Remembering the Scotts Mills Quake of ‘93

With the (sort of) recent earthquake in Virginia, I was reminded of our last significant shaker here in Oregon, the Scotts Mills (or “Spring Break”) quake of March 25th, 1993 with a registered magnitude of 5.6. It was my junior year of college and our school observed spring break a week before most schools. I happened to be extremely sick at the time, so when the rumbling started in the early hours (5:34 AM to be exact), I remained in bed. Really, the shaking didn’t last all that long — I’m guessing just 10 seconds. It sounded like a freight train was passing by my window though. I had one of those cheap chipboard shelves in my dorm room and had a TV sitting it. It really freaked me out to see it swaying dangerously back and forth. Overall, the quake did little damage and there were no serious injuries. In Salem, the State Capitol building needed repairs due to some cracks in the wall of the rotunda. There was a bridge in McMinnville that was damaged and an elementary school that had to be condemned. In total, FEMA reported 16 residences and 54 businesses sustained major damage. There are no known faults in the Scott Mills area; however the Mt. Angel fault is not far away. As a side note, while I was researching a history project in college I came across an article from the late 1890s about strange geological occurrences in Scotts Mills — something like liquefied sand spurting from the ground. Not sure if this might be related to a fault line in the area, but it made me wonder about the unknown dangers lurking under that part of the Willamette Valley.

The only other time I experienced a significant earthquake was in 2001, when the office building I was working in shook pretty hard from a quake in Washington. That quake was probably more like the one experienced out on the East Coast.

Add comment September 14th, 2011

Visiting the Former West Coast OTH-B Radar


On a recent trip to central Oregon I made a detour to Christmas Valley to visit the former Over-the-Horizon Backscatter (OTH-B) radar site — one of the last Cold War installations in Oregon. This first required permission from the US Bureau of Land Management and the Oregon Military Department, who were kind enough to allow me to explore the site. Most Oregonians have probably never heard about the AN/FPS-118 (the official Air Force designation) radar installation in Christmas Valley. The system actually had three components: the transmitter site here in Oregon, a receiver site in Tule Lake California, and an operations center at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. All three sites were connected by satellite. A similar OTH-B radar existed in Maine to serve the East Coast. At the Oregon site, there are really three separate radar installations arranged in a sort of half-moon pattern facing west. Each has wood fencing surrounding the massive 460 acre perimeter and cyclone fencing around a power station, water tank, and the lone pole-barn style building. The operation center in Mountain Home processed all the data from the three West Coast radars. If something looked suspicious on the radar returns, interceptor aircraft would be dispatched to in investigate.


Funding for the West Coast site was authorized by Congress between 1986 and 1988. Construction was completed in December of 1990 at a cost of over $300 million. In 1991, plans were on track to turn the West Coast site over to the Air Force’s Tactical Air Command for official operation. However, with the ending of the Cold War, the Air Force decided to end activities at both the East and West Coast OTH-B radar sites and both were placed into caretaker status. In the mid ‘90s, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) began using data from the Navy’s smaller and portable OTH-B radar system (AN/TPS-71). The Air Force operated the West Coast site system briefly around this time for scientific and counter narcotics purposes, but this activity stopped in 1997 due to high operating costs. Again, the system was mothballed.


So how is OTH-B radar different from conventional radar? Well, conventional radar has always been limited in range due to the curvature of the earth. OTH-B radar gets around this problem by bouncing radio signals off the ionosphere. A small part of the signal is then reflects back to the receiver, which is called “backscatter”. The range of the OTH-B radar is anywhere from 500 to 1,800 nautical miles, much further than the conventional 250 mile maximum range of a rotating radar. The one major disadvantage of both the West and East Coast sites was the fixed 60 degree coverage. In contrast, a conventional rotating radar provides a 360 degree coverage. The Soviets also had their own OTH-B radar about a decade earlier than ours and was nicknamed the “Russian Woodpecker” by shortwave radio operators. It was shut-down around 1989, possibly because it interfered with civilian radio transmissions. Currently, the only large-scale fixed OTH-B radar site is in Australia.


