Sunday, September 14, 2014


At last I've been able to return to the Cut Bank laundromat without the unbalanced evangelist pestering me.  It's the best maintained of the three laundromats within thirty miles, but even here many machines were out of order.  No money for either repair or replacement.  The bathroom was also posted out of order, but it turned out that was to deter the "road people" who bathed in there and clogged the drains with paper.  The old couple who attend this laundromat do not like confrontation.  I remarked that it was almost beginning to feel as though there were another Thirties Depression coming and they agreed.  Since then an early heavy snow put the bonanza crop of wheat on the ground.  More people will hit the road.  Custom cutters might as well go home.

Sam and Beulah Strachan

In 1925 my paternal grandparents, in their early fifties with the children raised, decided to look for greener pastures than Manitoba.  Nothing could be greener than Oregon.  They built their own RV, which the family called "The Ranger."  Maybe that was the name of the truck -- it's the name of my little Ford pickup.  

No blueprints -- just farmer-builders.

When I look at family histories, I check the dates about a year after a generational death and often find a little bump-up in the fortunes of inheritors.  This time it was the estate of Archibald Strachan, the Scots fine finish carpenter who wanted to be a gentleman farmer like Thomas Jefferson and so brought his family to homestead in the Dakotas.  The last of his savings financed a trip for Sam and Beulah, intending to check out Portland, Oregon, but also including a swing through the scenic SW USA.  

These people were a mixture of Scots/Manitoba/Dakota history, used to hardship.  With more money and higher aspirations they might have taken a major ocean liner back to Scotland for a visit.  Today the RV's I pass on I-5 are worth more than a million dollars and tow a second small vehicle that costs more than my house.  I have no idea how anyone acquires that much money.  But they share the impulse to go somewhere.  Travel!  That's the ticket!

No windows in the back.  No need for them.  Just an expense.

On Dec. 16 the Ranger entered Portland, City of Roses, which had just had a snowstorm.  They parked in the slush and took the street car to the post office to see whether their banker had sent the next installment of funds.  Disappointed, they walked back along Broadway.  "My sakes!" exclaimed Beulah's journal.  "The streets were full of people going hither and thither, with arms full of parcels, umbrellas, evidently doing some of their Christmas shopping."  The Ranger found a temporary port at the parking lot of the First Congo church. It seemed a safe and respectable place.  The only scary incident was when the little camp stove flared out and started a minor fire, but with everything constantly soaked, it was easy to control by simply setting the stove out in the rain.  Beulah was impressed at the constant supply of fresh soft water and collected it in a bucket hung under the Ranger eaves so she could wash lingerie.

First Congregational Church of Portland, Oregon

Though they were there to look for business connections, they took time to enjoy the big city.  The very first night they attended the Pantages Theatre (60 cents each) where Babe Ruth was supposed to make an appearance.  Beulah reported "the vaudeville . . . consisted of statuesque posing pictures.  Norma with her magic golden violin which played the tunes the audience requested."  A performer on the Wonder Organ rose up out of the stage.  The movie was "No Man's Gold," a cowboy Western with a girl horseman as the heroine.  Since the cowboy's horse was named "Tony," the movie must have been one of Tom Mix's.  Babe Ruth smashed a hole in a paper curtain with his bat and stepped through the hole to offer a twenty minute talk about baseball.

Shopping was at the farmer's market and included lots of seafood.  There was a machine that automatically made donuts, something like the one at the Walnut Park Fred Meyer when I was a kid.  They respectively made much use of both the YMCA and the YWCA, where Beulah watched children decorating a Christmas tree.  They did a lot of reading.  Beulah was WCTU (Women's Christian Temperance Union).

World Forestry Center

On Monday Sam walked up to "Monkey Ward" and discovered “a huge structure of monstrous fir logs built in picturesque and rustic style” -- the Forestry Center which has since burned down.  It was very like the Big Hotel in East Glacier.  On Tuesday they went down to the waterfront and walked among “the more unpoetic but pretty serious and important side of Portland’s busy life.”  All converted to park now.  “Just a little way from the 'Oregon' were two huge sailing vessels at anchor.  Their rigging, masts, etc. were all a mystery to me.”

The Battleship Oregon

A typical meal was “broiled halibut, potatoes, apples with cream, bread and butter.”   They ate a lot of cheese and soda crackers.  No salads. Finally their check came after New Year’s so they could go on, but just at Christmas they located friends from Manitoba who invited them for a much enjoyed day over in St. Johns.  They took in other Broadway shows but also, by accident, attended the Congregational Church’s annual budget meeting.  “They already had $2100 appropriated but wished to raise $2,000.  Their minister’s salary was $5,000 and his assistant $2,500 per annum.  They wish to raise their year’s income or pledge total to $30,000.”  That included some extra for insurance and the music program.

Council Crest was a marvel to these prairie folks.  Three times they dressed in their best and took the streetcar to the top to gaze at the Cascade Mountains.  If you wanted to call it “nature worship,” you’re welcome.  They found a bookstore where Beulah bought “Montgomery’s U.S. History” and Sam bought Darwin’s “Origin of the Species,” and THAT is the rest of the story.  Sam put new brake bands on the Ranger and Beulah bought a new nib for her “little Waterman fountain pen.”  The charms of Broadway were wearing thin, though Beulah thought Sam enjoyed the “20 chorus girls” in a recent show.

By January 2, 1927, the check had arrived so the intrepid and earnest pair fired up the Ranger and set out over the Burnside Bridge, along Sandy Boulevard, and up the Columbia Gorge, the most amazing thing they’d seen yet.  They got as far as Bonneville (no dam yet) before camping for the night -- a little past middle-aged, still full of dreams, and carrying their little house with them.  Beulah recorded,  “we went to sleep with the music of the rain pattering on the roof, which, to me, is nearly always soothing if I know everything is snug.”  These sights remained family icons for the next generation.

Columbia Gorge, with Vista House

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