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  • Ednold

Powers 9/24/21

Updated: Sep 26, 2021

Highway 42 runs through the mountains from just south of Roseburg to just south of Coos Bay. About 20 winding miles south of where Hwy 42 intersects with Route 542 a small town sits on either side of the south branch of the Coquille River, surrounded by the mountains that supplied the timber that gave birth to the town 106 years ago.

I was making this trip to see a Friday afternoon game between Powers and Riddle. All of my usual traveling buddies are working stiffs, so to get there in time for the 4:00pm kickoff I had to leave them all behind and make this drive on my own. Well, not totally on my own. I had Jackie Wilson and Stevie Ray Vaugn and the Rolling Stones to keep me company, but it was a beautiful day for a drive through the mountains and it’s a shame Mrs. Ednold didn’t get to see it. Jackie and I were right in the middle of a duet of Baby Workout as I hung a right onto Highway 42 south of Roseburg and headed for the hills.

The south Coquille Valley had, of course, been inhabited for thousands of years by the native Coquille people (unlike the river and the town, Coquille is pronounced Ko-kwell when referring to the tribe). A smattering of trappers and gold miners inhabited the area in the 1870’s when a large group of emigrants from North Carolina and Tennessee showed up. There were about 70 of them who, tired of the post-civil war chaos back home, were looking for somewhere similar to escape to. The so-called Carolina Company were family and friends from Watauga County North Carolina and neighboring Tennessee counties along the remote spine of the Appalachian mountains on either side of the state line and weren’t deterred by the isolation of their new valley. In fact, that’s what attracted them.

Powers in the valley below the school

Powers bills itself as The Gateway to the Siskiyous, and while it’s technically possible to continue on south of Powers and cross the summit into the Rogue River watershed to the town of Agness and beyond, for practical purposes Powers lies at the end of a 20-mile-long cul-de-sac. The Carolina Company was looking for an isolated spot where they would be left alone, and they found it. The emigrants homesteaded and cleared enough ground to become a small, self-sufficient group of farmers, ranchers and hunters that wasn’t very interested in the progress that people in Coos Bay and Roseburg were striving for.

In 1890 they got their own post office and the settlement was fittingly known as Rural, but there was too much valuable old-growth timber in the surrounding hills for outsiders to stay away forever. In 1912 John Wagner, one of the original homesteaders, sold out to the Smith-Powers lumber company and many of his neighbors followed suit. In 1915 the town name was changed to Powers, after the owner of the lumber company, Albert Powers, and it became a company town. Albert’s grandson, Austin, became famous many years later but I think it was Albert who was the original International Man of Mystery. Had you ever heard of him until just now? Me either. He was mysterious! The boom times only lasted a few decades until all the old growth trees were gone and by the time WWII was over Powers had fallen on hard times that it still hasn’t completely recovered from.

That 20 mile drive south after leaving Highway 42 took me about 40 minutes to drive, with all of the hairpins and switchbacks and corkscrew turns, not to mention the one-lane bridge with a traffic light at each end. Route 542 is a strong contender for worst road ever. It’s a patchwork of places where there have been landslides or floods and the road has been repaired after being buried or washed out. I was glad I didn’t have a passenger for that part of the trip. My car is The Bucket, not The Barf Bucket.

Powers Railroad Museum

Finally, the road flattened out and straightened out and I arrived in the big city. Powers is bisected by the river and the north end appears to be a little newer than the part across the river to the south. The southern half looks like not much has changed there in the past 60 or 70 years, and that’s where you’ll find the town’s store, tavern, city hall and schools. The tiny town of Powers even has its own tiny railroad museum right across the street from the tavern.

The high school is located up a hill on the southeast edge of town on a plateau that offers a beautiful view of the town below and the entire South Fork valley. The hill is pretty steep and I think it’s safe to say none of the students ride their bikes to school. The football field is on another plateau above the school to the east. The road that goes up the hill to the school is called High School Hill Road. I love that - just call it what it is. On the other hand, Powers City Park is located in the wilderness about a mile south of town. That one doesn’t make quite as much sense, but it’s one of at least five parks in and around Powers and the town may hold some kind of record for per capita park acreage.

