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Gary Horrocks, Up Country!

Usually here in the Northwest corner of the United States (yes, the corner of the country that is now totally ignored by major road racing series), November is a time to start looking at settling in for the winter. This is usually the time in which the rains have settled in for the duration and the temperatures just continue to drop.

Imagine my surprise when a forecast for nice weather came up on a Saturday, it was time to head outdoors and see what we could stumble into.

This time it was a drive from the Portland Oregon area to the Columbia River Gorge. For those that don’t know, the Columbia River is one of the major rivers in the world, it is the 4th largest in North America and is over 1200 miles long, its drainage basin is roughly the size of France. It has been an important resource for the region throughout times, supplying means of transportation as well as large quantities of fish. Now, in modern times, the river supplies electricity to the area, via a network of dams.

Needless to say, the Columbia River is one of the dominant features of the region, and while it is important for everyday sustainability, it is also important for recreation.

For this weekend, it was decided to take the short hour-ish long drive to go hiking, this time the trail of choice was an almost 2 mile walk through the dense forest, along Fall Creek. The final destination was a spectacular waterfall, just one of many that abound in the region and all of them unique.

The next day the rains returned, meaning that any sane activities would need to be moved back indoors and that is where the suggestion to check out the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center. Unlike most interpretive centers that focus tightly on only one aspect of the region, this one pretty much covers all aspects quite well.

The first thing I saw upon entering the museum was an old dirt track race car. Loosely based upon a ‘30’s Ford sedan, this flat head V8 powered car was rescued from a local ravine, brought back to life and put on display to show how things used to be. Notice the hi-tech mesh windshield…

After walking through well-presented displays on the development of the area through the years, including the native life, and eventual discovery, exploration and exploitation, an area representing the old days of timber harvesting. With an abundance of trees in the Northwest, logging has always been an important part of the development of the region and this was well represented here.

First off was a 1921 Mack “Bulldog” Log Truck. This thing is absolutely amazing. 471 cubic inches (7.7 liters) of displacement which equated to a whopping 40 horsepower. Under optimum conditions, this chain-drive truck was capable of almost achieving 18 miles per hour. This must have been quite the beast to drive, especially with the solid tires all around.

Right next to the log truck was a Corliss steam power generation system, which in the past was used to power a local saw mill. When it powered the local mill, it had 3 boilers in place, and generated an absolutely unimaginable 100,000 plus foot pounds of torque. The rope used to transmit the power was a continuous length that when it was installed on site was just over a mile in length. The flywheel, 16 feet in diameter weighed over 16 tons when assembled. The single cylinder engine had a 20 inch bore and a 48 inch stroke and turned over at a maximum of 100 rpm. One of the unique things that made the Corliss a step above the rest way back then was their own valve gear setup. Looking more like a Rube Goldberg Contraption, the valve gear made the massive Corliss steam engine the most efficient at the time.

Above the logging apparatus was a 1917 Curtiss Jenny JN-4, one of the few that are still in flying condition in the world. Obviously this one hasn’t flown in quite some time, but the museum indicates that will little work it would be able to take to the skies yet again. With a top speed of around 55mph and a stall speed of about 35, this plane may not have been the easiest to fly, which is quite something for a plane that was designed as a trainer back in WWI. This example was restored by the local owner, who crashed the plane not that long after the first flight. He then rebuilt it and continued to fly in late into his life. Upon his death, the family loaned this to the museum, where it is displayed quite effectively.

Sometimes taking a break from the routine is needed to recharge the batteries and in this case it ended up with some very surprising results. It’s not exactly an epic road trip, but when you live in the Northwest, sometimes you just don’t have to go that far. Now if only the racing would return…