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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.

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).


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.


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THE SHIPWRECK VICTIMS WHO THOUGHT THEY WERE GONERS ... UNTIL A TRAIN SHOWED UP.

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.


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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 ...


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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.


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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 ...


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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.


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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

Dory fisherman rescues stranded sailors — from Coast Guard boat

The conditions were too rough even for the legendary Coast Guard 36-foot motor lifeboat to make it through the breakers, so a fisherman brought them ashore two by two in his rowboat.

The lumber schooner Willapa, then named the Florence Olson, under
way a few years after its 1917 launching. The festive décor and the
large number of passengers suggest this image may have been
made at the ship’s launching. (Image: Superior Publishing) [Larger
image: 1600 x 857 px
]

If you had to ride out a major storm at sea off the Oregon coast, what vessel would you choose? Here are your choices: A 1,185-ton steam schooner; a 36-foot U.S. Coast Guard motor lifeboat; or an 18-foot fishing dory.

Easy question, right? Not for the 24 sailors and officers aboard the 1,185-ton steam schooner Willapa — whose lives were saved, two by two, by a fishing dory in skilled hands one stormy morning in 1941 off Port Orford.

Here’s what happened:

In 1941, the Willapa was one of the last of a dying breed — the wooden steam schooners that had been the mainstay of West Coast lumber shipping since about 1890. These were small, maneuverable steamships, ranging from 90 to 200 feet or so in length. They had to be tiny, to fit into the “doghole” ports they worked out of, but that left them unusually vulnerable when nasty weather came along. Of the several hundred of these that were built, the overwhelming majority ended up on rocks or beach, or simply pounded apart by enormous seas while wallowing along with tons of lumber piled on their decks.

A 36-foot U.S. Coast Guard Type T motor lifeboat under way in
New York Harbor. Type T motor lifeboats were built in the late
1920s and into the 1930s, and the rescue boat that came to retrieve
the Willapa’s crew was most likely of this type. It is easy to
imagine the difficulties involved with loading 24 people onto a boat
like this. (Image: U.S. Coast Guard) [Larger image: 1200 x 969 px]

And that’s exactly what happened to the Willapa on the black, stormy night of Dec. 1, 1941 (actually, it was probably the very-early morning of Dec. 2).

The Willapa was getting to be an old vessel, which may have contributed to her breakup; she was built at Kruse and Banks in North Bend during World War I. Now, on the eve of World War II, her career was over. The persistent pounding of the waves finally started opening up seams, and water started pouring in.

Captain Oscar Peterson ordered distress flares fired off. The dying ship lit up the skies with rockets, one after another, until the lot of them was gone and the ship left in inky, stormy blackness.

Luckily, the Coast Guard lookout saw the show and scrambled the rescue crews into one of the service’s legendary 36-foot motor lifeboats. Out to sea they went to see what they could do. But by this time, the Willapa was out of flares, and the lifeboat crew could find nothing on the mountainous seas. Surely at some point the rescuers must have given the ship up for lost, but they kept searching until morning came.

A fisherman named Don readies his dory, the Osprey, for a day’s
fishing at Pacific City. This modern plywood dory sports an outboard
motor; the dory used to rescue the Willapa’s crew would have been
powered by oars and probably was a lapstrake boat, but shared the
general dimensions and lines: a towering bow to tame the breakers
and a deep-cut transom to shunt away a following sea.
(Image: home.comcast.net/~dorypage)

In the light of dawn, the lifeboat crew found the stricken Willapa — and got there just in time. Now well and truly dead, the Willapa was fully awash, boilers out, getting ready to roll over. Being made of wood, she wasn’t going to sink — but she wouldn’t be of any use at all for life preservation floating upside down in thirty-foot seas and covered with barnacles. Moreover, in the 50-degree waters off the Oregon coast, it’s the cold that does the real killing. The men had to be taken off that ship, immediately.

So into (and onto!) the 36-footer piled all 24 crew members. By the time the last one was rescued, the ship was on its side, almost all the way under. Theoretically, the thing to do would have been to take 12 men at a time. But had they done that, the other 12 would not have been alive when the lifeboat returned for them.

So, crammed with men like a can of sardines, the motor lifeboat worked its way back toward the shore. In the giant offshore swells, it was still good and seaworthy, though overloaded. But the lifesaving crew knew when they got to the breakers near the shore, it would all be over in a few seconds. There just wasn’t enough freeboard to get the overloaded boat through them and safely to land.

The Willapa under way with no deck load, probably sometime in the
1920s. (Image: Superior Publishing) [Larger image: 1800 x 984 px]

(There may have been other problems with the boat as well, although the sources don't say so. On paper, a 36-foot motor lifeboat should have been more than capable of taking 24 men to shore. But for whatever reason, on this particular day, this particular "MLB" was not.

Enter the fisherman. His name was James Combs; he had a fishing dory, the type famously used by the fishermen at Cape Kiwanda, and he knew how to use it — according to James Gibbs, he “handled it like a row boat in a mill pond.” Out through the surf he went, rowing the 800 yards past the breakers to the wallowing lifeboat just beyond. There he took on two passengers, and rowed back. Then he did it again.

And again. And again.

Eventually, Combs had enough of the surplus crew members off the motor lifeboat that the rescue vessel could safely bring the rest in to shore. And yes, every single one of them survived. There were no casualties in this wreck.

U.S. Coast Guard small boats and craft, information listed by type.
This photo links to the U.S. Coast Guard's informational Website
detailing all Coast Guard small craft used throughout the agency's
history.

As for the Willapa, it broke up in just a few hours, and a couple days later started washing up on shore as driftwood.

So, what’s your call? The steam schooner, the motor lifeboat or the dory?

Of course, if the steam schooner hadn’t been old and tender, it would probably have been just fine. And if the motor lifeboat hadn’t been packed with so many castaways it was barely seaworthy, it would have been a fine choice — for most of us, the best choice.

But if it came with an experienced Oregon Coast dory fisherman like James Combs at the oars, you might just be better off in a little open fishing boat.

(Sources: Gibbs, James. Shipwrecks of the Pacific Coast. Portland: Binford, 1957; Newell, Gordon & al. Pacific Lumber Ships. Seattle: Superior, 1960; Marshall, Don. Oregon Shipwrecks. Portland: Binford, 1984)