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This hunk of pallasite came from the same 1820 meteor strike in Chile that many scientists believe was the source of the 'sample' Dr. John Evans claims he chipped off the Port Orford Meteorite when he found it. Was the meteorite a fraud? Many think so; others think not.

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.

This hunk of pallasite came from the same 1820 meteor strike in Chile that many scientists believe was the source of the 'sample' Dr. John Evans claims he chipped off the Port Orford Meteorite when he found it. Was the meteorite a fraud? Many think so; others think not.

port orford meteorite: a hoax? or is it still out there somewhere?

The man who found it was in financial trouble; did he really find an 11-ton, $300-million rock, or did he make it all up so he could stay employed? 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.

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

The man behind Oregon's most famous bridges.

Conde McCullough's genius was in getting the most gorgeous bridge to also be the cheapest, over the long term. Here's the story.

The steamer Telephone, fastest boat on the river in the 1880s and possibly the world -- until it burned to the waterline one day.

riverboat captain had to choose: save passengers, or save his boat?

The steamboat Telephone caught fire at the widest spot in the Columbia; the decision must not have been too tough, because Captain U.B. Scott didn't hesitate for a moment. Here's what happened.

A shallow-draft riverboat of the type pioneered by Uriah B. Scott, on the river at Albany around 1900 or so.

Turns out the 'ignoramus from back east' knew what he was doing.

The big steamboat outfits laughed at the crude, ugly riverboat Uriah B. Scott was building ... until he used it to eat their lunch. Here's how.

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

The four-masted schooner North Bend, stranded on a sandy spit, 'sailed' through two and a half miles of sand and relaunched itself on the other side.

The stranded sailing ship that salvaged and re-launched itself.

The North Bend was the last tall ship ever built on the West Coast. When it ran aground on Peacock Spit, it just kept on sailing through the sand, crossing two miles of sandy beach to reach Baker Bay. It took over a year. Here's the story.

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.

Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Coast Guard catastrophe sprang from bad boat design

Bafflingly, the Coast Guard's biggest rescue boat on the Columbia River Bar was one that hadn't been designed to survive a rollover. So, in early 1961, it didn't — and neither did five members of its six-man crew.

Editor's Note: This column is part 2 of a 2-part series on this incident. To read Part 1, click here.
Coast Guard motor lifeboat MLB Triumph II
Crew members of the Coast Guard motor lifeboat Triumph II lay a
wreath on the sea in a 2008 memorial service commemorating the loss
of the first Triumph’s crew members 47 years earlier. (Photo: David
Marin/U.S. Coast Guard)

When the call came in at the Point Adams Life Station on the night of Jan. 12, 1961, engineman Gordon Huggins was about to go off shift. Two boats out of Cape Disappointment, a 36-foot motor lifeboat and a 40-foot utility boat, were trying to rescue a rudderless fishing boat, the Mermaid. They needed a more powerful vessel to take the boat in tow. The “Cape D” crew was asking for the 52-foot motor lifeboat Triumph, the biggest and most powerful rescue boat available, to go take over the tow. The seas were burly, but nothing too alarming … yet. It all sounded pretty routine.

Huggins was the new guy at the station, and he was eager to get some experience in the 52-footer. So he asked the engineman on duty, a veteran of many rescues, if he could take his place.

Huggins would have wanted to spend as much time with the Triumph as possible, because he didn’t have any experience with this type of motor lifeboat. He couldn’t have; the boat was almost unique. Only one other 52-footer like it was built — and there was a reason they didn’t build more.

In most circumstances, the wooden 52-footers were fantastic rescue boats. They certainly looked, felt and handled as if they could take on anything.

But astonishingly, the 52-footers were not self-righting. Flip one over, and it would stay over. And not only that, but there was no provision to prevent seawater from flooding the air intake for the boat’s diesel engines if it did flip over, so even if you could get it back right-side-up, it was still done for.

(By the way, the Coast Guard later developed a steel 52-foot MLB, which was a phenomenally effective and excellent boat. This was a completely different design, and the only thing it shared with the Triumph was overall length.)

Now, granted, the boat was extraordinarily stable. It would take tremendous force to roll it over, and it was large and powerful — able to rescue up to 160 people at a go. It certainly was useful on rescues. But it’s hard to understand why the Coast Guard thought it would be OK to station a boat like this in the one spot on the North American continent where any motor lifeboat, of any size, can count on being rolled at least once.

Five Coasties were about to pay the tab for that decision.

Doomed boat races to the rescue

Out to sea the Triumph chugged. The seas were much bigger now; the boat was clawing its way over (and through) the tops of 35-foot breakers as it made its way seaward.

Point Adams Coast Guard life station in the early 1970s
Point Adams Life Station in Hammond as it appeared in the early
1970s, a decade or so after the Triumph was stationed there. (Photo:
U.S. Coast Guard)

Finally it reached the 40-foot utility boat, which had been dragging the Mermaid through the sea for two and a half hours. Because it had lost its rudder, the Mermaid had to trail crab pots behind it to increase its drag, to keep tension on the tow line and prevent the rudderless boat from yawing out to the side and being rolled by a wave. The 40-footer didn’t have the power to pull all that stuff through the sea fast enough to get much of anywhere. The rescuers hoped the bigger 52-footer would.

