Grandma Thomson

Thomson footbridgeBy Ruth West

A wealth of memories clings around the name, “Thomson’s Lodge,” and in spite of the fact that the lodge has now passed out of the hands of the Thomson family who founded it in 1860, the name and the famous hospitality of the place will continue.

One of the eldest resorts in the state to be run exclusively for sportsmen by one family, it was sold during the past week to Mr. and Mrs. Alvin P. Gannon of Portland.

Dayton and Milo Thomson were the owners of the property, which was divided for the purpose of the sale. Ten acres of land and the lodge and two houses were in the part sold.

Milo Thomson is retaining part of the farm land and barn which joins on the land where his own house is located, at the rear of the property.

Since 1923 the Lodge has been under the management of Dayton Thomson, who has been forced to sell because of ill health during the past two years.

Thomson states, that although he is selling all of his interest in the lodge property, he will retain his boat guide business and will handle reservations for boats the same as in the past.

Although the exact selling price was not given, Thomson stated “that it was in excess of $35,000.”

The Dayton Thomsons are building a new home on their property on the highway side of the river, which joins the Carl Baker property on the west side. They have cleared and graded the property during the past year and they expect to start building their six room, modern house at once.

New Policies

The new owners will take possession Oct. 1. The lodge will continue open for business under the present management for the remainder of the fishing season. Mr. and Mrs. Gannon are planning to make improvements to the lodge and will continue to run the business for sportsmen the same as in the past.

They are also considering keeping the lodge open all the year and serving meals to the public.

Details will be announced later. Gannon is a brother-in-law of Emil Vodjansky, Eugene real estate broker, who made the sale of the property. Mr. Vodjansky has been a long time fishing guest at the lodge. Cannon will help Vodjansky with his real estate business on the McKenzie.

79 year old Mrs. Carey “Grandma Thomson” reviewed early days for your correspondent.

Here are a few of the highlights in the life of a woman who has known both the hardship of pioneering in the early days and the comforts of her own apartment in the lodge, the last few years.

The familiar figure of “Grandma Thomson” sitting in the lobby, will probably be missed more by her friends, the many fishermen who have been coming to the lodge, for years, than any other change which will take place.

Mrs. Thomson will live in a small house, close to the home of Milo Thomson. She and her husband Carey Sr., who passed away an 1938, at the age of 83, came to live on the present place in 1880 in a small cabin. They homesteaded the property as was the general custom in those days. Previous to moving to this location they lived in several other McKenzie River properties, but this place was their final choice for a permanent home. To get from the  highway side of the river to their house they had to cross the river. A ferry was built and also rough hand boats were used. The boats were made of heavy fir slabs and there was not much resemblance between them and the light plywood McKenzie boat of today. Mrs. Thomson recalls that they have had three ferries, two of which were carried away by floods, and three swinging bridges. A swinging foot bridge is still in use, but the use of a ferry was abandoned when a county road was built on the south side of the river a few years ago.

In the early days Mrs. Thomson says the wild animals bravely came up to their buildings, and cougars would come in and kill their calves and other livestock. In those days she did her washing in the river, and would heat water on a fire by the river to boil the clothes. Those were also the days when few babies were born in hospitals and doctors could seldom be reached in time to attend a birth, but the neighbors knew they could depend on Mrs. Thornson, who would ride horseback many miles into the hills to care for the mother and baby.

In 1912 they built a farm house, which is part of the present lodge. In the new house they had such luxuries as cold running water. The new house was built to help take care of the many fishermen who started coming there and asking for rooms and meals. Before this time, tents were used for the sportsmen to stay in.

It was not the intention of Carey Thomson Sr. in the beginning to start a sportsmens lodge, but when he started using his boats to fish from and rowed for some of his friends, it was not long until the fishermen from other parts of the state were coming and asking him to take them fishing and before he realized it, he had a business. It was not until 1909 that he started rowing for fishermen on a commercial basis, and by that time his oldest son Milo had learned to handle the boats, and he also started rowing

Dayton Thomson the next to the eldest son, started rowing for fishermen in 1911, he was 14 years old at the time. The other two sons York and Carey Jr. started rowing at an early age for fishermen and for a long time the Thomsons were the only ones on the river who rowed boat on a commercial basis. The two younger sons sold their interest in the place to their brothers a few years ago and went into business for themselves, of another kind.

