seam stood nearly vertical, while most coal mines operate on horizontal planes, the way sedimentary formations containing coal seams are naturally deposited.  The plate tectonic which uplifted the Cascade Mountains altered the local Ravensdale geology to a rare condition – a vein of coal tilted to more than 80º.  Underground mine regulations hadn’t been written for that kind of operation.

Coal seams in this area of Ravensdale stood nearly vertical as seen in this geologic cross section. – Golder Associates.

Most men who worked at Rogers #3 were lifelong coal miners.  All were in their late 50s and early 60s, except for a cousin, Bob Morris; my brother, Barry Kombol, and me.  Two dozen miners had retired over the previous eight years, but enough experienced men remained allowing Palmer to finish its underground mine while honoring contracts supplying coal to State prisons.  Palmer’s management was mindful of the decades those miners had worked in the industry and sensitive to union pensions that hung in the balance.  A few more years would strengthen each miner’s retirement payout.

One day in early September, Jack pulled me aside and asked if I’d work the afternoon shift while attending college.  It was my senior year where an easy slide towards graduation was a natural expectation.  Jack explained I’d earn the wage rate under the United Mine Workers contract to which Palmer was bound.  A Grade 2, Tipple Attendant made $45.93 per day.  That UMW day rate was the equivalent of $32 per hour in today’s currency.  To a money-hungry lad like me, that sounded awfully enticing.  I talked it over with my folks and a decision was made.

Surface facilities at Rogers #3. The tipple to the left and load out bunkers to the right.  Photo by Don Mason, early 1970s.

The afternoon shift was from 3 – 11 pm, so it made sense to live at home.  My first three years of college were spent at Pi Kappa Phi, where I enjoyed the camaraderie of fraternity brothers plus the assorted characters who boarded in spare rooms.  Ours was a frat house with a classical facade, good cooks, and two hot meals a day.  Staying at home would make me a “townie,” so I’d only pay fraternity dues plus the meal rate for lunch, a significant saving over full room and board.  I drove my parent’s 1968 Renault, an unusual car in those days – basically a Volkswagen Bug for cheapskates.  The no-frills Renault got good mileage, had a stick shift on the floor, with an A.M. radio.  What else could I possibly need?

My schedule was grueling.  Monday through Friday, I was up at 6 am, fixing breakfast while Mom packed my evening dinner in a metal lunch bucket.  I loved yogurt and back then little was sold in stores, so Mom cultured her own which I ate from a squat thermos.  She, Pauline (Morris) Kombol was herself, a coal miner’s daughter.

I left Enumclaw every morning at 7 am.  Traffic was light with far less congestion than today’s clogged freeways.  Interstate 5 was a breeze with only occasionally slowdowns.  I arrived at the University of Washington campus about 8 am, parked at the fraternity, then walked to my 8:30 class.  My first break came at 9:30, so for an hour I studied at the Husky Union Building, and then sped off to my 10:30 and 11:30 classes.  By 12:30 pm, I rambled back to the fraternity for lunch, studied for an hour, and left Seattle at 1:45 arriving at the Ravensdale mine by 2:45 pm.

Joe Ozbolt, left and James ‘Bo’ Williams, right inside the Rogers #3 washhouse. Photo by Charlie Falk, February 1975.

In the washhouse, I joined other miners where we changed from street clothes to working gear.  There were only six miners per shift, but I was exclusively night shift so worked with alternating crews each week.  We walked up a slight hill to the hoist room and met the day crew coming from the mine.  Our counterparts were greeted and a light banter exchanged.  The afternoon shift started at 3 pm, lasting eight hours including a dinner break.  My job involved standing at a waist-high metal platform, where coal was separated from rock.  It was called the picking table and I was its operator.  The picking table was located in the belly of a triangular wooden structure called the tipple.

A loaded coal car is being dumped from the top of tipple into the chute below. The picking table was behind the silver-colored sheet metal above the dumptruck where waste material was collected before being hauled to the rock dump.  Photo by Bill Kombol, April 1975.

The job was simple – push coal to the right and rock to the left.  There was one primary goal: don’t let rocks smash your fingers, lest you wind up with a throbbing fingernail rapidly turning purple.  Still, it happened, and no matter how long you sucked that pulsing finger, the pain lingered.  Sometimes it hurt so much, you had to heat a sewing needle red hot then drill down through the nail to release the pounding pressure caused when blood rushed to repair the wound.

The picking table was six feet wide and about two feet deep.  The left third featured a hinged trap-door balanced by a pulley and weight.  When 100 pounds or more of rock accumulated on that side, a trap door released the waste material that fell into a dump truck below.  The large chunks of coal which landed on the table were pushed right into a crusher and broken into small pieces.

Barry Kombol, ready at the picking table – notice how clean he is at the start of a shift.  Photo by Bill Kombol, April 1975.  
A Moulden & Sons dumptruck filling up with coal to be hauled to Palmer’s Mine #11 yard in Black Diamond for further processing.  Photo by Bill Kombol, April 1975.

Above me was a chute regularly filled with coal and rock brought from the mine and dumped from the tipple above.  A slanted door of thick steel, opened and closed by an electric motor, regulated how much coal came through that chute.  After falling down, the coal mix vibrated over a sloped screen with square openings.  The smaller-sized pieces (less than 4” in diameter) dropped onto a conveyor belt and were carried to the loadout bunker.

The slanted door on the chute had to be set to just the right level.  Opened too much and excessive coal crashed down, blinding the screen, and left the picking table a cluttered mess.  If the avalanche was too large you couldn’t separate the rock from coal fast enough and both ended up discarded.  But when not opened enough, the screening process slowed, and the next coal car to dump was stalled, disrupting the entire operation.  Getting it right was fairly easy when coal was uniform, and rocks were small.  But sometimes large chunks of sharp-angled sandstone and sedimentary rock jammed between the chute door and vibrating screen.  The rocks wedged together at such awkward angles that none could break through the hatchway.  The bind got so nasty that rocks were stuck even with a fully opened door.

When that happened, I rushed to the hoist room and told the operator to stop pulling cars from the mine.  The hoist-man operated a large spool, six feet across upon which was wound 1,000 feet of 1” thick steel cable.  It resembled a gigantic fishing reel.  The cable spun through a bull-wheel atop the tipple providing leverage needed for pulling five-ton coal cars up from the bottom of the mine.  After the car was dumped, the hoist operator braked against gravity, allowing the car to free-wheel down rails tracks along the 48º slope, through a mine opening called the portal.

A closeup of Bill McLoughry operating the hoist. The drum and steel cable are in the background.  Photo by Barry Kombol, April 1974.

With coal cars stopped, I ran back to the picking table and turned off the vibrating screen.  I climbed up and with a long metal pry bar tried dislodging rocks to coax them through the door.  If that didn’t work, I’d pound repeatedly with a sledgehammer to break the burly rocks into smaller pieces that could fit through.  Sometimes the clog was so bad, the hoist man joined me as we tried to get things moving.  Some nights the work was so grueling my body was drained in sweat.

Hoist operators: Roy Darby, top left; Frank Manowski, top right; and Bob Morris, below.

Other nights the coal was so perfectly sized that 95% of the mix cruised through the screen.  The few melon-sized chunks which dropped to the picking table were easy to handle and my job was a breeze.  After screening five tons, I had plenty of idle time awaiting the next coal car’s arrival at the top of the tipple.

A bucket seat salvaged from an old sports car had been set up in the picking table chamber.  Trips arrived every six to eight minutes, and I usually screened a carload in two to three minutes giving me several minutes between loads.  In between, I read my textbooks perhaps a page or two, until the next car arrived.  Its approach was signaled by the pitch of the whirring cable and sway of the tipple.  When coal and rock crashed into the hopper above, that meant another five tons to screen.

The rail tracks lead to the portal opening, seen mid-photo as a darkened area. This photo of the portal opening into the mine was taken from atop the tipple looking down.  Photo by Bill Kombol, April 1975.

From time to time, I emptied the dump truck parked below.  After 10 to 12 tons of rock dropped through the trap door to the waiting dump box, I scurried down, jumped in the truck, drove to the rock dump, and emptied the load.  The truck was dumped five or six times a night depending on the percentage of rock to coal.  I needed to be fast, as coal cars kept emerging from the mine.

On nights when coal wasn’t hoisted, I rode a coal car 800 feet underground to work with the miners.  There I performed laboring tasks – sometimes drilling coal and loading dynamite.  Other nights I helped set timber props that held up the roof of the mine.  Or cleaned coal spilled on rail tracks.