The Oregon site sat unused from 1997 to 2007. Thieves took their toll as the price for metals soared during the economic boom years. In 2007 an Oregon State Trooper pulled over Peter and Andry Sharipoff of Mount Angel who were carrying 1,500 of copper wire stolen from the site. Both, not surprisingly, were also charged with meth possession. The Air Force dismantled the massive radar arrays shortly thereafter. In 2008, Lake County began exploring ways to use the site for alternative energy production. Since power transmission lines still exist at the site, the thinking was it would be easy to install solar arrays and push power out from the three sites. As of 2011, there has been no alternative energy development at the site. The Oregon Air National Guard now uses the installation for training purposes, but there doesn’t seem to be any long term game plan for the 2,500 acres of land.


I didn’t see any activity when I visited this summer — although there were a few exterior lights on. The power station was buzzing, so juice is still flowing to the site. Overall, the buildings and fencing look to be in good shape. Of course the radar arrays are long gone, but you can still see the cement footings. I should be clear though; this is still a military site and should not be entered without permission from the Oregon Military Office and the Bureau of Land Management. I suspect there are still security systems in place around the remaining buildings, so trespassing would be a bad idea. If you would like to see the site, my suggestion is to view it from the well maintained gravel roads that ring the three installations. But there really isn’t that much to see, so I’m not sure it’s worth making a trek out to Christmas Valley unless you’re a hard-core fan of Cold War infrastructure.

Add comment September 10th, 2011

Tiki Review: Trader Vic’s PDX

It’s probably been a couple of years since I’ve posted a tiki review, but then again tiki joints are pretty few and far between. That makes it all the more amazing folks are opening new tiki establishments. For decades, Portland had a Trader Vic’s on Broadway in the space now occupied by El Gaucho. I believe that location finally called it quits in 1996, probably due to shifting tastes and a patron base that was continuing to move to the suburbs. Not sure why Trader Vic’s decided to open an outpost in a relatively small market like Portland, but I would like to believe it has something to do with our collective love of tiki here. I suspect the rationale probably had more to do with closely studied demographics. The new Vic’s location is in the Pearl, ground zero for affluent NW retirees. Based on my observation from dinner at Vic’s PDX last night, the patron mix certainly did skew older, so their calculation are probably spot on.

So how’s the decor? It’s pretty awesome as one might expect. Lots of tikis of various sizes. Glass floats hanging from the ceiling. Just about every flat surface covered in bamboo. Tables all have tiki candle holders and tiki salt and pepper shakers. Even the menus are in the old Vic’s style. Of course the drinks are fantastic and numerous. The food is pretty spendy if you’re in the dining room, but the lounge offers cheaper, and smaller, dishes. The big advantage to being the dining room is the service, which is pretty great. It’s refreshing experiencing efficient and unobtrusive service in a Portland restaurant. This aspect will especially be appreciated by the older crowd I imagine, who undoubtedly are nostalgic for a time when service was more of a priority. The food was, not surprisingly, good. Nothing shockingly adventurous or memorable, but it was exactly what one would expect from Trader Vic’s. I enjoyed the spareribs from the famous Vic’s Chinese Oven, but our Caesar salad was also really great. Entrees are crazy expensive, but that’s what you get for sitting in the dining room. Really, I imagine you’re paying a premium for the service. Overall, I’m super-excited Vic’s is back in Portland. I’ll probably be spending the next couple of years working my way through the cocktail menu.

Add comment August 12th, 2011

Visiting Yet Another Cold War Site


A couple of months ago I took a trip up to North Bend, WA to explore a former AUTOVON site from the Cold War era. AUTOVON, an abbreviation of Automatic Voice Network, was a military phone system built to operate under apocalyptic conditions, like an all out atomic war. AUTOVON was world wide and during its height of operation there were sites in the UK, Asia, Central America, and the Middle East. By the early 1990s, advances in digital technology and the end of the Cold War lead to the abandonment of AUTOVON and its replacement, the Defense Commercial Telecommunications Network (DCTN). The site I visited was a switching center — possibly the only one in the Pacific Northwest — and opened in November of 1970. Some AUTOVON switching centers were underground and hardened for nuclear attack. In the case of the North Bend AUTOVON site, everything is above ground, but it looks like it was designed to ride out a nuclear exchange between the old superpowers. Why do I say that? Because when I went inside the building, there is a decontamination shower just past the steel blast doors. Also, there is still a massive fresh water tank in the mechanical room. I didn’t see any sleeping quarters, but those could have been removed when the site was sold decades ago. A kitchen and bathroom facilities are still intact though. All the switching equipment was removed years ago, so there wasn’t really much to see in the operations room.


