Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Yachats Gazette, Issue 30, February 1 2014


TYG had the privilege of interviewing long-time Yachats resident Lester Hall, on the occasion of his 103rd birthday, along with his daughter, Shari.

TYG: What was it like growing up in Oregon?
Lester: I think it's about as good a state in the union as there is to grow up in. It's got everything -- all kinds of temperatures…. I used to live in eastern Oregon. Lord, it got down to 40 below once! I tell you, I hated that. But here, this is a great place to grow up.  I've always lived in Oregon, all my life. But I've lived all over. You know where Shaniko is? Antelope? Maupin? You know that country?
TYG-Editorial Ass't: We haven't been there. We've seen it on the map. But we're planning some travel.
Lester: I was born [near] Mariel. We lived down on the Rogue River. Not many people. [chuckles]  My Dad had a pack train that carried freight. From West Fork to Mariel, 20 miles -- a pack train of mules.  Six mules. They even moved a piano -- from West Fork to Mariel. My uncle was a piano player, and a fiddle player -- they had dances on Saturday nights. Man, could he ever play! Little guy -- five foot two!

[…] There was nothing there, not even a school. We had to move to Powers to put the kids all in school. Eleven of us. So we did pretty well. They had the post office, and stores and everything. I loved Powers. It was a clean little town. You knew every soul. Everybody was so friendly.

TYG-EA: What caused you to move to this area?
Lester: My brother had a meat market, and he wanted me to come work with him. I'd been working in the sawmill for a year or so. I come to Waldport in '29. I rode out the Depression. Terrible.
TYG-EA: What was that like?
Lester: Oh, boy. Nobody had nothing. I worked for my brother -- I did fine. I did all the buying and the butchering. And when I left him, he had to hire two guys to take my place. [laughs]

Shari: They had Hall's IGA, which is where Clark's was in Waldport, and now it's closed up, off 101.... He quit high school and worked for a couple years. […] Tell him about carrying groceries on the beach, Dad.
Lester: Oh, yeah. I ran a meat route down the coast, every Tuesday and Friday. Beef and pork. By truck. Model T Ford. I had to drive on the beach. Waldport to Yachats. […] I never had any problems. My brother decided to take the meat route -- he turned [the truck] over, out on the beach. Had the waves coming over him. And the old mailman come by, he had those big tires -- and he started to leave, but he heard somebody groan. "Oh! There's somebody under there!" And he got that sudden wave, and he pulled that pickup off, and saved his life.

Shari: Oh, the other thing you did, didn't you deliver across the old railroad trestles, across the bay?
TYG: Oh! I've seen the supports for that bridge! It's not there anymore!
Lester: No, it's gone! I'd drive that all the time. A couple times a week.

TYG: What did you think your future would be like when you first moved here?
Lester: You know what? I worked for my brother, but he made a slave out of me! [laughter] I was talking to the Toledo banker -- "How much longer you going to work for your brother?" "Well, I don't have any money." "You got anything you want?" "Yeah, I'd like to buy [a certain piece of property]." "Tomorrow you'll know that it's for sale." And sure enough, It happened.

TYG-EA: What did you do with it?
Lester: Raised cattle. It paid for itself.

TYG: What was it like living in Yachats when you first moved here?
Lester: Not too many people here. Real friendly. Everybody knew everybody. And they helped everybody. One time they had a big windstorm, and blew the roof off my barn, and I had a bunch of hay. All the neighbors came and hauled it to another barn. Worked around the clock. That's the way it was then, everybody helped everybody.

Shari: They had a wonderful life here in the Yachats River. Grange Hall was active, they had square dances every Saturday night, the old fashioned thing where they played the fiddle, and kids came. I have fond memories of that -- Mom and Dad were great dancers. Polka. And everybody would stop and watch them dance. And Leonard Carson, and Dawsons, and all were young farmers, just like Dad, on this river. Now we've seen how many generations. We had a rodeo right here in Yachats, do you know all about that?
TYG: No!
Shari: Right where Judy Kaufmann's place is….

Lester: I was a deputy sheriff. Five of us. One time there was four kids got lost, so they sent all of us out looking for 'em. And you know, we found them -- in a hollow stump. They'd put up the night in this hollow stump.
TYG-EA: Where were they?
Lester: In the Bayview country. Beaver Creek. Over in that area.

TYG-EA: Do you still tend the farm yourself?
Lester: Oh, yeah. I got John Bachelor -- he's good. He's smart. He can do anything. And he loves it here.
Shari: He [Lester] is still in on decision making. Very much in on decision making. This is the first year he hasn't fed the cows every day. That's a daily thing, early in the morning, and you have to throw bails.
Lester: I can't walk very far. I run out of gas.

