Interview with Bert Harley
Bert Harley is a long-time resident of Yachats, and the Gazette caught up with him to hear some of his fascinating stories.
TYG: So, you were born here, is that correct?
Bert: No, no, I was born in Sheridan, Wyoming. In the northern part. And when I was eight years old, I came out to Oregon. We lived out in Portland for a while, in 1933. There weren’t any jobs around.
TYG: Yes, right in the middle of the Depression.
Bert: Depression era, yes... So Dad and Mom, they picked up and went down to California for a couple of years, and my younger brother and sister were born there. Then we got malaria down there.
TYG-Editorial Assistant: You got malaria in California?!
Bert: Yes. I took lots of quinine! Went back to Colorado for another couple of years, then came back out here. We lived down in Scappoose when the war started, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor—I was 16 at the time. Then I worked in the shipyards for a while, in Portland—Swan Island. I worked there for about eight months and got pneumonia and was in the hospital for a week or so. Recuperating, I went down and joined the Navy!
TYG: So you volunteered?
Bert: Oh yes. You volunteered in the Navy; you got drafted in the Army. You didn’t want to be in the Army, you volunteered! [laughs]
TYG: Huh, that’s interesting! [...] I never knew that.
Bert: Well, you know, with that war everybody was involved. Men, women, and children. Anyway, I went down and joined the Navy, and then it was a couple-three months before they called me up. So then went to Farragut, Idaho—that’s where I went to boot camp, Lake Pend Oreille. Graduated out of boot camp there, went down to Norfolk, Virginia, and went to torpedo school.
TYG: I’m presuming that’s for shooting torpedoes? Loading them?
Bert: You know, keeping them ready to tube shoot. Then I went up to New London, Connecticut—went to submarine school up there. Then they shipped us down to California. There were 52 of us that got on a little aircraft carrier down in San Francisco and went to Brisbane, Australia. Then we got on a train, and went straight across Australia on a train, to Fremantle. They put me in a relief crew, which was repairing the boats after they’d come back in off of patrol. Then when the USS Rasher [submarine] came back in, I got on that. We went into the South China Sea and sunk some ships. The boat was getting ready to have some repairs, and get rebuilt, so we came back to Mare Island, California and got off at Hunters Point; we got a major overhaul there. They rebuilt our conning tower, and fixed her engines.
Bert: Yes. Submarines operated out of Brisbane, Australia, and Fremantle, Australia. When we got our overhaul, we left San Francisco December 20th, 1944. We went back out, went to Honolulu a couple of times, and Pearl Harbor a couple of times. We stopped to get stores, and new torpedoes, and whatnot.
TYG-EA: What was it like seeing Pearl Harbor after 1941?
Bert: Well, there were some ships sunk there, but they didn’t bother the submarine base at all—they never did. Anyway, we went out to Pearl Harbor, then Midway Island and did our trial runs, and got ready to go back out. Went out and did a patrol out there in the East China Sea, which was a pretty miserable place. Then we came back into Guam, it was. They got one of our tenders out there. Anyway, after they’d secure an island, they’d move one of our tenders up, so we didn’t have to run so far.
TYG-EA: What does a tender carry for you?
Bert: Everything it takes to keep a submarine running. Machine shops, and fuel, and stores.
TYG-EA: Is that a surface ship, a tender?
Bert: Oh yes. Pretty good-size boats they are. They had several of them out there. I was mostly involved there in Fremantle, on the Orion, a big tender there. There were two or three of them at all times. Then when they got to securing the islands north, then we started moving up. Then the latter part of the war, we did life-guard duty, mostly. You know, up off of Japan. We never picked anybody up. We saw the planes going over and coming back, you know, on bombing runs.
TYG: So your job was to pick up American pilots?
Bert: Yes. Submarines sank so many of their ships that they weren’t sending any boats out. They built the Shinano, I don’t know if you’ve heard of that—big [aircraft carrier] ship. Anyway, the Japanese built it, hadn’t even gotten it ready to go, and the USS Archer-Fish sank it! [chuckles]
TYG: Still in port?
Bert: No, maybe just coming out, I don’t remember. Anyway, we had, on our fifth patrol, we sank more tonnage than any other boat in the Pacific. But when they sank the Shinano, it was 59,000 tons, and it was bigger than all the ships we’d sunk! [laughs]
TYG-EA: What’s the mood like on a submarine in war time? How do people feel in that environment?
Bert: Oh... you had to be somewhere, I guess. I stood lots of look-outs, you know. In those days, the submarines ran mostly on the surface anyways.
TYG: Before the good batteries...
Bert: No, you just ran out of air after you were down about 18 hours. Why, you just couldn’t even light a cigarette! Anyway, during the war, my folks bought a place down here in Yachats, and when I got out of the Navy, my 21st birthday was down here. I got out of the Navy before I was 21. Lots of young people in the town in those days, much younger.
