Heroes and rascals, shipwrecks and lost gold: Strange but true stories and secrets of Oregon's wild past | Offbeat Oregon History The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (now known as Osho -- yes, THAT Osho) as he appeared when he lived in Wasco County with his followers. That's also him in the white Rolls-Royce surrounded by followers, in a scene from Rajneeshpuram. (Four-part story starts with Column No. 73, May 9, 2010 While doing some cleaning-up around the Odd Fellows Hall in Scio, a local girl found a tiny coffin with this partial skeleton inside. Whose? We'll probably never know ... (Story No. 204, Oct. 14, 2012) The ever-elusive D.B. Cooper peeks into the page from behind his signature shades. The story of his skyjacking exploit starts with episode 237, from June 2, 2013. Meet Kitty Kat, the wealthiest feline in the state of Oregon and landlord to the City of Tangent. Kitty Kat, until he died at a ripe old age in 1995, owned City Hall. (Story No. 163, Jan. 8, 2012) This crazy-looking speedboat was the invention of Portland wizard Victor Strode. The city commissioned a harbor patrol boat based on his design, but it didn't work out. (Story No. 201, Sept. 23, 2012) The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (now known as Osho -- yes, THAT Osho) as he appeared when he lived in Wasco County with his followers. That's also him in the white Rolls-Royce surrounded by followers, in a scene from Rajneeshpuram. (Four-part story starts with Column No. 73, May 9, 2010 This is the roof of the Franz Bread Rest Hut at Pixieland, the Oregon Coast's ill-starred answer to Disneyland, which opened in 1969 and went out of biz in 1974. The Rest Hut consisted of a giant fiberglass loaf of bread sticking out of the top of this giant fiberglass hollow log, the whole thing towering over a log-flume roller coaster ride. It's probably the most campily awesome example of the proud display of crass commercialism that was Pixieland. (Column No. 52 - Dec. 6, 2009)
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The remains of the barque Peter Iredale as they appear today, jutting out of the beach sands on Clatsop Spit at Warrenton as they have since 1906. In 1960, the wreck nearly was lost to a man who claimed he owned it.

How the Oregon Coast almost lost the Peter Iredale to a scrap-metal shark

An Oregon City man claimed he'd inherited the rights from his father, and demanded to be allowed to cut it up and haul it away. He almost got away with this little swindle.


Commander Dave Scott salutes the U.S. flag, which has just been planted on the surface of the moon. A small piece of Oregon lava rock, carried to the moon by Scott's fellow astronaut Jim Irwin, lies within this photo, next to one of the many bootprints. (Image: NASA)

There's a piece of lava from central oregon in this photo, on the moon.

It was left there by astronaut Jim Irwin at the request of a friend from Bend — who gave him a sliver of Oregon lava to leave on the moon's surface. And so he did.


The Motel 6 on Mission Street in Salem as it appeared in the mid-1970s, when Carl Cletus Bowles made his run from its back door. Don't laugh, at least not too loudly ... two innocent people would die before Bowles was back in prison.

Killer broke out of state prison during a conjugal visit at a nearby Motel 6

It had to be the most awkward prison-break scenario in the history of the universe. But it really did happen. Here's the story.


James Lappeus, former Portland Chief of Police. He eventually was fired over allegations that he'd offered to 'accidentally' leave the jailhouse door open for a convicted murderer if his wife paid a $1,000 bribe.

gambler, swindler, gunfighter, liquor man ... oh, and also police chief.

James Lappeus came to Portland to open a saloon and "theater." Despite his checkered past — or maybe because of it — he was named city marshal and, later, Chief of Police. Here's the story.


Boats of the Astoria fishing fleet, with the help of both wind and incoming tide, race away from the dangers of the Columbia River Bar in this postcard image from around the turn of the century.

When fishing was so deadly, one in 15 didn't survive the season.

They drifted downstream in heavy 24-foot boats with their nets out ... and prayed the tide would turn before they got sucked out onto the bar. Here's the story.


This postcard picture of Cannon Beach was created in 1966, which means just off to the left of the frame is a beach with a fence around it and "no trespassing" signs.

HOW OREGON ALMOST LOST PUBLIC ACCESS TO ITS BEACHES

A Portland real-estate guy found a loophole in the law and claimed a patch of beach for his own, and his friends in the state Legislature tried to keep it that way. Here's the story.


A color lithograph of George and Kate Ann Williams’s Victorian  mansion, located at 18th and Couch streets downtown.

This spooky-looking Portland mansion was home of a 'starvation cult'

A prominent Portland socialite led a sect called "Truth," with the motto "Pray and Be Cured," that required 40-day fasts. It vanished after its leader starved herself to death during a 110-day fast. Here's the story.


