2001: Oregon

Tillamook & Astoria



We've moved 120 miles up Highway 101 to Tillamook. This is serious (and aromatic) dairy country, where black-and-white is a fashion statement. When they say, "Got milk?" here, it's an order! We have cows, roosters, more cows, horses, and even more cows as neighhhh-bors in our RV park. We visited the Tillamook Cheese Factory, and it was, well, pretty cheesy. They have a self-guided tour where you mostly watch cheese moving on conveyer belts while ladies in hair nets do mysterious things to it. I was reminded of Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory. The real purpose of the tour is to sell you ice cream, chatchkes, and of course cheese.

We spent a day exploring the museums in Tillamook, a city with a strong interest in history. We started with the Pioneer Museum, a little building crammed with a fascinating and eclectic collection of things old. Most of the contents have been donated by local residents over the years; there was a whole section of memorabilia from World Wars I and II, uniforms and firearms and medals all belonging to former servicement of Tillamook. Especially chilling was a display case of German and Nazi items, including swastika armbands; I'd never seen any before. Other items included wonderful china, carnival glass, vintage hats and clothing, blacksmith and logging tools, buggies and cars, local Indian artifacts, and a disturbingly large collection of taxidermy.

Tillamook Blimp Hangar. Tillamook Blimp Hangar.

On to the Air Museum, housed in the Tillamook blimp hangar, one of seven remaining blimp hangars in the U.S.; our own Moffett Field in Sunnyvale has two of the seven. The Air Museum, opened in 1994, owns a fabulous collection of operational vintage aircraft from the two World Wars and beyond. The AT-6 "Texan"is a trainer aircraft that my bomber-pilot father probably flew while training. Because of its similarity to Japanese fighters, it has been used extensively in war movies such as "Tora, Tora, Tora".

We browsed another great collection of military and aviation-related memorabilia, with a wealth of information about the history of dirigibles in both commercial and military use. Did you know that the U.S. has a world monopoly on the production of helium? It comes from gas fields in Texas, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Kansas, all controlled by the U.S. government.

You probably think the Goodyear Blimp is pretty big, right? A wall chart in the air museum shows the relative sizes of blimps over the years. The Goodyear checks in at 190 feet long; the Hindenberg was a staggering 803 feet, over four times as long!

Finally, we learned for the first time of a WWII defense plan of vital significance to the nation. Recognizing that their stock of high-grade dairy cows was important to the county's future, the Tillamook farmers organized a plan to evacuate the cattle in the event of enemy attack. They outlined several routes through the mountains utilizing old logging roads and hunting trails, and designated assembly areas and trail crews to herd the pampered dairy stock to safety. The plan was never implemented, but presumably the farmers are ready for the next eventuality. Sleep well, America; you've got -- and will continue to have -- milk.

We also visited Butterflies Forever in Seaside, a soothing garden and -- butter-arium? Whatever its proper title, it is an enclosure filled with flowers and butterflies, operated by a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising and protecting the insects. These butterflies weren't free, but they and their beautiful garden home were very good for the soul.

Our trip to Seaside granted us some more spectacular coastline views. But along the way, I concluded that Satan has a serious foothold in northwest Oregon. The first inkling of trouble came at The Devil's Elbow, a state park just north of Florence on 101. I shrugged it off as colorful and harmless. But not far up the road, we encountered The Devil's Churn; and only a few miles later, the Devil's Punchbowl. Could this be coincidence? My suspicions grew. The clincher came in the hamlet of Lincoln City, where a sign trumpeting Devil's Lake stood just yards from the Faith Baptist Church! Baptists, get busy; you're falling down on the job.

Moving day, always a joy. Stow the loose items, crank up the jacks, stash the cat, hitch up and giddy-up.

Husband: "Can I bring in the slide-outs?"
Wife: "Hmmm....can you give me a few more minutes?"
Husband: "OK." Pause. "It's just that I'm out of things to do."
Wife: "Well, if you need a job, why don't you secure the loose things in the fridge?"
Husband: "OK." Pause. "I have a few more things to do outside. I"ll come back in and do that."

Isn't it funny how they can suddenly get busy once you ASK them to do something -- especially something they don't want to do?

We've spent four "down days" recharging and relaxing near Astoria, the northernmost -- and oldest -- town in Oregon. Campgrounds are starting to get scarce and crowded, so after we elbowed our way into the local KOA (Kids Often Around), we sat down and planned the next three weeks. For the first time we have a "schedule", with reservations for campgrounds and other activities to take us through Labor Day and the final summer rush. Gaaaaaak! Commitments!

Astoria is a quaint seaside town at the mouth of the Columbia River, and what a mouth it is! The Columbia looks more like a small ocean than a river; the bridge which joins Oregon to Washington here is four miles across, and I'm sure they built it at the NARROW spot. This is also the only place I've ever seen signs pointing to a "Tsunami Evacuation Route".

Astoria's well-maintained Victorian houses, and the steep hillsides upon which they perch, are reminiscent of a smaller, older San Francisco. To get a good view, we climbed the one-hundred-sixty-four steps (counted every one) of the Astoria Column, a local historical monument.

We visited Fort Stevens, a historical fortification on the Oregon side originally built near the end of the Civil War. At that time there was a theory that the British might join the war on the side of the Confederates, and Fort Stevens purpose was to thwart a potential attack from Canada. The fort was refurbished for WWII, when it had the distinction of becoming the first continental military installation to come under enemy attack since the war of 1812. In June of 1942, a Japanese submarine fired nine shells in the vicinity of the fort, none of which hit their target.

While exploring the deserted bunkers, we happened upon some collections of antique military equipment, owned by various clubs and individuals and on display for the day. Mike was in hog-heaven over the several Jeeps on view.