2012 articles About Offbeat Oregon 2012 articles 2011 articles 2010 articles 2008-2009 articles About me Store (the Finn J.D. John Centre for Crass Commercialism and Filthy Lucre)
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The Sagebrush Symphony Orchestra on its “giant violin” float, after riding it through the town of Burns in the Fourth of July Parade, 1915.

america's first youth orchestra came out of tiny sagebrush town.

The Portland Youth Philharmonic says it was founded in Portland in 1924. Actually, it's older than that -- and much more rural. Here's the story.

Vaudeville's famous Klondike Kate became a Central Oregon legend

central oregon's most fabulous homesteader ever.

Homesteader Kitty "Klondike Kate" Rockwell, retired from the bright lights of Vaudeville, often wore full costume just to weed the garden. Here's the story.

Goal of Oregon whale hunters: Grow fur coats, and put a man on the moon.

helping put a man on the moon, one dead whale at a time?

Whale oil is special stuff, and NASA needed it for the space program. So an Astoria group launched a whaling venture in the early 1960s. Here's the story.

Shipwreck ended Astoria's 1840s bid to become the Nantucket of the West Coast

astoria could have become a mecca of whale hunting ...

... had it not been for the Columbia River Bar, which wrecked the only whaling ship that ever dared try to cross it with a full cargo hold. It was a total loss. Here's the story.

Early Oregon 'holy roller' cult ended in murder, suicide, insanity

THE holy-roller "NAKED LADIES' CULT" IN CORVALLIS and waldport.

It started out as a church seeking perfect holiness and Godliness. It ended in murder, insanity and chaos — and, yes, rumors of naked ladies. Check out the full story (in two parts).

The Glenesslin, under almost full sail, grinds against the rocks at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain.

mariner's spooky nightmare came true the next day

In his dream, the first mate of the German barque Mimi saw seaweed covering all but three shipmates. The next day, all but three drowned in one of Oregon's worst-ever salvage disasters. Here's the story.

Florence's famous exploding whale: A highway engineer didn't know how much dynamite to use, so he guessed ... and guessed wrong.

Whale explodes: Details at 11.

The highway department guy didn't know how much dynamite to use, and said so on camera. But he still thinks the operation was a success. Check out the story of Florence's famous exploding whale ...

The Glenesslin, under almost full sail, grinds against the rocks at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain.

was this shipwreck insurance fraud or just drunken incompetence?

On a beautiful clear October day, astonished beach-goers watched a big windjammer simply turn and sail straight into the side of a mountain. Why would her crew do such a thing? Here's the story.

.44-caliber Colt Dragoon revolver, designed in 1848.

gold-rush bandits hunted down and killed ... but where was their loot?

No one has ever found it — or if they have, they've been awfully discreet. The Triskett Gang had stolen it hours earlier from the assaying depot in the town of Sailors' Diggins. Here's the story.

US Coast Guard 47-foot motor lifeboat takes on a heavy sea off Cape Disappointment.

tired of seeing mariners die, lighthouse keeper took action.

In 1865, Joel Munson watched 17 sailors drown on the Columbia Bar. But when their lifeboat washed up near his lighthouse, it gave him an idea — an idea that lives on today in the U.S. Coast Guard. Here's the story.

Delake Rod and Gun Club as it appeared in 1960.

mysterious mansion was haunted only by olympic medalist's dream.

OSU Wrestling legend Robin Reed, an Olympic gold medalist, was never pinned once in his entire career. But his plan for the Delake Rod and Gun Club ended in defeat. Here's the story.

U.S. Coast Guard cutter Algonquin.

bootleggers save sailors' lives, but get thrown in jail anyway.

In the early years of Prohibition, a Canadian rumrunner entered U.S. territorial waters to save the lives of nine castaways — and got caught and sent to jail anyway. Here's the story.

Bobbie the Wonder Dog

Bobbie the wonder dog's 2,400-mile odyssey.

Left behind in Illinois, the big collie dog walked home to Silverton, Oregon. It took him six months. Here's Bobbie's story.

A modern reproduction of a classic Concord Stagecoach.

a few legends of buried gold and treasure ...