The archway monument leading up to the Wallowa County Courthouse,  built in 1936. The bronze plaque on the inside left of the arch includes  the name of murderer and horse thief Bruce “Blue” Evans.

A monument in honor of a horse thief and mass murderer?

Bruce "Blue" Evans led the gang that slaughtered over 30 innocent Chinese miners in 1887. So why is his name celebrated on a monument to Wallowa County Pioneers? Probably because they didn't know. Here's the story.


Title screen from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Mel Blanc, the legendary Looney Toons voice man, grew up in Portland.

The voice of Bugs Bunny went to high school in Portland

Legendary Hollywood voice man Mel Blanc's teachers weren't too impressed with his voice talents, but Oregon radio listeners and cartoon fans sure were. Here's the story.


Three Rocks Beach, Camp Westwind, the mouth of the Salmon River and Cascade  Head as they appear today.

Is there pirate loot buried at this YWCA youth camp?

The discovery of a giant skeleton in the 1930s suggested that the old Indian legend of a pirate ship sinking in the Salmon River might be true ... or maybe not. Here's the story.


This is not a picture of the Sunshine; it's a lumber schooner of a similar type, the Wawona. The Sunshine, on her way home from her maiden voyage to San Francisco, vanished and then reappeared, upside down, 200 miles off course.

Gold was gone when schooner washed ashore ... empty

The fate of the Sunshine's passengers and crew is unknown ... did somebody wreck the ship on purpose?. Here's the story.


One of Conde McCullough's bridges -- the steel one linking Oregon City with Gladstone. he's better known for the Oregon Coast bridges.

Sammy Davis Jr. used to regularly play portland clubs.

Many consider him the coolest member of the Rat Pack. Sammy caught his big break while he was in Portland. Here's the story.


The gravestone of Ame, who despite having died 10 years after the Civil War, was still considered a slave.

sHE DIED AROUND 1874. SO WHY DOES THE GRAVESTONE SAY SHE WAS A SLAVE?

Ame came over the Oregon Trail from Missouri. But when the North won the Civil War, her status as a slave didn't change. Here's what happened.


Ray V.B. Jackson in a booking photo from the Oregon State Pen, in 1896. Four years after this photo was taken, he was teaching grade school in Silver Lake.

Is this the face of oregon's first serial killer?

Like an "angel of death," ex-con Ray V.B. Jackson just happened to be at the scene of at least five Central Oregon homicides. What are the odds? Here's the story (in two parts).


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.


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.


U.S. Coast Guard cutter Algonquin.

bootleggers saveD sailors' lives, were rewarded with prison.

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.


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.


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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.


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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.


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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

Buck Rogers-style police boat didn't work out for Portland

Prolific Portland inventor Victor Strode designed a boat that was half airplane and all art-deco-age futurism, and early tests with a smaller model were very promising. But the larger model he built for the city was a disappointment.

Oregon inventor Victor Strode’s revolutionary boat, the
“aerohydrocraft,” made the cover of Popular Science in March
1933. (Popular Science magazine archives,
http://popsci.com/archives)

On the morning of April 23, 1936, the city of Portland was proudly preparing to launch its new harbor patrol boat, the Jack Luihn.

It was going to be a big deal. Mayor LaGuardia of New York City was in town, and had been invited to come to the event. And the boat itself was truly revolutionary.

Oregon’s own wizardly inventor

The Jack Luihn was the brainchild of one Victor Wiegand Strode, an inventor with a remarkable flair. Looking back on the historical record, the picture one gets is reminiscent of the early life of Howard Hughes.

Born in the mid-1890s, he had graduated from Harvard by the time World War I broke out; when it did, he joined up, and got trained in radio and signaling work.

After the war, he got a position heading up the aeronautical school at Portland’s Hill Military Academy (imagine that: A high school with an aeronautical elective!) and later organized the Portland Airplane Corps.

By 1936, Strode was already well known as a prolific inventor. By the time of his death at age 50 in 1944, he’d invented a primer valve, a vacuum preventer, a sleek tri-motor aircraft design — and a boat.

If Buck Rogers had a speedboat …

This boat: It was quite possibly the highlight of Strode’s inventing career, although other projects surely made him more money. To create it, he had teamed up with aeronautical engineer Fred Jones, another Portlander, who had helped design DeHaviland airplanes during World War I. And this boat was like nothing anyone had ever seen before.

The article on Victor Strode's revolutionary "Aerohydrocraft," which ran in
the March 1931 issue of Popular Science. (Popular Science archives)

The basic idea was to take an eight-foot-wide section of airfoil; drop a propeller through the bilge on a 90-degree gear, like a modern outboard motor; and put enough power through that propeller to allow the airfoil to pick the boat up off the surface of the water.

That’s right: it would literally fly above the water’s surface, with the only part of the boat touching the water being the propeller and shaft.

