The Hood River County Sun, Hood River, OR., July 21, 1937, page 3
"Pioneers of the Hood River Valley…"


     Few people living in Hood River county today can remember when there weren't Stranahans here, and no family name is better known. Albert Knelan Stranahan, the subject of this article, has lived in the city of Hood River close to 60 years, and hardly anyone knows the history of its growth as well as he.
     To go far back, the patriarch of the family was James K. Stranahan, a carpenter born in Essex county, New York, whose grandparents were natives of Scotland. An uncle of James presented Brooklyn, New York with a large part of Prospect Park, and there is a statue of him, as well as a Stranahan avenue, in that park today. James had married a Vermont girl of Irish descent, Paermelia Reynolds, and this couple had six children, Henry, Charles, William, Ann, Mary, and Oscar.
     Charles Horace ("Hod") Stranahan was the first to come west. He settled in Clackamas county in 1875 with his wife and three children. And while speaking of him, it should be said here that he is living today in Portland, aged 93.

Came From Minnesota

     Two years later he was followed to the coast by his brother Oscar, who, in 1877, came from Minnesota to be the first of the Stranahans to settle in Hood River. With him he brought his wife and six-year-old son, Albert. They took a 160-acre homestead, land which today includes all of the Hood River Heights west of 12th Street, built there a five-room house, and planted fruit trees, corn, and wheat.
      Bert Stranahan had been born in Northfield , Minn., August 22, 1871. When brought to Hood River in 1877, there was really no town here at all. About 15 families in all lived up and down the river, served by only one store, that of E.L. smith in Franklin.
     The school was a one-room shack, but Bert attended it fairly faithfully for four or five years, his teacher being the late T.R. Coon. Two days before he was due to reach the end of his schooling, he and C.D. ("Chris") Nickelsen, a school mate, committed some unpardonable prank, and Professor Coon expelled them.

Did Farm Work

     From the beginning, young Bert's time was largely taken up with farm work. Inasmuch as his father was usually working for the railroad at The Dalles, he was doing a man's work while still a child. The part of this he really loved was caring for the six horses kept in the ranch. Bert Stranahan has always loved horses, and they have played an important part of his life. His mother helped him earn the family income by holding the position of postmistress for seven years, losing this place when Cleveland was elected in 1885.
     When 12 years old Bert got his first regular job, that of skid greaser on Lyman Smith's mill in Phelps Creek canyon. Logs were towed by oxen down to the mill over heavy timbers, and Bert had to walk up and down the line with a broom and bucket, brushing on grease. It was a job he didn't like, especially when the dollar a day promised him was never paid.

Employed at Livery Stable

     When 19, Bert's love of horses led him into his first livery stable experience, a job with Olinger and Bone. This venture had lasted less than a year when Stranahan had an opportunity too attractive to -- that of managing a pile-driving crew on trestles being built for the O.R & N. railway. He stayed with that a year, then took a job with a new Hood River stable, Lucky and Olinger.
     The work which Stranahan remembers most fondly is that of stage driver to Cloud Cap Inn. From 1887 to 1910 he spent his summers piloting a stage coach with four or six horses to and from the mountain hostelry, and later drove an auto bus over the route.
      Bert's early years form a kaleidoscope of activities. For a while he was a member of a government geological survey crew. With two other men he had built a stable in 1888, but shortly sold out, to work in a Southern California fruit warehouse for a year.

Belonged to Militia

     Like most young men in Hood River, Bert was a member of the state militia and of the local fire brigade. These two are mentioned together because most boys joined them for the same reason -- to secure an exemption from the poll tax. This yearly tax was paid either in $4 cash or by two days road work.
     When a boy reached the age of 21, and was eligible to pay the tax, he was apt to be rather secretive about his years. But there was an infallible method of catching them. An officer of the law would enter a saloon, walk up to a stripling at the bar, and ask, "Are you old enough to be in a saloon, young man?" "Sure 'nough, " I'm 23." The officer would push back his hat and drawl! "Then 'pears to me you're old enough to pay a poll tax."
     In his youth Bert Stranahan was widely known for his abilities as a practical joker. These jokes hatched up by Hood River's younger set were harmless enough, but often were ingeniously clever.