[Discussion of the photo by Ken Gagne, taken at Lester's birthday last year]
Lester: Yep, I've still got those cows.
Shari: He fell down right after that, and that cow kicked him in the head! And he said, "Where's my cane?" He wanted to hit the cow in the head! [laughter]
Lester: Well, it happened! That cow hit me in the back and knocked me onto my belly -- only that far from a big cow turd! [more laughter]

Shari: You used to say that whenever you were stressed, you'd go down and walk amongst the cows, and everything's right with the world.
Lester: Oh yeah. I'd drive the pickup down amongst the cattle. Those calves come up and lick on your door. And man, talk about a stress reliever. They were so entertaining.

TYG: What did you like to do when you were a kid?
Lester: I always had saddle horses, as far back as I can remember. I learned to ride when I was only eight. I was a good rider at eight years old. You ever rode a horse?
TYG: Yes, I have! I used to take lessons.
Lester: Is that right? Well, well, well!
Shari: We learned by… learning how to hang on. [chuckles]

TYG-EA: What are some of the things you remember best from when you were ten or eleven?
Lester: I had a lot of brothers. They worked together, they taught me a lot. I could do most anything, when I was eleven years old.

When I was eleven years old I hired out on a hay truck. Had a team of horses, and I did the loading. I'll never forget one time the boss said, "Turn down here." "No," I said, "it'll turn over!" "When did you take over this farm? Turn down here!" I turned down, and over she went. Full load of hay. "I should have listened to that kid!" [general laughter]
Shari: Didn't you have to go out and gather herbs and things, for your grandmother to make medicines? The Indians?
Lester: Oh, yeah. She was a great old gal. She was smart. She made a lot of medicines.
Shari: Here's her picture. [shows black-and-white photograph] There is a plaque to her at the graveyard down there in Agness.

TYG-EA: Is she American Indian?
Shari: Yes. Well, part -- she's not total. She looks total, but she's not. 
Lester: She could weave baskets you could carry water in.
Shari: She has some baskets in the Smithsonian.

TYG-EA: What do you find the most surprising about the changes that you've seen in the world?
Lester: Pretty slow change, you know. You adjust to it. And that's what happens to me. I never get stressed. What the hell -- I think too much about life to get stressed.

TYG-EA: Have you ever traveled outside of Oregon?
Lester: Never.

TYG-EA: Never once?
Lester: Oh, California.
Shari: And Washington. He's been to visit us in Seattle once. He said, "Why should you travel when you've got heaven right here."

TYG: Thank you so much for your time!


In the first part of this interview (Issue 29), The Yachats Gazette was fortunate to be led on a tour of the NOAA research vessel Rainier. Here is the 2nd half, alas much abridged.

CDR Brennan: We have about 55 people on board, and we carry life rafts for more than double that. […] They’re basically the size of a family tent, so you can imagine 25 people huddled in them—it’s not very pleasant.

TYG-Graphic Design: What’s that bike there ? [pointing to a rather rusty-looking older model bicycle]
CDR Brennan: That’s one of our yard bikes. We carry it with us because a lot of times if we go into a port, like up in Alaska or something, we don’t have cars with us. So just to get around town, we have a number of ship’s bikes.

TYG-GD: And what are [those satellite dishes] for?
CDR Brennan: One of those is a [maritime] VSAT and the other is our TV system. The VSAT system is our satellite communications—even when we’re underway, we get full internet access on board the ship, which has been a huge thing. It seems very luxurious as well, but in reality, what we do with this data [from the mapping]… to have the ability to transfer data off and to get fixes to software on board, and to show people the issues we’re having with data, whatever—to have that form of communication is tremendous. It’s a real necessity. Not to say that people don’t use it to do Facebook or something else, but it’s more than that.

[We move up to G Deck, typically called the Flying Bridge. A Deck is at the very bottom of the ship.]
CDR Brennan: Here is where we would typically have what we call our “Big Eyes”—and they’re just a gigantic set of binoculars, […] and it’s for long-range spying. You know, like if we’re looking at birds, or to try and figure out the name of a ship that we see off on the horizon…

TYG: Why not just contact them wirelessly?
CDR Brennan: Well, we can do that, but sometimes you may be calling them, and you may say “Calling the ship in position latitude this, longitude that, in approximate position 30 miles southeast of […] Newport, this is NOAA ship Rainier”… and nothing comes back. Unless you call them by name, they won’t answer you. So sometimes it’s just a helpful way. Now we’ve also got a system called AIS, it’s the Automated Identification System and it has a transponder and it sends the ships’ names out, so that’s very helpful. But a lot of the small fishing boats, like these guys, they don’t all carry it yet.