For stability, the boat would be made of four different thicknesses of wing sections — with the fattest in the center, forming the fuselage, and the other three stepping outward, so that drag would be balanced.

Strode had patented the design in 1933. At the time, he’d envisioned it having a variety of uses, especially low-drag pontoons for seaplanes, but almost immediately he set about trying to make a boat out of it. He dubbed it the “Aerohydrocraft.”

Experiment was a success

Down in Coos Bay, Strode commissioned the construction of a prototype — a single-seater with an open cockpit. The power plant was a stock Ford V-8 flathead auto engine, putting down 55 horsepower. According to an article in Popular Science, the single-seater reached speeds of 70 miles an hour.

“It behaves like an ordinary craft until it attains a speed of 45 miles per hour,” the article notes. “At this velocity, which corresponds to the taking-off speed of an airplane, an abrupt change occurs. The pilot can feel the boat rise from the water as the fins take hold on the air. Only the propeller beneath the hull remains in the water where its full thrust is effective.”

Fresh from this success, the following year Strode applied for and got funding from the federal government’s Depression-era State Emergency Relief Agency jobs program to build a bigger version of his prototype — a high-speed ambulance boat for the Portland harbor.

Introducing the ambulance boat

A year and a half later, the boat was there, finished, ready to launch. It was considerably bigger than the open-cockpit prototype — 24 feet long from tip to tail. In the fuselage, there was a tight cockpit with seating for two people; behind them, there was an ambulance bay, with accommodations for two patients on stretchers.

An artist’s impression of what the aerohydrocraft would look like, which
ran in the Morning Oregonian in 1934 next to a headline reading, “NEW
POLICE BOAT TO BE QUEER CRAFT.” Notice that the artist has rounded
off the airfoils, making them look as if they would not actually work, and
given the vessel a more boat-like prow. (Image: Portland Morning
Oregonian)

 And on that spring day, at the foot of Stark Street where a few dozen years earlier the ferry used to land, a group of city notables was there to launch what they surely believed was the future of high-speed motorboating.

Inventor Strode was there with his wife, Ruth, who was going to do the honors of christening the sleek-looking plywood beauty. The Morning Oregonian had given the project plenty of publicity, including a couple pictures. Factories along the waterfront were ready to welcome the new boat with whistle blasts.

Into the water went the big aerohydrocraft.

So — was it a success?

The aerohydrocraft under construction in a Portland boatbuilding shop.
The man on the left is Fred Jones, the aviation engineer who helped Strode
design the revolutionary vessel. (Image: Portland Morning Oregonian)

The answer seems to be a pretty firm “no.” However, its failure must have involved some embarrassing details, because there is simply nothing more about it in the Oregonian — until six months later, in January 1937, when a “year in review” article mentions that it was “noisily christened and then quietly retired from public view.”

Just seven days later, a three-inch-long article buried deep in Page 11 announced that the City Council had voted to officially release any interest in it.

“For some time the boat has been out of service,” the article read, “but it was said the boat might be salvaged if title were transferred to Mr. Strode.”

What happened?

Looking a bit like a parade float built around an old Fiat, the brand-new
patrol boat is launched in the Willamette in 1935. This might actually be a
photo from its launching and christening ceremony. (Image:
facebook.com/deadmemoriesportland)

There may be some details to be gleaned from the biography of Victor Strode, which his wife, Ruth — who later became a writer for the Oregonian, by the way — penned after his death. The only copy of that biography is in the archives of the Oregon Historical Society. Also, there may be Portlanders who remember what happened to the boat; after all, this was only 75 years ago.

But some educated guesses can be made, based on the laws of physics, as to why the aerohydrocraft didn’t work out for Portland.

At speed, this boat would be essentially hovering over the surface of the water, with the propeller shaft dropping down into the drink. Throw the rudder over to make a hard left turn, and what’s to prevent the centrifugal force of the turn from tipping the boat over until the outboard wingtip touches the water doing 55 mph? What would happen then? A jolt? A terrifying cartwheel crash? It’s hard to say.

And then there’s the propeller shaft. With such a heavy boat, the forces this shaft would be subjected to would be tremendous, and in many different directions.

In any case, the Aerohydrocraft disappeared from the world of boat types almost as quickly as it vanished from the Portland waterfront. Today, few powerboat aficionados have even heard of them — or of the time Portland took a chance on the cutting edge of naval architecture.

By the way, there’s a company called Fiddlers Green that sells a plan for a paper or cardboard model of the Aerohydrocraft on line. An Internet search for “fiddlers green sea gull boat” will take you right to it.

(Sources: Popular Science archive, popsci.com/archive; Portland Morning Oregonian archives, 1934-1944; Dead Memories Portland page on Facebook)