Heroes and rascals, shipwrecks and lost gold: Strange but true stories and secrets of Oregon's wild past | Offbeat Oregon History 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 owners of rival papers escalated their war of words when they went for pistols on a downtown street one morning in 1871.

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The man calling himself Dan Cooper parachuted into legend, and 40 years later the case remains unsolved ... but there are plenty of theories.

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The Rise and Fall of the House of Klux in Oregon

A slick marketing campaign and a taste for political power marked the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, which spread through Oregon like a racist virus — and then collapsed.

The burning steamer S.S. Congress, as seen from the deck of the dredge Colonel P.S. Michie, with lifeboats in the water.

Massive ocean liner won its race with fiery death

Calm seas, a cool-headed skipper and a hard-working crew brought the burning S.S. Congress to safety just in time. All 428 aboard made it.

This cover illustration from "Masked Rider Western," published in 1950, bears an uncanny resemblance to the events that kicked off Vigilante rule in Crook County.

"I can make a
six-shooter sing 'come to jesus'!"

Meet Robert Gordon Duncan, the pioneering Portland shock-jock who was the first person ever sent to prison for cursing on the air, in 1930.

This cover illustration from "Masked Rider Western," published in 1950, bears an uncanny resemblance to the events that kicked off Vigilante rule in Crook County.

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In Crook County, the early 1880s were like a Louis L'Amour novel. And it all started with the lynching of an innocent man.

The classic melodrama villain, with sleek silk hat and waxed handlebar mustache, in the act of evicting the poor widow and children from their freshly foreclosed family homestead. Except for the mustache, Oregon's longest-serving 19th-century senator fit the trope with remarkable precision.

Senator John H. Mitchell: Oregon's own real-life Snidely Whiplash

He abandoned his family, changed his name, moved to Oregon, bilked widows and orphans in two big real-estate swindles ... and was promptly elected to Congress.

The skull of the skeleton found in the Odd Fellows hall in Scio, which is now at Oregon State University. The skeleton was that of a hard-working man who died sometime between 1860 and 1890.

Mysterious skeletons of Oregon: If these bones could talk ...

A long-dead dry-land homesteader ... a medical specimen in an Odd Fellows lodge ... what are their stories? We'll never know.

Oregon inventor Victor Strode’s revolutionary boat, the 'aerohydrocraft,' made the front cover of the March 1931 issue of Popular Science. The design didn't prove a useful one for the City of Portland, though, and the larger model the city commissioned to function as a harbor police boat didn't work out.

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

A local inventor developed the "aerohydrocraft" design in the early 1930s. But when the city built one as an ambulance boat, it flopped.

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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.

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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.

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During a conjugal visit at a cheap motel, the prisoner escaped

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.

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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.

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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.

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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? . 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

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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.

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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

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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).

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

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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 ...

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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.

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.

Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Mob racketeers, corrupt union men battled over pinball

Many people today don't realize that in the 1950s, pinball had a bad reputation as a gambler's game and was as illegal as one-armed bandits. In Portland, shady underworld characters supplied Oregonians with plenty of both.

A spot-color ad from a 1948 trade journal, promoting the Bally
company's latest machines.

If you were a fan of the classic ABC television sitcom “Happy Days,” you know The Fonz had a special relationship with two particular machines: His trusty ’49 Triumph motorcycle, and the pinball machine in Al’s diner.

But it may surprise you to know that when Fonzie was playing that pinball machine, in 1950s Milwaukee, Wisc., he was breaking the law — and so was Al, by having the machine in his restaurant.

It’s a bit hard for younger Oregonians to believe, but just a few dozen years ago pinball was illegal in most large American cities — including Portland.

When coin-op pinball was first developed, it was mostly a game of chance, not skill. Early machines didn't even have flippers, so there was no way for the player to affect the game's outcome.

The Fonz shows his mastery of the pinball machine in an episode of ABC's
iconic TV show, "Happy Days." (Image: ABC)

But even after controls were added in the late 1940s, authorities still looked at a pinball machine as a straight-up low-stakes slot machine with some extra gewgaws attached to it to fool players into thinking it was innocuous.

And they may have been right about that — at least, in some cases. But after 1949, the illegal status of pinball was going to have some profound effects on Oregon’s underworld, especially in and around Portland. It would set the stage for a semi-comical battle between two of the Beaver State’s scuzziest racketeers.

Where pinball came from

Games like pinball had been around since at least the 1700s, but the coin-operated game was developed in the early 1930s, and by the end of the Great Depression they were a familiar sight in bars and malt shops pretty much everywhere.

But slot machines of the “one-armed bandit” type were getting to be a familiar sight in bars and malt shops, too. And as city authorities started cracking down on these in the 1940s, they also took a look at the pinball games.

In Batman Comic #44 (1947), the Joker devises a diabolical live pinball
game for Batman to play — demonstrating the then-popular vision of
pinball as vice . (Image: comictreadmill.com)

To be fair, pinball was mostly luck-based at first. That made it great for gambling operators, since it provided protection against some wizardly player coming to the table and using his or her mad skills to break the bank. So a number of bars had started letting patrons place bets and cash in extra games that they might win.

They’d quit doing that by the late 1940s, as improvements to the games had dramatically increased the amount of skill that was involved in the game and decreased the role of luck. But by then it was too late. The public-relations war had already been lost.