[F Deck is also where they flash Morse code, and the magnetic compass. We move on down the ladders, so-called because they’re too vertical to be called properly stairs]
CDR Brennan: This is what we call a davit, here. Normally this would hold another launch [boat]. […] You can see that this is a giant pivot here, and this is a pin, so this whole thing pivots up and out and over the water—that 30-foot boat gets lifted out and over and down.

TYG: How do you get into the boat once it’s in the water? Or do you man it first?
CDR Brennan: […] It gets lowered over the side, and then you can see that next deck down there—the crew will be waiting down there and board. […] Then they would man their lines and then it would get lowered into the water. We typically do that underway doing about three knots. That’s probably one of the most dangerous, but also one of the most exciting evolutions that we do, and we do that every day.

TYG: What’s the top speed of these small boats?
CDR Brennan: These boats can do about 25 to 28 knots.

TYG: What’s the top speed of the main boat?   
CDR Brennan: The ship only does 11 knots, lively. […] This one is another of our boats. It’s a skiff, only 18 feet. […] [We see a third kind of boat with a very shallow draft and of very thick metal construction sitting on deck] In order to support the mapping, we have to put tide gauges in [… and] a GPS base station in to measure the GPS atmospheric errors. And so we have to typically go ashore, and some of the places where we go ashore it can be very rocky and we need a shallow-draft vessel [only about a foot of draft] and a rugged vessel. We can actually just run this up onto the beach and not have to worry about the rocks too, too much—we have to tilt the engine up. But basically it’s just like a giant pick-up truck. So we’ll load all the tide gear stuff in the back, and run it onto the beach and set it up. […] Frequently we’ll have five people plus gear in this boat going ashore so it’s usually a heavily weighted boat. Plus the boat itself is very heavy. When you look at a boat this size that you see on trailers, they’re made out of aircraft aluminum that’s measured in millimeters—the aluminum on this is a quarter inch thick. […]

TYG: May we board her?
CDR Brennan: I don’t have a good way for you to get in right now, but if you like I could take you into one of these launches—they’re a little more exciting.

TYG: Oh, yes please! You’re very generous, Sir.
CDR Brennan: This is not on the general tour, I can tell you that!

[We climb up and out onto a metal grate gangway, take care to avoid the tripping hazards that are pointed out to us, and we board the launch that’s hanging mid-air]

TYG: What’s the lower deck of the ship [launch] for, and how do you even get there?
CDR Brennan: These are not very glamorous boats, obviously work boats [opens a hatch that leads below deck into a workroom and a tiny attached toilet room …]. Basically this is where we acquire all of the data—these are the work horses. Frequently what we do is the ship will just anchor in some harbor, and we’ll act as the mother ship. The four launches will go out and survey, and come back at the end of the day.

TYG-GD: Is everybody certified to be a pilot?
CDR Brennan: No. No, they’re not. Keeping people qualified to drive these boats is a full-time job. We have people moving on, or transferring out… These [launches] are fairly unique and they take a lot of skill to drive. Typically, we’re telling them to go into places where most people do not go, because that’s what we’re trying to find: where are all the dangers? So they’re going into the dangerous spots so that they know what’s there, so other people don’t have to. [The pilots] have to be very skilled to go and do that. The boat itself is probably close to a million dollars, and then there’s probably another million dollars or so of electronics on board, when you look at the sonar, and this commercial navigation system; there’s a whole series of accelerometers that help it navigate both with GPS and inertial range. […] This boat would be ready to go with very little preparation. We’d have to get guys on board, they would do a quick engine check before we get underway, and they would do a systems check of all our electronics and load it with drinks and goodies, snacks for the day, and get the crew on board, and you’d be ready to go. That’s typically what we do in the morning: have a safety brief every morning, and talk about what the dangers might be, whether it’s weather or sea conditions or working in shallow water, or something like that.

