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The Bechtold Bunch of Clatsop Street


COURTESY OF THE BECHTOLD FAMILY - Here the family takes a break on the cross-country drive to Portland by car, and with the hand-crafted camper which - placed on a flatbed truck - helped move them west. This contraption provided room for a wringer washer machine, a Singer sewing machine, four adults, twelve children, and - wait a minute, Wilbur - could that be a horse sticking its head out the camper window??When Michael Bechtold was told by his doctor that he had acute asthma, and needed to move to a healthier climate than he could find in South Dakota, it was a surprise to the many who knew him when he chose to move to Vanport, Oregon.

That began the saga of the Bechtold family; of their love of the Northwest; and of their commitment and contribution to what made Sellwood a community to raise your family in, during the 1940’s.

On one Sunday morning in February of 2016, three of the Bechtolds – Kay, Darlene and Dale – got together for coffee and cookies, to show hundreds of photos to this BEE reporter, and to relive wonderful times and fond memories of the time they spent growing up in Sellwood.

It all began for them in Eastern Europe. Like many of the other Germans struggling to survive in southern Russia during the 1860’s, the Bechtold household of that time packed up and traveled to America, in hopes of a better life.

Many Eastern Europeans were encouraged by U.S. politicians of the 19th Century to settle in the Midwest, to farm the land in an area pretty much devoid of workers. They wound up in Herreid, South Dakota. And that was where the father of these three was born on January 15th, 1904. He was named Michael.

Mike’s future wife, Ida Orth, also of German descent, lived nearby in Java, South Dakota; and once they had both grown up, met, and married, they began building a family together.

As was the case with many other men in that place and time, one worked at whatever job was available, and Mike started out as a butcher. Later he became an assistant at the local mortuary, and it wasn’t long before a brood of seven boys and one girl kept Mike and Ida on their toes. Two of their children Myron and Emma died at an early age.

In 1943, encouraged by friends living in Portland, and prodded by that doctor’s advice, Mike and Ida bundled up the family and headed for the Northwest, where job opportunities were available at the Kaiser shipyards. Banding together with Uncle Karl and his family, sixteen children and adults were shuttled in two Model A cars and a flatbed truck with a makeshift camper, destination: Portland.

The couple’s oldest daughter, Darlene Bechtold, remembers that the home-made camper was large enough to include a wringer washing machine and her mother’s treasured Singer sewing machine.

In the Second World War, Portland was a major ship-building port for the war effort, and workers were needed desperately. The Bechtold family wound up in Vanport, a large North Portland community that supported over 40,000 temporary residents.

Mike Bechtold hired on at the shipyards, and Ida moved the children over to Guilds Lake Courts, near where Montgomery Park now stands. The Guilds Lake Court accommodations were built specifically for shipyard workers with large families.

Those familiar with Vanport will realize how lucky the Bechtold family was to have moved southeast of Vanport. In one of Portland’s greatest disasters, a dike holding back floodwaters of the Columbia River collapsed, and the city of Vanport was swept away. That area of North Portland still has many empty foundations where once there were houses.

But Mike and Ida were not only clear of that catastrophe at Guild Lake, but they had just purchased their dream home in Sellwood – a four-bedroom house on Clatsop Street for the Bechtold Bunch of Wayne, Roland, Willard, Jake, Darlene, Roger, Dale, Alan Michael (buddy), and the new arrivals Jeannie and Kay.

Before the boys could get settled in, Mike Bechtold wanted to make sure they “knew their place” in their new community, Dale Bechtold recalls. “The day we moved in, our dad lined us up, from oldest to youngest, and marched us to each neighborhood doorstep. After he had introduced us, he told them to let him if know if any of us acted up.”

Johnson Creek held a special fascination for many of the boys, as well as for the more adventurous girls living in the area, and it became a daily playground for the Bechtolds. “There was a pebbled beach that we used to play on, and the two huge boulders at the end of the park came from our basement,” sparkled Kay Bechtold – as if she had just visited the creek yesterday. “I remember my brothers rolling these huge rocks down Clatsop Street.”