During normal Cold War operations, 17 technicians would have worked around the clock to keep the switching equipment running. This particular site would have handled all military communications for Washington, Alaska, and Idaho (and probably Oregon as well). The site was built by the Cascade Autovon Company at a cost of four million dollars and was managed by Larmar Gaines, the white-shirted civilian featured in the photos below. Century Link was kind enough to allow me to tour the facility and they also provide scans of the photos below. I have no idea what the future of the building will be — I think Century Link is trying to sell it.




2 comments July 22nd, 2011

Goodbye Space Shuttle


NASA’s Space Shuttle program has come to an end. I’m certainly feeling nostalgic already, but unlike a handful of legislators from Florida and Texas, I feel the smart thing to do is cleanly end the program. In a previous post about NASA’s ’70s era space station Skylab, I mentioned that program was developed under the assumption a future Space Shuttle would be able to service the orbiting outpost. This was all part of a grand NASA vision of space exploration that emerged during the ’70s. After the success of the Apollo program, NASA began to plan for the next phase of launching people into space, which included ambitious plans to put astronauts into long term orbit. Unfortunately, the Shuttle program suffered numerous delays in the ’70s and the Skylab program died before a working partnership could be developed. When the first Shuttle launched in 1981, it was unclear exactly what role it would be filling within a larger space program. At first, it seemed like the Shuttle could be used to put super secret spy satellites into orbit. But after the Challenger accident in 1986, the Air Force and the intelligence community decided they didn’t want to rely on the Shuttle, so they went back to launching on traditional rockets like the Delta. Without a major sponsor like the military, the Shuttle lacked a clear purpose. It failed to deliver on the promise of making cargo hauling cheaper, so commercial satellites continued to ride into space atop conventional, and unmanned, expendable rockets. Another failure of the program was safety. The Shuttle was not originally designed with a crew escape system, unlike all of the other space vehicles previously developed. While such a system probably would not have saved the crews of the Challenger and Columbia, it was a serious short coming that was never fully addressed. Finally, the cost of the Shuttle program was far more than anyone anticipated. The work required to make a Shuttle (and solid fuel boosters) ready for launch was crazy expensive.


Despite all the shortcoming of the Shuttle program, it marked a huge technical achievement. The complexity of all the systems that had to work together for a successful mission was really amazing and ultimately, I believe, made NASA a stronger agency. However, I think that for political reasons the Shuttle program was maintained longer than it should have. We need to move forward with a newer, and simpler, manned space program. Even though I have trashed commercial ventures like Space-X in the past, they have demonstrated a growing capacity to be able to step in and offer new cargo and crew launch options. I think the future of NASA’s manned space program should be all about diversity — in a decade I anticipate there will be a number of options for putting someone into orbit. It was a bad idea to rely on a single launch platform like the Shuttle, so I hope we move away from that model.

Add comment July 16th, 2011

PARC Field Day on Kelly Butte

This last weekend I observed Portland Amateur Radio Club (PARC) conduct their annual field day at Kelly Butt in SE Portland – nearly on top of the old Cold War era Civil Defense Control Center. The members of PARC use field day as an opportunity to test their ham radio skills, which would be tapped if a catastrophic natural or man-made disaster occurred rendering first responder communication useless. During field day, the dozen or so ham operators at Kelly Butte compete with other amateur radio clubs in logging contacts. They start at low power, like 5 watts, and work their way up. Once a contact is logged, it’s sent to a national organization for verification.


I was mostly curious in exploring the remains of the Civil Defense Control Center, which I have blogged about in the past, but never seen in person. There is no way to actually gain access to the interior anymore, which didn’t surprise me, since I’ve heard stories from the past of homeless folks taking up residence when access was still possible. What was a little amazing was just how completely the City of Portland covered the entrance to the bunker. Untold tons of dirt and rock now cover the concrete facade, which featured a massive sliding steel door seen in the film “The Day Called X”. There is an escape hatch at the rear of the facility, and this was pretty easy to find, but the city has plugged the door with a big chunk of concrete. What amazed me was the all the vegetation that has grown up around the old structure. The top of the building is still roughly outlined by a small field, but the parking lot and entrance looks like it’s hundreds of years old.