[We disembark and go back down to D Deck and see another type of launch, and then move on to a rather torpedo-looking object attached to a pole at the side of the ship near the back]

CDR Brennan: Remember that machine in the plot room where I was talking to you about sound velocity? It controls this machine here. See this device here that looks like a torpedo? There’s a sensor in that. And do you remember talking about all the particles in the water? Well ultimately, what the sound velocity relies upon mostly is the temperature and the salinity. Those are the two drivers that drive the sound velocity through the water. So that measures the conductivity, which is directly related to the salinity and the temperature. It also has a pressure sensor on it, because as the pressure increases, so does the sound velocity. So it measures those three things, and we basically tow this behind the ship, kind of like a giant fishing lure. […] Typically a fishing pole has a button on it that you can release that allows the line to pay out. This operates kind of on the same philosophy as that. So basically we troll it back behind the ship, maybe about 100 meters out, then when it comes time to take a cast—this thing is very heavy, it’s solid bronze, and probably weighs about 80 lbs—so you just release the brake on it. It doesn’t just free flow out; the drum here on the winch actually feeds the cable out the back so this is allowed to basically free fall straight to the sea floor. So it will get within about ten percent of the water depth, and then the brake is applied. When the brake is applied, it’ll start to come back up. So the whole time it’s free-falling, it’s recording data: conductivity, temperature, and pressure, which gets converted into depth.

TYG-GD: This isn’t a bungee cord, is it?
CDR Brennan: It looks like a bungee cord, but it’s actually a Kevlar cable with a co-axial conductor that runs through the center. So this stuff on the outer side is just a nylon sheathing that’s abrasion-resistant. So [this machine] is in constant communication with the plot room—we can see it the whole time, and get health updates on it and make sure it’s sending data. For the ship, this is an incredible device, because otherwise, the way that these launches have to do that, they have to stop and lower a device over the side by hand and then bring it in. So if the ship had to do that… it takes anywhere from 20-40 minutes depending on how deep the water is there to do [a cast], so you can imagine that […] you’d lose about 3 or 4 hours a day depending on depth just to do sound velocity casts.

[We continue to explore the ship, getting to see the dive prep room, the steering gear with the rudder attachments, the weight room and hardware storage, the computer servers, and the crew mess hall. We finally get to see the Officers’ mess hall, where we approach the large Arctic map on the wall]
CDR Brennan: […] Alaska is where most of the un-surveyed areas that we have in our inventory [the United States’ inventory] still lie. When you look at the area that we are responsible for, it’s significant; most of that area that remains either un-surveyed or without modern survey techniques lies in Alaska. Either it was covered in ice, or there’s no population, no need; a lot of our survey efforts go to the 40 militarily and economically significant ports throughout the US, most of which are in the south. This ship and the Fairweather have basically surveyed the entire coast between Seward and the Canadian border—45 years just for that, [plus] Prince William sound, Kachemak Bay where Homer is, Cook Inlet. These are all what we would say are the easy areas. Now where we’ve been surveying is out here—the Shumagin Islands—the areas we surveyed this year, there were [previously] no soundings at all.

TYG-GD: I’ve heard of several recent earthquakes in Alaska—where are those? 
CDR Brennan: Oh, a lot of the ones you’ve been seeing are probably from around here on Adak and Dutch [Harbor], but this one had some steaming going on this summer and there were a couple of earthquakes—we were right here, and could see it.

TYG-GD: Oh, so there are a lot of volcanoes?
CDR Brennan: Oh, all the way along. When you sail through here, there’s just volcano, volcano, volcano. There’s Veniaminof, Pavlof [these were volcanoes where they had been surveying].

TYG-GD: So what happens when there’s and earthquake and you’re on the ship? Nothing at all?
CDR Brennan: Well, that depends. If that earthquake causes some sort of a landslide… there’s basically a shelf that runs along here, and if an earthquake caused a large portion of that to slide, it would definitely create a tsunami. And if that tsunami came in and we were near shore, it could definitely be very problematic. And that happened! We came in here at Cape Spencer, started coming down through Chatham Strait, and we got word that an earthquake had happened on Queen Charlotte Island or something, and we headed off shore until we got confirmation that no tsunami had happened.

TYG-GD: How far out do U. S. waters extend?
CDR Brennan: 200 [miles] is our exclusive economic zone, from the seaward-most point. […] There’s a new law out now, put out by the United Nations that says [that] if you can show that there is continental shelf area that extends beyond that 200 nautical miles, your government can lay claim to that area as part of your sovereign territory. So we’ve been doing a lot of surveying up here [in the Arctic Ocean], because the Chukchi Calf [?] extends way beyond into the Arctic Ocean.    […] So we think we can make a claim north into the Arctic Ocean that’s significantly farther than what we currently own. […]       

TYG: Thank you so much, Sir!
CDR Brennan: Certainly!


  1. Loved reading the interviews Allen! Wonderful as always but I must say Mr. Lester sounds like an amazing story teller and wow to 103 years old! Can you imagine all the historical facts that happened and he was already alive during so many of them :) Amazing!

  2. Fantastic issue, Allen. I enjoyed your interview with Mr. Lester an amazing gentlemen at 103 years. Your follow-up interview with CDR Brennan was equally interesting.