Friday, October 16, 2009
This past weekend Jean and I attended our Diocesan Convention in Klamath Falls in South Central Oregon. Our trip to Klamath Falls took us through Christmas Valley in Northern Lake County which brought back a flood of memories. In August of 1951 my grand parents, my father, my brother Bruce and I took a Saturday drive into the High Desert east of Bend to scout for antelope. My grandfather had drawn a tag for antelope and he thought it would be a good idea to scout the desert to find a good place to hunt. We turned south off Highway 20 and went through the Lost Forest and continued south. We did spot some antelope and paced them at about 45 mph down the dirt track road we were on. That proved to be a mistake because as we bounced down that dusty desert road we hit a rock which punctured the oil pan of the car. Fortunately, Granddad noticed the loss of oil pressure and stopped before any damage was done to his nearly new Plymouth. However, we were stranded on the high desert of Eastern Oregon with little chance of rescue by a passerby. We had seen nobody on our travels after we turned off Highway 20. My Mom and my brother Emery knew we were on the desert, but had no idea of exactly where. The high desert of Eastern Oregon is all over 4500 feet in elevation and covers an area of over 1000 square miles. We assessed our situation and it didn't look good; we had eaten our lunch and little was left, the same was true for water. There was a windmill visible about 3 miles away so Bruce and I and Granddad decided to walk to it in hopes there was a ranch there. My Dad, who had only one leg, and Granny would stay with the car in case somebody came by. We hiked to the windmill and found only stock tanks filled with green smelly water which Granddad drank but Bruce and I refused. A sign labeled the spot as Buffalo Wells. On the same sign post was a sign pointing east saying "Wagontire 32 miles" and one pointing west saying "Silverlake 36 miles and beneath that one saying "Lake 7 miles". There were no fresh tire tracks on the dirt road, but we opted for Lake hoping there would be a service station available. As we trudged up the road every hill had us expecting a car or the town of Lake. We finally came to a sign pointing south saying "Matlack Ranch 1 mile" and decided that he ranch would be the best option. We got to the ranch and were greeted by the friendly ranchers who told us they had moved into the empty ranch the previous day! The water from the pitcher pump smelled just like the Buffalo Wells water, but it tasted wonderful. The ranchers took their truck out and towed the car into the ranch and fashioned a plug for the oil pan. They fed us, filled the car with oil, gave us 5 gallons of oil and sent us on our way. During dinner they told us it was good that we didn't go to Lake because is was just a dry lake bed, they were the only ranch in the area. Granddad drove us to Bend at a breakneck speed, pausing only long enough to put more oil in the car when the oil pressure went down. We made it home safely with no damage to the car much to the relief of all.
All those memories came rushing back as we drove through Christmas Valley, the town built on the dry lake bed once known as Lake. Now there is a real town with electricity, paved roads and a golf course. I stopped and took a picture of the power line that transformed the desert into an oasis. There's been a real change in the last 50 years.