Posts Tagged ‘Columbus Day storm


Columbus Day Storm, 1962…Portland, Oregon

I recall no warning. In those days, we were not glued to techno notifications. My Mom was making dinner, my Dad was at work. The boys in the neighborhood were outside playing football after school. I remember where I was in the back yard. The sky took on an odd yellow, green, purple color. The winds picked up. As we threw the football, the pressure change is etched in my mind. Almost instantly, it seemed, a powerful wind unlike any other I have experienced in life, literally seemed to suck shingles off roofs and hold them in the air. Mothers came out of back doors and yelled for their children to come indoors.

Jacobs Ladder

Unearthly rays emanating from the point opposite the setting sun half hour before storm of Oct. 12, 1962 hit. Weather Bureau explains these as “Crepuscular rays, caused by sun shining through breaks in clouds, illuminating dust particles in air.” Similar phenomenon is sometimes called “Jacob’s Ladder,” because it seems to come down from heaven. Picture was taken by Mrs. Charles W. Myers from her room on top floor of Park Plaza, 1929 S.W. Park Ave. 4:40 P.M.

There was a sense of urgency. Perhaps something was being mentioned on radios playing in the house. I don’t know. Dads came home. Suddenly we were in the basement. To this day, I can’t imagine how my parents knew beyond their prior rural lives in Wisconsin or West Virginia. And for the next 15 hours we hunkered in the basement, beneath the stairs, in the dark as a roar went on and on. I recall my Dad venturing up the stairs, only briefly, and retreating beneath the stairs. The three of us, sat leaning back against the wall and listened to what had to be the world ending. I was 14 (yes I am that old!) and I still remember wondering what the neighborhood would look like when the dark went away. 


This was a familiar find in the morning, in our neighborhood. Not only were all the trees blown over, almost every one lost their chimney. I recall the sound of our chimney toppling over and hitting the driveway above us.

I know tornadoes and hurricanes and typhoons ravage regions often. But, in the Pacific NW, this is still the storm all other storms are measured by in this region and it still reigns supreme 52 years later! The winds gusts, sustained winds at times, hit 117 mph that night in Portland, as much as 179 mph on the Oregon Coast (Cape Blanco). Every tree along our street was laying this way and that in the morning. Dozens of Birch and Maple trees crisscrossed the street, wires down, and most amazing to me then, the sun shined bright. Men took saws and axes to try and clear the street. No one had a chain saw. None of those trees were ever replaced to this day.

Columbus Day 1 docudharma

In the end, 46 people died. By today’s monetary standards, the storm damage runs to $3-4 billion dollars in damage. Enough trees to build 1,ooo,ooo million homes were destroyed from the Pacific ocean shore as far as Montana…15 billion board feet of timber. Nothing has since equaled it in this region, let alone much of the country. 


Random Recollections of Years Gone By………..

I spent an enjoyable morning/afternoon talking to George Palmer and his lovely partner in life, ‘Patty’. George told me stories about Montana Fly fishing on the Thompson R., Rock Creek, Clarks Fork, in the 40’s and 50’s. George was the benefactor of a kindly doctor in Missoula, Montana, who staked him, at 6 years of age, to a metal, telescoping rod, reel and line plus flies from Bob Ward  Sporting Goods. Years later George used to hike up the Deschutes R. from the mouth in the early Fall and use the Joe’s Hopper for Summer Steelhead. A good afternoon would yield up to three hookups, but they often were not landed. Even years ago, he would chop a fly line in half and fish a shorter head to avoid drag as he swung the fly across the currents.

George recounted several harrowing experiences working for the U.S. Forest Service (Timber Lake, Oregon) in the 60’s and being stranded with a work crew up by the Bull of the Woods (Cascades) on October 12, 1962. The Columbus Day Storm tore through the NW with epic ferocity that day and stranded his work crew with only a vehicle for shelter as miles of trees about them were snapped to the ground. Other crews spent untold effort, after the storm passed, to cut through miles of trees to clear a path to rescue the work crew. Their safety was uncertain. In the end, their fellow Forest Service mates found them tired but safe.

Then there was the Christmas Day Flood of 1964, when George, his young family and many other families, stationed at the Timber Lake facility, were cut off from the outside world as the Clackamas River and its tribs wiped out roads, bridges and stranded the families for almost a month.

Also, interesting were George’s accounts of his father. A rodeo performer who traveled the West with other rodeo hands. They survived the hard times by often pooling their winnings so all could afford to travel by rail and eat. The father had learned to ride horse bareback and with no bridle from the native americans in Montana. George’s dad was one of the few rodeo hands that could ride bare back and sans the bridle. In later years, George would attend the Pendleton Roundup and sit with old rodeo hands. They all met to reminisce over the old days and would regale George with the exploits of his dad. Often these were very interesting stories his dad had not passed on.

It was a nice visit with a man, who does not get to wet a line much anymore but you can tell he misses it very much. I am sure, due to the din of noise in the restaurant I missed details and such, but I did not miss out on the memorable experiences of a man that fished the fabled waters way back when and was exposed to the remnants of the wilder West before the  developments. Thank you George. Let’s do that again soon.  

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