Route 66 got some kicks in Oregon City and West Linn
This article is part of a continuing series on the history of West Linn written by Sandy Carter, a Bolton freelance writer and editor who has lived in West Linn since Dec. 31, 1992.
I had just arrived for a meeting at the historic Barclay House in Oregon City when Madalaine, curator of the Milwaukie Museum, handed me a copy of a newspaper clipping she'd been meaning to give me. When I glanced to the headline, I knew another story had sought me out. 'West Linn 'Goes Hollywood' For TV Filming.'
According to what was probably the Enterprise Courier, 'Buz and Tod, the two itinerant adventurers of CBS Television's 'Route 66' have found work again. This time it's far off their regular beaten path from Chicago to Los Angeles. They've hired on as papermaker at Crown Zellerbach's West Linn mill. Chances are Oregon's biggest papermaking complex will never be the same after the Hollywood television company completes the West Linn episode, 'Across Walnuts and Wine,' which is due to hit TV screens sometime in October.'
The clipping had no date, so I looked up 'Route 66' on the Web and found that the episode aired November 2, 1962. Most of the action took place at the mill, where characters Buz and Tod tangled after work with the bad guys on a huge pile of wood chips overlooking the mill, and crews shot Buz wearing his safety shoes in his fake work as machine tender on Machine Number 4. Another scene showed tugs bringing a log raft to the mill.
The show's other stars were Nina Foch, James Dunn, Betty Fields and Robert Walker, Jr. The actors spent six days filming the plot while a second crew took about two weeks shooting additional footage in and around the mill and historic parts of Oregon City. But the fact that caught my eye was that 'The Oregon City home of Ray Benski, backtender on West Linn's Number 6 machine, is the scene of much of the filming.'
The description of Mr. Benski's job is part of the everyday language of papermaking, which in 1962 would have been readily understood by the thousands of Oregon City and West Linn readers whose families lived on papermill paychecks. I dragged out the phone book and looked up Ray Benski - found that name and called the number, to ask what it was like having the 'Route 66' stars filming in his home.
A Ray Benski was kind enough to speak with me, but his dad, the Ray in the story, passed away on Mother's Day this year. I was struck again by the importance of talking with these old-timers and recording their stories before it's too late. Ray said, 'My dad would have been a great one for your project,' and I'm sure he's right.
Ray, Jr., while only 7 or 8 years old in 1962, remembers the crew setting up in his house at 9th and Washington in Oregon City and draping one of its elegant Victorian rooms in veils for a séance scene. And he especially remembers George Maharis and Martin Milner, the stars, driving into town from the south and eating at Arts Café. 'They treated my sister and I like royalty,' says Ray. 'I'll never forget. My dad was mad after they left because the crew beat up the house when they assembled and tore down the sets, but he said that even if he'd known about it beforehand, he'd still do it. It was pretty exciting.'
The mystery of this story, for me, is how the West Linn mill, which is nowhere near Route 66, came to be a location. Perhaps a mill owner knew a producer, or they renamed our cities? I'll never know. But it provided quite a shot of glamour for our two small mill towns, and great memories for the Benski family, which moved to West Linn the following year. Ray Benski, Sr., died at 91, but was 47 when his house and his West Linn workplace were in the national spotlight.
Carter may be reached with comments and ideas for future columns by sending e-mail to sandycarter@words count.biz.