When Dad died and I helped clean out his apartment, I found a stash of Irish Spring soap. I didn’t inherit Dad’s need to stock up on things: I gave most away, but I took one, and now, over two years later, it still sits at my bathroom sink. Every day or so I smell it: a smell that will forever remind me of him. If I’m really brave, I wash my hands with it and smell him throughout the day. In the car I often turn the radio to All Classical 89.9, believing that I will hear at least one song that will remind me of him. Even if mom corrects me occasionally when I mention a song that I think he loved only to find it to be her song, not his. Sentimentality morphing memories.
Recently I came across a piece Dad wrote called “The Train, by Dick Montgomery, Visionary.” For this is another thing Dad left all of us – memories and a video, still on YouTube, capturing him as a tour guide of this fantastic model railroad. And though I briefly refer to this in my Memoir – I really don’t give it the attention it deserves. Dad put his love of rivers, ports and early Oregon history into his creation of this fictitious town of Zenith. And although I could never get Dad to start a blog late in his life, for those creative storytellers, “wanna be” model railroad builders, and those who loved Dick Montgomery: here are a few excerpts straight from the horse’s mouth (Dad’s description, certainly, not mine).
Dick Montgomery’s Train
The Train: By Dick Montgomery, Visionary
“I say visionary rather than creator because Jim Oliver and Patrick Montgomery had more to do with creating our TRAIN than I did – I merely visualized it and coursed, manipulated and pleaded with them to do the rest. Jim Oliver, a retired architect and dear friend from the Oregon Maritime Museum, created the track plan, designed and built the bench work and was the inspiration and much of the labor for Mt. Oliver and the Jim Oliver National Forest that required the placement of 2,500 trees. Patrick Montgomery laid the track and wired the entire layout (later assisted by Jack Applestill). My contribution was building models for most of the structures, creating the scenery and inventing the imaginary story lines. Jim modestly refers to himself as “The Mayor” and sees me only as “The Don,” a shoddy, unscrupulous land developer. Surprisingly, as the owner I have been forced to take a back seat in decision-making otherwise Jim constantly threatened, “I’ll quit.” The TRAIN has taken six years to complete at a cost of somewhere near $10,000.”
“As a boy my father” (my grandfather, Richard G. Montgomery, Sr.) “created what we called the “Project” – an “O” Gauge train layout on a ping pong table in the attic of our home on Willamette Heights at 3306 N.W. Thurman. Dad crafted scenery and notably the snow capped Bull Mountain….My chance for greater detail came many years later, in 1958 when as the father of two young sons I created the P&A Railroad in the basement bedroom of our new home in Sunset Heights….I picked Zenith as the name of my city following the name of Sinclair Lewis’ Zenith from his classic work “Babbitt” which I had just read. Just a few years later the Train room vanished with the coming of Michael, our fourth child….the only visual record of this train is on an 8 mm home movie.”
A Creative Need
“Inspiration for our present TRAIN came in 2001 when the Port of Portland ended my services as an independent contractor “freelancer.”….Although I was still doing my weekly column for the Daily Shipping News I knew this would not be enough to keep me fully occupied and entertained. Eureka! A TRAIN became my answer….”
“As a visionary I am allowed great license with reality. Therefore, I have situated my city of Zenith in a valley surrounded by heavily forested mountains yet with access to the ocean and a thriving seaport: offering lumber and breakbulk import and export handling at the Zenith Public Docks Terminal 1 – a Shell Oil storage and distribution facility at Terminal 2 and a Cargill Brain Elevator at Terminal 3. A Champion meat packing plant is located next to Terminal 3. My seaport was influenced by my 50 years promoting commerce on the Columbia River and my familiarity with Columbia River seaports. Zenith is the imagined county seat of Union County.” (Dad was editor/publisher of the LaGrande Observer in the early 1970’s.)Taking complete license, I have placed Virginia City and its gold mines in the foot hills of my Union County. I take even more license with reality by locating the seaside fishing village of Westport close to Virginia City. The Green River runs through Union County with its head waters in the mountains deep within Jim’s colorful backdrop. It flows through Zenith, emptying into the ocean an an unseen point near Zenith Slough. The Green River runs also along the base of Mt. Oliver and bends into the Shamrock Lumber Company, where river log rafts are collected for cutting. Although the Green River passes along the edge of Zenith it is primarily a commercial waterway heavily used for the movement of logs. Recreational boating, swimming and fishing are relegated to Zenith Slough. My city of Zenith is set in the middle 1950’s while Virginia City and Westport are set in the late 1920s (see the period cars in each setting). The fishing village of Westport is patterned after Ilwaco, Washington, a beach town well known to my family….”
