Saturday, August 04, 2007

The gift of Red Electric history

I’ve just been given a remarkable document describing The Red Electric in detail.

No, I don’t mean this blog but its namesake, the distinctive interurban train that stopped here in Hillsdale for 15 years in the early part of the 20th Century.

The gift is a special issue of “Interurbans” magazine dated Nov. 1949. Nearly the entire issue is devoted to The Red Electrics. The magazine, published in Los Angeles, called itself “The National Electric Railway News Digest.” The special cover price was $1, which was a fair amount in those days. "Interurbans" normally sold for 50 cents.

I came by this yellowed and worn copy via friend and neighbor Ruth Adkins, who passed it on from her mom, Jane Willsea. Jane, who bought it at a Terwilliger Plaza discarded library items sale, was kind enough to give it to me, but it really belongs in a museum. That’s where I will see that it goes when I’ve thoroughly studied its contents. I’ve already scanned most of its pages, which I will post here in the future.

(By the way, if you click on these images, they will be enlarged, and you can see the detail and read the text.)

The issue is a trove of information. As I explore it, I’ll share my findings.

For now, here’s a brief outline of what is in this 24-page. 8.25 inch by 10.75 inch, special “Interurbans” issue. The first 17 pages are devoted to the Red Electrics, which were run by the Southern Pacific Lines. Passenger service lasted from January 1914 to July 1929. The issue carries numerous photographs plus route maps, technical drawings of the trains and timetables.

After a brief forward, it is organized into chronologically ordered sections on “background,” “construction,” “operation,” “abandonment,” and “disposition” of the trains. A separate article deals with the horrendous head-on collision that took place in Hillsdale near what is now the old Raz bus garage on Berth Boulevard, which at the time was the Red Electric’s rail bed.

In an early issue of The Connection, I wrote about the collision using newspaper accounts. The Interurbans article adds much more detail, so I plan to revisit the story using this textured new source as well as my old story. Six of the 92 passengers on board the two trains died, as did three of the 10 railroad crew members.

Another remarkable aspect of the Red Electric story — and that of all the interurbans throughout the country — is their demise, and, in light of MAX and other light rails, their resurrection. The issue blames the fall of the interurbans on the rise of the automobile. More recent histories (vis. the documentary “Taken for a Ride”) have blamed it on the coercion and collusion of the automobile and oil industries.

But for now, all of that will wait for future posts.

Thanks Ruth and Jane for bringing this wonderful document to light.

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Friday, August 03, 2007

A whole lot of Red Bull

Recently I suggested that Portland's professional soccer team just go by the sponsor's name on the team jerseys and call itself the "Toyotas" since the real name, rumored to be "the Timbers" is nowhere to be found on the uniforms.

Now a Portland soccer fan near and dear to me has alerted me that a Major League Soccer team already has made the leap by actually naming itself after a sponsor.

That would be Red Bull New York. Red Bull, the sponsor, is also an energy drink. So when New York fans chant their team's name, they are also chanting an ad, which in turn is piped out over the TV and radio to thousands, free of charge.

And if that isn't insidious enough, there's an entire soccer league in England that has sold its name to none other than Coca-Cola, hence Coca-Cola League 1.

Before long we may well see cities and even states selling off their names. Beaverton becomes "Niketown." Oregon becomes "Nikeland."

This isn't as bizarre as it sounds. Remember the little eastern Oregon hamlet of Halfway that dropped its name for a year and called itself, the name of a dot-com company — all for a price?

Then back in 2005, EchoStar Communications Corporation (Nasdaq:DISH) and its DISH Network satellite TV service offered free satellite TV dishes and service to residents of any town choosing to rename itself, ready?: "Dish."

And sure enough, a small community in Texas, formerly Clark (pop. 125), cashed in on all those dishes by dubbing itself "Dish."

Another way to put it is that it traded its real world heritage for free access to fantasy.

If I could accept the principle of such a trade (and I can't), from the point of view of both benefit and name, I believe the residents of Dish would have been better off approaching the folks from "Red Bull."

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Update on Hillsdale undergrounding

Earlier this week I wrote about leaning on Comcast and Qwest to underground their cables next to the new Watershed Senior Housing Project.

Comcast jumped on the case and sent folks out to check out the site today.

Qwest was slow to respond, but its Oregon president, Judy Peppler, e-mailed me today that her staff is looking into the costs. She promised to get back to me soon. I would suggest that Qwest's bean-counters factor in the cost of good will—and ill, particularly in the competitive cable environment Qwest wants to create.

