By: Robert Thompson


I have lots of happy memories of Bates and cannot think of any other place in the world that I would rather have grown up.  Some of my first memories are of warm summer days - the smell of pine trees - wild flowers blooming around our yard on the hill above Newtville, where I lived with my family.  I spent many hours on my hands and knees in the dirt, building roads with my toy trucks, some of which my Dad built for me.  I also stacked board ends that came from the mill and tried to build things with them.


I remember lots of deep snow and snow banks in the winter time.  I loved to watch the bulldozers and road graders plow snow.  I remember seeing Frank Pierce and Tommy Averett plow our driveway many times during the winter and always thinking how great it would be to have a job like them when I grew up.  I dug lots of snow tunnels in the snow banks and would sled off of them.  I remember the big kids (to me), coming up our hill after school in the evenings and sledding.  Sometimes they had a big bob sled that really impressed me and I always wanted to have one like it.  The ones I remember were Floyd and Norman Rasmussen, Myron and Larry Losey, Tommy Davis, Keith Davis, Gary Akerson, Gary Johns, Kenny Hutchisen, and Freeman and Raymond Brooks.


I remember going to the sawmill a few times with my Dad when I was very young, three-four years old.  He took me through the power house where I was fascinated by all the smells and sounds of steam being used to power the turbines and small steam engines plus one big steam engine which my Dad called the "oom pah" machine.  It was used to run the air compressor for the whole mill.  Then he took me over to the mill itself, where I was enthralled by all the moving machinery.  I remember the big nine-foot cutoff saw at the head of the mill cutting logs in two effortlessly.  There were two head rigs on opposite sides of the mill going up and down their tracks with med riding on them.  This really impressed me.  I especially remember Louie Bidasolo riding on one of the head rigs waving his arms and clowning around with my Dad.  I also thought that this was what I wanted to do when I grew up; it looked like so much fun.


When I started to school I remember enjoying the walk from our house down through Newtville and across the field to the school.  I loved the smell of the cow pasture in the spring when the grass was turning green and the dandelions were blooming and the red-winged blackbirds were singling with the killdeer.  I went all eight years to the Bates grade school, of which I have many happy memories, including the smell of pencils, crayons, and new Levi's on the first day of each fall.


One of my favorite places to go when I was younger was up to Big Rock, where you could see most of the town on one side of the hill, and the upper mill pond on the other side.  I also liked fishing in Clear Creek and ridge Creek.  Later, when I was about 12, I started hiking from Bates up to Dixie Lookout each summer at least once, taking a different route each time.  Dennis Watterson went with me several times, and Bruce Blume came along a few times also. 


I remember Bruce and I being caught in a thunder storm near the mine shaft by Dixie Springs just above the treeline one afternoon.  We ran all the way back down the mountainside to Davis Creek where we found a western pine and some of its cones on the ground.  The cones surprised me because they were so long and narrow.  This is the only western pine I ever saw in the area, and I didn't know what it was at the time.  George Donaldson later told me what kind of tree it was.


From the living room window of our house above Newtville, we had a wonderful view of Dixie Mountain.  It always intrigued me.  One of my Mother's cousins and his wife manned the lookout for two summers when I was four and five years old.  My sister Beth and I got to spend three days in the lookout with them one summer.  We had a lightening storm one evening while we were there.  They made us stay on the bed that had insulators on its legs.  I'll never forget the smell of ozone and loud thunder of that storm. 


In March, 1967, my future brother-in-law, Dan Stevens, and I snowshoed from Dixie Pass Summit at Highway 26 to the lookout by way of the road.  It was a beautiful day with lots of snow.  We started at noon and didn't get back to the car until after dark. 


Another time, on a family vacation in June of 1986, my children accused me of taking them all the way from Alaska to Dixie Mountain to kill them when I was determined to make it to the top even though there was lots of snow left on the mountain.  They finally convinced me to turn around just below the lookout when the car seemed in danger of sliding off the mountain.


I also really loved the Strawberry Wilderness Area and hiked to the top of Strawberry Mountain several times, summer and winter.  Bruce Blume, Jim Kimberling, Doug Woods and I snowshoed into Strawberry Falls one time in March.  By the time we got to Strawberry Lake my feet were getting wet because my leather boots were leaking, so we melted pitch and I sealed my boots with it.  It snowed hard all day and we were worried that our vehicle would be snowed in by the time we got back to it, or we would have gone up to Little Strawberry Lake, instead of turning around at the falls.


Ray and Norman Rasmussen took me with them on a fishing trip to High Lake in June one year.  We carried all our camping gear down to High Lake from the parking lot.  Then Norman and I hiked up to Rabbit Ears looking for Indian arrowheads while Ray fished.  It was scary looking straight down the cliff into Little Strawberry Lake, but beautiful.

