EXPLORING HISTORICAL GOLD BEACH

January 21, 2003 11:00 pm
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Pilot story and photos

by Bill Lundquist

GOLD BEACH – Having learned a little about the present and future of the Event Center on the Beach Wednesday, Hospitality Tours sauntered across the street to the Curry County Historical Society museum to learn more about the past of Gold Beach.

The new location across from the fairgrounds in the Alice Wakeman house provides more room for exhibits, and more are coming in all the time.

Artifacts are now grouped into displays that show what a typical general store counter, dentist's chair or laundry room might have looked like 100 years ago.

There are also displays dedicated to famous Gold Beach personalities, like salmon king R.D. Hume and Hathaway Jones, who is said to have held a "Ph.D. in B.S."

Jones hauled mail up the Rogue River, and had plenty of time to dream up tall tales along the way. A tall tales festival is now held annually in his honor.

Some even say the summer's huge forest fire was caused by old Hathaway burning his biscuits.

Hume is best known today for the forlorn, half-sunk boat in the harbor that bears his wife's name. In his day, however, he was the richest cannery entrepreneur in town.

Parts of the boat Mary D. Hume, once the oldest working ship on the West Coast, have been salvaged and put on display in the museum.

The Alice Wakeman house itself commemorates the life of a daughter of a Gold Beach pioneer. Wakeman lived from 1900 to 1993.

Some of the Hospitality Tours participants are, as reporter Marge Woodfin puts it, "chronologically gifted," and remembered some of the types of artifacts in the museum displays from their parents' homes.

One woman wistfully said she would like to return to those days for a week, but admitted she would miss indoor plumbing and her VCR.

Few people could identify one device, however, that looked like a miniature laundry wringer with heavily ribbed rollers.

It turned out to be a ruffle crimper that put the rolls back into the ruffles that commonly topped dresses in those days.

After lunch at the Indian Creek Cafe east of town on Jerry's Flat Road, the tour headed north to one of the area's little-known sites: Sea People Boat Builders.

While few people have visited this aluminum boat-building shop, most have seen some of its products: the 32 and 42-foot jet boats used for tours on the Rogue River.

Most area residents are also familiar with Freeman Marine and its world-class aluminum marine portholes, hatches and products.

Not as many know that the Freeman brothers started out building aluminum boats. Eventually Wayne Adams, their boat shop manager for nine years, split off and founded Sea People Boat Builders, while the Freemans went on to gain world fame with their present line of products.

Adams and his 2.5-person crew now build about six boats a year, usually on special order. He said there are usually several boats in various stages of assembly. Rarely is one built straight through before another is started.

A 45-foot boat was built for the Colorado River last winter, said Adams. It took about three months to complete. Adams is currently making a tour boat for the Wisconsin Dells.

Sea People builds the metal parts of each boat. They are taken somewhere else for paint and upholstery.

Adams showed tour participants heavy machines than can cut, bend or bite off thick pieces of aluminum or stainless steel.

The raw material is usually ordered through Eugene or Portland, and is cut in Seattle.

Hospitality Tours then returned to the north end of Gold Beach to visit a factory of a different sort: the Olde Soap News.

Owner Linda Snipes said she has been making soap for 21 years, but opened her first store less than a year ago.

She said the name stands for "old-world handcrafted soap making news in design and formula."

Snipes actually has two formulas: one based on olive oil and one on glycerine. It can take all night to make a base in the big oil vat in the back of her shop.

The base is then poured into buckets, where fragrances are mixed in. It takes 15 minutes to four hours to complete the base.

The liquid is then poured into soap molds. The hard molds are commercial, but Snipes makes most of her own molds out of soft latex.

She can coat items like old salt and pepper shakers, or even a toy car, with latex, which then forms a mold that can be used 30 to 40 times.

Snipes forms soap into cows, frogs, pelicans, and dolphins. She even packages them with matching "fizzies" and bath beads on suitable ceramic soap dishes.

Snipes also coats loofas in lime or orange glycerine soaps to make them look like slices of citrus fruit. The loofa scrubs off dirt like the pumice in "Lava" soap.

Snipes offers salmon soap on a rope for those who failed to catch a fish on their trip to Gold Beach, or those who want to commemorate their catch.

She also has bars of soap that are specially formulated to take the fish smell off the hands of fishermen, or pitch off the hands of loggers.

"We have square bars for people who don't want to shower with a hippo," she said.

Snipes even sells antique soap advertising signs.

Tour participants looking for other types of antiques then went next door to Karen's Antiques.

As the official tour ended, participants split up to visit Gold Beach's many galleries and shops.

The group will assemble again on Feb. 19, however, to see what tour director Jan Norwood has cooked up.

To join them, call Norwood at (541) 469-4909 for information, or to reserve a spot. All tours are free, except for the no-host lunch.