Bill Kombol handing John Costanich a stick of dynamite ready for loading into a drill hole.  Photo by Barry Kombol, April 1974.
With a long plastic pole Bill Kombol helps John Costanich (on platform above) push the dynamite to the top of the drill hole.  Dummy bags were put in last to plug the hole and ensure a successful blast.  Photo by Barry Kombol, April 1974.

The most mindless job was filling dummy bags with loose clay used for stemming plugs.  After loading a drill hole with a dozen sticks of dynamite, the sausage-sized, clay-filled, paper bags were punched into the end of the hole.  This focused the energy of the explosive force to blast intact coal into thousands of smaller pieces.   Otherwise, the explosion would blow out the bottom of the drill hole, like a firecracker dud.  Dummy bags were in constant use during mining, so I spent hours bagging up a week’s supply or more.

Bill Kombol filling dummy bags and placing the finished sausage-sized bags into an empty dynamite box.  A “dummy bag” was a paper sack filled with clay or shale and used to stem drill holes. The dummy bag was about the same size as a dynamite stick.  After the drill hole was filled with dynamite, several dummy bags were tamped tightly as stemming, so that the dynamite blast would break and loosen the coal rather than simply blow out the end of the hole. “Stemming” means to tamp, plug, or make tight, to ensure a successful shot.  Photo by Barry Kombol, April 1974.

One shift, bored and alone in the crosscut, I turned off my miner’s lamp to see if my eyes could fully adjust to the dark.  It was an experiment.  After 10 minutes, I slowly drew my hand towards my eyes guessing ambient light would illuminate the outline of the appendage, but there was nothing – complete and total darkness.  There was no sound beyond my breathing.  The lack of sight and sound that far below the earth’s surface conjured feelings I’ve never forgotten.

People often asked what it was like working underground.  The best part was a constant temperature somewhere around 50º. There was little air movement except for a slight breeze from fans that ventilated the mine.  We didn’t have to worry about rain, as it was dry except for a stream of underground water that accumulated in a ditch next to the hanging wall.  It flowed to a sump and was pumped outside.  The mine tunnels were supported by a three-piece timber set, consisting of two uprights supporting a cross beam log all tied together by an overhead roof of rugged boards, called lagging.  It was a comfortable working environment, save for the fact everything you touched was black.

At 7 pm, work stopped for our dinner break.  I moseyed down to the hoist room where a pot-bellied coal stove kept the tin shack warm.  On rare occasions, the miners came up from below to warm themselves and join us.  But most nights it was just me and the hoist man, either Roy Darby, Bill McLoughry, my cousin, Bob Morris, or sometimes Frank ManowskiPee Wee, the dirty black mine dog hung out in the hoist room.

George Savicke, right eats his lunch while Tony Basselli toasts his sandwich on the pot-bellied coal stove in the hoist room. That night the two miners came out from below for their dinner break.  November 1974.

Dinner break was a time to relax, chat, and eat the meal Mom prepared 12 hours earlier.  Sometimes she packed homemade soup in a thermos, but more often a meat and cheese sandwich, which I toasted atop the hot stove.  I was talkative and conversations with the old coal miners took curious turns.  Almost to a man, they told me to get an education and stay out of the mines.

Following our half-hour pause, it was back to work until 11 pm when our shift ended.  Then I dragged my tired body, covered with sweat and coal dust, down to the wash house where we showered on concrete floors, under three side-by-side spigots.  It was like traveling back to a shoddy version of a junior high locker room.  The hot showers felt good, as did donning clean clothes you’d changed from eight hours earlier.

Pee Wee, the hoist room mine dog carrying a miner’s lunch box ,then seeking attention and perhaps a snack from the miners. Photo by Barry Kombol, April 1974.

Each night, your work clothes were hung from hooks on a wire basket, with gloves and hard hat placed inside.  A chain and pulley hauled the gear to the eve of the wash house where heat naturally accumulated.  If your clothes were wet, they’d be warm and toasty by the following day.  Each Friday, I brought my dirty garments home for Mom to wash.

I was in my car by 11:20 pm for the 20-minute drive back to Enumclaw.  I brushed my teeth and plopped into the same bed I’d slept in since sixth grade.  Falling to sleep each night was the easiest part of my day.  Six hours later, it started all over again – up for breakfast, in my car, and driving to the U.W.

On weekends, I’d sleep till 11 or noon.  I had no life outside of school and work.  All my friends were away so largely I kept to myself.  Some Saturday nights, I walked to the Chalet Theater to see a movie.  But mostly I studied, typed papers, and prepared to face Monday.

After two college quarters and more than seven months of this routine, I was burned out.  Fortunately, the underground coal mine was preparing to shut down.  My night-shift job on the picking table phased out shortly after the start of the spring quarter.  I completed my senior year living in Enumclaw but no longer working at the mine.

When the Rogers #3 mine finally closed, a retirement party was held featuring a cake with all Palmer personnel, who were part of the last underground coal mine in Washington State written in the frosting. 1975.

In addition to my regular Econ classes, I took a one-credit P.E. in tennis and a two-credit course on nutrition.  But my favorite class spring quarter was a three-credit course entitled the Living Theater.  We studied drama, went to plays, and wrote reviews of those we saw.  It was my favorite college class and fittingly my last.

During those days of school and nights of work, my dreams were filled with fears – of papers not completed and exams I didn’t understand.  Remarkably, I scored all A’s, and only one B that year.  Slowly my life recovered as I took pride in a fat bank account.  It’s easy saving money when living at home with no time to spend it.

For more than a year prior, I’d suffered an emotionally embarrassing case of facial acne.  I felt ugly.  But nothing Dr. Homer Harris, a noted dermatologist prescribed seemed to work.  I stopped getting haircuts and grew my hair out.  To hide my pimpled face, I quit shaving.  Perhaps it was the release from stress or maybe shaving irritated my skin.  But the acne lessened and within a few months disappeared.  I began to feel human again.

I graduated that June, with a B.A. in Economics.  I was tired of college.  My attachment to fraternity brothers dwindled and I abandoned the academic scene.  I had no interest in attending commencement.  My sister graduated from high school that same year, so the folks wanted to throw a party for the both of us.  I declined their offer and also pointedly skipped graduation ceremonies.  My diploma arrived in the mail four months later.

Four years of study and 195 college credits produced this Bachelor of Arts in Economics, mailed to me several months later, as I had no interest in attending graduation ceremonies.

A few relatives and two high school teachers sent congratulatory cards. My Grandma Kombol, a school teacher for 44 years gave me Webster’s Third International, a 13-pound dictionary I still cherish.  I loafed all summer.  I bought a motorcycle in August and moved to Lincoln City that fall.  There I collected unemployment checks, read books, and walked on the beach.

Working at a coal mine my senior year of college was an experience I’ll never forget.  It was a lonely existence within a beehive of perpetual motion.  My life was a rolling slog in squirrel-cage.  That choice shaped my life, unlike anything before or since.  Perhaps the Stoic philosopher, Seneca said it best, “Things that were hard to bear are sweet to remember.”

The mine and the old miners are now all gone.  All that remains of Rogers #3 is the weather-beaten washhouse.  Still to these memories I remain eternally grateful – the miners with whom I worked, the hours spent driving to and fro, the classes attended, and college papers written.  Textbook pages studied, the picking table, cement-floor showers, and the sense of freedom that spring when released from the whirlwind into a world of plays and theater.

Of those days long-ago, this memory I shall never forget – dinnertime in the hoist room, standing beside a hot coal stove, and tasting the melted cheese on the sandwich Mom lovingly packed for me.

* * *

After loafing all summer, bumming that fall in Lincoln City and cashing unemployment checks, seven months later, I came back to work for Palmer. Bill Kombol in Enumclaw helping the company relocate the Stergeon cement  bins to Black Diamond for use at the coal mine wash plant. Photo by Charlie Falk, January 1976.

 

 

 

Categories
History

Cal Bashaw: A Life Well Lived

The day he graduated from Kent High School, his mom took him to lunch.  There she announced, “From now on, you’re on your own.”  He spent that night in the basement of Mrs. Shaffer’s home, the mother of the man, Marie Bashaw would soon divorce.  The next day, Calvin Frank Bashaw started a journey that ended on Sept. 29, 2021, several months past his 101st birthday.

Cal Bashaw at Kent High School.

Cal Bashaw was born June 19, 1920, in Edmonton, Alberta to a French-Canadian father, Reuben Bashaw (formerly Beauchesne) and Scandinavian mother, Marie Caroline Peterson.  He died in Enumclaw, his adopted hometown since 1966.  Cal’s early years were spent in Renton at the Sartori School, then Hillman City where he attended Columbia Grade School.  Cal was 13 when his father died in 1933.  His older brother, Ed had already left home.