1 comment June 28th, 2011

Original New York Seltzers

I was feeling nostalgic recently for the best grocery store to ever grace McMinnville’s Hwy 99 during the 1980s. That would be Zupan’s Market, which only limped along for a couple of years before closing its doors for good. I don’t know why Zupan’s picked McMinnville as a place to locate one of their specialty grocery stores. The demographics for this chain definitely skews high in the education and income brackets. The fact that McMinnville is home to Linfield College and (formerly) a division of HP must have been a factor. Anyway, my mom use to buy this carbonated beverage called the Original New York Seltzer from Zupan’s. These drinks came in small glass bottles with a Styrofoam label. There were a number of flavors, including raspberry and black cherry which were two of my favorites. I just Googled the beverage last night and found out that the company closed in the early ’90s. Of particular interest was the president of ONYS, a one Randy Miller, who was a professional stunt man, animal trainer, and funny car driver. There is a great segment from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous on YouTube that profiles Randy Miller during the brief boom years of the ONYS. I mean, where do you start when talking about this guy? The hair? The fact he kept jungle cats in his office? The way he fake punches his girlfriend while she tries to exercise? In 1993, the ONYS company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, marking the end of the road for this delicious drink. In a Los Angeles Business Journal article, the reasons cited for the company’s decline included distribution problems, increased competition, and a weak economy. I don’t know how much longer the company managed to operate, but I suspect it wasn’t too long after ‘93 when production finally stopped. Curiously, as late as 2007, people claimed to have purchased ONYS at the grocery chain Big Lots! (just so you know, not my exclamation mark). I guess the only ONYS available through Big Lots! were of the sugar-free variety, so I’m not sure what to make of this. Was this surplus stock from the early ’90s perhaps? If yes, is it safe for a major retailer to sell beverages over a decade old? Puzzling questions indeed.

So what happened to Randy Miller? He’s still around and has his own website. It seems he made a second career out of his passion for big cats. According to his website, he has lent his animal expertise to a number of film and television projects. Don’t know if he still dabbles in stunts or funny car racing, but I suspect he’s doing just fine running this animal business. So what are the odds ONYS will be reborn? There are various petitions floating around the Internet demanding the product be brought back to market, but those never go anywhere. Of course there are also Facebook pages dedicated to ONYS, but I don’t think those will really spur any business interest. Probably the only way a rebirth could occur is if someone started small scale production and sold it online. There is really no way a brand like ONYS can complete against big corporations like Coca Cola and Pepsi — it’s best to stick to the margins of the beverage market I imagine.

2 comments March 29th, 2011

All Hail the Meeblip


So I recently purchased another little noise-maker to join my Stylophone, Gakken SX-150, and FM3 Buddha Box in my modest collection of annoying sound devices. This little guy is called the Meeblip and is the brain child of James Grahame of Retro Thing. Like the Gakken SX-150, this is something you have to put together yourself, although it doesn’t require any soldering. Unlike any of the other aforementioned boxes, the Meeblip can be controlled over MIDI. Actually, this guy is really a full-on monosynth, which kind of surprised me. From what I gather, the Meeblip is a monophonic virtual analog synth, meaning the synthesis is performed on a chip rather than older, conventional methods like DCO and VCO sound generators. But no matter, it still sounds great. And every parameter has a switch or dial just like those old monosynths from the ’70s. The versatility of the Meeblip is pretty amazing once you start messing around with it. Of course you don’t have a fancy modulation matrix or anything like that, but the simplicity of the design makes it a lot of fun to experiment with. I guess my only real complaint is the USB port, which is only used for power. This means you need to have some USB enable device close by, like a laptop, to power the Meeblip. I use something called MintyBoost! for my USB power. The real problem with the USB port is expectations though. I see that port and assume I can stream audio or MIDI over it (which the Meeblip doesn’t support). I would rather just see the USB port dropped in favor of a battery compartment.

UPDATE: There is now an external power supply option for owners of early Meeblips. All new orders ship with the external power supply.

