Coos Bay, Oregon: September 25 – October 2, 2011

Reminders: 1. Posts are in chronological order with most recent on top. 2. Enlarge pictures by clicking on them and then using the back button (not close) to return to the text.

We left the ocean in early July; now it was time to have another look. Mountains are beautiful and never to be left behind. But like its sister to the east, the Pacific charms and soothes. Maybe that’s the reason that during the week we were in Coos Bay, there was salt water in almost every picture.

Coos Bay is the largest deep-draft coastal harbor between San Francisco and Puget Sound. It’s Oregon’s second busiest port, behind Portland. Coos Bay and her sister city, North Bend, are on a south-to-north peninsula, with a long spit between it and the Pacific. You enter through a half mile wide cut in the coast, turn north up the channel inside the spit for about 8 miles, head east across the top, and then turn back south into the harbor – a trip of about 15 miles in total. There are five terminals on the way up; another dozen are alongside downtown Coos Bay or even farther south, where ships deal primarily in lumber. Downtown also has a fishing fleet and a nice boardwalk. A large gazebo provides seating and numerous rail-level plaques that tell the story of the port in words and photos. There’s a very neat seafood shack on the dock as well, where we partook of a nice lunch, seated at one of the few tables with a couple visiting from Deming, New Mexico. Dot spent a lot of work-weeks in Deming; she and our tablemates discovered that they knew people in common! Brings new meaning to small world, doesn’t it!

Coos Bay was home to tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, Siuslaw and Coquille Indians who lived in the area for thousands of years; its name means Place of Pines. There’s some evidence that in 1579, Sir Francis Drake and his Golden Hind sought shelter near Cape Arago just south of the harbor entrance.

We did take in two museums. The first, Coos Historical & Marine Museum, actually in North Bend, did not permit photography. As suggested by its name, it offered a combination of history and industry, with exhibits and galleries ranging from Native American culture to agriculture, mining, logging and maritime pursuits, including extensive shipbuilding.

The most fascinating exhibit, however, stood outside the museum. It was Oregon’s “40 and 8 Merci Boxcar. Those of you who know the story, please skip forward to the pix below. Others, please indulge me.

We first ran into the French Merci Train in Bismarck, ND last year. We knew there was a 40 & 8 military organization, but didn’t know the story behind it. It dates back to WW I, when U.S. Troops shipped to France to fight alongside the Poilu. They were transported to the front in small, narrow gauge boxcars that held either 40 men or 8 horses. After the war, a fraternity was formed within the American Legion called La Société des Quarante Hommes et Huit Chevaux to keep the history alive.

Skip ahead two decades: American soldiers were once again transported in the old wooden conveyances during WW II. Many American troops and POW’s were brought back to France from Germany in them at the end of the conflict.

In 1947, Columnist Drew Pearsonput the power of his voice to work, urging Americans to donate food and clothing to our devastated partner. Over $40 million worth was shipped to France – 700 American boxcar loads.

The following year, a French railway worker and WW I veteran, André Picard, suggested that France fill a boxcar with gifts in return. The response was such that 49 Quarante et Huits were filled with 52,000 gifts, ranging from worn wooden shoes to a jeweled Legion of Honor medal that belonged to Napoleon; and from children’s drawings to tree seedlings to a Louis XV carriage. Decorated with crests from all provinces, they were shipped via the ore carrier Magellan, unloaded in Weehawken, NJ by volunteer longshoremen, passed duty free, and delivered to the capitals of each of the lower 48 states — all at no cost. The 49th car was shared by D.C. and Hawai’i; neither Alaska nor Hawai’i were in the Union yet, but Hawai’i had made significant contributions to the Pearson plea. About 40 of the cars are still on display. Contents are scattered, but much of them were apparently auctioned or sold for the benefit of charities.

Oregon’s car remained in Salem, until 1962, when it was displayed at the Flavel House in Astoria and then at nearby Fort Stevens. It was transported to its permanent home in Coos Bay in 2006, and it is now protected by a roofed security enclosure. I cloned a pic from their brochure; it won’t enlarge very much.

Our other inland excursion involved the House of Myrtlewood. This broad leafed evergreen grows primarily in southwest Oregon and northwest California. The trees are very symmetrical, and the wood is richly grained with sculpted patterns and stripes. The brochure promised a factory tour, which we didn’t get, but the large retail store was replete with the gorgeous wood turned into more products than you can imagine. I had a rosewood urn on order from a craftsman in Rhode Island to hold Teddy’s ashes, but if I hadn’t found that, one of the Myrtlewood beauties would have been perfect.

We made ourselves no stranger to the coast. Seals, Sea Lions, Osprey, Cormorant and Oystercatchers abound just above Cape Arago, where Simpson Reef and Shell Island sit near shore and served as both feeding ground and playground for both birds and beasts.

From Coos Bay on south, we couldn’t take our eyes or lenses off the rolling Ocean, though many twists and turns and narrow shoulders along Highway 101 made it prudent to pay attention to the road. Hooray for turnouts!

On to the Redwoods!

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