I followed the route in Oregon last week (July 24-26, 2007) from the Snake River on the Idaho border to the Columbia River along the Washington border, over the Blue Mountains. As my guides I used the 1926 Old Oregon Trail Highway Guide, a 1919 Automobile Blue Book, a 1935 Gousha Guide, and the 1939 WPA Oregon Trail Guide..
The 1925 PulVers Highway Map of the Old Oregon Trail below shows the route from Ontario to Umatilla, as I drove it.
PulVers 1925 Map of the Old Oregon Trail Highway
I spent Tuesday night in Ontario at the end of my Central Oregon Highway US20 trip across the High Desert of Eastern Oregon (See posts under US20 here). On Wednesday morning I wanted to see what might be left of downtown Ontario in comparison to the 1926 photo in the Guide. It is obvious they are the same streets, but alas the Moore Hotel is gone. The only stand out “then and now” is the two story building on the left.; I left the Rainbow Restaurant description in the image because I would later encounter the same ”All White Help” prejudice again.
Ontario, Oregon Then and Now
Leaving Ontario the road touches the Snake River along the pioneer trail, then heads north in the direction of Huntington. At 18.5 miles north of Ontario the 1926 guide states “This Point is Known as The Slides.” Was this an early water park for kids?“ I should have known! It was an area of rock slides. In fact as I stopped to take a picture, high on the cliff I saw the dust of a small slide in progress. I guess this part of the old road is aptly named!
The Slides, 18.5 Miles North of Ontario, on the Snake River
I pulled into the Farewell Bend State Park where the State of Oregon wanted $3.00 for Day Use. I wondered if I had to pay $3.00 to take a picture of where our pioneer families had left the Snake River, and concluded that 5 minutes wasn’t a day.
Farewell Bend where the wagons left the Snake River for the Last Time.
In my lifetime we have gone from free public parks to charges for stopping to take a picture. I would like someone to tell me why we are now so impoverished as a country that we have to close our public parks to all but the well to do. Frankly, I don’t blame the park people, nor the legislators. I blame us.
The old highway leads into Huntington, long bypassed by the I84 freeway. Huntington’s history as a railroad center is quite evident with a large rail switching yard and the town laid out facing the tracks. There were a couple of interesting buildings among those facing the railroad. I like Huntington. It has a big park with huge shade trees, and the people say “Hello” and smile when you pass them on the sidewalk.
I went into Howell’s Cafe about 11 AM and decided that this would be a good place for my combination breakfast/ lunch burger....and it was. The pretty waitress, Susan, wouldn’t let me take her photo, but I did get a shot of my burger!
Essential Road Food. When You Can No Longer Die Young, Enjoy It!.
This was the old General Mercantile. The painted sign is still barely visible on the top of the building in the photo below. The building was built in 1890, and became the Oregon Commercial Company general mercantile in 1894. It retained the name through the 1920’s and thus was visited by many a traveler on the Old Oregon Trail Highway and US30/
The Oregon Commercial Company (OC) Store, built 1890. Visited by many on the Old Oregon Trail Highway.
Speaking of painted signs, the prejudices of the 1920’s show in the preserved Clark’s Restaurant sign. It repeats what was stated in the ad for the Rainbow Restaurant in Ontario in 1926 (see above). I suppose some might be offended by the preservation of such a sign, but I believe it serves as a reminder of what was so common an attitude not so long ago that it was advertised.
Old Sign Showing Prejudices of the 1920’s
Howell’s Restaurant was in the quiet stage between breakfast and launch when I went in. The current owner restored the building and the restaurant. Note the pressed tin ceiling from the 1800’s and the great counter stools and the red booths from the 1930’s or 40’s. Reminds me of my soda fountain days.
The cheeseburger, with the mustard and ketchup running down my thumb, was as good as it looks in the picture above. As I look at it now, I get hungry. Leaving the restaurant I caught a shot of a big Union Pacific diesel locomotive working the yard. Those big boys always catch my attention.
Union Pacific Locomotives in the Switching Yard.
Several little settlements clung to life along the old alignment. At Pleasant Valley the main Cafe and Motel was boarded up and a few folks lived in the run down motel rooms. When you look at the building today, it speaks volumes about the effects of the freeway.
It is hard to see it, but once this was a small oasis, with green trees, lush lawn, and inviting restaurant. It was clean, modern, and busy. It was probably built in the 1930’s because the motel units have the characteristic covered garages between them. If there is anything I dislike in road travel, it is another night in a cookie cutter two story box. I wish the Pleasant Valley Cafe and Motel were thriving today.
Pleasant Valley, a Sad Reminder of Good Times in Other Days.
The next stop will be Baker City, with its Natatorium and Paul’s 1923 Radiator Shop. In the meantime, Keep the Show on the Road!