We got back to the lake, where Ray wasn't catching any fish.  It was getting late and cold, so Ray decided to camp in lower country, where it would be warmer.  We carried all our gear back up the hill to the pickup and drove down to Logan Valley and fished on the Malheur River where it was much warmer.


In early June of 1964 Bruce Blume, my younger brother Carl, and I rode our bicycles out past the "Y" to a stream that forms a small waterfall across the road from Bridge Creek.  We ditched our bikes there and started hiking up the creek.  We hadn't gone too far when we found a bear wallow in the creek.  We could hear the bears breaking twigs in the woods ahead of us.  It smelled like a pigpen.  We were just thinking about turning around when we saw an old pair of homemade cross-country skis with rotted leather bindings leaning against a big tree.  One of us picked a ski up for a closer look and then we heard a buzzing sound.  It turned out to be a nest of yellow jackets that we had disturbed when moving the ski.  We dropped the ski and began running down the creek.  Carl and Bruce were both stung a couple of times. Somehow, I escaped unstung.  We never went back, but I have been curious about the skis, and always planned to return, but never have.


Once Gunther Clark and I were climbing trees in the woods above our house when we were in the fifth grade.  There was a big tree next to a tall slender tree.  I climbed up the big tree and over into the top of the slender tree and tried swinging back and forth to bend it down to the ground, but couldn't make it bend far enough.  So Gunther traded places with me and I was helping him push the tree over so he could ride it to the ground.  He got about halfway down and the tree snapped off just below where I was hanging from a branch of the big tree.  He crashed to the ground and we were both laughing so hard that I was losing my strength and grip on the tree branch.  I started sliding down, but something was poking me in the rear end.  It was rather precarious, as I was hanging about 20 feet above the ground.  I would get control of myself and get above the point, and then start laughing again and slide down on the sharp point.  Finally Gunther climbed up the tree and helped pull me back up to where I could get my feet on another limb.  Over the years, Gunther and I shared many adventures together such as this.


When I was five or six years old, Forrest and Theresa Raines and their twin daughters, Frances and Phronsie, lived next door to us.  They were fine neighbors and I have many fond memories of them.  Forrest had an Army Recon truck that I thought was the neatest truck in the world.  I remember one day he and his brother Willie and another guy took the old cab off and replaced it with a newer one.  I was a little disappointed because I thought the old one looked neater.  Another time I remember Forrest and Willie butchering a couple of pigs.  There was lots of shouting and squealing going on and I was fascinated by the whole episode.  I was always showing off for the twins.  One time I had climbed up a small pine tree and was swinging it back and forth while standing right near the top of it.  Suddenly the tree snapped off right at the limbs that my feet were on.  I went flying backwards, landing on my head, and knocking the wind out of myself.  I'm sure it made a big impression on them.


When I was in about the second grade, I joined the Cub Scouts, which was lead by Winnie Sterling (Smith).  We met at her home at least once a week, and did many interesting things that I will never forget.  She is probably at least partly responsible for my later in life obsession with bird identification.  For several weeks she had lessons on birds and how to attract them.  She also got me interested in modeling scenery with plaster of paris, which I use now in model railroading, a hobby of mine. 


One weekend her husband Bob, and Elwood Greear, took all of the Cub Scouts out to the experimental station for an overnight campout.  All the kids had a grand time.  We paired off and practiced building lean-to shelters.  Mickey Watterson and I built one which fell down on us during the night.  None of us wanted to go to bed and Bob had finally got us all settled own, he though, for the night.  I woke up feeling extremely thirsty, and got up to look for some water.  Several others got up with me.  I saw a big mound of bedding which I jumped right into the middle of.  It turned out to be Bob in his sleeping bag.  He came straight up, sleeping bag and all.  It wasn't long until we were back in our sleeping bags, but I was still thirsty.  I decided I had better tough it out until morning.


It's too bad we don't appreciate things more at the time they are happening, but it's great to have these good memories.  I was born in August 1947 in Baker City, and my parents brought me home to Bates where I live until 1966.  I am fascinated with the history of the Sumpter Valley Railway and the area in general.  The railroad was taken out a few months before I was born.  How I would have loved to have seen it in operation.  Today, as a model railroader, I am building a layout based on The Sumpter Valley and trying to incorporate scenes of the Bates area.  Since I left Bates I have become interested in natural history, so it is especially exciting to return on vacation trips, and identify plants and birds that I remember as a child. 


Oh yes, remember when I said I wanted to run road graders?  Well, that is what I have been doing for the last 20 years in Ninilchik, Alaska and I do enjoy it.