Tales from the Oral History Collections: Jack G. Collins

August 11, 2020

By Sarah Stroman

Workers clear debris in the aftermath of the 1962 Columbus Day Storm in Oregon. OHS Research Library, ba021616.

Sometimes when interviews grow long, great stories are buried alive under mountains of technical information, political drama, and judicial minutiae. Sometimes they’re sweet, sometimes they’re funny, and sometimes they’re terrifying. But all of them are worth a few minutes of your time.

From the depths of the Oregon Historical Society (OHS) Research Library oral history collections, Dear Oregon brings you a miniseries highlighting some of those hidden moments.

Today we’re unearthing a story from Jack G. Collins. After earning a law degree at Harvard Law School in 1958, Collins relocated to Oregon to serve as a law clerk for Oregon Supreme Court Justice Walter Perry and went into private law practice in Salem. In 1963, he became an assistant attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, working under U.S. attorney Sidney Lezak. He was promoted to first assistant U.S. attorney in 1966. Collins became chief of the Civil Division in 1982, and retired from this post in 1995. Following retirement, Collins taught administrative law at Lewis and Clark College and later at Portland State University. 

The following excerpt (that we lightly edited for clarity) is a tale Collins told in an interview conducted by Sarah Ryan (SR 1251, Tape 3, Side 2) in 1998. In it he relays an example of community banding together during times of crisis, in this case the 1962 Columbus Day Storm.

Jack Collins: We were up in the office and [at] about five o’clock when we would go home…we looked out and we came to realize that something out of the ordinary was occurring there. I mean, you’d see the newspaper stands…just being blown like light paper down in front of Meier and Frank. And you’d see store windows, large showcase windows, blown in. You’d hear the tinkle and rattle of glass as that was going. And then the power lines you’d see them crackle and they were beginning to come down…. I looked up in the West Hills at least every second or two a transformer was blowing. And the noise level had risen so high. So, Mike Schmeer and I decided we’d better go home. And he had his car. I used to take the bus in those days from Cedar Hills. [We] drove and it took about forty-five minutes and, by golly, if he didn’t get me home. By circuitous routes because trees had come down, blocking roads, and there were live wires all over the place. I remember coming home and the house across the street all the shingles were off the south roof side, they’d peeled off. One or two of ours did, but our roof was pretty good. It was a well-built house. But the power went out.

The experience of that storm the neighbors — there was a neighborhood feeling and a community feeling in that area at that time down there on Tremont Street. But that storm we ate on the hibachi. [There] was, of course, a run on charcoal, and we got charcoal and made oatmeal on the hibachi for five days before the power returned. We’d been huckleberry picking up at Mount Hood, and all that huckleberry was frozen and it was unfreezing. We had no power for refrigerators or anything else. So, we took it over to Chris Neil’s and made huckleberry pie and we didn’t lose the huckleberries. And then eventually somebody ran a long extension cord, outside power cord, across the street and we got power from our neighbor across the street into our house. It was that kind of a thing. The neighbors helped each other survive that storm.

A woman stands next to a collapsed wall and damaged car that resulted from the 1962 Columbus Day Storm. OHS Research Library, Portland General Electric Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 151
A woman stands next to a collapsed wall and damaged car that resulted from the 1962 Columbus Day Storm. OHS Research Library, Portland General Electric Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 151.

And I remember the power companies…and the telephone companies were simply overwhelmed, and I remember the head of the gas company late that afternoon called the power company and said: “All my people are at your disposal.” It was [a real community effort]. And we’ve never seen, of course, anything on that scale since.

Copyright for this interview is held by the Oregon Historical Society. Use is allowed according to the following license: Creative Commons – Attribution, Non-Commercial, ShareAlike (BY-NC-SA): http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/

The digitization of this interview was funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the State Library of Oregon.

Categories: Collection HighlightsAudience(s): Visitors

Sarah Stroman’s Other Posts

The views expressed in user comments do not reflect the views of OHS. The Oregon Historical Society does not participate in political campaigns, nor do we support or oppose candidates.