Story of the "Comet"

     Most famous is that of the "comet." Bert, his brother Jim, Chris Nickelsen, and several others, selected two tall pine trees back in the hills in full view of town, and strung a 100-foot wire between them one night. On the wire they placed a lighted lantern, from which a rope hung to the ground. Then a couple of them began drawing the lantern to and fro on the wire, while down town other youths attracted the public's attention by staring and pointing to the moving light, which appeared to be an infinite distance away, and crying, "Comet"!
     Of the assembled citizens watching the cosmic spectacle, none was more highly respected for wisdom than E.L. Smith, the merchant. Smith, with an open-mouthed group clustered about him to hear his sage opinion, proclaimed with a wave of his stovepipe hat, "Gentleman, I am here to tell you that that glorious star is millions and millions and millions of miles away!"
     On another occasion Bert Stranahan and his cronies conceived a joke on the community which is still fondly remembered, although less often heard. One night a violent gale was blowing down the Columbia. One of the boys speculated, "Wonder if that wind is strong enough to blow anything over?" "I guess not," another answered, "but maybe we could help it a bit."

Wind Acts Strangely

     As to the type of object of object to be affected, that was obvious. Methodically they set to work, and in a few hours not an out house in town was left standing. With a west wind blowing, they had to be careful to do their tipping to the east, but it happened that one structure was blocked securely on its east side by an oak tree. To make the job complete, the only thing they could do was to tip that one west - into the wind.
     In the morning the shocked population of Hood River stared at the damage. There was never a doubt in any one's mind but that the gale had been the cause. However, the single building that had fallen westwards occupied everyone's attention and wonder. For days a popular topic of discussion was how the wind could have had such a contrary effect.
     In 1902 Bert Stranahan became permanently established in the livery stable business, joining with his brother, Jim, and Charlie Rathbone to build one of the largest stables in the region. Located where the Mt. Hood hotel is today, it covered half a block. At one time the firm owned as many as 60 horses.

Stable Turns into Garage

     Automobiles gradually grew in number, and the stables slowly changed over a long period of years into a garage. They bought their first car in 1910, a machine called an E.M. & F. that was painted bright red and cost about $1800. This car was the pride of its owners until the man hired to drive it imbibed too freely one night, and wrapped the costly vehicle around a tree.
     In 1905, Bert Stranahan married Miss Cora Fowler, a girl whose family lived in Sherman county. Twenty-two years ago they adopted a baby girl, Celeste, who is living here today.
     The Stranahans are a very active and long-lived family. There are four sons of Charles H. Stranahan living in the valley today, cousins of Bert. They are Jim, Justice of the Peace in Hood River, Charles, George, and John, all of whom own ranches at Oak Grove. A fifth brother, Oscar, lives in Portland.

Homestead Sold

     The old homestead of Oscar Stranahan, with which Henry C. Coe's land once formed almost all of what is Hood River today, was gradually broken up and sold. Mr. and Mrs. Bert Stranahan today own their own home at 8th and Oak streets, where they have lived for 13 years. In 1931 the old garage and livery stable was sold, and Stranahan now shares ownership of a garage with Melvin Sandwick. Almost 66 years of age, he looks ten years younger, and works as hard as a man of 30.
     Stranahan is a man of quiet and reflective disposition. Although belonging to the Knights of Pythias for 40 years, he is not a "joiner," and has never sought public notice. But although he would be the last to say it, Stranahan has had a large part in building up the city of Hood River. It is said that without the country there could be no city, and as truly, without the city there could be no country.
     Since the time Hood River was nothing more than a few scattered unpainted houses on a hillside forested in oak trees, Bert Stranahan has been an important factor in its growth.

-- R.S.

©  Jeffrey L. Elmer