Today’s shout out is coming much later than it normally would – after all it’s almost Monday – but we just got home from an overnight out near Madras where the weather was a balmy 40 degrees and sunny as all get out. But, enough about the weather.
On the way back we decided to stop at Timberline Lodge to wander around, watch the skiers and snowboarders, admire the mountain and stretch our legs a little. Once inside the lodge, Maria noticed a park ranger talking to a small crowd. The ranger had just begun passing around an incredibly weighty tool that looked like a battle ax and was telling the group that it has belonged to John Steiner, one of the many men who had hand-hewn the impressive timbers back in 1938 to build this historic, beautiful lodge.
Fortunately for us this was the beginning of one of two free tours offered daily by the Park Service. We were doubly lucky because we had Jerry Prescott as our tour guide, a wonderfully knowledgeable fellow who knew his history — but more importantly, he was passionate about it. If I had to guess, Mr. Prescott likely in his early 70s and while he was much too young to have personally been a part of Roosevelt’s WPA, the national project that funded the building of the Timberline Lodge, he probably had adults in his life who were. By listening to him, you could tell that he was impressed not only with the Timberline Project as a national works campaign, but also moved by the dedication, craftsmanship and ingenuity that was on display in every nook and cranny of the building.
He pointed out hand-forged gates, end-irons in the fireplaces, chandeliers, hinges, door handles and reminded us time and again to not just pass by, but to note the artistry that went into each piece of metal. He described the intricate work that went into sewing all the curtains, the linens and how the hand-hooked rugs were made out of recycled WWI uniforms. As we stood by one of the great fireplaces, he grabbed up a handful of chain that made up a fireplace curtain, “They drove 200 men up here, on a dirt road, from Portland,” he said, gently rattling the chain, “Imagine the mud and snow they had to drive through in May. They had to chain the tires of the trucks of course, just like we do today. Well, these chains I’m holding in my hand were the very same chains that came from those tires. They found a use for everything back then, nothing went to waste.”
He was great. He talked about the artists that created the murals and the sculptures. He pointed out the thick posts at the end of the stairwells, each with a carving of an animal on top, “These were once cedar telephone poles. They were bought for a little more than $2.00 a piece. Today, if you were to buy a cedar tree this big, it would cost you more than three thousand dollars!”
It was a terrific tour, made all the more terrific by Mr. Prescott’s enthusiasm and admiration. I found out afterwards that he was a retired doctor from Portland who has been volunteering at the lodge and giving this tour since 2008. “I learn something new, every time I’m here,” he told me. He also told us that it’s not unusual for families of the original workers to come to the lodge and admire the work their grandfathers or grandmothers did, “Happens all the time,” he said, “Someone will look up at a mural or masonry or a wrought-iron chandelier and say, ‘My grandpa did that.’” Mr. Prescott said when that happens he makes sure to get as much information about that man as possible, his name, where he lived, how he made a living after Timberline, where he died. Amazingly, there is no official record of the names of the hundreds of people who built the lodge or contributed the art to its walls, and it seems Mr. Prescott is on a mission to rectify that. “All the people who worked here, they worked hand in hand, standing shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart, to create this magnificent building,” he said at the end of the tour.
I love a good tour guide; they bring such heart into the experience and give whatever it is they’re talking about breath and life. A massive beam made out of Ponderosa Pine is impressive on its own, but to learn the names of the two men who chipped away at those beams, and then come to find out they were father and son is a great piece of history. But, Jerry Prescott went one better.
He told us the son, whose name was John Steiner, had been to the lodge two years ago at the age of 97, “Sat in this very spot in his wheelchair,” he said, pointing to the ground, “As it happened, the Rose Festival Court was also here, on a tour. So, here you have a man whose own hands built what you see here today and 16 lovely young woman, all hoping to be crowned the Rose Festival Queen. The young ladies were talking and not paying him any mind at all. Well, when they found out who this man was, they paid him great attention, and lined up and gave him a hug and a kiss . . . after the sixth or seventh young lady hugged him, you could see the tears falling down his cheeks. The lodge had a grand banquet set up for him, it was something to see. That was John Steiner’s last visit – he died last year at the age of 99 and is buried down at Sandy cemetery.” I love a good tour guide.
If you get a chance to visit Timberline Lodge, be sure to leave enough time to take the tour, it will be well worth it. I hope you get lucky enough to spend the hour with Jerry Prescott. One woman told us that she’s been on Mr. Prescott’s tour multiple times and continues to join up because he’s always got a new fact or story. I know I’m looking forward to my next visit.