TYG: That’s sort of coming back now!
Bert: Yes... lots of work in the woods, too. Young guys getting out of the service, and lots of work down here in the woods. After the first year, you got so you knew everybody around—somebody drove down the highway, you’d step out to see who it was and wave at them. I worked in the woods down there for several years, cutting ties—railroad ties. That was some of the nicest timber you’d ever seen.
TYG: Oh! I didn’t know you were in logging industry—I have a question for you! Recently, on the beach, there’s been this wood coming up like blood red.
Bert: Not redwood?
TYG-EA: No... It almost looked like it had a kind of “birch-y” bark.
TYG: It had this beautiful sort of greyish-green bark, with this beautiful, red inside. Beautiful contrast.
Bert: Now alder turns red... You take the bark off of an alder, and it’ll turn red.
TYG: Okay... Well, it’s beautiful wood. I’d love to make some stuff out of that, it’s stunning wood.
Bert: It’s the only one I can think of that we’ve got around here. Well, years ago, my father-in-law—they made a living picking up stuff off the beach.
TYG-EA: What brought your parents up here?
Bert: Well, during the war they lived in Portland. They were wanting to get out of there, so they came down here and drove down the coast. They went clear down to Coos Bay, I believe, looking for a place, and then they came back up here. Those strips of land where they lived—you know, Sea Aire and all of those—they were one hundred-foot strips, from the highway clear back to a section line somewhere, sixteen hundred to seventeen hundred feet long. And they were a hundred feet wide, and they ran from the highway to the ocean. Those were selling for $900.
TYG-EA: I’ll take two!
Bert: I know, I should have bought ten! [laughs] It didn’t take long before they got to twelve hundred, and then two thousand. You know, things escalated. The trouble is, our planning, nowadays, is that you have to have a fifty-foot street. So what do you do with a hundred-foot piece of land? Your lots have to be eighty-five-foot deep. So a hundred-foot strip of land is just not the way they plan it nowadays. Because you can’t put up a street between them. So they eventually got cut off. People own them in the back end now. In fact, our cemetery from the highway to the back line is fourteen acres. We’ve used up almost all of the lower part though. We may have to go up there on the top part. Which may be hard to get—we have to get enough money to do it.
TYG: You could probably make a good bit of money by selling the wood, though.
Bert: Well, it’s spruce. There’s quite a bit up there, but I don’t know if there’s enough to... Like the last time we took some trees off of there, why by the time we got them all down and ready to go, the price dropped. But that’s way up on the hill though, 600, 700 feet.
TYG-EA: Don’t know if you want to bury people on land that steep!
Bert: It’s not steep up on top!
TYG: There’s sort of a big plateau area.
Bert: Yeah, we might have four to five acres up on top—three or four, anyway, that we could use. Anyway, I finally got tired of working in the woods. The last job I had was up on top of Cape Perpetua, where the wind blew all that stuff down there in 1960—1952 is when it blew it down. December 2, 1952 is when it tore this country up blowing trees down, you know, big trees. Of course then the next big storm was in ‘62, which took a lot more down.
TYG: The next one was in ‘72?
Bert: No, no... we haven’t had one since then like it. You know, all the storms that we have, they try to compare with the one in 1962, because it was a big one, also in the Valley. Fact, it was even blowing over in eastern Oregon. Anyway, I got tired of working in the woods, and I went to work driving a Cat, a loader—heavy equipment. Worked for Fodge and Collins—they were a construction operator. In 1956, I moved a Cat and a scraper on a project over there at the paper mill. We were supposed to have about a month of excavation to do over there, and ended up over there a year and a half! [laughs]
TYG: Just very different soil composition than you expected, or...?
Bert: Well yeah, that was the biggest part of it. They dredged the material out of the river. They had a dike along the river, and they went across, and the road was over here. They pumped all of this stuff over into it—it was a cat-tail swamp, is all it was. That heavy sand shoved the silt all into a pocket. So when you got into one of those pockets, you were stuck! Anyway, worked there, and then we built a lot of streets in Toledo, then Newport. I had my own back-hoe and truck, and for a while I put in septic tanks and that kind of work. For about eight or nine years. Then my back was bothering me from the equipment and driving the truck, so I went to work for the county surveyor. Worked there until I retired.
TYG: So when did you meet Elaine?
Bert: Oh, I worked in the woods with her dad some. He was a timber faller, but he was working up there. [pause] I don’t know—a long time ago. I think she was in grade school down here in Yachats.
TYG: I’m guessing this was the 50’s and 60’s? I find it amusing that then we had a grade school, and now we don’t.
Bert: Yeah, my brothers and sisters went to school down there. My younger brothers. My brother Jack, he got in the Army right after the war ended.
