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    Photo: Samantha Matsumoto/OPB

Oregon Company Town Lives On In Man's Memories And Model Trucks


At one point, the company town of Kinzua was the largest town in Wheeler County. Now, all that's left is a golf course. But one man is working to preserve Kinzua's history. 

Years ago, logging trucks owned by the Kinzua Pine Mills Company were a common sight on the rural roads of Wheeler County. Now, the best shot visitors have at seeing one is in Otis Cody’s front yard.

Granted, the trucks there are much smaller than the original Kinzua trucks. They are models that Cody built, each a few feet long and made of solid metal. But down to the tiny steering wheels and moving parts, they are carefully recreated replicas.

When Cody looks at the miniature trucks, he remembers some of his best days. He thinks about his father, who drove log trucks for Kinzua. He remembers riding in the truck cab as a child, bouncing in the seat and watching the forest pass by through the windows. He remembers becoming a log truck driver himself, waking up early each morning to get to work.

And he remembers how it felt to drive a Kinzua truck.

“It was kinda like being king of the world,” Cody said.

Otis Cody poses for a portrait with his model trucks in the front yard of his Fossil, Ore., home Tuesday, June 4, 2019. Cody has meticulously recreated model trucks reminiscent of those from the former company town of Kinzua.

Otis Cody poses for a portrait with his model trucks in the front yard of his Fossil, Ore., home Tuesday, June 4, 2019. Cody has meticulously recreated model trucks reminiscent of those from the former company town of Kinzua.

Samantha Matsumoto/OPB

Cody grew up in the company town Kinzua, set up by the Kinzua logging company. The town is long gone now after the company closed the mill and the town along with it. Cody lives in Fossil these days, a few miles away from where Kinzua once stood. All that’s left of Kinzua is a golf course. The rest of what was once Wheeler County’s largest town is now a grove of ponderosa pine trees. But Cody wants to preserve Kinzua’s history and some of his fondest memories.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything else,” he said. “I’m one of the lucky ones.”

More from Wheeler County: Mitchell’s Mayor Is Also The Barber, Pastor And Bus Driver

The town of Kinzua was created by the Kinzua Pine Mills Company in 1928 to house mill workers in central Wheeler County. At its height, it was home to about 700 people.

Cody’s family came to Kinzua after his father got a job driving log trucks for the company. For a child like Cody, the town had everything he could have wanted. There was a movie theater and a skating rink. There were lakes to swim in, stocked full of trout for fishing. There were grocery stores, department stores and a library — all of them built by the logging company.

And, Cody said, there was a sense of community. Everyone in the town knew each other. As a result, to Cody, Kinzua felt like a town full of parents and friends.

“I wish a lot of kids grew up with it now,” he said. “I built a lot of friendships that a lot of them I still have here today.”

Model trucks sit in Otis Cody's front yard in Fossil, Ore., Tuesday, June 4, 2019. Cody handmakes the trucks himself down to the tiny steering wheels and moving parts.

Model trucks sit in Otis Cody’s front yard in Fossil, Ore., Tuesday, June 4, 2019. Cody handmakes the trucks himself down to the tiny steering wheels and moving parts.

Samantha Matsumoto/OPB

At age 19, Cody also got his first job from Kinzua. Like his father, he worked as a log truck driver. He’d often wake up at 2 a.m. to get an early start on his day. But he didn’t mind.

“I always looked forward to getting up in the morning and going to work,” he said.

Cody and his father continued to drive for Kinzua until the town closed in 1978. The Kinzua Pine Mills, then under new ownership and renamed the Eastern Oregon Logging Company, ceased operations. Soon after, the town was shuttered.

“It was scary,” Cody said. “You didn’t know what to think there for a while. And when it did happen, I actually didn’t know what to do.”

More from Wheeler County: A Class Of Their Own: Attending School In Oregon’s Least Populated County

After Kinzua, Cody drove trucks and hauled logs for different companies throughout the years. Then he worked as a contract driver, until the logging industry declined and Cody had to find work elsewhere.

He got a job driving in a landfill. Now, he and his wife work for the county, maintaining parks.

But Cody’s passion is still Kinzua.

Cody keeps several old photos from his Kinzua days, carefully framed. There’s one of his father, standing next to his log truck. In another photo, a young Cody strikes a similar pose next to his own Kinzua truck.

One of the photos, though, is a bit more recent. It’s a photo of Cody’s father, taken in the years before his death. In his arms, he holds a replica truck his son made based on the truck he used to drive.

Otis Cody holds a framed photo of his father, Ray Cody, with a model truck like the ones Otis makes today in Fossil, Ore., Tuesday, June 4, 2019.

Otis Cody holds a framed photo of his father, Ray Cody, with a model truck like the ones Otis makes today in Fossil, Ore., Tuesday, June 4, 2019.

Samantha Matsumoto/OPB

Cody’s chest still puffs slightly with pride when he talks about his father, and following in his footsteps to become a Kinzua driver.

“I was proud of him. I wanted to be like him,” Cody said. “It’s something that, gosh, I wish I was still doing now … but at least I got the memory.”

Listen to the full interview with Otis Cody by clicking in the audio player at the top of the page.

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