When he and his mother moved to Kent in 1935, Cal was a scrawny boy of 15 who barely made the football team, and was quickly ignored as undersized.  The following summer, he labored at his uncle’s sawmill on the Frazier River, 60 miles east of Prince George.  His job was “dogging the carriage” where he worked 10-hour shifts alongside stout mill hands, ate hearty meals in the mess hall, and slept in the camp barracks.  Cal’s summer labors earned him $45, of which $16 purchased his first car, a Model A Ford coupe.  Kent’s legendary coach, Claude French took note of the now brawny Bashaw boy and he became starting tackle on the football team.

Cal and his Model A Ford, purchased  for $18 with summer wages from working at his uncle’s sawmill on the Frazier River.

A few days after that graduation day lunch, Cal turned 18 and started work at the National Bank of Washington in Kent.  Banking was not his calling, so he next labored in a cold storage plant earning enough to start school that fall at Willamette University in Salem.  He secured room and board through a job set up by the college and the following summer worked at J.C. Penney in Port Angeles.  But in those late years of the Great Depression money was short, so he left college with plans to reenter after earning enough to pay his way.

Next came jobs cleaning and remodeling kitchens, which led to a position with Boyles Bros. Diamond Drilling at the Holden copper and gold mine in Stehekin.  Deep underground, he and a partner drilled exploratory holes allowing mine engineers to chart the course of mining. He earned $.75 per hour plus room and board in the remote mining camp located at the upper end of Lake Chelan.  As war against Germany and Japan approached, work becoming more plentiful so Cal hired out to Siems Drake to help build a Naval Station in Sitka, Alaska.  He learned to run a P & H shovel and became the youngest man to earn his union card in the Operator’s Engineers, Local 302.  At $1.75 per hour, Cal was earning so much money he had to open a bank account.

Cal and Varian in Sitka, Alaska, shortly after Cal earned his union card in 1942.

Secure in his potential to support a wife, Cal reached out to the girl he left behind in Washington.  Her name was Varian Graham of Kent, and in early 1942, he sent a telegram asking her for her hand in marriage.  No response came for Varian had another boyfriend in Seattle.  Cal booked passage on a southbound boat to help make up her mind.  Varian’s mother advised her 20-year-old daughter, “You can’t get along with him and you can’t get along without him, so give it a try –you can always come home.”  They were married on April 12, 1942, Varian’s 21st birthday, and remained so for 58 years until her death on November 10, 2000 at age 79.

After a short honeymoon in San Francisco, the newlyweds moved to Juneau where Varian worked for the territorial treasurer, while Cal operated a shovel for Guy F. Atkinson on the Al-Can Highway.  A few months later, Cal received his draft notice so joined the Air Force to become a pilot.  He never got through flight training as World War II wound down and Cal was honorably discharged at the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.  Back in Washington, Cal began selling heavy construction machinery for Clyde Equipment, then joined Northern Commercial (now NC Machinery) at their Caterpillar department in Anchorage.  Now with two children, Jill and Win, Cal turned his attention to building his family a three-bedroom home of his own design, at night and on weekends.

The Bashaw family: Win, Cal, Varian, and Jill in Anchorage, circa 1954.

Cal then took the biggest risk of his still young life – he mortgaged his home to start a business repairing and selling heavy equipment.  The family lived frugally, while Cal worked long hours.  Bashaw Equipment Company established a consignment sales relationship with Morrison-Knudsen, a civil engineering and construction company based in Boise, Idaho, who had large contracts in Alaska.  It was during this period he met Dwight Garrett, an entrepreneurial inventor prowling through Alaska seeking used cranes and shovels to remanufacture into logging equipment back in Enumclaw.

Cal at the Bashaw Equipment Co.’s Anchorage yard  during the early 1960s.

Cal’s company prospered and the family moved to a home in a new development on Telequana Drive in Anchorage.  Bashaw Artic Machinery was next founded to sell Snow Trac vehicles manufactured in Sweden.  On Good Friday, March 27 1964 at 5:36 pm, all hell broke loose as did the Bashaw house.  The Great Alaska Earthquake, measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale left their home hanging from a cliff and Cal’s businesses hanging in the balance.  The home was condemned but the family was safe.  Cal related the family’s experiences through first-hand reports, one of which was published in the Kent News Journal.  One of Cal’s maxims came from this experience, “You can never really appreciate a gain until you have suffered a loss.”

A year later, Cal was diagnosed with colon cancer, which previously cursed other members of the Bashaw family.  His businesses were sold, and the family moved to Enumclaw in 1966.  There he reconnected with Dwight Garrett, the owner of Garrett Tree Farmers, whose articulated skidders revolutionized the logging industry.  The two formed a handshake business relationship investing in land, which lasted the rest of Garrett’s remarkable life.

Cal Bashaw in front of one of Dwight Garrett’s Tree Farmers, the skidder that revolutionized logging in the 1960s.

Cal joined Dwight on the Board of Directors at Cascade Security Bank, which Garrett founded in 1964 to compete with First National Bank of Enumclaw, because he didn’t like how the old guard operated the town’s only financial institution.  There Cal met a widow, Pauline Kombol with whom he forged a union in 2001, a year after Varian passed away.  Their relationship lasted a decade and ended with Pauline’s death in January 2011, the same day Cal attended the funeral of his daughter, Jill Alverson.

Pauline Kombol & Cal at her 80th birthday celebration in Arizona, March 2007.

When Garrett decided that Cascade Security Bank needed a new home, it was Cal whom Dwight selected to choose a new design for the building after the original architect’s plans were found too grandiose and expensive.  Cal threw himself into the project and in 1980 had it built for one-third the projected cost of the abandoned design.  That building stands at the corner of Griffin and Porter in Enumclaw and since 1996 has been a branch of Green River Community College.

On his deathbed in Aug. 2005, Dwight called Cal into his room asking him to be Executor of his estate, likely the largest the small town of Enumclaw has ever seen.  Dwight’s last words to Cal, “You are someone I know I can trust.”  Cal was 85 years old and it took him till 2017 to complete the undertaking Garrett assigned.  By then Cal was 97, yet still living on his own, driving to the store, and enjoying days out and evenings with friends.  One of his great joys of life was eating strawberry shortcake with whipped cream on his birthday, each June 19th when local strawberries ripen.

Cal on his 100th birthday with a giant strawberry short cake, June 19, 2020.

Cal Bashaw completed his assignment on earth in a manner that exemplified his life.  Sensing time was growing short, Cal accepted his fate with a Stoic resolve and a cheerful heart.  Friends and relatives came to say their final goodbyes, while he remained alert and communicative to the end.  In his last days, Cal spoke mostly of thankfulness, of a life well-lived, and for the family and friends he’d served, as they served him at his passing.  He left behind a written account of his life from which this obituary was drawn.  It’s a detailed story of hard work, dedication, and love of family.

Cal Bashaw departed from this life grateful, content, and fulfilled.  He carried no regrets.  Nearing death, he held hands with those who visited and thanked each for their kindness, while thanking God for the good life he lived.

Cal, happy, content, and with a smile on his face, days before saying goodbye for the last time.

Cal was preceded in death by his wife, Varian and his beloved daughter, Jill Alverson. He is survived by a son, Win Bashaw of Texas, his faithful son-in-law, Bruce Alverson of Enumclaw; granddaughters, Brynn Dawson (Dean) of Klickitat, Tess Heck (Brian) of Lake Tapps, Kalyn Gustafson (Jake) of Seattle, and Katie Smith of Arizona; great-grandchildren, Hunter Dawson, Beau Dawson, Max Hollern, Olivia Hollern, Elle Gustafson, and Emmett Gustafson.

 

Categories
History

Hitchhiking to Haverfordwest

St. Patrick’s Day has always been special for me, though my heritage is Welsh. That day in 1978, I hitchhiked from France to Wales to visit a friend living near Haverfordwest.  There’s no Irish blood in my veins, but surely on March 17, I had the luck of the Irish.  Here’s the letter I wrote home a few days later describing the adventure to my parents.

March 21, 1978

Dear Mom & Dad:

Well, as you can see by the postmark and card, I’m now in Wales.  Last Friday I took the train from Paris to Le Havre on the coast of France.  I had planned to take the ferry to Southampton. I arrived at 11:15 am and fiddled around the train station for a while, only to find I had missed the noon ferry.  I walked to the ferry docks and saw the next ferry was at 11:30 pm.  It was about 1:30 in the afternoon.  There was only one other person hanging around, a French boy a couple of years younger than me.  I asked him where he bought his ferry ticket and he said something in broken English about hitching a ride on a truck.  He asked me if I wanted to go to town so we stashed our luggage and went to town for the afternoon and early evening.

