Phyllis Remembers Rock Creek, Baker County, Oregon

By Phyllis Badgley

A recent article in the Baker County Historical newsletter mentioned former Bakerites, the LeRoy Crettum family.

     I remember the Grettum family in a home on 4th street across from the Court House. Jack, the oldest boy, graduated Baker High same year (42) as I. His youngest brother's name was Victor, but I don't recall the name of the middle boy. Their dad, LeRoy was a respected executive of Eastern Oregon Light and Power Company. Some of his donated books are in the local library.

     I remember Loy Wisdom, cashier who worked many years in the E.O.L.& P. office. Other employees in 1930's and 40's were King, Enright, Comstok, Wiggars, Rutter, Reider, Lyman and Bertch (at Rock Creek Power plant). The power plant at Rock Creek, Bourne, Fremont and Olive Lake formed a network that provided electricity. The huge 1903 generators at Rock Creek made a deafening noise inside the plant. I recall seeing large charts and recordings there. Billy Bertch was chief operator in mid-30's. Others at the plant were Tom Sutherland and Tom Cook. Later Hallie Carnes and Roy Kelley were in charge.

     The John Rutter family lived at Rock Creek Reservoir, mile above the power plant. John walked to the headgate on a flume covered with wooden planks. He monitored intake and water depth at the reservoir. During winter months when the snow was deep. he used show shoes (webs) to traverse the flume. The Rutter family was virtually isolated in winter as the only way to reach their hilltop home at the reservoir was on foot. Reports to the E.O.L.& P were given by phone.

     Beginning at Rock Creek plant, a single trail led upward in switchbacks to the reservoir. My 3 cousins made that wintery trek up and down the hill, daily. They caught the bus at power plant to carry them to Muddy Creek School.

     Each winter a deep snow-chute was established from the reservoir to the plant below. Clad in heavy clothing, the downhill process involved sitting on a gunny sack. By lifting one's feet and letting your body weight carry you, you gained momentum. After once embarking on the descent, the only manner of slowing was to "dig in" with elbows and heels. The frozen chute enabled a person to travel speedily 1,100 feet to the bottom of the hill. A record time was established, but not recorded, when one person bragged about a 3 minute trip downhill. The steep uphill trek was definitely slower.

     Sounds like fun? Yes, it was, when we city folk only experienced it on a occasional weekend outing. Remember, however, it was a wintertime necessity for the snowbound Rutter family, as power company employees at Rock Creek reservoir. Trudging through deep snow carrying supplies uphill may not have been "fun" for them. Eastern Oregon Light and Power Company later became Calif-Pacific Utility. The Rock Creek plant closed in recent years. Kim Baer was the final operator at the facility. Baker City is presently supplied by power from Oregon Trail Electric Co-op.

Rock Creek




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