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Well, as you read in our previous installment, the telephone has been a part of Canby life since 1904, when the Macksburg Mutual Telephone Company — later known as the Canby Telephone Association — was formed by local farmers to bring the miraculous new technology to the rural communities in which they lived and worked.
There were many reasons they wanted to bring the telephone here, mainly, the chance to almost immediately connect with folks on the other side of the town, the state, the nation and, even, eventually the world — and all the opportunity for business and personal growth that entails.
But the telephone was, perhaps, never more needed in Canby than during an unusual episode on July Fourth, 1947. That’s when a young lad boarded a Greyhound bus in his tiny hometown of Dorris in northern California, bound for a visit with his uncle in the even smaller vale of Canby, Calif.
It was a journey of 60 miles, which would normally be completed in an hour and a half or so. But this would not be a normal trip.
When the bus reached Klamath Falls, the lad sensed something was wrong and inquired if he was on the right bus to take him to Canby. The driver assured that yes, he was.
“He kept traveling and traveling and the Fourth was sliding by, when all the time he thought he would be celebrating the day with his uncle and relatives,” the Canby Herald recorded. “The anticipated picnic dinner of fried chicken, ice cream and pop seemed to fade with the day.”
After about six hours, the boy arrived — of course — in our humble city of Canby. He had arrived in the right town, all right, but the wrong state.
“Arriving at Canby, Ore., in mid-afternoon, the youth looked dubiously at the surroundings, again asking if this was Canby,” the Herald wrote. “Assured it was, he looked around for his uncle, who was to meet him, but no uncle. In fact, nobody.”
Helpful citizens and local police helped the boy search for his relative’s names in the phone book, but to no avail. They checked the youth’s ticket, but that was no help. All it said was “Canby,” and that’s where he was.
“Then the local Greyhound agent, previously experiencing mixups with packages intended for Canby, Calif., having been sent here, hit on the idea that perhaps it was possible for passengers to be missent,” the Herald records. “That was it! The two-dollar jaunt had turned into a fifteen-dollar ride for the youth, and he was in the right town but the wrong state.”
Thanks to those turn-of-the-century farmers, telephone calls and telegrams went out to frantic relatives, who had soon straightened things out. Greyhound officials ordered that the lad be well cared for, and a bus bound for Canby, Calif., left town at 11 p.m. that same night.
Reflecting on the incident, the newspaper noted, “After recovering from the disappointment of missing the celebration with his relatives, the lad declared that when he got older and made his own money, he was surely coming back to Canby, Oregon, for the people here were very nice.”
Telephone lines, along with electric utilities, were knocked out in Canby later that year, when an honest-to-goodness cyclone, of “disastrous proportions,” touched down and did serious damage. Those who got the worst of it included the farms of Arthur Herriman, Carl Schaarschmidt and Neal Haines on the outskirts of town.
“Forming over the Willamette River, in the Riverside district, citizens were amazed and shocked to see a peculiar funnel-shaped black cloud sweep down with a great roar, destroying property and trees in its path,” the Herald described in its account of the incident.
The Schaarschmidts’ house on Garden Homes Road lost its front and back porches in the storm, which shifted the entire structure at least six inches off its foundation. Bizarrely, there was little damage inside the home, with even the dishes remaining safely inside their places in the cupboard.
“A good-sized machine shed looked a hundred years old after being hit, and the cyclone had made a clean get-away with a smokehouse,” the newspaper said. “Neighbors across the road had just completed the construction of a trailer house, and it was completely demolished, only pieces two and three feet long remaining.”
Telephone lines survived a different natural disaster that struck the area three years later, but they were busy for hours. A mild earthquake hit the town on April 13, 1949, causing little damage but causing nearly every resident to experience a brief bout of vertigo, according to the local paper.
“The commonest remark was ‘I thought I was having a dizzy spell,’” the Herald said. “Most people got over that idea as soon as they noticed that everything loose around them was swinging or rolling.”
No reports of damage as of press time that edition, though a display of dishes in the window of Cutsforth’s Market was, quote, “considerably disarranged.”
“There was a report that a plaster ceiling in the biology room at Canby High School had been cracked by the shake-up,” the newspaper notes, “but others said the crack had appeared before the quake.”
Stores, offices and houses emptied all over town, as people went out into the street to see what was going on. Some called the Herald offices to ask if it had really been an earthquake.
M.J. Lee, “Mr. Canby” himself, was consulted and said the only other earthquake he remembers in Canby occurred in 1888. He was then a youth of 16, and sitting in front of the Canby post office.
M.J. would die the following year, at the age of 78.
In 1952, the Herald documented an episode in which a telephone receiver had been left off the hook. That must have been a slow news week. CTA switchboard operator Rena Reynolds tried to alert the homeowners to the issue by making a clicking noise to attract attention — to no avail.
Finally, when she heard voices on the other end of the line, she whistled loudly and shrilly — something she’d learned to do as a youngster. That did the trick.
“We thought that clicking was rats in the wall,” homeowner Roy Mangus explained to Reynolds. “Mrs. Mangus and I each had a club and we were looking for ’em. When you whistled, I realized all of a sudden that rats don’t whistle, and picked up the phone.”
Though a small town, Canby has made its mark on state government and history throughout the years. The story of the Oregon State Treasurer, who also kept the books for the Canby Telephone Association, next time on Canby Then.
Photo courtesy the Canby Historical Society.
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