On The Road is Think Out Loud’s radio road trip series: conversations with wanderers, tourists and residents along Oregon’s back roads and highways.
We took a drive from the California border, through Klamath Falls and along the shores of upper Klamath Lake. Along the way we talked to people in hardware stores, diners, mobile home parks and campgrounds. We met Bohemians, Latinos, Native Americans, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and a dog named Tyrion Lannister.
Stop One: Malin
South of Klamath Falls, just across the state line from California is the tiny town of Malin, Oregon. The town was founded in the early 1900s by a group of settlers from Bohemia, in what is now the Czech Republic. We caught up with some of the descendants of those original settlers in the town’s central meeting hall — the hardware store.
The store has been in Denis Kalina’s family for 102 years. When we walked in, Kalina was sitting around a table chatting with two old friends: Robert Fabianich and David Victorine. The three men all went to high school together, and they do what they can to keep the Czech traditions alive. Every year, on the town’s anniversary, David Victorine helps to put on a dinner with traditional Czech sausage and folk dances.
“We make a Czech sausage … it’s a pork sausage and it’s got everything but the squeal, and we couldn’t figure out how to get the squeal to stay in it!” — Victorine
In Malin city park, Juan Ortiz was enjoying the summer day sitting on the grass with his dog Coco.
“[Animals] share with you, they give you energy … A lot of people put dogs inside with a cage. I’m sorry but that’s just stupid. Because God created all the natural things for you and me.” — Ortiz
Stop Two: Merrill
Ten miles up the road is the town of Merrill. It’s a little bit bigger than Malin with a library, a bank and several stores. It also features a small drive thru restaurant called The Polar Bear. Inside we found Jane Stone behind the counter. She’s worked there for three years.
“We just hired two or three new young people who just graduated high school … it’s a challenge, but they have good energy … and they’re trainable. Most of the kids that work here, they’ve got good senses of humor … so that’s half the battle right there.” — Stone
Everything for miles around Merrill appears to be farmland. There are a lot of potatoes growing here. We passed a warehouse with a sign on the side for Wong Potatoes. It’s a third generation business owned by a Chinese American family, and they may just have the best slogan ever: “You haven’t tasted the right potato, until you’ve tasted a Wong Potato.”
Stop Three: Terminal City
We pull off the road at Greener Pastures Mobile Home park and find an RV up on blocks, with two sets of legs sticking out from underneath. The owner of the mobile home, Freddie Brigham tells us he’s fixing it up “real hippy-ish,” so that he can live on the road, performing freestyle rap.
“Just traveling, being a hippy, seeing the world … just trying to reach out, meet people, be a kindred spirit. Stuff like that … trying to help people, trying to get people to be happy and live free.” — Brigham
Stop Four: Modoc Point
Perrin’s Past and Present is a sprawling antique shop with everything from used plumbing parts to old taxidermy. Among the customers we find Linda Weymeyer, a recently transplanted Californian, and her husband Steven Price, who used to be a Hollywood stuntman.
“I can remember when I was a little kid … I was on my rocking horse in my one-piece pajamas wearing a cowboy hat and a six gun, watching Wyatt Earp on TV … how many people can say that they played cowboys and Indians all their life and got paid for it? What a dream.” — Price
Just behind the antique store is the Waterwheel Campground, run by Kelly Floyd. She spends the day running from one chore to the next on a four-wheeler with two small dogs in the front basket.
“Typically the basket holds two small dogs and a one year old.” — Floyd
Most of the campground is taken up by one group. There’s a huge refrigerated truck, several meat smokers, and a half dozen stoves. We find Seth Vincent at the center of it all. He’s in charge of 230 people who are there from Roseburg as a part of a pioneer reenactment. They’re members of the Latter Day Saints church and they’ve brought the church youth group here for four days.
“All the youth 12-18 [years old] are divided up into handcarts, with a Ma and Pa per handcart as a family unit … To get a feel and an appreciation for the Mormon pioneers … These kinds of experiences change lives. They can help rewrite a young man or young woman’s life and help them understand that there’s more that they can do.” — Vincent
Stop Five: Chiloquin
Just past the antique store, the highway forks. One road travels up to Crater Lake. The other heads past the town of Chiloquin toward Bend. In Chiloquin we stop at the Klamath Tribal Administration where we find Perry Chocktoot. He’s the director of the culture and heritage department for the Klamath Tribes. His job involves trying to bring back the old ceremonies, restore a land base and teach kids tribal traditions. He says it’s important to know the history of Native Americans in this country, but it’s also important to learn how to move past it.
“You can’t wake up and be [angry], because then your children will assimilate to that. If you want your kids to be proactive in the communities and healthy and happy, you can’t put that affliction on them, because it’s very very powerful. You have to find some closure in it yourself.” — Chocktoot