Category Archives: Stories From My Dad

Glorious Damp – The Red Line to Beaverton Station

The red line train is the hour-and-a-half milk run from the Portland airport to the Beaverton Transit Center. Five people on the train included a Native American homeless woman and her friend, a girl with very sad eyes, a fellow focused intently on his crossword puzzle that reminded me of a Key West friend of mine named Madison, and for two stops only, one thousand second-graders going to the zoo on a field trip. They left the train so quickly at their stop they sucked the available oxygen from the car and left the rest of us gasping. It felt like an Oklahoma springtime thunderstorm: a rush of thunder cracking the sky, a deluge of rain, then wet silence and ringing ears.

I had a strange form of rail-vertigo. Whenever the train stopped I had the strongest desire to run out the open door, run around the car, then leap back into the door at the moment just before it closed. I resisted the urge only because I didn’t think I could make the circuit around the car before the doors closed. If I were younger, I’d have done it.

A glorious dampness covers everything from the concrete bridges to the small cabin of St. Francis of Asisi outside my cousin’s front door. Evergreens are everywhere, poking up higher than the rhododendrons, azaleas, and forsythia’s bright yellow buds. It was Spring, and it was wet.

St. Francis and the doves, happily located in King City, Oregon outside my cousin’s front door.

If you’re raised in the Northwest you never forget the smell of rain on concrete, or the look of moss growing on rooftops. You never lose the love of the damp, and the green.


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‘Tween Here and Heaven

Ronald Mowry sat carefully on the wooden bench at the eastern edge of the playground, gradually relaxing his full weight onto it, and sighing with relief at the absence of back pain. The morning was cold, and crisp with unexpected sunshine. He propped his cane against the bench and took a look around. The playground wasn’t yet full of children, but it would be, and that was why he was there. On particularly lonely mornings he loved to watch the happy chaos of kids playing; they brought him outside himself into the light. He looked across the sawdust pit, over toward the slide, and saw a familiar-looking little boy.

“That looks just like Jack” he said to himself.

The boy was dressed in a white short-sleeve shirt, sweater, jeans held up with a thick belt, and a ball cap covering his blonde hair.

Tommy, Jack, and Ron, at The Ranch, Bend, Oregon.

Ron wondered how long it had been since he’d seen Jack. Eight years at least. Eight years and cancer treatments for them both. Ill-health robbed one of the motivation to stay in touch, particularly when trying to talk with someone as reticent as Jack.

Ron and Jack were cousins, sons of two of five Rowell sisters. Their families lived in Portland, but it wasn’t until Ron’s father moved the family to a ranch in Bend, Oregon when Ron was twelve that he and Jack got to know each other well.

Portland was The Big City, where you went to school, obeyed your parents, did your chores, and ate Sunday supper after church with all the aunts and cousins and neighbors who had no family to speak of. It was one hundred and seventy-six miles and a world away from The Ranch.

On The Ranch you were a man, albeit a small one. You rode horses, shocked hay, dressed in thick jeans, cowboy hats, and boots. The older men with the sun-browned faces and serious eyes showed you how to do cowboy things, ranch things, man-things–reparing the barbed wire fence, branding the cattle, catching the chickens to be killed for dinner. On slow days you saddled your horse in the morning after your chores were done and weren’t expected to be home until dinnertime; there was nothing but mountains and high desert and room to ride and a thick blue sky over top of it all.

Ron Mowry chuckled to himself, remembering his cousin’s first visit to the ranch. Ron’s hat and boots went missing, and when he heard the clump-clump-clump of boots on the hardpack dirt he looked out the window and saw his cousin down below, hat falling low over his eyes and boots threatening to leave his feet behind because they were two sizes too big. Behind him Jack dragged a pitchfork; it was needed to pitch hay into the corral, like he’d seen his uncle do.

“Jack never did come alive till he came to the ranch” he said to himself, smiling at the boy by the slide, and the memory of his cousin in the stolen hat and boots.

Hat-and-boot-thief Jack, Tommy, and Ron The Generous, The Ranch, Bend, Oregon.


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“Let There Be Light.” BANG!

   We all come at the truth by different roads, but truth is still truth. Many people have to understand the facts of Jesus’ divine work before they will investigate further.

   “There is no intellectual road to God. The only way that we know God is by way of his revelation. It is not a mathematical formula that brings us to faith, but it is His amazing grace…. God, I think, is quite happy…. to cater to our intellectual integrity, but not to pander to our intellectual arrogance. He does not invite us to remove our brains and put it under the seat in order that we might come to faith. But it is as Augusten said, ‘faith, seeking understanding.’” Alistair Begg

“You will never get to grips with the message of Jesus from the safe distance of detached curiosity.” Alistair Begg

   My dad wrote his testimony to me yesterday. The full text is below. Dad’s an engineer, and a scientist (as a hobby, no less). He is a prime example of the truth of God’s word, and the validity of the statements above by Pastor Alistair Begg.

