Patrick Farrell doesn’t have just one job title in the tiny town of Mitchell, but a string of them. He’s the mayor. And the school bus driver. He’s also a pastor, owner of a local hostel and a barber.
That’s not unusual in Mitchell, Oregon, a town of about 125 people in far-flung Wheeler County. Everyone has to fill multiple roles to keep the town operating. Wheeler County is the most sparsely populated county in the state, with about 1,350 people spread out over 1,715 square miles.
But towns the size of Mitchell still need to run like any other city. The City Council still needs to meet, students still need to have a school bus, people still need to call for help from EMTs and firefighters. And that means that the town runs largely thanks to a dedicated group of multitalented volunteers.
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“Everybody has to wear a lot of hats,” Farrell said. “A town of this size has to provide the same amount of services that a big city does, but we have 10 people to pull from rather than 10,000 people.”
Farrell left his home in Dallas, Oregon, and a job at an ad agency in Eugene to move to Mitchell with his wife, Jalet, three years ago. They came to the town after Jalet visited and saw an opportunity.
“While she was here, she had this epiphany that Mitchell needed a hostel,” Farrell said. “We’d never stayed in a hostel, and we didn’t know anything about that.”
It turned out, though, that Mitchell was the ideal place for a hostel. The town sits right in the path of the TransAmerica bike trail, and hundreds of cyclists from all over the world pass through each year. And Mitchell’s proximity to the Painted Hills and the Sutton Mountain Wilderness Area meant that tourists were often looking for a place to stay.
Now, three years after the Farrells moved to Mitchell, Jalet’s vision is a success. They’ve dubbed the hostel they’ve opened in an old church the Spoke’N Hostel, after the cyclists they host. Last summer, Farrell said, almost 800 cyclists stayed there.
On a sunny day in early June, a handful of cyclists were passing through Mitchell after a bike race on the TransAmerica trail kicked off in Astoria the day before. The Farrells and a few volunteers greeted them with cheers and ringing cowbells, before taking them inside the hostel for a warm meal.
That warm welcome is unusual along the TransAmerica trail, according to Andrej Zaman, a Slovenian cyclist who stopped at the Spoke’N Hostel for a meal. The hospitality makes Mitchell a special place that he talks about to people back home.
“Everywhere I mention this in Slovenia,” he said. “They don’t know where this city is, but I know.”
Providing that warm welcome is the hostel’s mission, Farrell said.
“This is just providing the hospitality of Christ to people traveling by,” said Farrell, who only asks for donations from guests.
That hospitality — and a bit of necessity — is part of the reason Farrell has taken on some of his other job titles. On Sundays, the Spoke’N Hostel is a church, where Farrell is the pastor. He became a volunteer barber because cyclists and townspeople alike needed haircuts and the nearest barber was 50 miles away. Because he’s not licensed, he can’t charge money, but accepts small gifts and foreign currency in payment.
Even being a school bus driver, Farrell said, is a way to connect back to the community.
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“I get to be integrated into the lives of the kids at the school every day,” he said. “I start their day, I end their day. … That’s a real honor.”
That’s part of the beauty, he said, of life in Mitchell.
“There’s so many opportunities to share life together in a small town because everybody does 10 different things,” he said.
To hear the full interview with Patrick Farrell, click on the audio player at the top of the page.