Hello and welcome to the McKenzie River Wisdom Project in conjunction with the McKenzie History Hwy
For audio version click here.
We like to call the McKenzie River Highway our 60 Miles of Main St. It runs from Cedar Flat up to McKenzie Bridge and beyond. A person only needs to spend an hour here to find that this place is filled with some of the most unique, astonishing, and interesting scenery on the planet, but if a person were to spend time getting to know the people who live on the McKenzie River, they’d find that the community is filled with people who are just as unique, astonishing, and interesting.
There are nine unincorporated towns on the McKenzie River and most of them grew from being stops for the stagecoach headed east over the past from Eugene or the other way. We’ll use the word town when describing these places, but most are just a concentration of residential living areas that range from million dollar homes to single-wide trailers. While all the towns together form an economy they all depend on, each one has its own personality and much of that personality depends on whether the town is down river, mid river, or up river.
The purpose of the McKenzie Wisdom Project is to record the unique voices, highlight the incredible experience, and memorialize the history of the people who live, or have lived, on the McKenzie River. Some of these people were born and raised on the river and belong to families who have been here for generations, while others are transplants who have become community leaders and are actively shaping the valley’s future.
Episode 1: Jim Goodpasture
This is the McKenzie River Wisdom Project, and my name is Sean Davis. I grew up on the McKenzie River. We lived in many different places from Nimrod to Rainbow to McKenzie Bridge. After high school, I enlisted in the army for 12 years. After the military I taught college and wrote books in Portland for 20 years, and now I live with my wife Kelly and my daughters Jackie and Cora on North Bank Road in McKenzie Bridge.
Today I’m interviewing James Goodpasture on his family’s farm in Vida. The clouds have parted and it’s stopped snowing long enough for us to have a beautiful Sunday morning drive. Driving downriver you can’t help but see all the hazelnut trees along the highway. I found that the Goodpasture family planted most, if not all, of the trees on the river. His family’s farm is almost 100 years old. Most of the hazelnut trees you see were planted in 1923.
So to get to Jim’s house you need to cross Goodpasture Bridge and then turn onto Goodpasture Road. I asked him on the phone while setting up the interview how it felt to live on a road named after his family and he just humbly laughed about it, but the truth is that his family was one of the first of European descent to settle in the valley.
In early 1852, Alexander Goodpasture and his wife Elizabeth Moss Goodpasture started in Illinois with six yoke of oxen and 23 other wagons. They arrived in Oregon City with only one ox and one cow hitched to their wagon. Five people died of cholera on the trek, including Elizabeth’s brother Daniel Moss.
Alexander and Elizabeth claimed some land and lived for ten years. But then tragedy struck for the Goodpasture family. Alexander died in 1862 of a common bloody nose.
Elizabeth remarried and Alexander’s son Thurston grew up to drive cattle, raise livestock, and buy more land. Thurston’s son Benjamin Franklin Goodpasture grew into a man and did the same, but he branched out into other ventures as well, ventures like selling these new fangled things called the automobile. Benjamin Franklin Goodpasture was Jim’s grandfather.
Jim invited me, my wife, and daughter into his house to speak to him while he was preparing meatloaf for a date that night. I tried to ask him questions between his chopping of the onions. I asked Jim why he believed his grandfather was such a big part of this community, why did he have the bridge and road named after him.
“Well, he retired here to this place. And I think he, he was a businessman in town and a realtor in Portland. When he was a young man he was a farmer. DO you know where south Willamette is? He farmed out there. He raised cattle out there when he was sixteen.”
He told me that the reason his grandfather became so successful was because he vertically integrated meaning that not only did he run cattle, but he started butchering and selling the meat himself. He had a meat market, a car dealership, and sold tractors:
“Right where the Holt Center parking lot garage is now.”
His grandfather was a man of all trades. On top of everything else, he also was a part owner of a baseball team, helped found the Elks Lodge, was a member of the Eugene Chamber of Commerce, and did one term on the Eugene City Council. All while being a big part of his local Methodist Church.
Jim’s dad helped around the farm, went to school on the river, went to the University of Oregon but eventually came back to run the farm. He built a house himself on the land, and started building cabinets and furniture in his spare time, but eventually the responsibility to take care of the land and run the farm fell on his shoulders. This is very similar to Jim’s story.
“I graduated from high school in 1961 and went away to school. I lived in Monmonth for a while and thought I wanted to be a teacher. Then I decided I didn’t want to do that because I liked to drink too much beer and I couldn’t spell.”
Once you spend any time with the man you’ll see in minutes how intelligent, hard working, and incredible. He went to college at Portland State University and he modifies or fabricates many of the tools or equipment he needs to be a successful farmer. Many times he mentioned what he did to the farm after he came back. I asked him where did he come back from and why.
He met his ex-wife in Portland and they lived in Ashland for twelve years. He worked for a company that had him moving around and up through the ranks but it got to a point where he’d have to move from Oregon. Not only that but his family’s property and farm on the McKenzie was being sold off piece by piece. This was in the early 1970s.
“Basically what I wanted to do is stop the sale of the property. Some of the land was sold off and developed. They sold 60 some acres. When I came to the farm there were only 60 acres of hazelnuts”
I asked how many acres does he have today.
“One hundred and thirty.”
I asked Jim how many people does it take to farm 130 acres, especially the years that over a million pounds of hazelnuts are harvested. He held up a callused hand with only two fingers sticking up. He and his wife did it themselves for over twenty years. They had some help at times, their son and others, but it was mostly them alone for decades.
Today, Jim is single and lives with his daughter, her husband, and his granddaughter. They all live in a beautiful house he designed and built with his own two hands. The giant windows overlook where Indian Creek feeds into the McKenzie. I asked him how the river had changed since he was a child.
“There used to be a wide spot in the road over there with a power plant on Indian Creek. [Hwy] 126 was gravel. And there was a suspension walking bridge just up from my house and the ferry landing was right down there.”
At this point, Jim walks down the hall toward the door we came in. I think the interview may be over. I’ll go home and think of some follow up questions, but then he comes back with something specifically to show my daughter Jackie.
“This is my old tackle box.”
Every space of the box is filled with hand tied flies. Jim showed us the deer hide, chicken feathers, yarn, and other material he uses to tie his flies. He showed us all the different paintings and photographs people have sent him of the bridge that bears his name. He takes us on a tour of the house he built with his own hands. We end the tour of his house in the living room and Jim looks out the window and tells me when he and I look at the river we see different things. He was a guide for thirty years. I know that river and this land is a deep part of him and I can relate to that. We both came back to live on this river after half a lifetime doing other things. I get it.
His struggle was to save his family’s land, at certain times that meant saving it from some of his family. But today, he’s lived through the same boom and bust everyone else on the river has lived through, including being $350,000 in debt. But he worked it out, “At least the farm is now free and clear and I’m able to pass it on to the next generation.”
After an hour of talking, we decided to go outside. Jim showed us through his many barns. There are a lot of barns on the Goodpasture farm. Jackie got to jump up in a tractor and Jim told her how to start it up. She giggled with excitement when the engine turned over. Jim showed us the different pieces of equipment he modified to better work on his farm and explained why he changed them and what they do.
Jackie reached down and picked up a hazelnut from the base of a tree and handed it to me. I turned it over in my hand, looked at it, and put it in my pocket to keep it, a small piece of our river’s history.
The McKenzie River Wisdom Project was created by Tim Laue of T-Laue Consulting. This episode was written and produced by Sean and Kelly Davis of The Juniper Pine Project. The McKenzie History Hwy was made possible by the McKenzie Community Development Corporation and through a grant from the Willamette Valley Visitors’ Association.