Dad’s Testimony: “Let There Be Light.” BANG!

“Here’s the stuff on science and on why I believe in God:

   “The science is definitive in that the universe was created by the “Big Bang” about 14 billion years ago.  This phenomenon made possible the creation of the stars and the planets. Earth was created 4 billion years ago.  Merely 150,000 years later, life appeared on earth. The unique combinations of the comparisons of the half lives of two of three elements give us this data with remarkable accuracy.

   “Consider this:  In one millisecond of time after the initial ‘Bang,’ the universe cooled enough to ‘condense out’ matter and anti matter.  In that initial fraction of time, matter and anti matter, “quarks” and “anti quarks”, collided.  It would be expected that this process would be symmetrical.  But,  if the process had been symmetrical,  matter would have been annihilated and a photon created and the universe turned in to pure radiation. 

   “But, there was an asymmetry.  For about every billion pairs of matter, one extra “quark” was created.  That “quark” makes up the mass of our universe.

   “The universe’s rate of expansion is still measurably close to the initial critical rate of expansion at the moment of the “Big Bang” .  If the expansion rate one second after the ‘Big Bang’ had been smaller by even one part in 100,000 thousand  million million, the universe would have collapsed on itself way before now.  If the rate of expansion had been greater by even one part in a million, stars and planets could not have formed.

   “The way that the universe expanded after the Big Bang depended on how much total mass and energy the universe had and also on the strength of the gravitational constant.  The fine tuning of each of these physical constants cannot be explained.  There are 15 physical constants whose values are unpredictable.  They are a given value.  They are what they are.  They include the speed of light and gravity.  

   “One physicist wrote “… Why did the universe start out with so nearly the critical rate of expansion that separates models that re-collapse from those that go on expanding forever, that even now, 10,000 million years later, it is still expanding at nearly the critical rate?”

   “Not only is the existence of the universe very improbable; the formation of the elements is even more unbelievable.  Protons and Neutrons are held together in the universe by a strong nuclear force.  A slightly weaker force would have allowed only the formation of universal Hydrogen.  If the force had been slightly stronger, only Helium would have been created instead of the initial 25% that has allowed the stars to create the heavier elements.  This nuclear force appears to have been the ‘exact’ force required to create Carbon.  If this force had been only slightly stronger, any Carbon would have been converted to Oxygen.  Life on earth would not exist.

   “The existence of a universe as we know it is just wildly improbable.

   “The same improbability occurs in the formation of the heavier elements.  If the nuclear force holding these elements together was only slightly weaker, then the universe would be pure hydrogen.  However, a slightly stronger nuclear force  would have converted the universe’s hydrogen to helium.  But 25% of the helium was allowed to form early in the Big Bang, and this allowed the fusion furnaces of stars and their ability to generate heavier elements to be created.  Added to this the fact that the nuclear force appears to be tuned just enough to allow the formation of Carbon.  Had that force been even slightly more powerful, all the Carbon would have converted to Oxygen.

   “Many believe this was a remarkable accident.  Others believe that a Divine hand was involved.  I subscribe to the latter.  The reason being that there is too much evidence of the existence of a moral structure that guided civilizations long before the advent of the formal religions; that this structure was simply there and was recognizable to civilizations.  So much so, that their societies and societal law were organized around this structure.  It is called the law of right and wrong; or natural law.  C.S. Lewis called it the “Moral Law”.  According to C.S. Lewis, elements of this law can be found in every ancient society.  He suggests that the skeptic go to the Library and read some of the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics. What is found is a massive unanimity of the practical reason in man.  From the Babylonians to the Aussie Aborigines, there are the “same denunciations of oppression, murder, treachery and falsehood and the same injunctions of kindness to the aged, to the young and the weak, of giving, of impartiality and honesty.”

   “It is easy for the scientist to conclude from these miracles that a Creator existed from the beginning and before time.  That is why I’m a believer and a Christian.

   “If God exists, then He is supernatural.  If He is supernatural, then He is not limited by natural laws.  If He is not limited by natural laws, then there is no reason He should be limited by time.  If He is not limited by time, then He is in the past, the present and the future.”


Your Father

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Blown Away on Rainier

I swear, every time I turn around Dad comes out with another story. Like this one.

When he taught with the Boeing Employees Alpine Society, or BOEALPS, they used as a textbook “Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills,” by The Mountaineers. It’s currently in at least its seventh edition, but the one Dad used was probably the first.