My letter to Mom
My letter to Mom, postmarked March 21, 1978, Haverfordwest, Wales.

We got back about 8 pm, checked out ticket prices, played pinball and whatnot.  He related that the truck (i.e. lorry) drivers were allowed to take one passenger with them in their lorries.  Almost all the lorry drivers were English so I started asking them if they could give us a lift across on the ferry.  The ones who were in line said they couldn’t since they already had their tickets.  By this time, we were pretty despondent and figured we would have to buy tickets.

Then I decided to see if I could find someone who hadn’t been able to get his ticket yet.  I found a lorry driver and he said, “Well, I suppose that would be quite alright.”  He and a friend got us tickets, and onto the ferry we rode in their trucks.  Then to my astonishment and good fortune, I discovered we’d have beds for the 8-hour crossing, in a room with three other truck drivers.  You see truck drivers are treated royally on the ferries and since I was now a ‘truck driver’ (by virtue of my ticket) I was entitled to the same treatment.  We had a huge dinner, comfortable beds in a four-man room, a shower, plus breakfast in the morning.  All these lorry drivers were the friendliest people imaginable.  They treated me just like one of the boys.

My handwritten copy
Back then my cursive penmanship was small, neat, and legible.

Well, to make a long story longer, I made it to the docks of Southampton where my lorry driver friends (John and Ted) dropped me off and found a good place for me to hitch a ride (at the exit gate from the docks).  I waited there, talked to a policeman, and attempted to find Brawdy, Wales on a map I had purchased.  It wasn’t on the map, so this very nice bobby (English policeman) called the U.S. Embassy in Southampton and asked them where Brawdy was.  They said it was near Haverfordwest, which is in the middle of Wales on the west coast.  The same policeman (who was guarding the checkout point from the docks) then proceeded to ask every exiting lorry if they were heading to South Wales.  He asked for a couple of hours in the early morning cold, but no one was headed for South Wales.

One chap was headed north to the M-4 at Newberry (a major east-west thoroughfare to Wales), so I hitched a ride on his lorry.  He dropped me off at the M-4 and no sooner had he left, another lorry stopped to drop off a rider and motioned me to hop in.  I did and he took me to the Severn Bridge at the border of Wales, where he dropped me off.   Waiting there was a car with a Welsh driver who had stopped for a cup of coffee.  He motioned me over and took me about half of the distance that remained to Haverfordwest.

This time I wasn’t so lucky.  I had to wait a whole five minutes before two men who looked like coal miners just getting off work, picked me up.  As it turned out they were Irish and worked for the telephone company laying cable underground (which accounted for their appearance).  We headed down the freeway only to come upon an accident.  My Irish friends saw it would be a while.  So, back onto the freeway, and back to the exit we’d previously taken, and all the way back to where they had picked me up.  We then took another route.

Since they were Irish and it was March 17th (need I say more) we decided to stop off at an olde pub and celebrate a bit.  We had some pints and a good talk with the bartender who used to fish off the coast of Washington.  Soon enough we were back on the road and feeling a whole lot finer this Friday night.  That’s when these two Irish workmen who were heading back to Ireland for the weekend decided they might just as well take me to Haverfordwest, then continue to their own destination.  They did and that’s how I arrived here.

Middle Mille, Wales
My first view of Middle Mille, where I would spend the next month of my life.  Scott’s home was across the bridge in the center of the photo.

I called the U.S. Naval base at Brawdy and asked for Scott (Hamilton), but the sailor on duty said he’d gone home.  He gave me Scott’s address and I took the bus to a town one mile from Scott’s house walking the rest of the way.  He lives in Middle Mille, a tiny village of half a dozen homes.  Scott had just received my letter three days before (even though I mailed it from Vienna nearly a month ago) so he knew I was coming.

Today’s weather is sunny, but cold.  Happy first day of spring (today!).  Talk to you later.

Love, Bill

Note: Scott Hamilton was a longtime family friend, serving in the Navy and living in Wales.  I stayed a month at his home.  Here’s how I described it in my letter.

“Scott has a beautiful, old English house (formerly a pub) made of stone and 50 feet from a creek.  It’s in the middle of a group of 5 to 6 other houses which make up the Village of Middle Mille.  It is fully modernized with two upstairs bedrooms and a large front room and smaller kitchen and bathroom downstairs.”

Scott Hamilton's home
Scott’s home was formerly a pub and occupied the central location in the tiny village.

Most days I toured the countryside often on foot or bus while Scott was at work.  At night we ate dinner, watched BBC, and messed around with his Ham radio equipment, a teletype machine, and perhaps 20 different connections and components.  With his knowledge of electronics, Scott devised a way to pick up wire service broadcasts and print out those news dispatches.  Sometimes we’d stay up reading press releases from TASS, the Soviet Union’s new agency, the Associated French Agency (in English), as well as the Associated Press (AP).  One night we “watched” (i.e. read) live new dispatches from South Lebanese Conflict involving that month’s Israeli-Lebanese- Palestinian hostilities and U.N. responses.  In this tiny corner of Wales, what Scott had devised was a primitive form of the early internet.  I was fascinated by the experience of it all.

One day, I walked the local countryside with two neighbor boys which I recounted in “A Walk in Wales.”  A few weeks later, I crossed over to Ireland, met a bunch of guys my age, and traveled with them up the Irish Coast, relating that adventure in another letter home titled, “My Week With a Welsh Rugby Team.”

King boys in Middle Mille
The two boys who lived next door and joined on “A Walk in Wales.”      
Categories
History

Dam It! The Untold Story of Vern Cole and the Lake Sawyer Weir

By: Bill Kombol

Before Vern Cole, Lake Sawyer lacked a dam, also known as a weir to control the level of the lake.  Lake Sawyer is the third largest public lake in King County, Washington.

Over the years a number of stories were written about the outlet dam controlling the level of Lake Sawyer.  Most previous versions were steeped in oral history but light on facts.  Many portrayed Vern Cole as a renegade developer and defendant in a lawsuit he lost to Mary Burnett.  Quite the opposite is true.  It’s time to set the record straight on that dam outlet weir where Covington Creek leaves Lake Sawyer.

Like most lakes of the Puget Sound basin, Lake Sawyer was formed about 10,000 years ago near the end of the last glacial period.  Sheets of ice covered the region with heights reaching 3,000 feet at their thickest.  Retreating glaciers carved the landscape as melting ice deposited thick layers of sand and gravel, including areas around Black Diamond.  This barren landscape gradually supported primeval forests dominated by Douglas fir.   Low areas became ponds and lakes filled with water from meandering creek channels.  Lake Sawyer was fed by two: Ravensdale Creek and Rock Creek.

Water leaving the lake naturally gravitated to its lowest point, the Covington Creek channel located midway along the lake’s western shore.  By the time white settlers homesteaded Lake Sawyer, that channel was filled with several thousand years of logs, trees, roots, branches, and debris all of which clogged the natural outlet.  Busy beavers no doubt added their contribution to the morass of detritus.  The situation remained unchanged until the 1950s.

Aerial photo of the north and west shores of Lake Sawyer in Aug. 1937, the earliest aerial photograph of the area.

During the 1920s, most land surrounding Lake Sawyer was still held by a few large owners including Oscar Weisart, the Lochow family, the Neukirchen brothers, Lake Sawyer Lumber Co., Northwest Improvement Co., Pacific Coast Coal Co., and the lake’s first family, the Hansons.  They later operated Enumclaw’s White River Lumber Co. whose prominence became a defining feature of that town.  Carl Hanson’s original 160-acre land grant also boasted the lake’s first home, a log cabin built around 1884. 

In 1884, the first cabin was built on Lake Sawyer upon Carl M. Hanson’s 16- acre homestead.  This photo dates to 1887.  The two girls standing in front are Anna Elizabeth Hanson (age 12 years), Olga Olivia Hanson (10), while standing in the doorway are Ellen Thyra Maria Hanson (8), and Selma Victoria Hanson (6). 