Weekends, then, included searching for crawdads and crayfish in the murky waters of the creek, and Kay recalls fishing for trout with a stick as a fishing pole, equipped with a string and a safety pin. Velveeta cheese or a piece of baloney to use as bait on the safety pin. A pair of worn-out shoes or tennis shoes kept their toes safe from broken glass or pinchy crawfish.

In the 1940’s, the Interurban Railway ran south of Sellwood along Ochoco Street, and the embankment supporting the trestle over McLoughlin Boulevard – about where the Springwater Corridor hiking and biking bridge is now – provided a perfect sledding hill during the winter. Cardboard sleds, made of boxes and cartons discarded from Hamilton’s Appliance Store, provided a thrilling ride down the slippery bumps of the hillside.

Everyone gathered for ice skating in the winter on the frozen Casting Pond at Westmoreland Park, around which potatoes and hot dogs were roasted on a makeshift open-fire grills. An empty oil drum filled with small lumber pieces set afire kept their fingers and hands warm, long before fire permits were required by the city.

Their neighbors of that era included a confirmed bachelor who wore a captain’s hat, smoked cigars, and housed many cats – the kids knew him simply as Busby – and the Paoli family, who lived on 22nd at Marion Street, and raised minks that they kept caged in their open backyard.

An eccentric lady known as “Goat Annie” lived alone at the end of 22nd and Harney. During the start of spring she drove an old wooden cart, drawn by a horse, through the neighborhood selling her goat milk. The boys, Dale and Jake, often passed Annie’s house on the way to their caddying job at the Eastmoreland Golf Course. After inquiring where the two young men were headed, she’d invite them into her house for a sample of her goat milk.

Governor Paul L. Patterson’s granddaughter lived nearby, and the common street baseball game would occasionally be halted for the governor’s limousine. But, according to Dale Bechtold, the driver was instructed to park the limo at the end of the street out of the way of their playing field. Sometimes the chauffer would roll up his sleeves, doff his cap, and take a few swings at bat to join in the fun with the boys. Then it was back to his car for the long commute back to Salem.

If the boys weren’t out wrestling or taking part in gymnastics, and the girls were not attending Girl Scout meetings at the Sellwood Community Center, then they’d be out earning extra money for the family at seasonal jobs or helping neighbors. Roland and Dick Bechtold worked as part time bicycle messengers for the Western Union Company, while Dale delivered groceries to local residents for Smith’s Meat Market and Grocery. Buddy and Roger worked as press operators and delivered THE BEE for the Hilson family, who owned the paper then.

One time, the Bechtold Boys eyed a vacant lot across the street near Mrs. Grace Dowd’s house, and decided to plant a food garden – a victory garden, as they were called during World War II. Because of the shortages of food and supplies during wartime, sugar, tires, and gasoline were rationed, and city officials offered the use of public spaces and schoolyards to start food gardens. Much of the vegetables and fruit raised by the boys was shared among neighbors and friends along the block.

Water collected from Johnson Creek, or Mrs. Dowd’s water hose on the side of her house, saved on the family’s water bills.

The major commercial district for Sellwood residents was centered along 17th Avenue. Chicken, rich meats, and weenies, could be purchased for evening meals at Smith’s Meat Market, at the corner of Umatilla Street. Dry goods and dairy goods were available at the Piggly Wiggly (today, New Seasons), and nearby was Leveton’s Thrifty Drugs, often visited by the Bechtold clan.

“There was an ice cream store next to Smith’s, and we would try to talk the storekeeper, Marvin, into a free ice cream, if we swept floors or stacked products on the shelves,” recalls Kay Bechtold.

Every generation of children that grew up in Sellwood and Westmoreland spent some of their summer swimming at the Sellwood Pool at 7th and S.E. Miller Street, and after their all-day aquatic exercise a stop at either the Soder Brothers Store or the Raithel Grocery was part of the day’s ritual. Soft drinks, sweet candies, and treats could be ordered from a sliding window that opened onto the west side of the walkway. “We never went in the store, we always ordered from takeout window,” muses Kay.

