Four Pendleton residents in Eastern Washington for a rodeo got an up-close-and-personal look at the ash cloud that covered most of the state after the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in May of 1980.
Jim Bosworth, Paul Rogers, Mike Bosworth and Gary Cunnington were traveling to Longview from Yakima on May 18, 1980, after attending a rodeo in the central Washington city. About 50 miles from Yakima, “the sky got a strange black ... not like a rain cloud,” Jim Bosworth said.
Then the ground shook. The four heard rumbling, and the sky turned a reddish orange.
The group traveled another half mile before the sky turned pitch black, and by then they could not only see the volcanic ash hitting the car, they could hear it, too.
Unable to pick up a radio station, they continued on another five miles, hoping they would drive out from under the ash and smoke. But soon they decided to turn around and head back to Yakima. Twice they stopped to try to call friends in Yakima to tell them they were all right, but the phone lines were jammed.
During their nightmare drive, one person in the car drove while the other three gave directions — “You’re too far to the right”; “A little left” — as they crawled toward Yakima. They had covered the 50 miles toward Longview in about an hour, but the return trip took them 6½ hours.
The four returned to Pendleton on May 19 with an ash-covered car, two first places from the Yakima rodeo — Cunnington in bareback riding and Rogers in bull riding — and a bucketful of ash.
After reporting their experience to the East Oregonian, they headed for home to give the car a thorough washing.