The shady south side

There are no fences around the football field or any signs pointing toward the entrance, which is why I just walked up the embankment and started wandering around. After a few minutes I realized I hadn’t paid and went looking for the ticket booth. I found the unmarked little outhouse-looking building in the northwest corner of the field, paid my $5 and grabbed a program and wondered how much money they were losing to people who chose not to go in search of it. The field sits upon a terraced piece of land cleared from the surrounding forest and has that Field of Dreams look that we’ve noticed in Camas Valley and Mohawk, but more so. The dense forest begins about 5 feet beyond the east goalpost, which may be one reason neither team attempted to kick an extra point: I don’t know how you would go about retrieving the ball afterward. On the west end the slope down to the school building begins just beyond the goalpost and, though you could probably find a ball kicked in that direction, it may take awhile and a long walk back up the hill.

It’s officially autumn now, but this day was hot. It was 84 degrees when I parked The Bucket and it hadn’t cooled down much by the time the game ended. There are no lights at the Powers field so their home games are all played in the daylight. On days like this they defer the comfortable, covered wooden grandstands on the north side of the field to the visitors so their players’ bench can be on the shady side of the field. The visiting fans got to spend the game in the shade but their players roasted as they stood on the sidelines. In a game as close as this one was, that might have been the deciding factor. Well played, Cruisers! There is one tiny set of portable bleachers on the shady side, presumably for later in the season when the weather cools and the home bench is on the other side and the home fans fill the grandstand. On this night, though, most of the home fans just brought their own camp chairs or stood on the sidelines throughout the game in the cool of the shade.

The north grandstand and concession stand

I did notice a few signs posted reminding us to keep our distance, but it’s possible that I was the only person in town who possessed a mask and I’m hoping the funny looks I got were just a figment of my imagination. There wasn’t any band or any cheerleaders and there wasn’t much school spirit evident for either team. That, along with the weather and the daylight, made for a vibe that felt more like a big picnic than a football game, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There is a small concession stand to the west of the grandstands and, though the menu is small, it served its purpose when the dinner bell rang in my belly in the middle of the third quarter. Neither the hot dogs or the popcorn were anything special, but they filled me up and the service was fast and courteous.

This was a league game between two teams from the 1A Special District 3 6-man league, and both came in undefeated. But Powers had won their 3 games by an average of about 30 points and Riddle had won their lone game by a single point. My money was on Powers to take their record to 4-0. Powers has won three state championships: 1996,1997 and 1998. In fact, they went 35-0 over those three seasons and, according to what it says on the top of their scoreboard, they were national champions in 1997. I don’t even know how a high school team can be national champions and my research has turned up nothing, but if it’s true you can look forward to reading about it here at CPHC someday.

Take a look at Powers’ mascot, then take a guess at what that is. Go ahead. Scroll back up and look closely. What do you think? A Logger? A Lumberjack, maybe? A Woodsman? An Axeman? Wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong. That, my friends, is a Cruiser. I actually remembered that term from my short stint setting chokers for a logging company ages ago. Cruising is the assessment of an area of forest to determine the type, size, and value of available timber. The logging outfit I worked for contracted some consultants to do their cruising and they didn’t look much like that burly guy with the axe, but that’s what he is and I’ve never heard of any other school with a Cruiser mascot, so points for Powers right off the top.

South side bleachers

By 6-man standards, the game was a defensive struggle. Riddle scored a touchdown in the first half to take a 7-0 lead, but otherwise the game was controlled by the two big defensive lines. I wouldn’t say that this was a breathtaking exhibition of superb athleticism, but the teams were evenly matched and it was easy to see how they had each overpowered other opponents. By halftime the Cruisers had scored to make the score 7-6 and by the end of the third quarter had taken the lead 19-7. The Irish scored midway through the fourth on the game's lone completed long pass play to set up an exciting finish. The teams traded turnovers in the final minutes and Powers held on for the 19-13 victory.

The Powers community was founded by people who valued isolation and traveled thousands of miles to find it. Their descendants have constructed the world’s worst access road to keep outsiders away, but the one thing they didn’t account for was high school sports. Even the Cruisers need other teams to compete against, and that means inviting players and spectators from other places into your bubble. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would have gone an entire lifetime without seeing Powers if not for a football game, or basketball game, or volleyball game or wrestling match. I’m glad I went. It really is a beautiful place and the people seemed very nice. But if Route 542 was constructed especially to discourage me from ever coming back then all I can do is tip my hat and say “Well done. Mission accomplished” to the people of Powers.

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