Go West Young Man, Go West
By James E. McEldowney
Teacher - Teacher Stories - Table of Contents India, Here We Come

Climbing Mount Hood, 1929
Which do you think was the most fun? Pitching a tent and sleeping out in the open? Working in a lumber camp? Climbing a great mountain? Looking at majestic waterfalls? Watching the Pacific ocean send its mighty waves against the Pacific Northwest? Getting home after a long trip? After you read this story try to decide which I enjoyed most.

It happened the summer between the two years I taught at Kensett. Wilbur Perkins had roomed with us a year at Simpson and we had kept in touch. He wrote, "I have an old Ford and I've been itching to go out west. Why don't we plan a trip together?"

Yes, he had an old Ford. A very old Ford, and when we decided to go west we took it to a garage and they said it would cost more than the car was worth to get it ready for the trip. Then the man at the garage said, "Why don't you buy a new Ford. You'll have a wonderful trip and you can pay for it as you go along." I told Wilbur I would make the payments during the summer and after the trip he could have the Ford and finish paying for it and that was what we did.

From Iowa we drove west. There were miles of grain fields in western Nebraska and Wilbur had relatives there who took us out to the combine that was harvesting the grain and said, "You'd better sty here. I'll give you good pay while the harvest is on." That was tempting but that work would last only a couple of weeks, so we drove on.

What would you do the first time you saw a mountain? You'd get out your camera and take a picture? That's what we did. Before long we were right in the mountains. That night we stopped at a little hotel in Fair Play, Colorado. We had to drain the radiator, otherwise the water would freeze and break it. We were up early the next day. We drove up over the continental Divide. It was summer but here were patches of snow. Wilbur said, "Stop!" Then before I knew it he jumped out of the car, ran to the snow bank and made a snow ball. "Come on," he said, "I challenge you to a snowball fight." Neither of us were very good shots so before long we went on through those wonderful mountains. At night we slept in our tent. After two more days we came to the Bridge of [++Page 13] the Gods that crossed the Columbia river just before we arrived in Stevenson, Washington. Out at the edge of the town was the Ryan Lumber Camp where we hoped to find work.

My uncle Will and other members of his family worked in this camp. We drove up to his house and what a welcome they gave us. They even said we could bunk in their living room, though their cottage was small. We hadn't any more than settled this when we took off on foot up the valley, to see what was there. We came to a mountain stream among trees. It was just what we wanted to find. Both of us stripped off our clothes and jumped in. That water had just come off melting snow and was it ever cold. We set a record getting out and getting dressed. Then we went back to the house and talked about work in the lumber camp.

We got jobs. We were having the time of our lives. One weekend we hiked up into the mountains to the place where they were cutting the giant Douglas fir trees for the mill. We saw them load the 75 foot logs onto a little train that brought them down the mountain to the mill to be cut into lumber.

Another weekend we went down near the locks on the Columbia river. There we saw what were called fish wheels, set in the edge of the river. The current of the river turned those large wheels in the water and they would pick up fish as they turned. They dropped them in the little room along side. The ain in charge said he could not keep sturgeon fish that were less than four pounds and he tossed a couple of them out on the bank. Then he as much as said, he would not object if we would pick them up. We did just that and when we got back to the camp I cleaned them, cooked and canned them to take back to Iowa.

My most unforgettable weekend was the fourth of July. Wilbur and I left right after work the night of the third and drove to Government Camp on the slope of Mount Hood. We rented alpine sticks and joined up with two boys who were also climbing to the top during the night. We left the Camp about nine o'clock. It was dark as we climbed through the trees up to Timber Line Lodge, which was as high as trees grew on the slope of the mountain. The lodge was a log cabin with a few bunks in it and there were already some climbers there. We slept a couple of hours. Then we started for the top and arrived just as it was getting light. There was a little cabin right at the top, held down by strong cables because at time the wind was very strong. At first we were disappointed because it was foggy. Before long the sun broke through and it seemed like we could see the whole world. Far to the south we saw the Three Sisters and Mount Jefferson. We turned and looked north. There in the changing colors of the morning were three mountains: Mount Rainier, Adams and Saint Helens.

We stayed a couple of hours talking with other climbers before we started down. I had high boots on that I wore in the lumber [++Page 14] camp. When I came to patches of snow I would lie back on my alpine stick and the soles of my boots served as skis and I would whiz down the mountain. Then all at once one of my feet dropped into a depression and I fell flat on my face but I did not stop sliding. My alpine stick went off in one direction and I was headed for an outcropping of rocks straight ahead. I tried desperately to stop. The other fellows were ahead of me. They lined up in the front of the rocks and caught me before I crashed into them. When I stood up and looked at my hands, they were covered with blisters because the top of the snow as like sandpaper.

A few days after we returned to camp I had a telegram from my father. "Come home at once. We are both hurt and your mother is in the hospital." What a disappointment, but we thought we should leave. After we got ready to go I had further word that my mother was out of danger. So Wilbur and I decided to return by way of the west coast.

At Crescent City, California we drove out on the beach near the breakers. That was the first time I had seen an ocean. How trilled I was to see the Pacific. We gathered up a few shells and drove on. Almost at once we were among the giant redwood trees. At night we got out our tent and heard the gentle breeze making its music among the trees. So it continued all the way to San Francisco. I had expected to have mail there with a report on mother, but there was no word. We did take half a day to see some of the sights of the city, and then we jumped in the car and during the next two days we drove right across to Salt Lake City. We do go off the road once to drive on the salt beds for a few miles near Salt Lake city. At Salt Lake City I had mail waiting. Mother was getting better. So we went up to Yellowstone Park. That is where we really used our tent, our Coleman gas stove and fishing equipment. But that is another story I may tell someday.

We had a glorious time watching Old Faithful and catching fish for our meals and then we drove out past Cody and the Snake River and back through the Rockies until we reached Iowa once more.

When I got home late Saturday evening I went to the door and mother met me. "We don't take in any strangers here," she said. I was so tanned from working in the sun she didn't recognize me. In a moment she knew who I was and welcomed. Me. I had hardly gotten in the house before she said, "We leave for Robert's Monday morning." Her first grandchild, Phyllis, and Robert's first child was less than a week old. So we left for Stambaugh, Michigan on Monday.

I hope you can take a trip out through the west sometime and you may be able to climb mountains, to sleep in the open, but you may not be able to work in lumber camps because there are few of them now. I had a grand time and was ready to teach at Kensett again the first of September, 1930.[by James E. McEldowney, August 1997]

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