The Day the Mountain Blew – some memories

Just to add my stories before they become lost to time.

First my story, then one from a friend. I’m doing this from memory, so if I get a couple details wrong, pardon me in advance.

We had a friend coming down to spend the weekend; we had several things planned, like going to Rocky’s Pizza (still the best pizza in three counties), some photography, a nearly-all-night Monopoly game. She was a little late, then the phone rang: “I’m in Longview, and the radio is going nuts! The mountain blew!” It took her about another half hour to get where we lived (which at that time was LaCenter), and the first thing we did is hop in the car to see if we could find a vantage point. After spending about an hour and a half driving around, we went home.

And there, right out our sliding door, was the plume of ash from the volcano. From our distance it seemed to change color and shape often; later we were to learn it was caused by all the lightning in the ash plume. We felt sorry for those people in the Yakima area – for sure they were going to be the recipients of all that stuff falling out of the air.

Little did we know that a few weeks later, we’d get our share. The radio and TV stations in Portland were all moaning and wringing their hands about “the sky is falling, the sky is falling!” (KGW was particularly irritatingly-bad about this) when they had something like a quarter-inch of ash-fall. At the same time, we had to deal with between 8 inches to a foot and a half of the stuff. I still remember wrapping the air cleaner on my little import pickup with nylon stockings to keep the dust out, and driving with the windows up and the vent barely cracked in an effort to keep that abrasive dust out of the cab. Meanwhile, the State Patrol would roar past, with a big semi-truck-type Luber-Finer oil bath air filter hung on the fender. The dust would kick up from car and truck wheels and would be so thick that you’d have to slow down more than you would if you were driving in fog.


Now a story about the eruption from a friend: This one may have been told elsewhere, maybe not.

He and a camping buddy had taken his pickup up to ‘have what’s probably going to be one last camping trip on the mountain before it did whatever it was going to do’. They had a favorite spot which had a great view, and was hidden along one of the logging roads; and so they evaded all the cops and barricades, believing themselves above all that nonsense. So they set up camp Saturday night, making only as much fire as they really needed. Like most of us at the time, they believed in the Boy Scout credo of ‘take only pictures, leave only memories’ when it came to caring for the environment. They’d gotten up and had just about had all the coffee they’d wanted when there was this hellacious roar from the mountain.

They’d looked at each other, realizing this was a real OH SHIT moment.

They were smart enough to realize that their gear wasn’t worth their lives, but they did dump the coffee pot onto the fire, and then ran for the truck. They didn’t slow down at all on the logging roads, as the sky just kept getting blacker and blacker. Finally they hit the old highway and ‘opened her up’. They had to hold to about 90 to keep the pickup from flying apart and to keep it on the road. The camping buddy had turned around to look behind them, and he could see that they were getting ahead of some kind of real hell rushing toward them. Now if you remember that old highway, you remember that up by the mountain it’s fairly curvy, but there’s a miles-long straight stretch. And just as they hit that straight stretch, they saw a station wagon ahead of them, just putt-putting along at about 40. They pulled up next to them, and saw there was a family in the wagon. They got them to roll down the window, told them what was hot on their tails, and told them not to spare the car, that they were going to die if they didn’t get going. They guy all but told them to go to hell, that he would drive the way he wanted to drive. They told them to look in the mirrors, to turn around and look behind, but no dice. After the guy told them to mind their own business, the guys in the pickup floored it and took off.

They just made it to safety, and later looked for news about the family in the station wagon… but there was none.


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