Bob Jackson One of a Kind

He likes to profile colorful old-timers in his newspaper column. Since he now fits that category himself, we decided to turn the tables and profile him.

BOB JACKSON - author, artist, actor, could be called Florence's rough-edged Renaissance man, but don't let him hear you call him that. As far as he's concerned, he’s just a working stiff who’s had an interesting life.

For example, some years ago when Bob was running a tugboat on the Umpqua River, there was some flooding and a raft of logs just above the Scottsburg Bridge came loose. "Since I was still in my tugboat when I saw it," explains Bob, "I got in position and hooked that raft and went fast enough to stay ahead of it. Soon it was pitch black. I went down that river mostly by memory. When a car went by on the highway, it would light things up and I'd memorize what I saw."

Story by Judy Fleagle

for Love of a Car

He headed to Mill Creek because there he could hook the boom chain holding the logs and stop the raft. But first he had to slow it down. "So I got the raft up against the brush and had the tug alongside," continues Bob. "Once I was sure I was at Mill Creek, I lashed the wheel down so the tug would stay. I ran across the logs to the bank, reached down, hooked the boom chain, and jumped out of the way. Good thing! The current pulled that chain right up and a log it was attached to jumped right up in the air! But it held."

He shrugs his shoulders, and says, "These are just things that happen when you're running a tug on the Umpqua. It was hard work and exciting much of the year, but in the summer it was just a playground."
At 86, Jackson has many stories to tell, which has given him the material he needs to write. But don't call him a writer either. "I cringe whenever anybody calls me that. I'm not a writer; I just write," he says in his self-effacing way. "It's never easy. I really work at it."

He writes a weekly column for the local Siuslaw News and has had three books published: I Was No Hero (1999) about his experiences during World War II; Hells Hole and Battle Beach: The Westlake Story (2000) about what it was like growing up in the Siltcoos Lake area; and For Love of a Car (2005) about the World Famous Harrah Car Collection. This one includes more than 60 of his drawings.

His fourth book, a collection of his columns, is already in the planning stages. For his own reading, Bob prefers nonfiction, anything about flying, and poetry. He especially likes Robert W. Service, many of whose works he can recite. After hearing him do "The Spell of the Yukon," I was reminded that Bob has become quite an actor with the Siuslaw Historical Society's Heritage Players.

He portrays Harvey Hanson, a hard-working logger who was the life of every party in early Westlake. When Bob was young, he knew the real Harvey Hanson, which makes it easier to get into character. The Players perform at numerous events throughout the community.

Bob Jackson boatingBesides becoming a prolific writer and a budding actor in his later years, he's also become a talented artist.

As far back as he can remember, he's always had an urge to draw pictures. In school, teachers praised his drawing ability. When he was older, he took the same art course (advertised in the Saturday Evening Post) that boasts Norman Rockwell as its most famous graduate. That's where Bob learned to channel his talent.

His favorite subjects all seem to have motors. "I've always been fascinated with cars and speed and airplanes too," explains Bob with a grin. "And I've never gotten over it." Add boats to that list, in particular, speedboats.

But cars top the list, and they have been a lifelong obsession. That's why he was so impressed with the Harrah Car Collection. He spent a few days there on each visit to Reno between 1960 and 2004. He created hundreds of drawings, 48 of which became the basis for his book.

Bob also likes to draw people that he sees in bars or coffee shops. This is where his sense of humor and cartooning abilities enter the picture. He says people really enjoy receiving their cartoon likenesses, often sketched on napkins. And no one's punched him in the nose yet.

Bob has lived most of his life at Westlake, just south of Florence on Siltcoos Lake. Except for two periods of time, that's where he's lived since he was born in 1921.

The first time he was gone was when he was in the Navy during World War II, fighting in the Pacific on the USS Indianapolis and later crewing with PBM flying boats. On leave, he met Peggy, who worked in a shipyard. They were married in 1944, and she's shared his adventures ever since.

The second time was after the war when Bob was running log rafts on the Umpqua. He and Peggy spent eight years living in a logging camp near the river.

In 1958 they moved to Siltcoos Lake, and for Bob, it was coming home. "I worked for a lot of different outfits over the years," says Bob. "Sometimes setting chokers in the woods, but mostly I worked on the water as a log rafter, a tugboat operator, and later on a floating gravel plant. I even towed lumber barges to San Pedro, California. I would do whatever I could find. I never was much for lying around. Besides, I had car payments."

He explains, "We were real suckers for cars in those days. We'd go to used or new car lots and those guys would come out of their little shack and swarm us. One would take our three kids and ply 'em with hot chocolate and stuff, and the next thing you know we'd be driving out in a new car."

Bob and Peggy, while living on Siltcoos Lake, operated a small marina for 48 years. It was a hard decision to leave there, but they finally sold it last year and moved into town. And you can bet Bob still lives on the water, this time it's the Siuslaw River.

Sitting in his new home, he reminisces, "I often thought that I should have taken advantage of the GI Bill. I could have become a lawyer or something, lived in a ranch-style house, and dressed up in nice clothes." Then he looks up with a grin and says, "My life was far more interesting just the way it was."

Oregon Coast September/October 2007
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