Some of them might even be true. Here's a selection of them — as far as we know, the loot from any of them has never been found.

This crater marks ground zero in the Roseburg Blast. It's about 60 feet across.

a nuclear strike
in downtown roseburg?

No; it was "just" an exploding dynamite truck. But the mushroom cloud was big enough to fool a passing airline pilot. Here's the full story of the legendary "Roseburg Blast."

Part of the historic entry to Portland's Chinatown.

he dressed in rags like a beggar, so no one would know ...

To avoid getting robbed and murdered, Chinese couriers dressed as beggars while carrying thousands of dollars in gold from the fields. This is the story of one of these men, and the woman whose life he saved.

Steamer Admiral Evans, f.k.a. Buckman, which the two would-be pirates tried to hijack

THE dumbest would-be pirates in the history of the universe.

Their plan: Hijack a passenger steamer (that's it, in the thumbnail above), run it aground and sneak off into the bushes with 3 tons of gold. Do I need to mention that it didn't work out? Here's what happened.



Usually when something steams out to sea to rescue shipwrecked sailors, it's not a railroad train. Here's the story of the one (and probably only) time it was.


Far-out guru "enlightens" Central Oregon.

What happens when a colony of acolytes of an East Indian guru move in, then try to take over Wasco County? Check out the four-part story of the rise and fall of Rajneeshpuram ...


this oregon youth went on to save half a billion lives...guess who?

A local Willamette Valley teen-ager named Bert Hoover, an orphan sent from Iowa to live with his uncle, went on to save millions of lives and become a singularly ill-starred U.S. president.


oregon's most spectacular shipwreck ever.

The steam schooner J. Marhoffer was almost brand-new when, burning fiercely from stem to stern, it piled onto the rocks near Depoe Bay. It's the remains of this fiery shipwreck that gave Boiler Bay its name ...


the gallant rescue of portland's floating brothel.

Maritime madam Nancy Boggs kept her bordello on a barge floating in the river, until a police raid cut it loose. But the captain and crew of a sternwheeler came to save the day. Here's the story.


take off to the province of oregon, eh?

Few people know how close Oregon came to officially becoming a British possession under the treaty that ended the War of 1812. Only the presence of a handful of scattered, starving survivors from Astor's fur enterprise prevented it. Here's how.


timberline lodge could have been a glass skyscraper

Calling the plan a "profit-making eyesore," a Forest Service manager nixed 1920s plan for a modern steel-and-glass structure with an aerial tramway. You can read about it right here.


pixieland: an edgy, vanished amusement park

Built in the late 1960s as a "fairy-tale history of Oregon," the amusement park lasted just a few years before slipping into receivership. Today, all that's left of this odd and uniquely Oregonian story is a dilapidated guardshack.

Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Ship sailed across two miles of sandy beach, rescued itself

Stranded four-masted schooner North Bend, the last sailing ship ever built in Oregon, was stranded on Peacock Spit; it worked its way through and, a little over a year later, launched itself in Baker Bay on the other side.

Four-masted schooner North Bend under way shortly after its launch in 1921.
The four-masted schooner North Bend II under way shortly after its
launch in 1921. This ship was the last tall ship built in Oregon; it marked
the very end of the age of sail on the West Coast. (Photo:
https://tallshipsofsanfrancisco.com) [Larger image: 800 x 531 px]

The last tall ship ever built in Oregon was also the most famous. It was even featured in Robert Ripley's nationally popular “Ripley's Believe It Or Not” newspaper comic. What it did, most everyone agrees, was utterly unprecedented.

So, what did this wonder-schooner do? It “walked” across Peacock Spit, at the mouth of the Columbia River, and relaunched itself on the other side. With absolutely no help from human hands.

Here's the full story:

Last of a dying breed

The North Bend II was a four-masted schooner, 204 feet overall, built in 1921 at the Kruse & Banks Shipyard in North Bend. This would be the last sail-powered freighter ever built at Kruse & Banks, or anywhere else in the state either for that matter (one source says it was the second-to-last, but gives no further details). By the 1920s, steamers were far more cost-effective than windjammers as freight ships. They were faster, more predictable, less labor-intensive to operate and — especially on a lee shore, where the wind blows toward the coastline rather than away from or alongside it — definitely safer.