Dad and another climber were asked to take one of the book’s editors up Mount Rainier, as she had either no or very little climbing experience. She was a small person, and Dad and the other fellow roped her up between them, Dad taking up the end of the rope team.

As will happen on large temperamental mountains like Rainier, the wind came up, gusty and strong. They’d climbed to a certain point up on a ridge and suddenly WHOOSH this poor girl is blown sideways into the air. Dad and the other fellow were pulled off track a couple of steps, but held tight until she could clamber back between them. Another three or four steps up the ridge and WHOOSH she’s knocked off her feet again.By the time Dad and the other guy dug their feet in, she’d sailed about ten or fifteen feet into the air, heading in the direction of a very steep drop off of, oh, say two thousand feet.

Dad said she shrieked every time she was blown away, all the louder the closer she got to the edge. “It wasn’t funny at the time” said Dad, giggling. It sure was funny to hear it, though.

The story ends with them shortening the rope, so that there wasn’t but six feet between each of them. And they did make it to the top and back down safely.

I can still see in my mind’s eye this poor tiny soul being gusted off the edge of the mountain. It takes something like that for people to realize what mountaineers go through just to get to the summit in one piece. The mountain doesn’t give a flip about you or your plans.

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Test Flight #6

Dad sent a story of a 747 pilot’s experience flying the shuttle Atlantis from Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi to Florida. Dad worked for BOEING for over thirty years, and living in Seattle we grew up knowing that we were indeed The Jet City. (Queensryche’s song “Jet City Woman” is based on this fact.)

747 with shuttle
When I thanked Dad for the email, yet another unheard story came to light. Here is what he wrote:

“You’re welcome.  I happened to be scheduled on the prototype test flight #6 to take some environmental readings.  They had also scheduled the FIRST aerodynamic stall.  The nose came up, up, up, and, I was sure we were going to spin;  but, the lady just quit flying and “dropped her nose” down with very little wing drop until she picked up enough airspeed to become flyable again.  It was a great experience.  A very stable aircraft.  It would have to be seriously abused by the pilot before it quit flying.
Love, Dad”

Let me encourage you to talk to the people you know who have been on the planet a long time. You never know the delightful stories they have just waiting for an attentive ear.

UPDATE: Turns out Dad winkled a deal for my older brother, Stewart, to take part in the emergency exit tests for the 747. They were in a big hanger someplace, Everett (Paine Field) probably, and all the inflatable slides were inflated and they got to slide down them! I wonder if they got to act panicked and scream and stuff. We’re trying to pry the story out of Stewart, but I’m not holding my breath. He’s probably busy designing the next Lunar lander, or the robotic arm that will pluck a piece of Martian rock up for examination. He’s the mad genius of the family.

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A Packard 180 and a 384 Winchester

Dad told me this story again the other day, over the phone. I heard it the first time when us four kids and mom and dad were having dinner at Peohe’s. We were celebrating mom and dad’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. We laughed so hard that the other diners were giving us the stinkeye.

Here’s the story as Dad tells it.

“It was in the late ‘40s, after the war was over. It was deer season. Harold (dad’s uncle) had a neighbor, Fred A., who’d never hunted, probably never even held a gun. He asked Harold if he could go with us hunting.” Dad chuckled. “Harold knew that Fred was a fantastic cook, so he figured he’d set him somewhere out of the way where he couldn’t shoot anybody, and Fred could cook suppers at night. So, Harold said ‘OK, Fred, you can come.’ The only gun Harold had that wasn’t being used was this huge 384 Winchester magnum that he used as a saddle gun, as a protection from Grizzlies. That was what he gave Fred to use.

Harold's Packard looked just like this 1941 Packard.

Harold's Packard looked just like this 1941 version.

“Harold had this Packard 180 that was so big, it looked like a mafia hearse. It had two spare tires, one on either side of the engine cowl. We put the deer, dressed, antlers forward, between the spare tires and the engine cowl, that was how we got them home. That car was a big thing. Harold and his son, Mike (dad’s cousin), Fred, and I packed it up with enough stuff for a four-day hunt and headed east for the Okanogan country.”

“There were lots of deer because they hadn’t been hunted much during the war. Harold got a big buck, and shot a buck and Mike killed it, the day before we left. Harold put Fred on a ridge-top and had him watch a gully all day for deer. He seemed to have a good time, and he really was a fantastic cook.”

Dad giggled. “The morning we left it was wet and raining, so we had to keep the windows rolled up in the Packard. And we didn’t pack very well, we just sort of threw the tents and packs and such in the back seat. The front seat was bigger than the back, so Harold and Mike and I sat in the front and we tucked Fred in the middle of the back seat. I don’t think he could even move he was packed in so tight.”