By the mid-1930s, many owners began platting their land into small lots.  Most are now occupied by lakefront homes.  The plat names included Campbell’s Lake Sawyer Campsite; Lochow’s Lake Sawyer Tracts; Lake Sawyer East Shore Tracts; and Lake Sawyer Grove Park (currently the RV resort).  However the biggest of all was approved in 1939 – the North Shore of Lake Sawyer comprising 139 lots stretching from Hanson Point down to and including a two-acre park dedicated to King County (docks #104 to 189).  The North Shore Plat was owned by the Hanson, Smith and Olson families, descendants of Carl Hanson, and contained a low spot which periodically flooded.  That area is now referred to as the Boot, owing to its boot-like shape as seen on the plat map.  The Hanson family’s summer home (docks #102 & 103) was built in 1926 in the steeped-roof, gabled-style of the day, complete with caretaker’s cottage next door.   Both home and cottage still grace Hanson Point named for that pioneer family.  By 1947, the lake hosted 70 families in permanent residences and three times that many with summer homes. 

The Hanson family’s 1939 plat map of the North Shore’s 139 lots, with the Boot anticipated as potential lake frontage. The park deeded by the Hanson family is now the public boat launch.

Further south, the area around the outlet channel remained un-platted and owned by the Lochow family.  In 1950, Ludwig & Mabel Lochow, William & Marjorie Lochow, together with William & Gladys Gordon filed the West Shore of Lake Sawyer plat.  Their platted tract encompassed 36 acres stretching from the Hanson-donated park (now called Lake Sawyer Boat Launch) all the way south to the present site of the Lake Sawyer RV Resort (docks #191 to 258).  New roads were constructed to service the 73 platted lots including S.E. 298th Street, S.E. 300th Street, S.E. 302nd Street, and 225th Ave. S.E.  Lot sizes were restricted to a minimum of 6,000 square feet, but most were between 15,000 and 25,000 sf.  The West Shore plat involved extensive surveying of the outlet channel designated as Covington Creek on the map.  Each lot’s frontage on the canal extended to the centerline of the creek.  

The Gordon-Lochow 1950 plat map of the West Shore’s 73 lots.  The channel was fully surveyed before any dredging took place, most likely in 1951.

However, nature’s ad hoc dam which governed the lake’s level remained the same choked Covington Creek channel, resulting in periodic episodes of severe flooding.  As seen nearby, the Speery cabin located near the old Neukirchen mill site was inundated during winter floods of 1946.   In his August 5, 1952 findings of fact from King County Case No. 443504, Superior Court Judge Ward Roney declared “the residents and property owners abutting Lake Sawyer have been subjected to severe damage and expense during the past flood seasons.”  Roney further ruled “that said Lake constitutes a flood control problem within the meaning of the statutes of the State.”  

The north and west shores of Lake Sawyer in 1942, showing a clogged Covington Creek outlet and ponded water in the Boot area.

Judge Roney’s decision grew out of a petition filed in March 1952 by Mary Burnett, Perry B. Love, Wilbert Bombardier, Rebecca Miles, Frank Horne, William Gordon, Hans Sands, Perry J. Love, Leonard Cleaver, Adolph Samuelson, and David Cook, all owners of real property abutting Lake Sawyer.  As plaintiffs, the 11 individuals sought a judicial order providing specific proposed relief:

  1. To establish the maximum water level for Lake Sawyer; 
  2. To authorize construction of a dam and fish ladders;
  3. To authorize Vern Cole Realty Company, Inc. to install the dam and fish ladder, subject to the approval of King County, Dept. of Fisheries, Dept. of Game, and Supervisor of hydraulics; and
  4. To authorize the Supervisor of Hydraulics to thereafter regulated and control the maximum water level of the lake.
King County Superior Court Case No. 443504, with Mary Burnett as the first named plaintiff. The March 1952 petition to the court sought a judicial order to fix the level of Lake Sawyer, which led to building the dam and weir later that year.

Named in the action were each and every land and lot owners around the perimeter of Lake Sawyer, with lake frontages of each noted in lineal feet.  Contrary to previous accounts Vern Cole was not a defendant.  In fact, he was actually an ally and confidant of lead plaintiff, William Gordon who owned multiple lots in the just approved West Shore plat.  Vern Cole was described in pleadings as the most competent individual to spearhead efforts for design and construction of an outlet dam to solve winter flood problems and low summer lake levels.  As opposed to the usual formulation where every lot owner paid his or her proportionate share of design and construction costs, the plaintiffs proposed to pay all those considerable expenses.

To gain perspective we now indulge in some informed speculation guided by known facts, aerial photos, and the resulting landscape.  Throughout the Puget Sound region, earthmoving operation significantly altered the course of countless rivers, creeks, lakes, and wetlands.  The White River previously flowed into the Green, but was later diverted south to the Puyallup River.  Lake Washington once emptied through the Black River into the Duwamish near Tukwila, but was lowered nine feet after the Ship Canal was dug, providing a connection through Lake Union to Shilshole Bay and the Puget Sound.  The Cedar River was also rechanneled so it no longer left Lake Washington via the Black and Duwamish Rivers, but through Union Bay and the Chittenden locks in Ballard.  Those were but a few of the large projects financed by government to sculpt local landscapes in pursuit of enhanced waterfront and economic prosperity.

White River was diverted west to the Puyallup in 1906. The Cedar River was re-channeled directly to Lake Washington in 1912. The Black River disappeared when Lake Washington was lowered nine feet and the lake’s discharge henceforth flowed through the Montlake Cut to Lake Union, then into locks at Ballard and Puget Sound.  See When Coal Was King, May 4, 2021.

At Lake Sawyer the goals were modest and the means private – flood control plus fixing the lake’s level with a new dam.  At the end of World War II lots of surplus earthmoving equipment including bulldozers, diesel powered shovels, and draglines were put to use in nearby mining operations.  In the late 1940s, both Ravensdale and Franklin coal seams were mined for the first time by surface methods with bulldozers removing overburden while shovels excavated coal into dump trucks.  Previously almost all coal had been mined underground. 

A similar form of excavation likely took place in the Covington Creek channel and further north in the Boot, a part of the Hanson family’s North Shore plat.  The summer of 1951 is the most likely date for both dredge operations.  The Gordon-Lochow West Shore plat was approved in November 1950 and the lawsuit to fix the lake’s hydraulic problems initiated in early 1952.  Interrogatories exchanged between plaintiffs and respondents indicate that Vern Cole Realty was hired by the Gordon-Lochow forces to open the channel.  In those same questions and answers the Gordon-Lochow plaintiffs proposed that Vern Cole construct the dam, spillway, and fish ladder, designed to replace nature’s failing, log-choked outlet.  After the channel was cleared the lake’s summer level would have been far lower allowing easy excavation of the Boot. 

A trial without jury was heard on April 10, 1952 before Judge Roney.  Several procedural issues were ruled upon and the trial continued to May 19 at the King County Courthouse.  Plaintiffs were instructed to serve copies of the Judge’s interim order upon all parties.  A notice of proceedings was published in the Auburn Globe News for a period of two weeks.  A number of prominent Seattle law firms were involved including Rummens, Griffin & Short represented by Paul Cressman for the plaintiffs, and Bogle, Bogle & Gates for the respondent, John Nelson one of the lake’s largest landowners.  Plaintiffs and Respondents attended the trial as did three State Departments – Game, Fisheries, and Hydraulics.  King County was named in the lawsuit and served notice but didn’t appear.  Unfortunately neither testimony nor oral proceedings from May 19th were preserved.  But the parties must have agreed on most major points as Judge Roney’s decision mirrored the plaintiff’s requests and his order seemingly satisfied all the parties, as no appeals were filed.

On August 5, 1952, Judge Roney issued his final ruling which included Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and a Decree whose decision included the following:

  • That Covington Creek “is inadequate and incapable of carrying off excess water during flood seasons; that as a result thereof, the residents and property owners abutting Lake Sawyer have been subjected to severe damage and expense during past flood seasons.”
  • That “a maximum lake level be established to control and regulate the flow of water in Covington Creek; that the maximum water level on Lake Sawyer should not exceed 518.94 feet above mean sea level . . . that level is 16” higher, according to foot measurement, than the visible level of the Lake on the 19th of May, 1952 [and] that such a maximum lake level will not endanger or damage any property abutting the shores of Lake Sawyer.”
  • “That the Vern Cole Realty Co. . . . has advised the court it will bear the entire construction cost of a dam or spillway to control and regulate the flow of water from Lake Sawyer and through Covington Creek.”
  • That “Vern Cole has advised the court it is having plans prepared for construction of a suitable dam or spillway” . . . and that said plans be approved by the Departments of Game, Fisheries, and Hydraulics.
  • That the Dept. of Hydraulics provide regulation of the dam and spillway following construction.

So what did the lake look like by the end of construction?  And how much variance did the lake experience before and after installation of water control structures in 1952?

