Trees, Rocks and Beyond

“I have written a book,” said Ralph and as a teaser he added, “and you are in it… there’s a chapter about ‘Traveling with Larry’… The title is ‘Trees, Rocks and Beyond’ (by Ralph E. Anderson) and it is for sale on Amazon.”

Of course, I had to buy one.

Ralph and I were classmates in high school and teammates on the track team. He was from Delena and I was from Fern Hill so our social lives did not intertwine. We graduated in 1957. That was the last time I saw him. We went to separate colleges. Joined separate military services. Married and raised a family. And now we were a couple elderly, retired guys. Some 55 years after parting company at graduation Ralph knocked on my door and reintroduced himself.

Ralph spent his working days as a carpenter. I had several professions and several retirements but my hobby was becoming a certified naturalist and photographer. Maybe because of his lifetime association with wood Ralph was fascinated with trees. I was fascinated with trees because they are part of nature.

Ralph traveled the world to look at trees. I traveled Oregon to observe and photograph nature, which included trees. When I would mention a tree, Ralph would want to go see it. The title of my book will be, “Traveling with Ralph” because we ended up looking at more than trees. Occasionally we traveled to look at rocks. And, if I broached the subject, occasionally we discussed ‘Beyond’. We have traveled the borders of Oregon, and we have crisscrossed the state.

I suggest reading the category “Traveling with Ralph.” Some of these stories are included in Ralph’s book, from his point of view. My point of view may be different in opinion but hopefully the same in fact.

Stories will be added from time to time, this is a work in progress… enjoy.


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The Oregon Record Hackberry Tree


“Ralph, I think I have identified the Oregon record Hackberry tree. I have found Hackberry trees in the Deschutes River Canyon… they seem to be uncommon in Oregon… I know where some big ones are located… maybe one is a record. Let’s go look.”

“A Hackberry tree was submitted about ten years ago but never verified. It’s in Hells Canyon, on the Oregon side of the Snake River and difficult to reach. The guy that submitted it recently asked again if we had ever confirmed his tree… maybe we can do that. We owe it to him to verify his submission.”

We checked the location on Google Earth, found what we thought was the tree in question and decided the terrain was a little too rugged to hike for a couple of old guys. But another plan occurred to me.

“Ralph, have you ever ridden a jetboat from Hells Canyon Dam to Lewiston, Idaho and returned to the dam? It’s an exciting adventure in terms of whitewater rapids. I know you would enjoy seeing the rock formations. That tree is close to the river… maybe we can encourage the jetboat captain to pull ashore long enough to let us confirm the tree.”

Snake River Rapids
Hell’s Canyon Adventure

Ralph was agreeable to the plan, so, the plan was hatched.

We made reservations with Hells Canyon Adventures and put the plan into motion. The jetboat ride down river was momentous and I thought I spotted the tree up river from Dug Bar. All we needed was some cooperation from the captain and about five minutes on shore.

The captain was amenable. During our layover in Lewiston we coordinated the stop to measure the tree… he remembered the spot I described and he put us ashore within 100 feet of the tree in question. Ralph got the necessary measurements and photos to verify the tree. I love it when a plan comes together.

Record Hackberry TreeOregon’s Record Hackberry Tree… Hell’s Canyon, Snake River Sept 20, 2015


As soon as the submission details were confirmed we sent a congratulatory letter of notification for finding an Oregon record tree.

We got a thank you letter from the guy’s wife with the sad news that he had passed away during the year. Bummer… he waited almost ten years for confirmation but maybe he is smiling up there, knowing his tree finally made the list of big trees.


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The Building is for Sale

Porte Cochere Oregon Trunk RR station in Redmond

“The building is for sale.”

His voice startled me… I was in the city of Redmond, Central Oregon, admiring the architecture of a building that appeared to be unused… lights off… doors locked… parking lot empty.  I did not see or hear the stranger approach. He just appeared unannounced beside me… his words an invitation to a discussion… waiting for a reply.

I took another, longer look at him. He was short, stocky, well dressed… this was no cowboy or logger… his clothing and attitude spoke of wealth…  an executive… maybe a banker… but with hands that looked like he knew how to hold a pick or shovel.

“Tell me about the building,” I said. “I’m curious about the design.”

“The building was a passenger depot for the Oregon Trunk Railroad… constructed in 1912 using volcanic tuff from a local quarry.  We chose masonry over wood and built it to last… Cost us the grand sum of $9,290… that’s $242,775 in today’s money… Passenger service declined so we sold this building to the city of Redmond for a dollar… they spent $300,000 to move it to this location… to make room for a highway… but it’s still near the railroad.” He nodded toward the railroad tracks located just behind the building from where we were standing.

A loud blast from an air horn interrupted our reverie. A BNSF locomotive rumbled past, heading north toward the Columbia River, no longer hauling passengers but still finding profit with freight.

“Damned air horns, they have no panache,” he said with a note of derision in his voice.  “I miss the steam trumpet… with a little encouragement a talented engineer could play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.”

I turned away from watching the locomotive pass by and found myself again standing alone in the empty parking lot… believing I just had a conversation with the ghost of James Hill, the man who owned the Oregon Trunk Railroad, the man known to history as “The Empire Builder.”

