Tag Archives: Railroads

All the Warning We’ll Get

The Saddle Mountain Fault scenario envisions an 87-mile long failure of the fault.

The Saddle Mountain Fault scenario envisions an 87-mile long failure of the fault.

There was a small earthquake centered on Frenchman Hill one day around 1972. When an earthquake scientist from the University of Washington called Othello High School to look for a reliable  student to tend to a helicorder they were setting up at the epicenter, they ended up talking to my mother, the counselor. I was 16, and I had just gotten my driver’s license. She told them she had a perfect match for them.

So my second job off the home place (the first one was changing sprinklers for my neighbor) was visiting a tiny trailer parked next to a plowed field overlooking the Lower Crab Creek valley and the ancient massive slide on the north face of Saddle Mountain. Six seismographs fed streams of data to a series of heated needles that recorded every tremble of the earth around the trailer. I had to changed the waxed paper they burned their message onto once a day and then put in a phone call to Colorado to calibrate the clock with the National Bureau of Standards.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, this must have been a heady period for earthquake scientists in the Northwest. Endorsement of the theory of plate tectonics was in its infancy. Continue reading

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Pahto

Mount Adams early in 1958, viewed from the foothills above Glenwood. Photograph by Walt Danielson.

Mount Adams early in 1958, viewed from the foothills above Glenwood. Photograph by Walt Danielson.

I climbed Mount Adams for the first time in 1957, when I was a year old. I had help. My parents corralled all six youngsters and, in caravan with my grandparents, they drove the axle-shattering dirt roads to Bird Creek Meadows, just below snowline on the shoulders of the great peak.  As proof of this visit, I offer the following pose, the portrait of an outdoors man as a very young man.

My father and I rest on a sandy bank at Bird Creek Meadows in 1957, when I was a year old.

My father and I rest on a rock on a sandy bank at Bird Creek Meadows in 1957, when I was a year old.

Although my current home lies much closer to Mount Baker, old Mount Adams has always held a dearer place in my heart. It’s prominence is due to the overwhelming presence it has in Glenwood, where my family arrived in 1882 as a band of uprooted Germans. My great-grandfather cleared a forested meadow and planted hay. His farm prospered and he gained prominence in his community, Continue reading

Written in the Earth

A soldier of Custer's regiment uses his Springfield carbine as a club. Source of this painting is not known.

A soldier of Custer’s regiment uses his Springfield carbine as a club. Source of this painting is not known.

When you grow up in desert heat, at least when video games and television have yet to proliferate, one of the joys of childhood is playing with the garden hose. Personally, I enjoyed digging rivers and lakes into the earth of the wire enclosure where our chickens roamed. I remember the amazement of unearthing a living frog that had burrowed into the ground for hibernation, and that had narrowly avoided the blade of my shovel.

One of my maxims about the desert landscape around Saddle Mountain is that this earth is honest. When people pass through, the traces they make remain to be read by those who come after them. As I think back on the traces we’ve discovered on our farm alone, it amazes me that so much history is written in its sand and dust.

In the early 1960s my father hooked his tractor to a battered old machine he called the rototiller. He was in the process of rooting sagebrush out of a new field, and this machine would completely destroy the plants that grew there naturally. Continue reading

Through the Iron Curtain, 1978

Robin Walz took this photograph of the Kremlin. He asked me to pose. I had to hold up my right hand to shade the camera lens from the brilliant sun.

Robin Walz took this photograph of the Kremlin. He asked me to pose. I had to hold up my right hand to shade the camera lens from the brilliant sun.

In 1978 I went through a number of Winter to Spring cycles. After six weeks in snowy southwestern France, the weather had just started to turn balmy when it was time to leave. We boarded a train to Paris, switched to another one that drove straight across Germany without stopping, delivering us to Warsaw on Easter weekend.

Our next train was a local, packed with rustic crowds returning from Easter celebrations in the capital. Not only was it impossible to find a seat in a compartment, but the aisles themselves were crammed Continue reading

Crossing Over

A two-horse-power ferry provided passage across the Columbia River at White Bluffs.

A two-horse-power ferry provided passage across the Columbia River at White Bluffs.

Drive down any freeway in the state, and you’ll see the same dull gray pavement, with tarry black repairs. The roads look the same on both sides of the mountains and whether they are on dry land or bridges. We’ve come to take these roads and bridges for granted, to the point where we can estimate to within minutes just how long a trip ought to take. But it wasn’t always so.

After they offed the Astorians, the Hudsons Bay Company established routes that provided for the safe distribution of trade goods and transportation of furs gathered over an entire year. In auspicious places, the English built forts to store the furs that came from far north in what is now British Columbia, and from the Snake River country and Montana. Continue reading

The Plunge

Truth be told, I cannot vouch for the details of this tale. My father related it to me when I was too young or too disconnected to remember names or dates, but the truth of the story is etched into the face of Saddle Mountain above lower Crab Creek.

The trace of the bulldozer descent of the north face of Saddle Mountain above Crab Creek. The track is located around nine miles east of the Columbia River. This view is a telephoto image, showing only the upper section of the trace.

The trace of the bulldozer descent of the north face of Saddle Mountain above Crab Creek. The track is located around nine miles east of the Columbia River. This view is a telephoto image, showing only the upper section of the trace.

What a bulldozer was doing on top of Sentinel Peak, I cannot say. Perhaps in gouging a firebreak above the Milwaukee Road the driver found himself forced to make corrections that led him ever higher. Eventually he must have found the railroad hundreds of feet below him, a distant trace at the bottom of a precipitous drop. Did the railroad send someone to him, demanding that he bring the dozer down again? Did he refuse to drive down the face of the mountain? I would have. Continue reading

Elevator

One hundred and eight degrees Fahrenheit, and I tied a rope to the wire handle on a five gallon can. I was inside a square wooden grain elevator with a corrugated iron roof several stories above me in Basin City. Up before dawn, I drove through the dark to Bruce, Washington, where my uncle ran the local Full Circle, Inc., agribusiness office. He had the Warden, Bruce and Basin City branches to manage. After five or six summers working in the grain warehouses, I had been given the job of taking care of the Basin City elevator. Each day I’d pick up a courier’s pouch at Bruce and climb into a company truck for the run down to my station.

One of the first things I did in Basin City was to try to control the rats. Every day their droppings and their footprints circled the exterior of the elevator. Their dens were narrow cracks in the sides of the concrete pad the elevator stood on. I shoved wire mesh, broken glass and bits of barbed wire into the cracks every day and when I returned in the morning I’d find the hole empty of all my wicked obstacles, not a trace of blood on the fine dust and sand. Rat footprints thronged across the blowsand. Poison was left untouched. These rodents knew their business. Continue reading