Sunday, March 25, 2012


There was an old man from Albina,
Who went off in the hills as a miner,
But he's since reappeared,
With his stories, most weird,
And a red Turkish fez like a Shriner.

I have been away. And like any other prospector who has headed off into the hills with gold pans and victuals piled up on his mule, I have probably been forgotten. But this note is to forewarn you of my eventual return. And instead off coming back empty handed, I am returning with pure gold. My research into the skeleton-filled closets of this city have turned up far more interesting stories than I had anticipated. And I am going to have to jam as much as will fit into one book of which each chapter could have been a book in its own right.
The Albina rail yard

A few notes on Albina

Albina was a city in its own right for years before becoming part of the great metropolis—a bustling city at that. The train yards were alive with the arrival and departure of passengers, and the great steam engines of the day growled and snorted into the roundhouse to be switched onto various rail lines.
I worked on the Albina grain docks for over thirty years, and during my time the days were quiet in comparison. The rail terminal for passengers moved across the river. The old break bulk cargo docks and sacked grain warehouses were long gone, replaced by a cement plant and grain elevators. 
The area in 1888

Albina grain docks 1880s

The Albina Engine and Machine Works was next door to Irving dock. For years steel vessels were built here, starting with the smaller warships of WWI. During WWII navy tugs and warships continued to be built, include a line of warships known as the mighty midgets. When the war ended tugs and ferries were constructed here. The company used large amounts of asbestos in its construction, and the site, and the adjacent Willamette river is polluted with years of oil spills, and other chemical spills.

Some of the warehouses added grain elevators. This is O Dock before 1960 when the warehouse  burned
Where once thousands of men (and later women) labored, filling the air with the very human sounds of shouting, cursing, and laughing, now is heard the quiet groan of huge machines. An export grain elevator, for example, is merely a gigantic machine, operated from a control room, designed for blending various qualities of  grain and delivering it out of its spouts into a waiting ship. So where at one time gangs made up of dozens of men loaded heavy sacks into the holds of ships, now one man (or woman) pushes some buttons.
How is miss thee, dear old O Dock! (of course I could visit at any time)

It is quiet down there along the river, and it may get quieter yet. This is a long story, and one I hope to tell in its entirety some day.