Columbus Day Storm, Oct 12, 1962

D. E. Larsen, DVM

The day started like any other Fall morning in Western Oregon. The sky was mostly clear with just a few clouds. There was no wind, and there was no major concern about the weather as I headed out the door to school. My 1955 Chevy started with no problem, and I put my work clothes in the back seat and my stack of books in the front seat. I always brought books home from school. But I never did any homework or reading. I guess I just wanted to look like the other kids leaving school.

I had Physics class right after lunch each day. This day, Mr. Oglesby came to class late this afternoon, and this was unlike him, and he was a little excited. 

“We will be leaving early this afternoon,” Mr. Oglesby said. “There is a big storm coming, and I have to get home and secure my roof.”

This was the first time we had heard any information on a storm. He had no sooner told us the news than the principal came on the intercom and said they were dismissing school and everyone should go directly home. School buses would be out front shortly. This was great news. I would get out of school early, but I could go to work rather than home.

Mr. Oglesby had his stuff together and was heading out the door. 

“You guys go home like the man says. This looks like it will be a big storm,” he says as he heads out the door.

I take things to my locker and put on my light jacket. No books this weekend as it is hunting season, and I don’t have to look like I am going to study. It seemed like everyone was leaving the building at once. I was glad that I had parked on this side of the street this morning, and I didn’t have to turn around. I jumped in the car, started it up, and was one of the first to pull out. It was a short trip to the cheese factory.

Working at the cheese factory was a great job, and it provided good money and about as many hours as I could work. This was my second year working there.

I had quit football this year when the coach was upset that I went pigeon hunting on Labor Day and missed practice. It was better for my knees anyway. A good off-shoot of that action was I could work for another couple of months at the cheese factory after school and on weekends. We were generally laid off in the winter when the dairies dried up most of their cows. Then when spring calving started, we were back to work. My brother could work a summer and pay for his year at college, and we didn’t have to work in the woods. I hated pitch on my hands.

When I got to the cheese factory, most of the work had been done. All the cheese was made, which meant that milk production was falling. Often there would be a vat of cheese to be made when I got there after school. Jim Taylor, the late shift foreman, said they held a lot of the milk in the holding tanks because of the storm coming. I guess they got the news also. I changed clothes quickly and helped finish cleaning up. We had just finished when the lights began to flicker.

We opened the large garage door in the front receiving area to have some light in the building if the lights went out. Standing in the open doorway, we could see that the wind was much stronger than earlier. 

There were four of us standing there, Jim Taylor, a young guy not long out of the Navy. Jim had long dark hair that he wore in an Elvis style, and he was thin and muscular. 

Ray Sturdivant is a big guy with short-cropped hair. I believe Ray was from Pound, Virginia, and he had some southern attitudes that I had never heard before.

 Roger Gary was the last guy in the group. Roger was a couple of years older than I. He was about five feet ten inches, very muscular, and he had a large square head that made him look even stronger.

The wind started to pick up pretty strong. We watched as it slowly peeled off the aluminum sign off the building across the street. Then another sheet of metal came blowing down the street like a tumbleweed. The tall fir trees in the city park on the north side of the cheese factory were bending over in the wind.

About this time, Mom came driving down the street, heading home. Her car, a 1961 red Chevy, was bouncing from the wind. When she saw us standing in the doorway, she stopped behind my car and rushed inside.

Mom was a short but nice-looking woman. I considered her old. She must have been almost fifty. 

“Do you think I will be able to make it home?” she asked, no one in particular.

Jim was the first to reply, “I think you better wait for the worst of the wind to be over.”

She stood by me and said she was in town to help my brother, Larry, and his wife, Maggie, get to the hospital. “It looks like the baby will come tonight, with or without electricity.” (Nephew, Don Larsen, was born that night.)

Now the trees in the park started to fall. It was a slow fall, uprooting their large root wads and hitting the ground. One tree followed the other. Not all of the trees fell, but probably 20 out of 30 fell in five minutes. There was not even a flicker of lights anywhere.

