Lowther recalls Ashwood mining days
- Susan Matheny
- Madras Pioneer - News
The Jefferson County Pioneer Association will honor Danny Lowther and Luella Friend as the Pioneer Man and Queen at its annual potluck picnic set for 1 p.m., Sunday, July 20, in the Maccie Conroy Building of the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.
Danny Lowther was born Jan. 9, 1920 to Charles E. and Ellen (Crowley) Lowther, whose homestead was near the Donnybrook School, six miles out of Ashwood. His two older brothers were Willard and Hugh.
He began attending Donnybrook School at age 5, but just two years later, in 1927, his mother died and the family had to reorganize. His father put the ranch and children under the care of an aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Hawkens, while he went to Portland to work for three years. When his dad returned, the aunt and uncle moved into Ashwood.
Farming on the ranch was done with horses, there was no electricity in their home, and water had to be pumped from a well for people and livestock. "I did lots of pumping in the summer to water the horses and cattle," Lowther recalled.
By then it was the 1930s during the Great Depression and money was scarce. For a while, his dad worked for $1 a day at the CCC Camp outside of Madras, leaving the three boys to manage for themselves. When the Oregon King Mine opened in Ashwood, their father got a job there, riding six miles to and from work each day on horseback. Then in 1933 he worked at the Horse Heaven Mine, also in the Ashwood area.
"The mines paid more, but it was more dangerous work. One time the ore bucket hit my dad and broke his arm, but it didn't knock him down the (600-foot deep mine) shaft," he said. Another man wasn't as fortunate and was killed by the ore bucket.
Meanwhile, Lowther and Daisy Wharton were the only two students left at Donnybrook School when they graduated from eighth grade there. Hugh stayed in Ashwood to ranch while Danny and Willard attended high school in Madras, boarding with their aunt and uncle Hawkens the first year, and the next year with aunt and uncle Crowley.
On the weekends they would go home, to become postal carriers. Their dad had contracted to deliver mail on Saturdays and Wednesdays from Ashwood to the Kilts Post Office, some 10 miles to the east. Since he was working in the mines, the boys did the mail route, with Hugh delivering Wednesdays and Danny and Willard on Saturdays.
"We made some money and it was a shot in the arm," Lowther said, noting every little bit helped.
When he was a junior, the high school in Madras burned down and students were shifted elsewhere until a new school could be built. "It was in the middle of winter and we finished the last six months in the old hotel (Fisher Hotel) on the corner of 5th and D streets. My last year, high school was held in the top floor of the old Madras Grade School," he said. He graduated in 1938 in a class of about 12 students.
At age 18 Lowther began driving truck with his brother Willard, hauling wood from the head of Trout Creek to Ashwood, cattle to Portland, wheat to Shaniko and Gateway, and in the winter, hay from Prineville to the sheepmen at Hay Creek.
After a few years, Lowther decided to try something different and followed his cousin Raymond Crowley to McDermitt, Nev., to work in a mercury mine. The venture only lasted a few months, and the pair returned to Ashwood to work in the Oregon King Mine. At first Lowther worked down in the mine.
"We'd drill a bunch of holes, put dynamite in and shoot it. Then we go in the afternoon and shovel the muck out and hoist it out in the ore bucket. The men also rode up and down in the bucket, which could hold three to four men," he said.
Because of his experience, he was soon given the job of trucking the ore to the railroad at Gateway to ship to the smelter in Tacoma, Wash. When the mine's machinery operator left, Lowther was reassigned to the engine room, where he ran the hoist for the ore bucket.
World War II had broken out, and in January 1942 Lowther went to Portland and joined the Air Force. His was sent overseas as part of a repair outfit. With the Eighth Air Force under General Eisenhower, and spent 18 months in the British Isles, then went to Ireland to help operate Lockheed Air Base near Belfast. The war ended and he was discharged in October 1945.
After the service, he found work in Portland at a Hyster factory, then with an amusement company, which operated equipment including jukebox and pinball machines, pool tables, and cigarette machines.
From 1948 to 1955 Lowther was married to June Wright from Clackamas and they had one son, Wayne, who now has four children, Charlene, Amy, Justin and Daniel. In 1950 Lowther purchased machines and ran his own amusement company route until 1975. Other business ventures included being a partner in a tavern on 82nd Avenue in Portland, a tavern in Clackamas, tavern and restaurant near Brightwood, and purchasing five houses as an investment.
Another career change came in 1970 when Lowther went into the real estate business as a salesman for three years, then became a broker, managing an office in Rockwood, near Gresham.
Wanting to move back home, he came to Madras in 1975 and was hired by the Jefferson County Assessor's Office as the appraiser for commercial property. With the help of his son, Lowther built a home on Juniper Butte, and later constructed five houses in Culver, a house in Madras, and began purchasing local rentals.
He retired from the assessor's office in 1986, but continues to operate Lowther Realty, and maintain some 30 rental units in town.
Last week at age 83, Lowther was busy cutting lumber with a power saw while putting new doors in apartment units in the old Ellis House on the corner of Fifth and E streets. The historic Madras home, built in 1910, was owned by his great aunt and now serves as his realty office.