Saturday, August 9, 2008

Joe R Blakely: Lifting Oregon Out of the Mud: Building the Oregon Coast Highway and Kidnapped…On Oregon’s Coast Highway

Guest Review by Kit Bradley
July 28, 2008

If you read my earlier reviews, you can guess where I met Joe Blakely… Yes, at the Authors and Artists fair last December, benefiting the Eugene Public Library. I am an easy mark for authors that I meet in person, and I bought quite a few books that day, including these two from Joe Blakely.

I was intrigued with Blakely’s two-book effort. First he researched the construction of the Oregon Coast Highway in the 1920’s and 1930’s and wrote Lifting Oregon Out of the Mud. And then he wrote Kidnapped…On Oregon’s Coast Highway, a novel that is set in the same timeframe, in which three people chase each other along the incomplete coast highway.

Lifting Oregon Out of the Mud starts with a description of the sorry state of coast roads in the 1910’s. There are few roads interconnecting coastal cities, and the roads that do exist are often deep mud in the rainy season. Coastal communities are just starting to band together to sell the idea of a north/south coast highway to the politicians in the state capital, Salem.

This one photograph moved me to buy the book. I couldn’t resist the expression on the man’s face as he dealt with the realities of coastal travel.

At the beginning of the narrative we were at war with Germany, and the Pacific Coast Defense League argued for a military highway stretching from Washington to California, which they named the Roosevelt Coast Military Highway. The idea was well received, but… How to pay for it? Oregon passed its first gas tax, a penny a gallon, making some funds available. But political interests in Portland and eastern Oregon pressured to spend the money on inland north/south roads. During the 1920’s some money made it to the coast, and short segments of the Roosevelt Highway were built each year.

By the early 1930’s, most of the roadway was complete, but there were still several big bridges to build, replacing the original, somewhat unreliable ferries in use across the coast rivers. The resulting bridges are the most stunning man-made structures on the coast, still fascinating to us travelers today.

Finally in 1936, seventeen years after the first funding, the highway was completed, 420 miles from Astoria to Crescent City, California. This short, 65-page book was easy to read, and provided interesting history. It did, however, get a little tiring reading the construction details for every segment of road and for every bridge. None-the-less, I am now well primed for…

Kidnapped… On Oregon’s Coast Highway, is a fun adventure that takes place in 1926, when the coast highway was only partly complete. Ben Cooper, a young reporter for The Oregonian, has been told to drive the entire Oregon Coast Highway from Crescent City to Astoria, and to report on what he sees. He’s looking forward to it—until his editor tells him to pick up Eva Barton, a young conservationist, who is to tag along and write about the destruction of old growth forests. That will probably lead to ideological conflicts, but nothing like the conflict with Tom Bigalow, Eva’s ex-fiancé. Tom can’t get over losing Eva, and he will do anything to get her back.

That’s the setting for a sometimes scenic, sometimes muddy, sometimes exciting drive up the coast, with Ben and Eva in the lead and Tom not far behind. Ben is modest but gallant and braver than he knew. Eva is sweet but relentless in her quest to save the old trees. And Tom is evil, shockingly so as the story unfolds.

The story is predictable, the relationships develop as you might guess, and the dialog is a little stiff. But the people they meet, the places they go, and the drama of the chase are all very captivating. I thoroughly enjoyed Blakely’s Kidnapped, especially after reading Lifting Oregon Out of the Mud.

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