Finally, the wind slowed to a gusty wind after nearly an hour. We changed clothes and waited outside as Jim closed the large door and found his way to the front door with a flashlight.  

“Follow me home, and don’t get out of the car on the road,” I said to Mom. “There might be downed power lines.” 

We had about a mile and a half along the river to the ranch. Only a couple of trees could be a problem along that road, so if we were lucky, it should be no problem.

After getting Mom home, I opened a can of tuna fish and made a couple of sandwiches for dinner. Dad was finished at the barn. There were little branches everywhere but no significant damage. There was no power, and Dad had had to finish milking using the vacuum from the tractor. Most of the cows were dry or in the process of drying up, so that was not a big issue. The milking chore was much reduced. I told Mom I should return to town. Some of the guys would probably be thinking about cutting trees out of the roads.

I put the power saw in the trunk and went back to town. A group of us went around the roads out of town. Some roads had almost no trees, and other roads had many trees down. 

The first road we cleared was Stringtown Road. It ran in a loop, out across the river from the cheese factory, then along the hillside for a mile before turning back to the river road. The part that ran along the hillside had a bunch of trees across the road. We had three or four power saws running all the time, and we cleared a path in a short time. We had to worry about the power line in only one spot, but being careful and working on the far side of the road, we got it open.

The next road was the road to Arago. This was about 6 miles, but most of that was across open country, only a couple of areas through the trees. We cleared that road pretty quickly. We had a string of cars following us on this road, and they were pretty thankful for our efforts.

After Arago, we went out Gravelford Road and back down the North Fork Road. Like Arago, these roads only had a couple of small sections through trees, and we only had to cut a couple of trees out of the way.

That was enough for us as the evening was getting long. We bumped into a couple of older guys, and they were happy to furnish us with a half case of beer, Blitz, I believe. It put a good ending to a night’s work. The rest of the trees could wait for the highway crews or the power company.

The aftermath of this storm left some tremendous damage to Western Oregon. Friends working in the woods told stories of salvage logging stands of timber that were blown down in all directions, a big tangled mess.

“I was bucking trees, standing on logs that were forty feet in the air,” Jim Lhurs told me.

The City of Myrtle Point had salvaged the trees that blew down in the park across from the cheese factory. By Halloween, there were only limbs left in the park. 

Many limbs were scattered in the park. As we were looking for trouble to cause on Halloween,

“Let’s stack those limbs on the highway,” someone said.

What a neat project. The group of us, maybe 20 guys, pulled those limbs out of the park and made a pile in the middle of Highway 42 beside the cheese factory. This was no small pile, probably 15 feet high or more, and it covered the better part of both lanes of traffic. Cars could still get through by using the parking lanes. We were proud of ourselves.

It didn’t take Mr. Dietz, the city cop, long to figure out who had done the job. Dietz was a massive man with a large nose and a large belly. He talked fearsomely but controlled us with a gentle disposition. Mr. Dietz found the whole group of us down at the corner ice cream shop, gloating over our recent project. He pulled up and slowly pulled himself out of the car. It almost looked like he would never quit coming out of that car until he finally stood and took a deep breath.

“He looks pissed,” Dick said.

“Damn you, little Yahoos, I give you every break in the book, and you go and do something like that,” Mr. Dietz said in a gruff voice, pointing down main street. “You can’t shut done a state highway! Now you guys get your butts down there and clear out that pile of limbs, or I will run the whole damn bunch of you down to City Hall.”

We didn’t have to be told twice. We all knew when a man was mad. We loaded into our cars and headed down to the pile of limbs. We pulled the limbs off the stack, dragged them through the park, and piled them up on the street on the other side of the park. It didn’t take long for the job to be done, and we thought we got the last laugh. As it turned out, the City was pleased with our work. They could load the limbs much easier than had they been scattered in the park.

Photo by Benjamin Elliott on Unsplash.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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