When old men reflect upon things that were important to them in their youth, nostalgia looms large. Wanting to preserve from decay the remembrance of what was done is a part of human nature and there have been keepers of the past since the beginning of humankind. I am in my mid-eighties and know whereof I speak.
The age of steam is past, but the last generation of old time loggers had a hard time leaving any evidence of it. During a forty year period in Coos County, thousands of men worked with many hundreds of steam logging donkeys, pulling logs out of the woods and loading them onto railcars or putting them into the water. Of the hundreds of steam donkeys that were once the engines that drove the Coos County economy, only two remain: the 10X13 Willamette wideface donkey, vintage 1912, which is at the Powers County Park; and the little 6X12 Dolbeer spool donkey, vintage 1902, at the Coos History Museum. Neither are displayed in a manner that would permit the interested visitor to understand anything about them, least of all their significance in local and world history.
The 115-year-old Dolbeer steam spool donkey is on open display at the south plaza of the Coos History Museum. My 15-year dream of giving it some meaning had a belated start recently when, with several dedicated volunteers, we laid enough skids to represent a skid road, placed a log on the skids and connected it by cable to the spool of the donkey. Visitors can now get a hint of the way in which the machine was used back in the day. It is an interesting curiosity rife with local connections, but does it represent anything worthy of note to outsiders? I say yes, it does.
The exhibit depicts an early logging technique: the steam spool donkey and line-horse, logging on skid roads the same as used from time immemorial by bull teams (yoked oxen). During the hundred years following 1815, the Industrial Revolution was defined by horses and oxen working in concert with steam, and ultimately being supplanted by it. This exhibit provides a perfect example from that historic era.
If the realistic statue of a harnessed horse were to be placed next to the museum’s steam donkey, it would complete the display. Addition of the horse would epitomize the one fundamental fact of the Industrial Revolution: the replacement of animal power by steam. It would be unique among exhibits of that period, of significant interest to visitors from outside the area, and by placing Coos history into that larger picture, a source of local pride.
I was prepared to procure and install a museum quality horse statue, adapted to the purpose of the exhibit, at no cost to the museum. Unfortunately, the museum director summarily refused my request to complete the exhibit. “This is not the direction we are going to go,” she quite bluntly informed me in an email.
It is not clear to me what direction she has in mind if preserving local history and making it worthy of note to outsiders is not part of it. To give our community a museum that would do just that, several million dollars were raised over many years by a number of devoted community leaders. If the direction of the museum has radically changed, the public that supported the multi-million dollar move should know about it and register opinions.
I am doing what I can to keep this part of our past alive, but it is hard when the gatekeepers won’t listen to the pastkeepers. I am withdrawing my offer to complete the exhibit by adding a horse statue. I was making arrangements with Fiberstock, Inc. of Buffalo, Minnesota. The cost would have been $2650 FOB Coos Bay, painting and addition of harness items to be added here. Anyone interested in taking over the project has my blessings. Good luck with the museum director!
Lionel Youst is an Allegany resident who has worked to preserve the history of Coos County