The variances experienced in the pre-weir era are not known, but were certainly extreme.  Evidence of severe flooding is seen in the Sperry cabin photo looking west towards the Hanson home built in 1926.  Jack Sperry believes that water level was 38” to 40” (between 3 and 4 feet) above today’s typical level.  The lowest pre-weir levels were likely 5 feet below today’s norms, that being the water elevation at the base of the dam.   A number of intact stumps from old trees can still be seen below water level including one between the two islands in front of the RV Resort.  It has a white buoy attached.  Another stump in front of Eble point (Dock 12) is about 7 feet below the average level.  These trees were probably Oregon ash or another specie which can tolerate long periods of inundation.  These high and low data points suggests that prior to the dam and weir, Lake Sawyer experienced wide variations in water level, as much as 8 to 10 feet.

The Sperry cabin during winter flooding in 1946.  The home on Hanson Point can be seen in the distance, just to the left of the cabin.

Following construction of the weir and dam, the highest recorded water levels in Lake Sawyer occurred in early February 1996.  Heavy rains washed out the dike road between Frog Lake and Lake Sawyer causing a cascade of water to fill the lake and overwhelm the weir.  Water levels were measured at 26” over the weir compared to a winter average of 6” above.  The lowest recorded water levels occurred in late October 2015 when beaver dams up and down Ravensdale and Rock Creeks cut off almost all surface flow to the lake.  Late autumn is also when groundwater flows ebb, contributing to that record low event.  On Oct. 28, 2015 the water level was 39” below the weir.  Thus, the maximum recorded variance in modern times between these two extremes was 65” or about 5.5 feet.  The typical annual variance between the average high and low water is now about 24” or two feet. 

The best evidence to further piece this puzzle together are aerial photos from 1937 and 1942 showing conditions before lake alterations, and from 1959 seven years after.  In the Boot section of the North Shore plat, the August 1937 photo shows definite farming activities.  Yet, the Hanson’s 1939 plat map clearly depicts that same Boot area within the high water line of the lake.   A pond in the north end of the Boot can be seen in the winter 1942 photo, where summer field harvesting was practiced five years earlier. 

Just as heavy rains facing a clogged Covington Creek channel resulted in severe winter flooding, it’s equally fair to assume that lack of a real dam controlling outflow allowed late summer lake levels to fall precipitously.  That would explain why the Boot could be used for farming in 1937, but on the plat map and in the 1942 photo seen as a potential water basin.  Oral history holds the Boot was once dredged, an event surely contemporaneous with the Gordon-Lochow dredging of the outlet channel which created optimum conditions for summer work.  This makes sense given that heavy equipment necessary for one project could easily be redeployed to another. The cleared channel no doubt presented owners with an historic low-water event perfect for carving future waterfront.

The post-dam era in 1959, seven years after dredging and construction of a dam at the outlet.  The wakes of motor boats can be seen on the lake.

A close-up of the west shore area in 1959 showing the dredged Covington Creek canal, the weir, and increasing development of homes within the West Shore Plat.

Despite a lawsuit just six months earlier, by late September 1952 all was peaches and honey in the neighborhood.  The Seattle Times reported, “A 94-foot-long dam has been constructed on Lake Sawyer, near Kent, at the mouth of Covington Creek to establish the lake level and improve property values and fishing.  The concrete structure is equipped with five-step fish ladders which will permit salmon to return to the lake to spawn.”  On October 5th a joint ceremony was hosted by the Lake Sawyer Community Club and Lake Sawyer Garden Club to mark completion of the dam.  That dam and weir still faithfully serve lot owners on Lake Sawyer over 68 years later.

Lake Sawyer weir and dam on Covington Creek, Jan. 1956, a few years after dredging.  Photo by Frank Guidetti of Black Diamond

Aerial and plat photo labeling by Oliver Kombol.

Sources:

  • King County Superior Court Case No. 443504 “In the matter of fixing the level of Lake Sawyer” (1952).
  • King County Assessor and Dept. of Transportation aerial photos from 1937 and 1959.
  • U.S. Army Corp aerial photo from 1942.
  • King County Recorder – Plats of the North Shore and West Shore of Lake Sawyer.
  • Metsker’s 1926 and 1936 atlas of King County.
  • “History of King County” Volume II by C.B. Bagley (1929),
  • Renton News Record, July 17, 1947 – News of Maple Valley.
  • Seattle Sunday Times, Sept. 28, 1952 – page 20.
  • Jack Speery, lake resident – oral communication.
  • Bob Edelman, lake resident – email communication, July 9, 2020.
  • Bob Edelman – “How the Lake is Measured.”
  • The Man Who Sculpted Lake Sawyer – BillBored.org

Vern Cole (1887 – 1970)

Though characterized as villain in some early and inaccurate stories about construction of the Lake Sawyer dam, Vern Cole was one of the driving forces behind designing the weir and creating the stabilized lake level residents enjoy today.  Born in 1887 to a pioneer family from Baker, Oregon, they immigrated to Canada when Vern was six-years-old.  After discharge from the British Navy, he joined the Vancouver, B.C. Police at age 21 serving as Constable Patrol Officer.  Cole moved to Seattle during World War I and became a salesman for a motorcar company.  He was later commissioned as a Washington State Patrol officer.  It’s unclear when Cole first pursued real estate as an endeavor, but he ended up running a very successful business known as Vern Cole Realty Co., which specialized in lake front homes, acreage, and view tracts.

Vern Cole as Patrol Officer in Vancouver, B.C., 1908.

Cole became involved with the Lochow-Gordon plat of the West Shore of Lake Sawyer in the early 1950s.  However, at the start of the 1952 legal action by Lochow, Gordon, and others, Vern’s wife of 45 years, Hazel (Downing) died.  Perhaps in grief, Cole poured himself into completing the lake’s transformation he helped set in motion.  A year later he remarried a widow, Edna Buckingham Raborn and the two of them lived on his 105-foot yacht moored at Shilshole Bay, just outside the Ballard Locks.  Vern Alexander Cole died in 1970 at age 83.  His obituary states he was an active yachtsman and member of the Elks and Masonic bodies. 

The Home on Hanson Point

One of the oldest homes on Lake Sawyer was built by the pioneering Hanson family on a peninsula of land that was part of their original homestead claim.  The patriarch, Carl M. Hanson owned a sawmill in his native Sweden before immigrating to the U.S. in 1883, after hearing of Washington’s vast timber tracts.  For a year he cleared land in Seattle before moving to Lake Sawyer where he filed for ownership of 160 acres under the 1862 Homestead Act.  Carl built a log cabin, proved up his claim, and in 1891 was issued a deed personally signed by President Benjamin Harrison. 

For several years, Carl and members of the extended family worked at the coal mines in Black Diamond and Franklin before building sawmills, first at Summit (Four Corners) and later Lake Wilderness.  Both were operated in association with his three sons, Axel, Charles, and Frank.  The Wilderness mill was owned until 1897 when the family moved operations to Enumclaw following purchase of the White River Mill.  That enterprise was renamed White River Lumber Company and thrived under Hanson family management.  Within a decade the firm employed over 500 men, by far the biggest employer in Enumclaw.  The company increased its land holding to 50,000 acres and later initiated a cooperative agreement with Weyerhaeuser.  In 1900, Frederick Weyerhaeuser purchased 900,000 acres of timber from railway magnate, James J. Hill.  The two companies, White River Lumber and Weyerhaeuser fully merged operations in 1949.

King County Assessor photo taken Dec. 20, 1939. The home still looks remarkably the same.

The Hanson family built this summer home on Lake Sawyer in 1926 and next to it a caretaker’s cottage.  In 1939, Rufus Smith and L.G. Olson, grandsons of Carl Hanson filed a plat named the North Shore of Lake Sawyer.  The lake front portion of the family’s 160-acre homestead was platted into 139 lots and included dedication of the two-acre park now owned by Black Diamond and called Lake Sawyer Boat Launch.  Their summer home which sits on 17-acres (docks #102 & 103), was not part of the plat but remained with the extended Hanson family until 1997 when it was sold to David & Maryanne Tagney Jones for $2.2 million.  A recreational guest house was added to the estate in 2007.  This December 20, 1939 photo of tax parcel 042106-9001 comes courtesy of the King County Assessor held at the Puget Sound Regional Archives in Eastgate. 

This history of the dam was originally published in the Lake Sawyer Community Club Newsletter, Spring 2021. Additional photos have been added to this version.

Categories
History Musings

The Longest Cab Ride or How I Fell in Love with Lincoln City

The veil lifts slowly like summer fog from a morning beach. Memories creep back but only in fits and spurts.  I still can’t piece it all together, but the puzzle recently unfolded after discovery of chronicles from his probate.  Yet a teenager I was to play a bit part in the tragicomedy that became my grandfather’s final years.  His Oregon Coast beach cabin was center stage and like any drama the site of my several scenes.  This magical place was destined to play an ongoing role in my life.     