By now the waves were breaking all the way across the bar. So as the Triumph took over the tow and started pulling on the Mermaid, the 40-footer, accompanied by the 36-foot motor lifeboat, started heading for shore.

As the two boats reached the line of breakers across the mouth of the river, visibility got bad enough that they lost sight of each other. The faster 40-footer was in front, the slower 36-footer behind, but it didn’t much matter how fast the two boats were; you could only cross the bar as fast as the waves would let you.

First disaster of the night

As the boats got to the most dangerous point in the crossing, a trio of giant swells came up behind the boats and broke over the bar. The first two were fearsome, but slipped beneath the boats before they broke. The third did not.

On the 40-footer, crew member Darrell Murray looked behind and saw a huge breaker bearing down on them from behind. Fifty years later, at the age of 76, looking back on an entire career of rescuing people on the Columbia River Bar, Murray still remembered this one particular wave as the biggest breaker he’d ever seen, in an interview with journalist Erika Weisensee.

It could have been worse. It could have broken over the transom of the 40-footer. But instead, it broke right behind — probably because Murray got on the throttle trying to get out of the way. The boiling foam picked the stern of the boat up high into the air and it rocketed down the wave face like a surfboard — and the bow lanced into the sea in front of it, and the breaker pushed the stern up and over and down.

The three Coast Guardsmen managed to get out from under the upside-down boat and clung to it, waiting to be swept off by the next massive comber — waiting, essentially, for death.

Then the 36-footer came over a wave, slamming hard into the upside-down 40, and its crew members pulled all three of them to safety.

Six rescuers make it — just barely

But now the 36-footer was in trouble, too. Its aft compartment had sprung a leak in the collision with the 40-footer, and was now filling up with water. Giving up on crossing the bar, the Coast Guardsmen turned around, leaving the upside-down 40 behind, and headed for the Columbia River Lightship as fast as they could go — which, as the aft compartment filled up more and more with water, was not very fast.

By the time they got there, the aft deck was fully awash. They moored there and clambered aboard the big lightship, grateful to be alive. The next morning, they found the motor lifeboat had completely sunk and disappeared.

By this time, the Triumph was long gone.

Trapped in a sinking boat

The big motor lifeboat had snapped its tow line to the Mermaid, which was then carried by the relentless wind into the breakers on Peacock Spit — which by this time were enormous. Well, no motor lifeboat crew was afraid to go into breakers; that’s what motor lifeboats were made for, right?

Not this one.

Gordon Huggins, the engineman, had gone below decks to take care of a nosebleed when he felt the boat roll onto its side. He thought nothing of it — until the boat paused a moment and then finished the roll. Huggins stood there on the ceiling, now thoroughly alarmed. The engine conked out, of course, and a few minutes later the lights went out. He was left in the inky blackness, with water slowly leaking in through the companionway. He tried to open it, but it wouldn’t budge: the pressure of the water held the hatches closed. He was trapped.

Several minutes later, miraculously, another wave hit the boat and rolled it back upright. Huggins tried the latch again and this time it opened for him. He was alone. Everyone else was gone.

Huggins stayed with the boat as long as he could as the wind blew it closer to Peacock Spit. He knew he would inevitably end up in the 50-degree water, and that when he did, he’d have about 15 minutes before he’d go hypothermic and die. Every minute that the boat stayed upright, drifting closer to the shore, was another five minutes or so that he wouldn’t be trying to swim through the freezing surf, so he rode it as long as he could.

Then another giant wave hit the Triumph and rolled it again, pitching Huggins into the sea. He floated in his life jacket, eyes on the breakers, curling up into a ball whenever one approached, getting colder and colder.

Then he felt the sandy bottom beneath him and staggered ashore on Peacock Spit. He was the only survivor of the Triumph’s crew.

Mermaid pounded to pieces

Two more 36-foot motor lifeboats from Point Adams came and tried to take the Mermaid and its crab pots in tow. Again, they made almost no progress. Finally a huge comber broke over the Mermaid, snapping the tow line and somersaulting the helpless fishing boat, breaking it into pieces. On board were the two brothers who owned the boat, and one member of the Triumph’s crew who they’d rescued.

The Coast Guard searched all night for survivors, but found nothing. The total death toll was seven — five of the six Triumph crew members, plus the brothers from the Mermaid.

Was the 36-footer really lost?

There’s a sort of odd afterword to this story. Remember the 36-foot motor lifeboat that sank after just barely getting the six Coast Guard guys to the lightship? According to an old motor-lifeboat Coastie named Thomas Dye, that wasn’t the end of its story. According to Dye, the sunken boat actually washed ashore by the Nehalem River and was claimed by a local fisherman named Wes Shelton. Dye says he bought it in 1975 after recognizing it by its serial number as the lost motor lifeboat from the Triumph incident.

Dye said he sold the boat sometime in the early 2000s. When last he heard, Dye said the historic vessel was being used as a pleasure boat by a fellow in Garibaldi.

(Sources: Noble, Dennis. Rescued by the Coast Guard. Annapolis: Naval Institute, 2005; Weisensee, Erika. “50th Anniversary: One of Coast Guard’s greatest sea tragedies,” Natural Resource Report, Jan. 10, 2011; correspondence from Tom Dye, BMCS, USCG )