“Anyhow, we were ready to get going and Harold turned around and asked Fred ‘Have you cleared that gun, Fred?’ No, he hadn’t. So he put the rifle butt between his legs, pointing backwards, cocked it, and pulled the trigger.”

“That gun went off and it nearly blew the windows out of that car. I couldn’t hear straight for three days. Harold and Mike and I jumped out of the car and started pulling the gear out of the back. We were sure Fred had shot himself the way he was rolling around the back seat.”

Dad started laughing hard. “Fred started shouting ‘My nuts! My nuts! Oh, my nuts!’ Turns out he’d crushed his family jewels. Plus there was a hole the size of a silver dollar in the roof.”

“Ordinarily, we’d have driven straight home, maybe six hours or so from the Okanogan back to Seattle. But Mike and I decided to roast the liver of the deer we’d shot, and that liver was full of parasites. We had diarrhea so bad we had to stop about every half an hour or so and get out and run into the woods.” He giggled again. “Every time we’d stop, Fred would cry ‘Do we have to stop? Do you guys really have to stop?’ He wanted to get back and get to a doctor, he was really in some pain. He spent the rest of the trip home with one leg propped up on the gear, just to get some relief.” Dad laughed again, and of course I was laughing again.

I asked Dad if the story got spread around the neighborhood. The answer was no. I guess it was a more genteel time. Nobody wanted to embarrass Fred.

I can still hear Dad telling me “My nuts! My nuts! My poor nuts!” and I start giggling again. And I wish I’d seen the hole in that Packard’s roof.

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Bathtub Mousetrap – An Oregon Solution

The hole was neatly chewed into the corner of the bag of flour.  Small white paw-prints led to a crack in the wall between the bottom board and the floor.mouse

“That’s it!” said Terry.  “Willis, we’ve got to figure out something to get rid of these mice. We’ve tried steel wool in the cracks in the wall, we’ve tried tinfoil around the barrels and they still chewed into ‘em.” Willis chuckled. “They’ve got to earn a living too.”  “Let them earn a living off somebody else’s grub then” said Terry.

They had a long day ahead of them rounding up cattle that had wandered off the ranch during the winter months. The mice problem would have to wait till another day.



A week later Terry and Willis coasted the truck to a stop in front of the shack, got out, lowered the tailgate and slid out an old claw-foot tub.  They carried it into the shack and set it down next to the stove.  They returned to the truck and got several large bricks, a two by four, and a small lead weight and carried them into the shed. Willis went around to the back of the shack and opened the window from the outside, lifting the hose through the open window. Terry took the hose and put it in the tub. Willis turned on the water and stood outside the open window. It was his job to make sure the water level reached to exactly five inches below the rim.clawfoot tub

Terry took the bricks and stacked them pyramid-style in the middle of the tub. They filled the water until it was about five inches below the rim. While the tub was filling, Terry stacked the bricks one on top of the other in the middle of the tub. He balanced the two by four on the brick so that one end rested on the edge of the tub and the other hung out over the water. He put one of the lead weights on a spot between the rim of the tub and the brick, in a spot they’d marked earlier. The lead weight and its location on the two by four had to be exact or the contraption wouldn’t work.

Terry put a piece of cheese wrapped in bacon on the end of the board that was suspended over the water and tapped it into the board with a tack. He took a plastic mouse out of his pocket and laid it gently on the end of the board next to the cheese. The two by four dipped down and the mouse fell off into the water. The board swung back up to rest over the water, the cheese still attached. Terry and Willis smiled at each other.

“This is gonna be something to see, Willis” said Terry.

“Yessir, I think we’re witnessing a piece of engineering genius” said Willis.



They played some cards after dinner, then went to bed and turned out the light.  Not long before dawn, a splash and a squeak woke them up. Soon they heard another splash, and a squeak, and then another.

“I think it’s working” whispered Willis.  Terry just smiled.

The squeaks, squeals, and growls of mice fighting over the one dry spot on the brick, or trying to crawl up each other’s backs to avoid the smooth sides of the tub filled the shed. After a half an hour Terry had lost count of the number of times he’d heard a mouse fall into the water. He got up and Willis swung out of his bunk and turned on the light.

They counted thirty seven mice either dead or drowning. Willis found a small fishing net in the corner and fished out the dead mice and threw them in the 55-gallon trash barrel outside next to the porch. Then he fished the live mice out, cracked them on the head with his knife and threw them out with the rest.

“Not bad for a night’s work” said Willis. “Too bad we can’t think of a way to shut ‘em up once they get tipped off the board. No way you can sleep through a ruckus like that.”

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