Thursday, October 29, 2020
Oct. 29, 2020

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Everybody Has a Story: Walk to traps could have ended badly

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I was born on Dec. 2, 1931, on a small farm north of Parkrose, Ore., about a half of a mile from the Columbia River on Holman Street. For some reason Holman Street now is closer to the Columbia River.

A lot of that area was lowlands, swamps and creeks, from 33rd Street to the west and Blue Lake to the east, and it was occupied by truck gardeners and dairies. There were also small farms like my folks had. At this time, Portland Airport was at Swan Island.

To the west of our farm was a large dairy with a lot of small creeks and swampy areas. When I was a kid, I would hunt and fish and ride my horse on this dairy land with my friends, as long as we made sure to shut the gates. Located on the east side of our farm was a smaller dairy where about 15 cows were milked.

The people who owned that dairy had two sons. Bobby, the youngest, was two years older than me, and we were friends. Whenever Bobby and I wanted to do something like go fishing, I would have to help him with his chores. We milked cows, cleaned barns and made sure the animals had food and water for the day. Running a dairy is a 24-hour job. (When I helped with the milking, I got paid 5 cents a cow, believe it or not. You could buy something with 5 cents in the 1930s.)

One very cold and windy day when I was about 9 years old, Bobby and I decided to trap beavers and get rich! On that day all the small ponds and creeks were frozen and we could walk and slide on the ice. We set our traps on the edge of a beaver pond about a half a mile from our farm.

The next morning I thought I would check the traps after doing my chores. I had to milk one cow, provide food and water for all the other animals, clean the barn and get the eggs. For some reason I changed my mind about checking on the traps and went over to help Bobby milk his cows and clean his barns. I thought Bobby would like to go with me to check the traps.

It was so cold, but we had so much fun sliding down the creek. When we got to the pond, one of our traps was out in the center. Most likely a large animal got into the trap but was able to get loose.

Bobby walked out to get the trap and when he got there, the ice broke. We were both wearing knee-high boots for cleaning the barns. All I could see of Bobby was his head and fingers. Every time he tried to climb out of the ice, it would break away.

The pond at its deepest point was about 6 feet. We were only about 5 feet tall at the time.

I looked around frantically for something to help Bobby. Not far away was a dead tree branch, about 6 or 7 feet long. As I started to walk out to Bobby, the ice started cracking and I didn’t want to fall through the ice into the water as well. To reach Bobby, I had to lay down and crawl closer to him so he could get a hold of the branch. It was quite a struggle as his legs floated up under the ice, but he was finally able to grab the branch. It was hard for Bobby to climb out, but he finally made it out of the pond.

It was so cold that by the time we got to Bobby’s house, his hair and eyebrows were covered in ice. Nobody was home. Bobby’s parents and older brother were all working in the milk house. We didn’t tell our folks about our experience because they might not let us go back to the pond. But this ended our trapping adventures.

If I had not decided to help Bobby with his chores and go together to check on the traps, I would have walked out on the icy pond and there would have been no one to hand me a tree branch.

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.

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