4 comments February 9th, 2011

Mini Camera Review: Canon T2i

I’ve been thinking about getting a DSLR (digital single lens reflex camera) for a couple of years now. This isn’t a sign that I’m abandoning film or the prelude to an impending apopalypse — I’m just looking for cheaper and faster alternatives to what has been a 100% focus on 35mm and 120mm photography. The push that finally made me pull the trigger on a DSLR is my ongoing Cold War documentary film. Up to now, everything has been recorded in standard definition video on a Panasonic DVX-100. While it’s a great camera in many ways, the DVX-100 is not HD and that was becoming an issue. I tried up-converting my SD footage to 1080p during the holiday break using a number of methods, but was really unhappy with the the results. Over the last couple of months, I’ve seen some really nice HD footage from Canon DSLRs, both here at work and online at websites like Vimeo. I started doing some research and found the Canon line of DSLRs are very popular HD film makers. Monte Hellman of Two Lane Blacktop fame supposedly made his latest movie using a Canon DSLR. I’m kind of a Nikon guy for the most part, so my first inclination was to look at that brand since I already have a couple of Nikon lens for my F100 sitting around. However, Nikon doesn’t offer audio input jacks on their DSLR, so that ended up being a deal breaker for me. So I started looking at the lower end Canon DSLRs, which are still pretty expensive, but offer a good value for the performance if you can get over the cheap build quality. I settled on the T2i because it was the best camera I could afford after selling my DVX-100. What really sold me on the T2i is an alternate operating system called Magic Lantern. This OS is open source, user installable, and opens up a number of video features not available using the standard Canon OS. For example, Magic Lantern allows for audio monitoring with the LCD viewer, variable bit rates for video encoding, zebra stripes for exposure, and time lapse photography (among other things). After spending an entire Sunday trying to install the Magic Lantern OS, I can attest that it’s not an entirely easy process, but well worth the effort.

I don’t have any Canon lens, but I do have a bunch of m42 (screw mount) lens I’ve been using on the T2i via an adapter. The only lens that has worked well has been my Super Takumar 55mm F1.8, which is not a very fast lens by today’s standards, but is one of my favorites anyway. One of the great things about DSLR photograph and video is the shallow depth of field when a prime lens is opened all the way up, which will be great for interviews when I want the background blurry. I’ve also discovered I can better focus on a subject using the built in digital zoom, which has two handy buttons on the top right side of the grip. With my DVX-100, I use to always manually zoom all the way in on a subject, set the focus, then zoom back out to my desired framing which was a hassle. This weekend I’ll give the time lapse feature a try and post the results. If anyone has tips for using Magic Lantern, please post a response. I would love to hear from other ML users.

Add comment January 18th, 2011

More Hydro Tube Information

Some followers of this blog may recall a post from 2009 about Oregon’s lost hydro tubes. Since there was so much interest in the topic, I did a little more digging and found some Oregonian articles that were quite enlightening. Of particular note was an article from February 2nd, 1987 titled “High Costs Send Water Slides Down the Tube”. Some noteworthy tidbits from the piece include:

• “Hydro tubes” or “hydrotubes” was a generic term derived from a manufacturer’s brand name
• Hydro tubes had a very short heyday in Oregon, lasting from 1982 until about 1984
• The Oregon Health Division has records of seven hydro tube sites in our state during the ‘80s
• One hydro tube sites was located in Vancouver, WA (East Fourth Plain) and operated from 1983 to 1985
• The company Design Works built the hydro tubes at the Eastport Plaza, Washington Square, Keizer, and Eugene locations
• Hydro tube sites in Oregon cost between $650,000 to one million to build (in early ‘80s dollars)
• In 1983 at the Washington Square hydro tube location, 10 trips down the slide would cost you $3.00 on a weekday and $4.00 on a weekend

As far as why hydro tube operations failed, the article mentioned a couple of causes including:

• The high cost of construction
• High operating costs, including liability insurance
• Maintaining interest during non-peak season (peak season = summer and school vacations)
• Lack of variety in slides

Early investors in the Eastport Plaza hydro tube location got something like 50% of their money back during the first six months of operation, but other sites, like the one on Landcaster Drive in Salem, quickly failed despite heavy promotion. While there were a number of lawsuits against hydro tube operators, it’s unclear if any were ever successful. Mary Alvey, manager of Oregon’s drinking water compliance program in the late ‘80s, believed it was a lack of interest in the slides, and not lawsuits from injuries, that caused the hydro tube fad to fade.

I’m pretty confident this is a definitive list of former hydro tube sites in Oregon:

1. Eastport Plaza
2. Washington Square
3. Milwaukee (Holly Farm Mall)
4. Keizer
5. Salem (Landcaster Drive)
6. Eugene
7. Jansen Beach

And these sites were planned, but never built:

1. Bend
2. Seaside

Still looking for pictures to post. Maybe The Oregonian would be kind enough to let me snatch some images from their archives.

5 comments December 27th, 2010

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