Wes Risher and I are also pressing Comcast, Qwest and PGE to move the pole that obscures the view of the landmark tower at the busy corner of SW Capitol Highway and Bertha Court.

I'll keep you posted on developments.

PS The Watershed should be ready for occupancy in late November.

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History Detective explains typewriter flub

Steve Brannon, a fellow typewriter addict, has written to draw attention to "The History Detective's" mea culpa regarding the PBS program's flawed investigation of a vintage typewriter purported have belonged to beloved World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle.

I wrote about the error here.

Steve has passed on "detective" Wes Cowan's response to those who wrote him about the error.

Here's the relevant part of Cowan's response, which was posted a couple of weeks ago:

ERNIE PYLE'S TYPEWRITER ... I wanted to thank viewers for pointing out a slip-up in our story. Our expert, Jacqueline Joseph, compared the way the number 1 looked when typed by our typewriter to a document Ernie Pyle typed with the date 1945. But as several viewers noticed, many people in those days used the lowercase “l” instead of the number 1 because it was easier to reach. What we showed you was just the first part of quite a detailed examination where we compared many features throughout the documents. The other numbers in the 1945 were also looked at, and we noticed other significant differences such as the letter sizes, and the spaces between letters, words and lines of type. So, thank you to our eagle-eyed viewers and rest assured that this did not affect the outcome of our investigation!

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Editorial blind spots

Editorial writing is, by definition, critical, but that doesn’t mean it is beyond criticism.

I’ve written a few editorials in my time. Among the craft's many challenges are word limits and establishing focus.

But focus and brevity shouldn’t result in tunnel vision.

Two examples:

Yesterday’s issue of The Portland Tribune carries an editorial titled “City needs new naming process.” The editorial board worried over whether Interstate Avenue should be renamed for César Chavez, as some in the Hispanic community have argued.

Why not name some parks after Chavez? the editorial board proposed.

The editorial concluded with these words: “Any naming — or renaming — of public places in Portland should help to better define and build a sense of community, while also serving to hone the contributions of worthy individuals. The city of Portland should have a renaming process that serves these goals better than it does today.”

The big blind spot in the editorial is the city’s selling of naming rights. How can an editorial address the “naming” issue without at least considering the decision to rename Civic Stadium “PGE Park.” And what about the other naming rights the city’s parks bureau is geared up to sell?


Second example:

In today’s Oregonian, an editorial urges rapid implementation of the State’s stiffer physical education requirements in the schools. The goal is to address “our childhood obesity epidemic.” Twenty-five percent of Oregon’s eighth graders are “overweight or at risk of becoming overweight, and that rate is on the rise,” the editorial notes.

Then the editorial goes on to say that the new PE law “is only the first step.” And what is the next step? More money for PE and pressuring school boards to implement the program.

End of discussion.

What the editorial writers fail to address is the four to five hours each day that the average child spends in front of screens. During those hours, children expend zero calories and are enticed to eat calorie-laden junk food — a huge contributor to childhood obesity and early on-set diabetes.

It’s fine to bulk up PE in the schools, but the average public school graduate will have spent more time in front of television than in the classroom — including the PE classroom.

Fighting childhood obesity begins at home, but you’d never know it reading the editorial.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Hillsdale Underground strikes!

We were lying in wait, Wes Risher and I. We had in our sights two corporate giants.

Comcast and Qwest had been flushed out by last night's Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission hearing.

Because the hearing was about Qwest's bold bid to compete with Comcast in the Portland Cable TV market, Wes and I knew executive heavies would be out in the open.

We prepared to pounce, and we did.

We told the commissioners how neither communications colossus had buried its overhead cables in the underground conduits installed next to Hillsdale's new, landmark Watershed Senior Housing development.

See the photo: the Qwest and Comcast wires trail off to the right from the big, ugly pole on the left (more on that later).

PGE, wearing a white hat, put its wires underground along the side of the building. Note how the top cables disappear at the pole, which PGE owns.

Wes and I want all Capitol Highway's overhead clutter buried in the central Town Center, but last night we would take what we could get.

As the corporate brass prepared to walk away after the hearing, we cut 'em off. After introductions and pleasantries, we got to the point. "So how can you help us? The conduits are just waiting for your cables etc."

We displayed our public spirit, knowing both firms want to make nice with a public that soon will be choosing between their services.

It helped that KOIN-TV was there taking all this in.

It is not a time for bad PR.

So we had 'em. Who would do the right thing? Who would underground? Who would not? Would competition lead them both to underground righteousness?

Sanford Inouye, Comcast's vice president of government affairs, promised to have someone call me in the morning. Judy Peppler, president of Qwest in Oregon, asked that I e-mail her with the specifics in the morning.

