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Early Brooklynites tell their story, and plan a surprise for Northwest fire districts

SOUTHEAST HISTORY


by: OURTESY OF CHET SCHINK - Shown is the Howard-Cooper Corporation building: Howard-Cooper was ranked in 1924 as the top distributor of road machinery. It was founded by Dick Cooper, George W. Howard, and John Landenberger, in 1913. The building was located at the corner of Third and S.E. Hawthorne Boulevard.In the early 1900’s the Brooklyn neighborhood was a melting pot, made up of German and Italian immigrants who had arrived eager to find work with the Southern Pacific (today, Union Pacific) railroad.

However, streetcar shops along 17th and Bush Street, and the Inman-Poulson Lumber-mill at the foot of Powell, offered a unique opportunity for the new arrivals. While many of the Scandinavians were hired for their apprentice skills, plenty of openings were available for unskilled men and business – business owners knew they could have them at a cheap price.

When the Italian men from Sicily and Tuscany settled in South Portland, they also competed for such positions in the work force, but were remembered best for tending to their gardens and fields of produce – harvesting vegetables for their weekly trips through the streets along both the east and west side of town.

The high-pitched rhythmic chattering of Italian grocers could be heard for many blocks as they coaxed their wagons down the lanes, “Fresh vegetables, get your fresh vegetables”, or “We have fresh fish today” echoed through the streets of Inner Southeast Portland, along with the clopping of horses’ hooves against cobblestones.

Like these countrymen, the Schink family came to Brooklyn around 1912, when their father – a traveling Lutheran Minister – decided to pay a visit to Portland.

Albert Schink, with his brothers and sisters, decided to pool the money they’d earned and invested it into the rental of a large two-story house at 12th and Pershing.

Albert began learning his trade as a machinist with the Southern Pacific Railroad, and his brothers, Frederick and Charles, hauled logs for the Inman-Poulson sawmill, using a team of horses and an open wagon they stored in the stable in the rear of their house. Their sister, Sophia, worked as a seamstress, and Charles later became a baker for the Moreland Bakery near Bybee Boulevard and Milwaukie Avenue. As each of the siblings married, they moved out of the residence, and the remainder had the choice of what rooms they wanted to occupy.

With an apprenticeship under his belt, Albert took off on a whirlwind trip across Canada. Working an assortment of jobs, he paid for his food and living arrangements by hiring on for a nickel an hour at each town where he stopped. Eventually Albert’s escapades ended, and he returned to the Brooklyn neighborhood, finding comfort in the security of family and friends. While attending St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Albert met his future wife, Ellen Thomsen, who happened to be sitting in the pew next to him.

Ellen had been living with her parents in a house that overlooked the Willamette River near 7th and S.E. Rhone. Her parents, the Thomsens were among of over a million visitors who had traveled to Portland in 1905 to admire the Lewis and Clark Exposition.

The cool temperatures and abundance of rain here convinced the Thomsens to move here permanently, and they opened a dairy, and used the abundant grass of the open fields along the cliffs of Brooklyn Heights to feed their livestock. The milk they collected from their cows was sold throughout the east side of Portland.

Albert and Ellen married on August 24th 1918, and subsequently raised two children, son Chester and daughter Viola. In the early 1920’s, as a machinist with the Southern Pacific, Albert continued to support his family – later transferring to their California Office. He’d hoped the warmer weather there would be beneficial for the health problems he was having. Within a few years, feeling stronger, Albert Schick returned his family to Oregon, acquiring property in the Woodstock neighborhood.

By 1928 Albert had accepted a position with the Howard- Cooper Corporation, repairing and building road graders and rock crushers. Located at the corner of 3rd and Hawthorne, Howard-Cooper specialized in making Yuba tractors, Bernstein trucks, and various equipment and transportation vehicles used by contractors. If a small community like Gresham or Lake Oswego needed to order a fire truck for their town, funds would be raised and an order placed with a salesmen to the Howard-Cooper company.

Albert was assigned to the fire apparatus department of the company, on the third floor, and for the next fourteen years he dedicated his time to the construction of specialized fire engines for many small towns around the northwest. The most difficult part of his job was figuring out how to transport a finished fire vehicle from the third floor of the building to the loading dock at ground level! Challenged mechanics found that the only way to maneuver the long bed trucks was to stand them up on end, so they would fit in the elevator, and then haul them that way down to the shipping department.

When Albert’s children reached their teen years, they often stopped by the machine factory after school to visit with their dad. The-Italian Renaissance-styled Oriental Theater on Grand Street was one of son Chet Schick’s favorite places to visit during the weekends. It was a gathering spot for young people to watch the latest movies, newsreels, or a traveling vaudeville show, filled with singers, bands, and comedians.

Chet also remembers when the renowned singer of the era, Kate Smith, once entertained audiences on the stage of this, one of Portland’s grandest theaters. After the Saturday show ended, Chet would ride the Woodstock Streetcar over to Division Street to wait for his dad to finish his day. Father and son would then complete the day on the trolley, heading back to their house on Schiller Street.

“My father brought some broken fire extinguishers home, and showed me how to repair them,” recalled Chet. “I used the money I earned doing that to help pay my tuition to Reed College, and also to help later when I attended classes at Oregon State.”

When he retired, Albert continued his love for engines and machines by helping build the miniature locomotive to draw the little recreational train around the oval tracks in Oaks Park, providing hours of pleasure and many fond memories for children and parents who visited the park.

As for the family of Albert’s wife Ellen, the Thomsens – well, they were impacted by the construction project for a road still in heavy use today. In 1932, funds were allotted by the Federal Government for the construction of a new “Super Highway”, to be designated Highway 99E (now called McLoughlin Boulevard). The new expressway was paved right through the fields where the Thomsens’ cows once grazed. The home remained for a time, but the farm was gone.

Albert and Ellen’s son Chester (Chet) Schink recalled for THE BEE one chilly night in December of 1925, when the family had gathered inside the Thomsen house. “My grandparents had turned off the lamps, and we were sitting in the dark in the dining room. The dining room window overlooked the river, and we watched the first lighting of the [then brand new] Sellwood Bridge, when they first allowed cars to cross over.”

The Thomsen house subsequently was torn down as contractors widened the “Super Highway”. Where their home had been was replaced by the Ross Island Sand and Gravel building.

Recently Chet Schink found a small cache of photographs of every fire truck that his father Albert had helped build; and, in honor of his father, he decided to mail the original pictures to every town that was once a part of his father’s career.

Fire departments in Astoria, Sandy and Prineville will soon be surprised, if they haven’t been already, when this small part of their history arrives in the mail. Other fire districts in locations such as Vader – and Colville, Washington – and Oceanside, Oregon – that no longer exist, will provide a challenge for Chet in this project.

But already Chet Schink and his wife Hannah have started to receive letters of gratitude for returning this fragment of lost history to each small community.