My first stay in Lincoln City was nearly two weeks long in June 1971.  There’d be more visits to that cabin on a knoll Grandpa increasingly called home.  Twenty months later I was attending his funeral.  This is an incomplete tale of those days, his decline, and the first stirrings of my love affair with Lincoln City.  Some bits are lost through mists of time but the central story is intact.  For me it all began a few days after graduating from high school.

The Lincoln City cabin on a knoll in the early 1970s.

A long bus ride from Enumclaw delivered me to the DeLake bowling alley.  It’s still there just a stone’s throw past the bridge over the D River, advertised as the World’s Shortest – river that is, not bridge.  DeLake was one of five merged towns rechristening themselves Lincoln City on the 100th anniversary of their namesake’s death.  The place even had an amusement park of sorts built around an eatery called Pixie Kitchen.  Grandpa picked me up in his Lincoln Continental.  He liked big, luxury cars.  My cousin Dave Falk was at his side. 

My grandfather John H. Morris circa 1971, but most contemporaries called him Jack.

The man of whom I speak was John H. Morris, but most adults called him Jack.   I called him Grandpa.  Through my teen years he played an active part in our family’s life particularly after his wife of five decades entered a nursing home for three years of mental decline.  Her room at Bethesda Manor on Jensen Street was a couple blocks from our Enumclaw home.  Even as a boy I’d noticed signs of fading memory. The sweet grandmother who once bathed me and later taught me pinochle, slowly lost her ability to think.  As she quietly slipped into a private prison of mindlessness, she no longer knew the people she loved.  My Mom called it “hardening of the arteries.”  Today we call it Alzheimer’s. 

During her internment, Grandpa sought camaraderie from our family.  He treated us, especially Barry and me to recurring weekend dinners at Anton’s in Puyallup, Harold’s in Enumclaw, or the Elks in Auburn.  Dining out with Grandpa held few limits – anything on the menu, plus a Roy Rogers or Shirley Temple to accompany the cocktail he’d order.  Life with Grandpa was all about motion: sleepovers at his big home; drives to Wilkeson as he reminisced of his youth; or trips to San Francisco to catch a few Giants’ games, ride cable cars, and feed pigeons in Union Square.  

Once he took us to Carson hot springs on the Wind River in Oregon.   It was a 200-mile drive to a dated resort which hadn’t changed since the 1930s.  A dozen small cabins lined the road leading to a stately two-story Hotel St. Martin with a dining room featuring meat and potato dinners, served family-style at large tables to a clientele of geriatrics – except two teenagers: Barry and me. 

We took hot mineral baths in cast iron tubs resting on immaculate tile floors which looked every bit the part of a bygone European spa. We gagged down sulfuric-tasting water to “help sweat the poison out,” as Grandpa put it.  Occasional bouts of gout from rich food and high living no doubt contributed to his need.  At age 15, I felt no particular passion for sweating poison, but went along with the ritual and succumbed to the jelly-fish induced numbness of the hot bath experience.  In our sparse cabin without television or radio, we played cribbage games under a bare hundred-watt bulb and waited for old-fashioned dinners, sure to include gravy and string beans.    

The Hotel St. Martin at Carson hot springs in the 1930s, though not much had changed when we paid a visit with Grandpa in the late 1960s.

Marie Morris (his wife and my grandmother) died on the last day of summer 1967.  Without job or spouse Grandpa sought new horizons.  He traveled south spending time in the desert with old friends and meeting new ones.  He visited the homes of his four children, all living nearby.   He indulged the 19 grandchildren they spawned.  His grand white house on the west end of McHugh Avenue, where Jack and Marie raised four children and once hosted large family parties, was now a lonely outpost.  His days there were reduced to caring for the lawn and tending dahlias.  Not much remained in that empty home and he knew it.  Always on the go, he couldn’t let go.  A burning drive for control thrust him towards new vistas.  So he found new ways to satisfy his wanderlust.  But that took money, which a lifetime of business success handsomely provided.

Grandpa Jack & Grandma Marie enjoy a night on the town in San Francisco, March 1959.

Friendly with the ladies he enjoyed the companionship of several women. Maud, an attractive descendant of Columbia River Native Americans fancied his company as he did hers.  But Maud remained a friend.  He fell for another named Kathleen who went by Kay, and discovered too late that business acumen doesn’t necessarily extend to second wives.  What developed was an oft-told story.  Rich man, lonely upon his wife’s death falls under the spell of a gold-digging widow whose chief skill consists of convincing him to spend money on her.  He suspects too late her ulterior motives as she cashes tickets to wealth.  As to the particularities of any of this, I was yet unaware.

Back at Lincoln City in June 1971, Grandpa found himself in the company of two grandsons and oozed the charismatic charm I’d known him for all my life.  The grandfather upon whose lap I sat as a child, sipping beer from his 6-oz. glass.  The grandpa I joined on enchanting trips to San Francisco with stays at the businessman’s hotel where his greatest deals were forged a decade earlier.  The seasoned card player who carved a fine hand of cribbage and taught me the basic skill points, but more importantly the pace and banter of the game.  The grandpa I admired, but whose fiery temper could turn on a dime.  

The three of us made an odd party –– a 17-year-old, freshly graduated senior; a 27-year-old bachelor with no particular direction; and the 76-year-old retired businessman with a scheming second wife, from whom he alternately sought comfort or escape.  Sometimes he’d secrete himself in the bedroom for long conversations.  Back then I didn’t know with whom he spoke or why. 

Each morning Grandpa walked uptown for coffee at the bakery.  And back to the cabin relaxing with Dave, who was out of the Navy, on unemployment, and loafing.  They waited patiently for me to arise for I was fully capable of sleeping till 11 am.  We were frequently visited by Jimmy, a six-year-old boy who lived next door with his single mother in a crumbling 400-square foot cabin, a rental relic from the 1920s.  Grandpa bought his 1,200-square foot Lincoln City home with a stunning ocean view in August 1969 for $16,500. The purchase was made during one of many estrangements from his covetous new wife.  That summer Barry cleaned out the contents from that 1926 home, filled with boxes of memories from former owners, as he helped Grandpa move in.

Jones’ Colonial Barker on Hwy 101. It’s still there but now called My Petite Sweet.

Grandpa, Dave and I led an unhurried existence – scenic drives up and down those “twenty miracle miles” of coastline in his Lincoln Continental, followed by games of cribbage, walks on the beach, and afternoon siestas.  I skim-boarded the flat sandy beach and braved cold Pacific waves just to prove I could.  By day, we lived on a diet of cheese, crackers, peanuts, and fresh crab from Barnacle Bill’s.  Grandpa and Dave drank their afternoon beer.  I drank my Pepsi’s poured into a pilsner glass kept cold in the freezer. 

By early evening we drove to classic old restaurants for dinner – those kinds of places where retirees enjoyed highballs before a steak dinner or seafood platter.  We rotated our meals between a small circle of staid establishments including Mrs. Miller’s, Surf Rider, and the Spouting Horn Inn in Depot Bay.  But Pixie Kitchen with its kitsch atmosphere and deep-fried seafood was my favorite, and Grandpa was happy to oblige.  It was a style of living to which one could easily grow accustomed.  The weather on the coast even cooperated showcasing fair skies and warm sunshine which burned the morning fog to submission. 

Pixieland on Hwy 101 in the 1960s. Its main attraction was the Pixie Kitchen.

Seven years retired, Grandpa’s business drive remained.  He mused of buying the storied Jones’ Colonial Bakery, the quaint corner cafe on Hwy 101 which had served the Ocean Lake district of Lincoln City since 1946.  Grandpa contemplated installing his grandson as baker.  His acquisitive self was certainly getting the better of his senses.  Didn’t he notice a late adolescent who rather enjoyed sleeping in?  Didn’t he realize his 17-year-old grandson was bound for college in three short months and who held no dreams of awaking before the sun to bake bread?  Whose only interest in baking was eating the Colonial Bakery’s signature treat – Sailor Jack muffins? 

As his bakery dream waned so did my senior trip.  I couldn’t have ordered up a better fortnight.  I said goodbye to Lincoln City, having fallen for its beach town charms.  Days later I began my summer job selling popsicles from a three-wheeled Cushman scooter, and then off to my first year of college.  Three more times I ventured to Lincoln City in the company of Grandpa, and once without.  I was to become his part-time minder and he would be my ward.  But that wasn’t apparent to me then.