The Sellwood Theater on Tacoma Street at 13th (today, the Columbia store) offered tons of entertainment during the weekends for pre-teens, and for 25 cents Kay and her classmates would meet up or join other girlfriends spending the afternoon watching films, socializing, or sneaking looks at the boys. A nickel would buy movie viewers a drink and a warm bag of freshly-popped popcorn.

Kay recalls displeasure when the admission to one of the movie shows was raised to 35 cents – and when you became a teenager, you had to have 50 cents to enter the front doors.

Darlene Bechtold worked as an usherette at the Sellwood Theater, clad in rose-colored pants and a jacket with a burgundy stripe down the side, and a matching hat. Darlene revealed that when her boyfriend paid the general admission price she would allow him to sit in the luxury lounge chairs down in the first three rows of the theater.

Mike Bechtold died in1953 at the Sellwood Hospital (just west of Sellwood Middle School), a facility run by Dr. Nickelson. Mike’s years working in the shipyards, and later as a handyman for the Portland Park Bureau, finally caught up with him. Ida Bechtold lived on, for the next 20 years, on Clatsop Street, where family members provided care and funds for her and the younger children, until she moved in with her sister.

When the last of the Bechtold Bunch on Clatsop Street moved away, only the memories and good times remained. The house is still there, waiting for a new generation of children to arrive.

But the story doesn’t end there, as my coffee and cookies meeting attests. What became of the Bechtold children? In a nutshell….

· Wayne Bechold joined the Army, and later worked as an assembly worker at the Iron Fireman on 17th Avenue at McLoughlin Boulevard.

· Willard Bechtold had a brief stint at the Meier and Frank Company, but decided to work alongside his brother at the Iron Fireman.

· Roland Bechtold signed up to be a fighting Marine  and once he was discharged, he became engineer with the Southern Pacific Railroad (now Union Pacific).

· Jake Bechtold used his athletic skills to caddy at the Eastmoreland Golf Course  and was later a professional golfer in Coos Bay. Other offers of employment he received included being a golf instructor at Groves, New Mexico; Midland, Texas; and the Pecan Plantation Golf Course in Granbury, Texas. Dean Martin, George Bush, and Lee Trevino are only three of the celebrities with whom he has played a few rounds of golf.

· Jeannie Bechtold worked as a clerical punch card operator at Pacific Northwest Bell (todays CenturyLink), and later she was a supervisor at Precision Castparts Corporation on Johnson Creek Boulevard.

· Allen Michael Bechtold  or Buddy, as his dad called him  spent 28 years in the Navy, and later was a security manager at several retirement communities before he moved to Texas.

· Roger Bechtold became a switchman with the railroad. The money he earned working a part time job at THE BEE paid for his tuition at Portland State University, and he later joined the Coast Guard.

· Dale Bechtold, the troublemaker of the family according to his siblings, joined the National Guard, and then spent the next 40 years as a train clerk in the nearby Brooklyn Yard, retiring from Union Pacific Railroad.

· Kay Bechtold used to be that cute waitress at Speeds Restaurant in Milwaukie. The money she earned helped pay for her courses at a Business College. She used her education in the credit department of Montgomery Wards on N.W. Vaughn Street (right where her family had briefly lived before moving to Sellwood)  there she filed, answered phones, and ran errands, as the typical Our Girl Friday doing what needed to be done. She also hired on at Carlton Saw and Chain; and when she got bored with that job, it was on to the Clackamas School District.

· Darlene Bechtold was the smiling girl behind the counter of Rodgers Five and Dime at the downtown Portland location  or some might remember her as the chatty counter clerk at Pennys Department Store in Oregon City. Plus, of course, raising her family kept her busy.

The next time youre wandering around Sellwood and Westmoreland, dont be surprised if you see one of the Bechtold Bunch sampling ice cream at Dairy Queen, strolling the streets of Clatsop, or still dipping their feet in Johnson Creek.