Columbus Day Storm

ArtsWatch Weekly: eyeballing the state of the state

Vision 2020, new/old Five Oaks Museum, music of Second Winter, blood sweat & fears at the theater, storm of the (last) century

HERE AT ARTSWATCH WE’RE ENTERING THE 2020s NOT WITH A WHIMPER BUT A BANG. On New Year’s Day we began a series called Vision 2020 – twenty interviews in twenty days with arts and cultural figures around Oregon, creating a group portrait of the state of the arts in the state. It looks at where we’ve been, where we are, and what might or should happen culturally in the coming decade.

Yulia Arakelyan of Wobbly Dance in a scene from Wobbly’s film Tidal. Photo: Kamala Kingsley

We started planning for this series several months ago, looking for potential voices that are insightful, informed, and sometimes provocative. We wanted to hear not just from the Portland area, but from around Oregon. And we wanted to dig deep. Some of the people we’ve interviewed are well-known artists. Some you might never have heard of. Some work behind the scenes. Some are up-and-coming. Several are from vital communities that have been under-recognized. All are creating significant chapters in the Oregon Story.

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Remembering the Big Blow

Book author John Dodge will speak in Cannon Beach about the 1962 Columbus Day Storm and its effect on Oregon and its wine and timber industries

On Oct. 12, 1962, the strongest windstorm in the recorded history of the West Coast battered the Pacific Northwest, claiming lives, destroying homes and businesses, and decimating farmland and forest — the latter resulting in an unexpected silver lining of sorts. John Dodge was 14 at the time, living in the Olympia area with his family. He would go on to a 40-year, award-winning career in journalism, serving as columnist, editorial page writer, and investigative reporter for The Olympian before retiring in 2015.

John Dodge says many people who attend his talks about the Columbus Day Storm are seeking closure for the event they lived through 58 years ago. Dodge was a teenager living in Olympia when the storm hit in 1962.

In 2018, Oregon State University Press published his book, A Deadly Wind: The 1962 Columbus Day Storm.  Dodge will kick off the Cannon Beach History Center & Museum’s lecture series on Jan. 16 with a presentation about that deadly day.

The free talk will be from 4 to 5 p.m.  Plan to arrive early, as no one will be admitted after 4:15.

We talked with Dodge about his memories and his research. His comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Where were you when the storm hit?

I was at a football game and right before kickoff, a state trooper came out and told everyone to go home — a big storm is coming. Right about then, the lights went out and the winds kicked up. We lived in the woods in a very rural area on property with a lot of Douglas firs. Our fear was our house was really vulnerable and we didn’t think it would be safe there. So our family went to a friend’s house in a suburban development. Then a tree came down. We were lucky not to be in the room where the tree fell. Later, after the storm had passed, Dad and I got in our truck and drove back to the house. Lo and behold, there were trees all over, but nothing hit the house. It was one of those ironies, we went to a house to get safe from the trees only to be struck by a tree.

Among the casualties of the 1962 Columbus Day storm was the Campbell Hall bell tower at the Oregon College of Education (now Western Oregon University) in Monmouth. The iconic photo shot by college student Wes Luchau illustrates the cover of John Dodge’s book, “A Deadly Wind.”

What is notable for you about the storm?

Most notable is that it seems the number of fatalities and injuries could have been much greater. There were a lot of “there but for the grace of God go I” type of experiences. I tallied 63 direct and indirect deaths. Indirect would be folks who died of, say, a heart attack the next day cleaning up debris or someone who fell off their roof trying to attach a TV antenna. Direct deaths — people who died in the storm — are closer to 46. There were 300 serious injuries requiring someone to be hospitalized.

We’re used to some big wind here on the Coast. How big was this?

The highest peak winds were probably at Cape Blanco (four miles north of Port Orford) on the headland. There was a Coast Guard station there. Their wind gauge blew out before the worst of the winds arrived. When it blew out, they had already recorded a 145 mph gust. Most of those at the station thought the winds hit 175 to 185 mph gusts. There were sustained winds of over 110 mph. That would be the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane. Ground zero of the storm was the Willamette Valley. You’ll find the most harrowing stories coming from Salem, Eugene, Corvallis, and Portland. People succumbed to the wind all the way to Vancouver, B.C.

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Ill wind blows good wood for Newport museum

A theater in the Pacific Maritime Heritage Center is being trimmed with old-growth Douglas fir blown down in the 1962 Columbus Day Storm

The Lincoln County Historical Society scored big time in 2004 when it bought a historic, French chateau overlooking the Newport bayfront. The 30,000-square-foot building with gabled roof needed work — one of the reasons the Newport nonprofit was able to buy it at a bargain-basement price — but that view, that setting, the history.

A member of the volunteer team of “old guys” works, sander in hand, at the Pacific Maritime Heritage Center. The rough-sawn wood behind him will be sanded just enough to leave a rough texture to match trim work throughout the building. Photo courtesy: Steve Wyatt

It wasn’t just the historical society that scored, so did the county. In what became the Pacific Maritime Heritage Center, it gained a museum, retained a piece of history, and saved a structure that otherwise might have faced demo crews.

Another layer of history is being added to the story. Wooden finish work is about to begin in the 2,000-square-foot Doerfler Family Theater. This is not just any old wood, but old-growth Douglas fir from trees downed atop Cape Foulweather by the 1962 Columbus Day storm. The trees were recently helicoptered out of the grove and milled at Siletz River Lumber.

Historical Society board member Bud Shoemake knew about the salvage operation and helped broker the deal for the wood. Oregonencyclopedia.org reports that after the storm, during which winds in Newport hit 138 mph, Congress passed special funding to accelerate salvage of the 11 billion to 17 billion board feet of lumber that was blown down so it wouldn’t rot. How this grove survived earlier salvaging or rot is a question to which I haven’t yet found an answer.

“It’s just amazing, gorgeous,” said Steve Wyatt, executive director of the Historical Society, describing the wood. “Just straight grain. There is not a knot of any kind in this beautiful wood.”

The 1,524 board feet of lumber will be used for extensive trim work, wainscoting, door casings, and grid work on the theater ceiling.

“In keeping with this historic property, the finish work will be similar in style to the trim work already completed on the main floor of the museum, only with a higher level of refinement,” Wyatt said.

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