Although the odds were stacked against it, the North Bend had a successful career, and became a sort of bookend for the tall-ship era, marking the end of the age of sail. In 1926, it became the last wind-power-only tall ship to sail over the Columbia River bar and upriver to Astoria. And it was in the process of trying to repeat this historical event that the ship came to grief, on Feb. 5, 1928.

On that day, the North Bend achieved a third “last ever” event: It became the last windjammer ever to slip into a wind pocket on the bar, become becalmed and drift onto Peacock Spit.

High but not quite dry

Well, of course, almost every other time this had happened, the vessel involved became a total loss. Ships are built tough, but nothing can withstand the pressure and persistence of the sort of breakers found off the Oregon Coast. Ships in the water are fine, since they move with the waves, but once the sea has something pinned to the land, it can take a surprisingly small number of hours for it to be reduced to a collection of floating planks.

But that's not what happened to the North Bend. Instead, a stunningly lucky combination of tide and weather timing left the ship high on the sand, out of reach of the full fury of the sea.

At first, the ship's owners — a consortium of Coos Bay-area businessmen — considered this a bad thing, rather than a good one. Their attempt at salvaging the ship hadn't worked out, and now with the ship so high on the sand, there was no way it could be dragged off the beach.

The crew had already been safely evacuated. Now the owners admitted defeat, stripped the ship of everything of value that they could remove, and left it there while they pondered what to do next. So the North Bend sat on the beach for a while.

Hard aground, but still making headway

Winter mellowed into early spring. Then reports started to come in that the ship was on the move, sort of — “walking” across the spit, and doing it with astonishing speed.

What was happening was that the action of the waves swirling around the hull was actually causing the receding seawater to pull sand out from around the ship. It was actually carving a channel into Peacock Spit.

And, propelled by the constant southwest wind, the ship was making surprisingly good progress — especially during the heavy-weather months, when big seas and high winds lashed the coast.

Finally, in February of 1929, a year and a month after the ship went aground, the hull reached the fresh and calm waters of Baker Bay. It had traveled through 12,000 feet of dry sand — an average speed of just over 30 feet per day. And, by the way, a mile is 5,280 feet.

With almost no human intervention, the ship slipped out through the end of the odd little sandy canal it had carved, and relaunched itself on the other side — not much the worse for wear.

A second career, as a barge

But the North Bend's rigging and equipment had been stripped off, and to put the ship back into service it would have to be replaced. When everything was tallied up, the tab was too high for the owners to justify returning it to the seas. Put simply, the era of sail was over. It had really been over before the North Bend was even built, and not even the stubbornest old salt could deny its over-ness now.

So the owners had the ship dragged to Youngs Bay, near Astoria, and tied up to a pier for several years while they figured out what to do with it.

Eventually they cut the hull down and converted to a seagoing lumber barge. In this new and less glamorous role, though, the ship was far less successful than it had been as a schooner. It made — or, depending on how you look at it, didn't make — just one voyage.

The end comes — for real this time

Towed to Gardiner on the Umpqua River, it was loaded with lumber and pulled out of port for its maiden (sort of) voyage. On this trip, it didn't even make it to Coos Bay before it had sprung a big leak. The tugboat captain tried to make an emergency stop at Coos Bay, but the waterlogged North Bend sloshed into North Spit, and this time the damage was severe.

Luckily, lumber floats, so the ship wouldn't sink. So it was wrangled into port and unloaded.

Then the North Bend was towed back out to sea and set adrift at the mercy of the southwest wind. She washed ashore south of the bay, near the Cape Arago Lighthouse, where she was burned on the beach so that the remaining metal could be salvaged from the ashes.

For the ship that carried the last dying torch for the age of sail on the West Coast, it was a sad and symbolic end.

(Sources: Gibbs, James A. Jr. Pacific Graveyard. Portland: Binford, 1950; Peterson, Emil & al. A Century of Coos and Curry. Coos Bay: CCPHA, 1977; www.tallshipsofsanfrancisco.com)

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