Wild Horses couldn't drag us . . . .
Sep 8, 2010
|It’s taken me a while to figure out what to write about Pendleton. It wasn’t one of our better stops – there are things to see, but none of them terribly exciting -- and our stay turned into another chapter in what our friend Fred likens to the Perils of Pauline.
The drive down from Walla Walla (a 40 mile drive – one of our shortest travel days) was pretty interesting – more rolling hills, with a patchwork of golden yellow fields of dried straw alternating with fields that had been plowed under and were dark brown from the rain that had been falling intermittently for a couple of days. There were dramatic overhanging clouds and we alternated between periods of sun and light sprinkles. We arrived at our campground early and just relaxed the rest of the day.
We knew that Pendleton was the home of the Pendleton Woolen Mills. When I was growing up I thought that the height of quality clothing was a “Pendleton Wool Skirt” (and I always thought of it as all three words). And a “Pendleton Wool Shirt” was the equivalent level of quality for a casual men's shirt (winter only, of course). So I’ve known about Pendleton wools my entire life, even after my fashion sense outran Pendleton’s (in fact, after looking through the store at their factory, I don’t think their fashion sense has progressed much out of the 50’s!) Digression here for a little known fact: Did you know that the singing group The Beach Boys was originally known as The Pendletones, named for the men’s wool shirt? Yep!
The day after we arrived we decided to take the tour offered at the factory in Pendleton. The founders (members of the family that still owns the company) took over an existing wool mill from a failed company, expanded it and renamed the company Pendleton Woolen Mills. They began production in 1909 and have made blankets and woolen textiles there ever since – including blankets using Native American designs for which they are famous. The tour showed us the entire process, from the raw wool, which is spun into yarn, dyed and then woven on serious looms – all computerized – into complex designs. It was pretty interesting, particularly watching the looms spill out the finished fabric at an amazing rate. As one who has knitted at various points in my life, and sweated and fretted over the process of making a complex pattern one stitch at a time, I thought this is an amazing feat of automation.
Anyway, it was a fairly short tour but we enjoyed it. We then went downtown to the Visitors Center, where we picked up some brochures and information about all the “happening” places in Pendleton. A pretty short list, actually. The town looks like it’s set in a bowl when you approach it on the highway. In fact, it’s built along a river (the Umatilla River) and there are high bluffs running up from the river on both sides. We drove around a bit and admired the old houses built on the high ground. We also noted that they have a Farmers’ Market every Friday from 4-7 p.m. An unusual time for a Farmers’ Market, but we came back Friday afternoon and were happy to find a really nice market. Most of the vendors had the same things – squash, tomatoes, corn, beans – but we replenished our supply of fresh produce and saw some interesting (and new to us) varieties of some things.
We considered taking the “Pendleton Underground” tour which explores some of the underground tunnels and establishments that were built by Chinese workers in the early 1900’s, but we finally decided that the cost of the tickets was a bit more than we wanted to spend – we’ve been on similar tours in other cities and didn’t think this would measure up to them in interest. So we passed.
On Sunday we decided to take a walk along the river – in recent years the city has constructed a pedestrian/cyclist path on top of the levee that was built in 1915 after a series of floods had swept away bridges and most of downtown. They have tried hard to make the walkway attractive and interesting, with several trailheads in parks with sculpture, benches and flowering plants, and it works to an extent. But you still can’t see much of the river because of trees and tangled underbrush so you’re looking mainly at the back of mostly fairly shabby buildings. But it was nice to get out and walk – the previous couple of days had been very windy and/or so hot that it really wasn’t much of an incentive to be outside much.
Anyway, after a nice walk and a stop at an ATM to replenish our supply of cash, we started back to our campground, planning to stop for fuel on the way since we were to leave the next day, Labor Day. Wrong. Immediately our tire pressure monitor began beeping frantically, showing a reduction of 20 pounds in pressure in one of the front (truck) tires. Within a block it was down another few pounds and shortly after we pulled over to the side of the street (fortunately we were on a fairly wide, one-way street, with empty parking spaces along the curb) the tire was completely flat. So . . . another call to trusty Emergency Roadside Services, our best friends on the road!
We do not carry a spare tire for the truck. We’ve not been happy with this arrangement – one of several features about this truck that we would do differently, but since we bought the truck already upfitted to tow a big fifth wheel trailer, we didn’t have the luxury of choice. The theory is that (1) the truck is so heavy and the tires so big that you wouldn’t want to change a tire yourself (probably true) and (2) in an emergency you could always use one of the dually tires (two tires on either end of the rear axle) as a spare if you lost one of the front tires. This was a front tire but in any event, even if we could get one of the dually tires onto the front, we would need to get the flat repaired or replaced before we could leave with the trailer. And it was Sunday of a three-day weekend. What were the chances of getting the tire repaired before Tuesday? Non-existent.
ERS sent us a tow truck – we’ve noticed that towing is their default solution for most everything unless it’s a flat tire for which you have a spare. In this case the truck came from Hermiston, about 30 miles away and was a flatbed type just barely (and I mean barely) long enough for our truck – the back wheels were on wooden blocks at the back end of the flatbed. Scary. Also scary watching our totally flat tire roll around on the rim as the truck was pulled forward onto the flatbed. I could just see a repairable tire turning into a shredded mess (it didn’t happen, by the way, but it very well could have, I think). But what was even scarier was the liquid that began running out of somewhere underneath the truck right after it had been winched onto the flatbed. Oops!
To cut to the chase, one of the winch chains had broken a section of the fuel line, we were losing diesel fuel, and would clearly need more than a tire repair. There is no Ford dealer in Pendleton. So, since there is a Ford dealer in Hermiston and the tow truck driver had agreed to be responsible for repairing the fuel line, we agreed that he would take us back to the campground and take our truck back to Hermiston where he would get the tire repaired (it turned out to be a broken stem valve and very easy and cheap to fix) and get the fuel line repaired. It also turned out that somewhere along the line someone figured out that the break was in the line from only one of our two tanks so switching the fuel supply to the other tank stopped the leak, so we didn’t lose more than a couple of gallons of fuel. In the end, of course, neither tire store nor Ford dealer was open on Labor Day, the fuel line repair required ordering a part that would arrive on Wednesday, so we extended our stay at the campground and stayed there, without motor transportation, from Sunday until Wednesday afternoon when the tow truck deposited our truck back at the campground and we could hitch up and get the heck out of Dodge.
So, all’s well that ends well, but the getting-there part wasn’t much fun. We were staying at the Wildhorse Casino RV Park which is OK, but not long on charm. We’re not casino people, although we did wander in a couple of times to play the nickel slots (and limited our losses to just a couple of dollars!). I had spotted a derelict old house about a mile away to which we could walk, so we went over there one afternoon so I could photograph it. There is also a Native Culture Center and Museum that is probably another mile or so away, but by that time we really weren’t in much of a mood to do anything that didn’t help us getting out of there. We’re pretty good at dealing with adversity (you have to be, when you’re on the road for months, dragging a house behind you) but sometimes we just aren’t in the mood and this was one of those times.
To avoid ending on a down note and to reassure you that our funk was temporary and that the travel gods were looking out for us, our next stop turned out to be a pleasant surprise, with some really interesting places to explore. But you’ll have to wait until the next blog to hear about them.