So in ’49, when the city of Portland outlawed the silver balls, pinball’s reputation was dark and sordid — and alluring. Authorities considered them “gateway machines” used by wicked, scheming men to lure innocent youths into the underworld of one-armed bandits, covert blackjack tables and other underworld wickedness. Rebellious youths, attracted by the forbidden-fruit effect, considered them great fun.

James “Big Jim” Elkins as he appeared in the
late 1950s. (Image: ptown books)

All of which meant that by the mid-1950s — the beginning of pinball’s glory days — pinball in the Portland area was strictly an outlaw enterprise. Games were supplied by criminal syndicates, sometimes in collaboration with corrupt local officials. And when those syndicates started fighting for market share, things could get pretty exciting.

The pinball wars

The pinball wars in the north Willamette Valley mostly centered around two racketeers, who supplied the machines that restaurants and bars used. There was Stan Terry, an old bootlegger whose pinball-and-slots syndicate covered mostly establishments south of Portland, in the Milwaukie area; and “Big Jim” Elkins, the self-styled vice boss of Portland itself.

The two of them, in a nutshell, coveted one another’s rackets. And they were both the kind of guys who go after what they want.

They started out in the early 1950s with surprise raids. Elkins, with five or six heavily armed goons, would barge into a bar with Terry’s machines in it, take all the money and as many of the machines as they could haul and disappear into the night. Then Terry would respond in kind. Apparently nobody got hurt in any of these tit-for-tat raids, but then again, they weren’t getting anywhere either.

Stan Terry, the pinball magnate who battled with
Big Jim Elkins for turf. (Image: ptown books)

So around 1955, Elkins escalated the battle by traveling to Seattle and asking the Teamsters Union for help. The Teamsters Union at that time was essentially an organized-crime syndicate, and was already running some machines in Portland under the direction of a short, stocky crook named Tom “Blubber” Maloney.

The Teamster scheme

Elkins couldn’t get an appointment with the head of the Teamsters in Seattle, so he reached out to Maloney instead. Holed up in the Roosevelt Hotel on Park Street, the two of them hatched a scheme: They’d set up a Teamsters-affiliated pinball operators union, lock Terry out of it and shut him down by denying him access to union trucking services and by throwing picket lines around his customers’ joints.

This was soon done, and a few weeks later, the Coin Machine Men of Oregon was formed. Almost immediately, it moved on the enemy: It summoned a picket line of Teamsters around the Mount Hood Café, a place with a bunch of Stan Terry’s machines in it.

The Vegas mafia gets involved

It was looking like the end for Stan Terry. Once the Teamsters started shutting down his customers, his remaining clients would leave in a hurry. In desperation, he went and talked to an old underworld buddy who’d worked for legendary former head Portland racketeer Al Winter before he’d left to open the Sahara Casino in Las Vegas. Terry’s friend had another friend who knew Hy Goldbaum, the pit boss at the Flamingo Casino — the mobbed-up joint in Vegas that had been started by the late Bugsy Siegel. Goldbaum personally escorted Terry to Seattle and introduced him to the head of the Teamsters — the guy Elkins hadn’t been able to get an appointment with.

A woman plays pinball in the Alpine Tavern in the town of
Alpine as a friend watches. This photo dates from the mid-1960s. (Image:
UO Libraries/ James Cloutier)

Some cash changed hands, and then a telephone rang in the Portland Teamsters' office, and the pickets were pulled from around the Mount Hood. Just like that, Elkins had lost, and now the Coin Machine Men of Oregon was the group on the outside, facing the prospect of pickets and “hot cargo” restrictions on its slots and pinball machines. At that point, it was checkmate: Elkins had no choice but to sell his machines and routes to Terry for whatever he could get. Terry, with the Teamsters, had run him out of the business.

But Elkins wasn’t done yet. He had another scheme up his sleeve to get the business back. All the business — whether the Teamsters liked it or not. And it was very simple.

Elkins’ desperate scheme

Elkins had made the acquaintance of a square-jawed goon named Herman “Bugsy” Burns. Now, he called up Burns and told him he had a job for him: He and some associates would pose as pinball-machine repairmen and start making the rounds to every joint with one or more of Stan Terry’s machines in it. Elkins already had the trucks and fake IDs that they’d need, and had lined up a big warehouse in North Portland where the machines could be hidden afterward. Everything was ready to go.

When the crew got to each joint, they’d tell the owner pretty much what The Grinch told Cindy Lou Who in Dr. Seuss’s classic “How The Grinch Stole Christmas”: The machines were being updated, so they were collecting the old ones, and another truck would be along in an hour or so with the new replacements.

Elkins figured if they were efficient, they could collect every single Stan Terry pinball machine before anybody figured out the scam, and then Terry would be out of business.

And it probably would have worked, too. But they’d never find out. Because Bugsy and his friends got bored while waiting for the signal to start the collection run, and decided to while away the time by knocking over a Safeway. Of course, they got caught.

Stan Terry kept his machines, and kept paying the Teamsters for the privilege. Big Jim Elkins was stuck on the outside looking in, perhaps thinking — as historian Phil Stanford wryly comments in his book — that “as ever, good help is so hard to find.”

(Sources: Stanford, Phil. Portland Confidential: Sex, Crime and Corruption in the Rose City. Portland: ptown books, 2004; Donnelly, Robert C. Dark Rose: Organized Crime and Corruption in Portland. Seattle: UW Press, 2011)

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