Here's where we stand.

I e-mailed Judy. Actually I addressed her as "Ms. Peppler" (even though this IS Oregon). She can call me "Rick." I shared the specifics and did some overreaching (why not?) — perhaps Qwest, Comcast and PGE could band together and remove the obtrusive utility pole in front of the tower (see photo). I reminded her that Wes and I also had approached Comcast with the same undergrounding request.

It is now 12 hours since I sent my e-mail. I haven't heard back from Peppler, but then it's summer time and the living is easy, right?

Not so at Comcast. I'm into my second cup of coffee this morning and I get the call, the first of two from Comcast. They don't know what the problem is in Hillsdale because when conduit is provided Comcast ALWAYS underground.

Sounds like a deal.

Well, it's a deal when it's done, but so far in the niceness sweepstakes, Comcast is first off the line and building speed. Qwest is still in the blocks. (Yes, I know I've egregiously switched metaphors — and am flailing this one — but this is a heady time.)

No need to place bets. This is no contest — we want everyone to win, especially Hillsdale.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Hello! Holder of raffle ticket No. 266860

If you bought raffle ticket number 266860 at the Hillsdale Book Sale on Sunday, you are the proud winner of a Royal portable typewriter like one used by Ernest Hemingway.

Write me to claim this piece of history.


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Proposed cable contract mum on undergounding

Qwest, the big regional phone company, wants to compete with Comcast for your cable TV dollar in Portland. Whether a little competition results in better service and lower prices remains to be seen.

One thing is certain, a competitor will add to the visual clutter above our streets, unless the Mount Hood Cable Regulatory Commission stirs itself and inserts some pro-undergrounding teeth in the proposed franchise agreement.

The commission is set to vote on the agreement Sept. 17. (You can comment here.) As is, the draft agreement is silent on the whole undergrounding issue. The word "undergrounding" appears nowhere in the text.

Hillsdale neighborhood leader Wes Risher and I testified at a regulatory commission hearing tonight in favor of a set-aside franchise fee. The money raised would start paying for undergrounding in Town Centers (like Hillsdale) and Main Streets — places that are supposed to be pleasant to walk in. Yes, places more entertaining than what your cable pumps into your home.

Imagine Hillsdale without this clutter....

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Where eyeballs gather, ads are sure to follow

Go Portland Toyotas!


You know, the soccer club that proudly wears Toyota jerseys.

But isn't Portland's soccer team the Timbers?

Not if the printed, stenciled word has meaning. The team jerseys clearly read "Toyota." Not a "Timber" in sight.

Now the NFL, which so far has avoided logo-branding teams after cars, beer, dish detergent or erectile dysfunction drugs, may require sports photographers to wear ad laden vests along the sidelines.

As reported by Commercial Alert, journalist associations and news outlets are protesting the move as an encroachment on their independence. (Imagine what the Bush White House could do with televised press briefings: Reporters forced to wear "Mission Accomplished!" or "Stay the Course!" vests)

Anyway, Commercial Alert is urging NFL fans to email NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to protest.

Why would they do that when they have already caved to the scoreboards and walls of stadiums (whose names have been sold off to the highest corporate bidders) being plastered with ads?

What next, logos for gambling casinos on umpires' uniforms? What are the odds?

And don't get me started on NASCAR....

Come to think of it, the Portland Toyotas are in tune with the times.

You can bank on it: Any place that attracts enough eye-balls becomes valuable commercial real estate. "Highest and best" use and all that.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Hillsdale Book Sale raises $4000 for community

The Hillsdale Benefit Book sale drew an enthusiastic crowd of browsers and buyers Sunday. They spent $4263 on books donated by the community over the past five weeks.

The raffle for the vintage Royal typewriter raised an additional $93. Ticket purchasers particularly rewarded the efforts of young ticket sellers Ella and Camille, shown here. Who could resist? The winning ticket number is 266860. Its ticketholder should write me via The Red Electric to claim the typewriter.

All sale proceeds go to the Hillsdale Alliance, which is using the money to establish a Hillsdale Community Foundation.

The Alliance includes the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association, the Hillsdale Business and Professional Association, the Hillsdale Farmers Market, SW Trails, Hillsdale's three public schools. the Hillsdale branch library and Neighborhood House.

Proceeds from the book sale will bring the total Alliance foundation account to approximately $10,000. Other funds were raised at two book sales held last year.

Book sale organizers haven't decided whether to hold another sale in December. The decision will rest in part on the availability of space. Today's sale and the two last year were held in the old Estby gas station, which is slated for demolition.

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