The buildings in Virginia City reflect its evolution from a pioneer village settled after the discovery of gold into the 1880’s. Originally all of the buildings were wood structures like those that remain on half of the unsaved road through town. The brick structures across the street and other newer structures were erected following the devastating fire of 1905…..”
The Seaport – Port or Zenith
“Zenith Pubic Docks is directed by a Board of Commissioners appointed by the Mayor of Zenith to four-year staggered terms. The Port owns and operates the Terminal 1 and leases land to Champion Meat, Cargill Grain and She’ll Oil. Zenith is a highly profitable seaport providing substantial employment to longshore workers and generating taxes and wealth to both the city and the county. Not all of the longshore workers are content. Some can be seen protesting outside the Dock Commission’s Terminal building. They are protesting the “Coast Trader’s” crew taking part in the lading of their vessel – demanding that it all be Longshore work. The chairman of the Dock Commission, with a police presence, is trying to explain fast loading is critical if the ship is to meet its sailing schedules….A Shaver Transportation tug, “Captain George,” has set her lines in anticipation of the “Coast Trader” leaving port. Outside the harbor a Foss Marine tug pushes a Shaver Transportation grain barge while an oil barge discharges at Terinal 2 and handy size grain tanker has completed loading Union County grain at Terminal 3. A bar pilot is on board the Pilot Boat at the end of Terminal 3 getting read to “leave up” to guide a ship to Terminal 1 following “Coast Trader’s” departure.”
Shamrock Lumber Company
“This busy saw mill is reminiscent of the many saw mills that operated in Oregon and Washington during the last century. Logs arrive by rail and barge. They are hydraulically lifted out of the water and drawn into the saws where they are cut in to dimensional lumber. Saw mill workers arrive by crew boat form a landing next to Pioneer Park where they arrive by company bus – mostly from the Union Hiring Hall near the port. The hiring hall serves modestly priced meals and sacked lunches and sells work clothes to all Union members: longshore, railroad, lumber, master mates, pilots, teamsters and meat workers. (Shamrock Lumber is the name of the lumber company where I pulled green chain in 1952 before going to work on the Eugene Register-Guard.)”
Dad’s notes also includes descriptions and stories about Westport Packing, Centennial Flour, the Railroads, Old Town and Zenith Today. In this final paragraph, our Visionary tells us about The Palace Billiards and Card Room, a popular Old town haunt attracting a regular business clientele from up town.
“The most notorious watering hold in Old Town is the Coco Club (dating back to 1900) with Red’s and Archie’s Place not far behind. Closest to the docks, the Crystal Club is the primary watering hold for longshore worker and has the highest crime rate in Old Town. Weekly rates are charged for rooms on the second floor of the Union Hall.” And finally, “Preferred lodging can be found at the beautiful Illahee Hotel and at the modern Pearl Tower which offers impressive views of the Green River and Mt Oliver.”
Dad slowly built this model village, over time doling out his retirement allowance to build the set that we can remind ourselves of today on YouTube. And he continued to spin his stories, often sending us kids emails with updates about the town’s happenings and crises. He was a story teller, resplendent in old Oregon Stories, many that are no more. And it is in those stories, if we are lucky, that we remember those things left behind.