A year earlier, second-wife Kay convinced Grandpa to sell his family home of 35 years and redeploy proceeds towards two new homes, one at her native Marysville and the other in Palm Springs.  Fur coats, cars, and jewelry were similarly acquired as community property with Jack providing the property and Kay claiming community.  She persuaded him to buy quite a few things she was destined to enjoy.  A woman on her fourth husband possesses certain advantages in this sort of game. 

In late summer before starting college, cousin, Dave and I headed south in his Triumph TR6.  We traveled Oregon 99-West and stopped in McMinnville where I looked up Patti Sloss, an EHS classmate and college freshman at Linfield where they start school early.  Dave and I dined at one of those old-time Shakey’s Pizza parlors.  It was dark inside as we sat on heavy wood benches eating pizza off rustic tables and watching Laurel & Hardy movies played continuously.  In Lincoln City I was anxious to join him at the nearby Old Oregon tavern, then a hangout for long hairs and hippies.  He gifted me his old Navy identification; a worn piece of green paper which served my fake ID needs during my first year of college even though my alleged age was 28 and my hair color red. 

On our next rendezvous, Grandpa was without car, having gifted his Lincoln Continental to satisfy his wife’s birthday wish.  Here’s how Kay put it in a later court filing: “Nov. 21, 1971 – My birthday present was a transfer of Lincoln car title to me.”  A few weeks earlier Barry and I visited Grandpa and met the new wife at their new home in Marysville. This was the first time this new wife became news to me, though they’d married in January 1968, a mere four months after Grandma’s passing. That afternoon in Marysville, I saw Grandpa quiver like a trapped bird.  This wasn’t the dynamic man I’d spent a pleasant vacation with in Lincoln City five months prior.

That Christmas, Grandpa joined our family and a plan was hatched for me to drive him to the coast for a week.  He often sought sanctuary in that cherished retreat as the cabin was purchased in his name alone.  Its modest furnishings suggest Kay never spent time there.  I hold no memory of that trip, if not for this brief diary entry Mom produced during the ensuing legal battle following her dad’s death: “Dec. 26, 1971, Bill & Dad went to L.C. – stayed with him until Jan. 2, 1972.” 

Three months later I finished my winter quarter at U.W.  Grandpa had lately escaped Kay and Palm Springs when word filtered back that he might be Lincoln City bound.  Less than a year away from his deathbed, a hobbling dotage was creeping in. How he found his way to Lincoln City remained unclear.  Before his arrival I joined four college girls from Central led by my cousin, Robbie Falk and we traveled to the coast.  They were on a planned spring break trip, while my mission was to intercept Grandpa and bring him home. 

We rolled in late one night and the next morning set off for an adventure up the south side of the Siletz River on a narrow dirt road to find the river home used for filming “Sometimes a Great Notion” starring Paul Newman.  A young boy, perhaps 8 or 9 gave an impromptu tour explaining which scenes were filmed where.  His parents were remodeling the shell Hollywood producers had built as a backdrop for the movie and used for some interior scenes.  Early that evening as Robbie, Chris, Cathy, Janet and I relaxed in the living room, in through the front door blows Grandpa.  A stern, shocked look on his face sent shivers down our spines, but following a short tense moment Grandpa smiles, invites us all to dinner, and down we traipsed to Mrs. Miller’s cozy restaurant whose featured dish was a crab, butter, and wine medley, eaten with toasted French bread. 

The river home on the Siletz River used in the 1971 film, “Sometimes a Great Notion” directed by Paul Newman.

Robbie and her Central girlfriends continued south on their spring break road trip.  Since Grandpa and I were without vehicle I don’t recall how we got to Portland, perhaps by bus is my best guess.  What’s clearly remembered was visiting a Toyota dealership where we test drove a Celica, then in its first year of production.  The Celica was a sporty model alright, but Grandpa had difficulty getting in and out of the car.  Plus, he no longer drove so trying out a sports car made little sense.  Lots of things were no longer making sense.  It was late so we checked into the Benson Hotel.  Grandpa always stayed at the Benson when in Portland.

The next morning in a hurry to Enumclaw, he directs the hotel clerk to summon a cab.  We hop in and the cabbie asks, “Where ya going?” Grandpa says, “Just across the river a little past Vancouver.”  North of Vancouver the same cabbie question and similar Grandpa answer, “It’s a bit further north.”  With each new fib I slink lower in the back seat.  Somewhere near Kelso the cabbie pulls over and demands, “Now where the hell are you two going?” Grandpa confesses, “Enumclaw, in the vicinity of Auburn.”  The cabbie examines his map and shouts, “That’s another 100 miles!”  A radio call is placed followed by wrangling with dispatch, until permission was granted and back on the freeway we cruised.

Two hours later the cab stops in front of our Enumclaw home.  I go to get money from Mom while the cabbie keeps Grandpa for collateral.  The fare ran to something like $130, which was a cab full of money back then.  With cabbie dismissed, Mom snaps my picture preserving the moment. Around the kitchen table Grandpa and I tell the tale of how we convinced the cab to drive us from Portland to Enumclaw.  In a day or so everyone thinks it’s the funniest story ever or at least pretends to.  For me, it was an erratic adventure with an eerie premonition that a chapter in his life was ending.  Days later I was back in college for spring quarter of my freshman year.

Mom’s blurry photo of me right after the cab left our home at 1737 Franklin St.

In June, Kay coaxed Jack back to Palm Springs where his check book could be better put to use.  Their on-again, off-again relationship reconciled for a couple weeks.  But he broke and cut his toe which landed him in the Desert Hospital.  The ensuing infection triggered a health decline that first slowed and finally lassoed him.  Dashing to escape, he checked out of the hospital, cleaned papers and belongings from their Palm Springs home, and retreated north.  Kay followed and soon filed a court action seeking guardianship of her fleeing husband.  Jack entered Seattle’s Virginia Mason for further toe treatment.  A dramatic hospital showdown between Kay and his son Evan played out in soap opera fashion.  Amidst allegations and recriminations Grandpa chose to go home to his family. 

He spent July 1972 at the compound of waterfront lots on Lake Sawyer he’d gifted his children and a favored nephew more than a decade earlier.  Our summer cabin was within that domain so he visited often.  Somewhat rejuvenated, Grandpa asked to go back to Lincoln City.  Again I was enlisted to drive south, this time with my 13-year-old cousin, Evan Jr. in tow.  We took rides down Hwy 101, but Grandpa soon fell asleep.  We dined out, but his diabetes flared as his health faded.  Most hours were spent soaking his infected toe in Epsom salts.  We came back home a few days later.  It proved to be his last trip to the Oregon Coast and the cabin he loved.  In a week or so Grandpa was placed at a Mercer Island nursing home.

In late November, his granddaughter Roberta visited him there.  Grandpa quickly asked how she liked his new apartment.  Then in a conspiratorial voice, he explained a need to head north followed by a whispered suggestion that she could bring her car round and provide his getaway.  Robbie knew better, for she understood he wouldn’t be leaving.  But she also saw his schemes to escape that gilded cage as the only thing keeping him alive.  She speculated on how hard it must be for that hard-charging businessman to resist the call of the road and attend to business that needs tending.  She reflected on a pensive thought, “Will he ever let go of the reins?”

On February 15, 1973, John H. Morris let go of the reins.  A large funeral was held.  The coal mines he’d opened shut down for a day.  Most every coal miner who ever worked for him came to pay their respects.  A bitter probate battle emerged between the parasitic wife and his four children.  The lawsuit featured contested Wills and was fought for years.  Lawyers swallowed a fair portion of his estate before settlement was reached.  Mom received his Lincoln City home in probate; as I did from her 45 years hence. 

That’s me leaving Enumclaw in late summer 1975 to go and live in Lincoln City.

A few months following graduation from college, I moved to Lincoln City with my motorcycle and a backpack of belongings.  I collected unemployment checks as had my cousin Dave four years earlier.  I drifted aimlessly along empty beaches, and wandered through ramshackle corridors of the nearby public library.  I volunteered at the hippie food co-op by day and quaffed beers at the Old Oregon by night.  I ate the Colonial Bakery’s Sailor Jack muffins for breakfast and baked cheese cakes at home for dessert.  I watched every inning of the 1975 Cincinnati-Boston World Series.  I read novels and wrote poetry, and learned how to be alone.  After several months of introspection I returned home to Enumclaw. 

Leaving that house on a hill, overlooking the Pacific Ocean whose waves regularly crashed onto rocks below, I realized a tiny bit of home would always be waiting for me there.  I still do.

The home on the hill, circa 2018.

Banner photo by Oliver Kombol.