Archive for August, 2011

UNDER MY OWN NOSE

August 26, 2011

A week working close to home–Eugene and Junction City.  One day on Highway 99 research in the Knight Library on the University of Oregon campus.  Another doing an interview  with a former trailer park owner from Junction City.  Still another collecting a story from a local musician with a long history at The Embers, a nightclub and restaurant on Highway 99. 

Even close to home, I find I’m taken in directions I didn’t expect.  Out on Highway 99, between Eugene and Junction City, almost on the railroad tracks at the corner of Hwy. 99 and Meadowview, there is a disintegrating old railroad building.  For all the years I’ve driven by it, I assumed it was one of those where equipment was stored.  Now, with a couple of research books in front of me, I am almost convinced it was the Meadow View Depot for the passengers and freight of the Oregon Electric Railway.  The almost is because the building is missing some of the decorative attributes in the picture which would have been taken before 1933.      

I didn’t expect to be writing about the electric trains in Oregon, the precursors to both the Pacific Highway and Highway 99 but the electric cars are so interwoven with the growth of the city, they cannot b e ignored. 

Although I’ve had several good meals at the Eugene Electric Station, I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to the history of the building.  Since I’ve begun reading about the Oregon Electric Railway during its peak years from 1905 to 1925,  it’s obvious I do need to revisit that time and place in my writing about the history of  Eugene. 

The depot itself was designed by A.E. Doyle of Portland, Oregon’s best known architect at the time and is a National Historic Site.  The trains were plush and impressive.    At this point in my research, it’s already very clear, I have an obligation to make a return visit to the Station for an in person study, and maybe another meal.

UNKNOWN WORLDS

August 12, 2011

Once in awhile the most interesting adventures happen close to home.  This week included one of those.   

It began because I had a gap of several years in the Highway 99 story.  I knew when the road was built over the Siskiyou Pass, 1915, and I had the story of the maintenance foreman moving into the state owned house in 1939 but nothing between.  No clues showed up in reference books or shared stories. 

I  began my quest seriously, knowing two things: the Transportation Commission was required to make a biennial report and that some of those reports are archived at The University of Oregon in the Knight Library.  There must be a money trail.

Not having been a student at the University of Oregon, I wasn’t familiar with the very large campus but knowing it’s the week when students are gone or in the process of leaving, I decided it was my chance.  My parking space, when I finally found one, was only a mile or so from campus.  Map in hand, I started through the maze of student apartments surrounding the campus buildings.  Amazing what departing students leave on curbs or by overflowing dumpsters.  So much to see and absorb along the way.  I guess I just didn’t have so much stuff when I finished.

Surprising one of the few students still walking through the grounds, I got directions to the entrance of the massive Knight Library building, then from the information desk to the Special Collections Room. 

Very impressive with tall ceilings, walls lined with bookshelves, ornate wall carvings, big tables with a few serious people quietly sorting and reading a variety of materials.    I could have been in Europe, or maybe an old church. 

The businesslike and knowledable woman who helped me said she would be back and left the room for some unknown destination.  I thought about a basement with numbered rooms–a cave wouldn’t have seemed inappropriate.  Eventually a student assistant I’d noticed coming and going returned with a large cart–seven books of biennial reports and four large cardboard boxes.  I didn’t get to the boxes.   I’ll go back next week.

I did find a clue.  In 1926, The Engineer’s report says there are six maintenance patrols in the state and housing for the foreman and helper is provided in isolated areas.  Surely that would include the Siskiyou Mountain.  (At that time the engineer was including only The Pacific Highway, (Highway 99)

I still don’t know where the housing came from.  Did the State Transportation Commission build it?  Move it?  The secret must be in those four cardboard boxes–Next weeks excursion–or one of the excursions.

ALONG THE ROAD

August 7, 2011

U.S. Highway 99, which began its life as the Pacific Highway, was built to connect the three most western states to each other, California, Oregon and Washington.  It did more than that, it connected the settlements and little towns to each other.  Not near as efficient as the current Freeway but it gave us a way to travel between towns and areas and it allowed products to come into the towns from all over the country.

Businesses to meet the needs and desires of the local residents as well as passing travelers, were established and did well if the effort was expended. 

One of those, with it roots on Highway 99 was celebrated in our local newspaper this morning.  Jerry’s, our local Do-It-Yourself and home town lumber and hardware store is celebrating its fiftieth birthday.  Not only has it been in business 50 years, it has been 50 years on Hwy 99.     

Highway 99 through Eugene was moved from River Road and its flood problems in 1936.  The new route was north on 6th St. through the city to the west side where it rejoined southbound 7th St. to become just Hwy 99 again as it headed north to Junction City.

It was on this north end of town, past many businesses and developments that Jerry and Merle Orem founded Jerry’s Ace Hardware Store on Hwy 99. 

Ace Hardware was not a franchise but a centralized purchasing organization to supply members’ stores.   It was founded in 1924, in Chicago, Illinois and named for the Ace fighter pilots of World War I.  By 1949, the retail network had expanded to hundreds of dealers.  In fact, in a drive along Hwy 99 there was hardly a  town without an Ace Hardware  and they weren’t limited to just the towns on the Highway.   Now they are international although the structure of the company has changed.

During the 1980′ Jerry’s was facing major market changes.  With big box stores and national chains crowding out many family owned businesses, the Orem family  took the gamble, moved a few blocks down the road and built a new store that offers lower prices, more selection and a focus on do-it-yourselfers.  We have been shopping at Jerry’s since we moved to the Eugene area in the sixties and gladly followed them when they moved into the new store.  50 years in a family owned business is rare and worthy of a celebration.  ( They have also opened a second store-this one in neighboring Springfield.  Although I hope it is successful, it is not of the same interest for me because it’s not on Hwy 99, not as accessible to the people from south, north, and west who come to shop, almost in their own expanded neighborhood.)