The Oregon Dream
Author: Ted Gahr
The Oregon dream has flourished since European settlement days. Early explorers and trappers were pulled ever further west by dreams of riches from a land of bountiful resources and great beauty near the Pacific Ocean. The soil was so rich; you could just throw a seed and expect to get a bumper crop. Or walk on the back of salmon to cross a stream. Wildlife flourished is this mellow land of plenty. There were few others that claimed this region as the native population was decimated by disease. Their traditional areas for growing and gathering food were free for the taking and many hardy souls braved the arduous journey to cross the continent and settle in this land of promise. This migration continues today and though the journey may be easier the challenges, though different, are still as significant. It will take a concerted effort of regions human population to preserve this land and the Oregon dream.
This is an unfolding narrative relating to the personal experiences and personal views of Ted Gahr, co-owner of Gahr Farm with his wife Harriet. The historical information may not be factual as much of the detail is from memory. As I write this, the plans for the farm are still just dreams created while sitting on the seat of a tractor or doing land management chores. Development plans for the farm are in the formative stages and will appear overtime as additional chapters in the narrative.
My childhood memories are honeycombed with many trips to Oregon in search of rural property. My dad was smitten with the Oregon dream that also rubbed off on me as a youth. When an interesting add for Oregon rural property appeared in the paper, he would pack the family to make the long journey from southern California to check it out. For me this thousand-mile journey was palatable only because of the anticipation of connecting with the great outdoors. I packed fishing gear, though adequate for bluegill perch, would not have been a match for the powerful King salmon of my imagination. I regularly lost a lot of gear hooking stumps and trees, and even saw a mighty salmon break water nearby. Living in a rural area that was being overrun by development, even the glimpse of wildlife nourished my soul and dreams. So I was always eager for these long journeys that held promise that one-day we would pack up our belongings and make our home among the natural bounty of the lands to the north.
This dream came to fruition many years later after the passing of my dad. Even though we made many trips – saw many run down rural properties – nothing ever clicked. My mother wasn’t very excited to move into houses leaning in all directions and if you dropped a marble in the middle of the floor it would not stop until it hit the wall. The farm structures generally weren’t much better and my dad wasn’t sure if there was any place to sell what he might produce. One add we followed led us to 160 acres with a well-built five bedroom colonial home. There was a guesthouse and some other structures. My mother wasn’t put off by the large colonial home but the location was on a gravel road many miles from a town. I was very taken with the property because it had a rushing creek with trout and a beaver pond. I didn’t analyze much else – I was sold. This property stayed on the market for a couple of years. The price kept increasing over time from sixteen to twenty one thousand. Dad could never solve the dilemma of supporting his family in the back woods. The place finally sold but his dream of Oregon never went away.
My attraction for the outdoors was rooted in the love for fishing, and even though the Oregon move was not coming about, there were still opportunities to connect with nature. Before southern California was paved over with development, there were many open fields to roam. I would join the neighbor boys go fishing or to hunt jack rabbits with a slingshot. They were quite safe from bodily harm but it was exciting to flush one and watch him bound away into the bush. The fishing opportunities were in a creek that meandered through the countryside. In the summer this creek went dry except for isolated holes and if you knew where they were these holes held catfish and perch. Within a few years the fields and orchards were turned into subdivisions. To reduce flooding, the creek was converted to a concrete storm drain and the lone freeway that was intended to solve traffic congestion only fueled more development until all the fields and orchards were gone. I was not discouraged by this change, as there were other opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. In the off season I would read about fishing in the high Sierras of California and begin planning the next backpacking trip. Many hours were spent tying flies and dreaming of the big one that wouldn’t get away. Even though I never landed a trophy size fish we usually caught enough to ward off starvation. The icy high mountain lakes were not conducive to growing large fish. In fact there were not any fish in the high Sierras until man hauled them in by plane or mule. Recently there is concern about the impact of these predatory fish on other creatures that naturally inhabit this ecosystem. When we were wandering the mountain trails it was unusual to see another human. We felt like the early explorers of the west. No matters that someone had written a detailed book about the region; and others had built trails and campsites. But it is different now. The people impact has spawned many regulations in an attempt to preserve these fragile places of great natural beauty. My attraction to Oregon was latent for a few years but definitely not gone. It surfaced again after spending a couple of years in the army, marriage, children, and living and working on a stock ranch on the California coast. Even though we were enjoying the challenges of the work and magnificent scenery of the region, there was a pull to visit the Oregon country again. We started using our vacation time to make treks to the northwest to explore the region. We had no intention of leaving the California ranch or our home among the redwoods or the enjoyment of the private beaches but the Oregon dream was still much alive.
Our situation was destined to change. Shortly before my dad’s passing, he wrote us a letter. Enclosed was an advertisement for a dairy in the Tillamook area. If we were interested, he wanted us check it out and report back. We were never able to go in time or give him our review. Some time later we did travel to Oregon on vacation. We stayed with friends near Salem where I discovered the Capital Press, an agricultural news weekly. To my delight, the real-estate ads listed numerous rural properties for sale. One add among the multitudes caught my attention. I clipped it and we went on our wanderings. The directions were vague in the add, somewhere on a rural route between Bellevue and McMinnville. We felt the challenge and decided to see if we could find it. We never missed a turn and when the valley came into view it fit my mental image perfectly. We knocked on the door and Mable Toliver warmly welcomed us and sent me to find Tim, who was working in the forest. She made Harriet feel at home visiting with her about how things might be when we moved up. Tim also treated me as if the sale were already closed. He said he would bring spring water to our building site and we were to construct a home for our down payment. I think we already hooked and very much agreed in spirit, but felt we should probably visit a few other properties before committing. Other places didn’t compare. We had felt a sense of home in the valley of ancient volcanoes and muddy creeks and signed up. Some months later, we packed belongings in a nineteen foot camp trailer, and headed north to set up camp on a knob in the middle of a blooming crimson clover field. The hot summer days were busy times. There was a house to be built, machinery to be purchased and crops to be planted before the November rains would turn the ground to muddy jelly. Tim helped us get started with crop farming, a new ball game for me. The first need was to buy some equipment. While attending an auction, Tim informed an acquaintance that he had sold half of his farm in preparation for retirement. The fellow commented ” now you can both go broke’, because in those days it took five hundred acres of quality well managed cropland to make a living. Tim was one of the best managers around and with his system and advice we had picture perfect crops heading into harvest time. After many grueling hot days in a fog of chaff from an old AC combine we had harvested a bumper crop of Crimson seed. Things looked bright. Then mother nature took over with five inches of rain in August. For two weeks our wheat was saturated until the ripe heads were full of green sprouts. Still in the field were four thousand fifty pound straw bales which turned into two hundred pounds blobs of soggy organic mess. Even with the setbacks in crop farming, our enthusiasm still persisted. It was not connected to business success but rather rooted in the love of the outdoors and the bounty of nature which this rich land of promise had in abundance. From our first years in the valley to this day the challenge has been to meet our daily bread needs and not fight or destroy the very thing that brought us here.