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The Oregon Trail to Waiilatpu

Camping near the Oregon Trail in the Blue Mountains of Oregon

“Waiilatpu,” I said, hoping to wake Marvin, who was sound asleep and snoring… loudly.

“Where???,” asked Marvin, looking wildly about. I interrupted his nap… he was still half asleep. We were passing through the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon between Pendleton and La Grande. I didn’t want him to miss the scenery.

“Waiilatpu,” I repeated.

“Bless you,” Marvin replied, now fully awake and aware that I was making strange noises.

“No, I’m not sneezing… Waiilatpu… Walla Walla… the Whitman Mission… the Oregon Trail… the trail passes through here,” I explained. “The wagon ruts are still visible if you know where to look,” I added, “You will miss seeing those things if you sleep.”

“I’m trying to keep you awake while you are driving.” Marvin answered. “You won’t fall asleep while I’m snoring.”

“Thank you for your concern… It’s working… I haven’t fallen asleep yet.” I responded.

 “Do you know what ‘Waiilatpu’ means?” asked Marvin, returning to the subject.

“It’s probably Cayuse language for ‘Whitman, go to hell!’,” I answered. “The Cayuse weren’t too happy with Whitman. They thought Whitman exposed them to the measles that wiped out half their tribe… Their attack on the Whitman mission started the Cayuse War.”

“We are at war with the Cayuse?…  did you bring your rifle?”

“No, but the Oregon Rifles ended the war with the Cayuse.”

 “Walla Walla,” said Marvin, changing the subject. “That means ‘place of many rocks’ in the Wiradjuri language… Did you know there is a town called Walla Walla in Australia? It’s south of Wagga Wagga.”

“Go back to sleep, Marvin.”

(Extracted from “Traveling with Marvin” by Larry Rea, with permission granted)

For more information about the Oregon Trail site near La Grande, Union County, Oregon, click on the following link>

Directions to 45.398022 -118.315703:

From La Grande, Oregon travel north on Interstate 84 for 10.5 miles to exit 248; Turn at exit 248 onto the Spring Creek Road/Kamela and go 0.2 miles; Turn right on Old Emigrant Hill Scenic Frontage Road (Highway 30) and go 0.7 miles; take first right follow signs and go 2.4 miles to Park on Forest Road 1843.

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Out of Gas!

estimate 12.5 gallons of gas used, gauge still reads almost half full… gauge error!!

The Blazer’s engine chugged and quit… oh, no… four lane freeway… heavy traffic… fortunately I made it to the side of the freeway… fortunately the shoulder was wide enough to accommodate parking clear of traffic… out of gas… but how… the gauge was indicating nearly half a tank… no way… but the engine would not start and the gas gauge plummeted to empty. I called AAA for assistance.

While waiting for AAA roadside assistance to arrive I realized how easy it would be to estimate how much fuel the Blazer used since the last fill. How does that work? Simple.

Before departing a service station, I zero the trip mileage indicator on the odometer. I want to know how far I have traveled on the way to the next fuel station. Uphill, downhill, eastern Oregon, western Oregon, I know from experience my Chevy Blazer averages very close to 20 miles per gallon (mpg). That means if I drive 251 miles between gasoline stations the attendant should replace the 12.5 gallons my vehicle used with 12.5 gallons from the pump. It’s easy… the math is not difficult…  Now I do a trip mileage reset every time I refuel. I have a good estimate of how much fuel I have used as I travel and I can check the accuracy of the fuel gauge at the same time. Perfect. Problem solved.   

estimate was 12.5 gallons, close enough

After I started checking trip mileage, I noticed discrepancies in the quantity of fuel some stations claimed to have pumped into my fuel tank. If I need 10 gallons and they pump substantially more for safety’s sake I should check under the vehicle for a puddle of fuel. Let’s assume there is no puddle of fuel, no leaks. Could the pump be in error?

Not likely… Engineers claim that a new pump can measure precisely to 1/1000 of a gallon (a teaspoon). That means that in pumping 96 gallons the measurement could be off by a pint. The engineers that design the fuel station pumps tell me as the pump wears with use it will pump more gasoline than it indicates. That surplus is free gasoline for me.  I would notice extra fuel as a sudden improvement in mpg. A worn pump is a disadvantage to the seller of the fuel so it is to their best interest to have worn pumps quickly replaced. A higher probability exists that the meter has been nefariously “adjusted” to indicate more gallons have been pumped than have been delivered to your fuel tank.

Some stations consistently pump more gallons into my fuel tank than I estimated the vehicle should have used. I call those “phantom” gallons. Phantom gallons of gasoline represent pure profit to the service station, perhaps creating an incentive to “adjust” the meter on the fuel pump. Phantom gallons look like a sudden reduction in mpg to me.

Should I care?

I do if I paid for gallons of gasoline I didn’t get. To increase profits the owner of the station can charge whatever he/she chooses, whatever the market will bear, per gallon. However, it is deceptive to sell you the wrong number of gallons. Consumer complaints may be filed with the State of Oregon Department of Justice. Personally, I choose to take my business to an “honest” fuel station but if aggravated enough I may do both.

photo and story byLarry

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