In 1917, autos were big business. As more and more people traded in their horse and buggy for gas-powered transportation, deliveries of vehicles from the Portland area to Eastern Oregon were a regular occurrence. In March of 1917, two men on a routine delivery run discovered just how wild the weather could be on the dry side when a wind storm interrupted their trip through Morrow County.
E. E. Hall and T.J. Tobin left The Dalles on Friday, March 23 with two new Fords they were delivering to Pendleton. They reached Cecil in northern Morrow County at 1 p.m. and started across the long stretch of sand. Before long, a violent wind storm lifted a dense cloud of sand and soil into the air and blinded the drivers. Also, the iron content of the sand that got into the Fords’ motors caused a short circuit, stopping them in their tracks.
Hall and Tobin were forced to spend the night there, and spent part of Saturday trying to get the cars running again. They finally borrowed horses and rode 11 miles to the nearest telephone to call for help from Pendleton, then used the horses to pull the cars to a nearby ranch, which was deserted. Leaving the cars there, they rode on another five miles before finding a place to spend the night.
Meanwhile, Robert Simpson of the Simpson Auto Company, Thurman Motorman and Tom Keating set out from Pendleton in a Chevrolet Saturday afternoon to rescue Hall and Tobin, but there was so much sand in the air they got lost in the Sand Hollow area. The trio drove around aimlessly for a while, then cut a wire fence to make another circuit, and at 2 a.m. Sunday morning happened across the farm house where Hall and Tobin had abandoned the Fords. They sheltered from the storm in the empty house the remainder of the night and set out at daybreak to search for the missing men, locating them later in the day.
The Fords were towed to Echo, where the party of five learned another shipment of 14 Fords traveling by boat had been forced to put in at Irrigon. They met the boat and decided to drive the cars to their final destinations, leaving some at Hermiston, some at Echo and bringing the rest to Pendleton.
Simpson cautioned autoists wanting to travel through Morrow County by way of the Oregon Trail that it would be some time before all the sand was cleared away.
Renee Struthers is the Community Records Editor for the East Oregonian. See the complete collection of Out of the Vault columns at eovault.blogspot.com