TYG: Vietnam, or World War II?
Bert: World War II, in ‘46. I got out in ‘46.
TYG: And he joined that same year?
Bert: Yes. When the war ended, we were down in the Gulf of Siam. If the war had lasted another seven days, we would have been done. We’d have gone to Perth, Australia, and had a good time. By the time we got back to the States, all the shouting and fun was over, you know. We went back into the Philippines and cleaned our boat up a little bit, and then headed back to the States. The tender Gilmore, and eighteen submarines left the Philippines there and headed for the States. Six boats in a line, and the tender out ahead of us. Everybody with their lights on. We’d never had lights on before, you know.
TYG-EA: I bet that was a great home-coming!
Bert: Oh yes. We came back through the Panama Canal and went up to New York City.
TYG: So what kind of boat was the Rasher? I mean, I know it was a submarine.
Bert: Well, it was a Gato-type submarine—it was what they called a fleet submarine, in those days. We had four 1,600 horse-power engines. But if you look it up on the internet, you can find out all about it.
TYG-EA: I wanted to ask what it was like raising a family here.
Bert: Well, Elaine already had two kids when [we] got married. It was... challenging. [chuckles] We had a lot of fun. Kristie graduated in ‘75, and Steve in ‘79, I guess it was. Kristie went to college at Lewis and Clark, but then she got sick after a while. Steve, he’s doing real well. He went to work for the city up there, just out of high school. He worked for the city for 13 years, then he worked for the Port of Portland. He worked at the airport, at PDX, for about a year, then he got a job as a maintenance man in Hillsboro at the Port of Portland. He retired there after about 35 years, and sat around for a while, and then they called him back to be an inspector on their construction jobs. So he’s doing that right now.
TYG-EA: What’s the most surprising, or what strikes you most about the changes in town over the years?
Bert: Well, it’s been kind of a steady change, everything getting more expensive real fast. It’s been doing it, seems like, just leaving me kind of behind. Seems like I could never get hold of the right stick that made the money, you know. I told my son a long time ago that, sooner or later, if it keeps on going like this, a family car is going to cost you a hundred thousand dollars. What in the world good is that? We bought a car when I was making three dollars an hour! You know, paid rent and all that stuff...
TYG-EA: Well you sure have a nice place here! How long have you been here?
Bert: In this spot? Seventeen years. We lived thirty in that one [just down the hill].
TYG: Anything else you’d like to talk about?
Bert: Well, I don’t necessarily like what’s going on in Yachats now, all those curbs and everything. They say they’ve made 44 new parking spaces, but I don’t know how you can do that when you take some away—where are they going to be? Down at the Park? Down on the streets there? [...] It’s a small town! And we don’t have the planning I suppose. In the early days it seemed to me like it was planned fairly well. They drew the plans for the town back in the 1800’s. There were a lot of towns here—towns that were never really made, but were drawn up in different places.
TYG: How interesting!. Well, thank you so much!
Rainspout Music Festival
Rainspout 2017 offers a diverse, eclectic collection of musical acts, workshops, dining, dancing, jam sessions, plus a children’s show, a sing-along, and a hootenanny.
Rainspout is sponsored by Polly Plumb Productions and The City of Yachats. The music festival is a musical celebration of spring evolving into summer. Rainspout offers something for everyone, introducing new and exciting musical experiences, alongside some good old-fashioned musical fun.
Friday night step out to a jazzed up night of music, dinner, and dancing. Savor a fabulous meal prepared by The Drift Inn Café, while enjoying the The Barbara Dzuro Jazz Quartet and The Biondi-Russel Band, featuring a tribute to Etta James starring Joanne Broh on vocals. Jazz, swing and blues, bring your appetite and dancing shoes!
Saturday’s daytime line-up includes performances, workshops, a sing-along, and all-day jam session. Saturday daytime presenters and performers are: Mike & Carleen McCornack, The New Folksters, Terry Trenholm, Barb Turrill and Morgan Spiess.
Saturday night showcases the indescribably entrancing sounds of Betty and The Boy, and the charming finesse of The East West International Project. Sunday features a morning jam session, a workshop and a performance and hoedown with the Fiddlin Big Sue Band.
Beer, wine, food, beverages, and a variety of refreshments will be available during the festival.
Tickets are available at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2900737
Visit rainspout.org or Rainspout Music Festival on Facebook for more information.
email: email@example.com, tel: 541-968-6089
Polly Plumb Productions (PPP) is a tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization that supports and promotes music and dance performances and art exhibitions in the Yachats area. PPP programs include the Yachats Celtic Music Festival (http://yachatscelticmusicfestival.org/) and the Yachats Pride Celebration June 3-4, 2017, featuring Chris Williamson in concert. Tickets now on sale at www.brownpapertickets.com More info at http://yachatspride.org/