How It Was Done

Transportation of boats in the early days was considerably different from the present time. The heavy boats would be loaded on a wagon, usually two or three boats, one inside the other, and the party would start out the evening before and drive all night and get as far as Blue River by morning. When cars came into use the fishermen would come along later in their cars to meet the wagon and boats the next morning. Many times the cars would be delayed because the rough roads would cause troubles. They said it was not uncommon for a car to have six or seven flat tires on a trip of this kind,

Many of the fishermen who did not come in their own cars, and those who came before cars were in use, would ride out from Eugene on the stage that was run by John West Sr. West ran horse stages for many years and then ran the first automobile stage to travel the McKenzie road. Often his horse drawn stages would beat the auto stage due to tire and car troubles on the rough roads.

The “grandfather” of the present light boat cart, was an ironed wheeled trailer fastened on the back of the wagon, to haul an extra boat. The Thomson family would make boat trips for fishermen as far up the river as Belknap Bridge and as far down river as Hendricks Bridge. It was 1915 before a Ford car was used to haul the boats and fishermen.

Good Old Days

Dayton Thomson recalls that in 1910 there was a limit of 75 fish per day, per person. and it was not hard to get the limit.

This is the first “limit” that he can remember of but says there might have been limit numbers set before this. Later the limit dropped to 50 per day and on down, as the fishermen became more numerous, with modern roads and cars and the country became more thickly settled, until we reach our present limit of ten fish per day or 20 fish in any seven days.

We pause here to try and contemplate what the limit catch will be for the younger generation of today, when they get older and start teaching their children to fish.

It is safe to say that unless this generation is taught conservation methods and unless the State Game Commission can increase the raising and planting of more fish, this limit may be very small. Those “good old days” when you could stand on the bank of the McKenzie and catch all the fish you wanted to eat, with a bent pin and worm are as far in the background as the rough wagon roads.

We prefer the good roads, and the real sport of catching fish the hard way, with a fly, we have tied. Maybe that’s because we appreciate that fish all the more, when he does decide to take a nibble at our fly, because we know this is a highly educated fish that has been taught to avoid those flies with sharp points. These modern fish are even very particular about the kind of flies you give them. They must closely resemble the flies on the water at the time they are feeding or they just won’t take a chance. Maybe the Thomson women are to blame for this, because for many years they have been tieing flies and have originated some of the exclusive McKenzie River fly patterns. Mrs. Dayton and Mrs. Milo Thomson still tie many of the flies used by guests at the Lodge.

In 1923 Dayton Thomson, who took over the management of the business, added on a new addition to the farm house, which was also remodelled. A light plant was installed and later changed over to the Eugene City electric line when through the efforts of Dayton Thomson and others on the river, the service was extended as far up the river as the Thomson place. Improvements have been added every year to the Lodge, and there is also a modern rustic type cabin near the Lodge, that sleeps eight people.

The Thomson Lodge has always catered to the more hardy type of sportsmen, who enjoy the rustic atmosphere of the Lodge’s good ranch type meals, served family style. You did not have to “dress for dinner” at this lodge. Fishermen feel right at home in their fishing clothes. Some of the more rugged have been known to let a few whiskers grow. In the early days “Grandma Thomson” was both cook and waitress and it has been said, she really knew how to fry fish. Since she retired from the kitchen, hired help has continued to serve the ranch style-meals, for which the place became famous.

Who’s Who

The guest registration of the Lodge, often looks like a page of “Who’s Who.” Many prominent people have stayed at the Lodge including Ex-President Herbert Hoover and his sons Herbert Jr, and Allen. C. E. Hooper, manager of the Hooper Radio Survey Service has been a frequent guest at the Lodge. Radio stars Amos and Andy; Rochester and Johnny of the Phillip Morse program,  some prominent Portland businessmen have been coming to the Lodge: Aaron Frank, H. H. Sichel and Elliott Corbett, to name just a few. People have come here from all over the world. Some of the foreign countries on the register are: England, France, China, Indonesia, India, Scotland, Hungary the Hawaiian Islands.

Image above: The Thomson "swinging bridge" at the Helfrich Boat Landing.

From “Echoes from the Past,” September 10, 2003, published by McKenzie River Reflections

McKenzie River Reflections is the weekly newspaper serving Oregon's McKenzie River Valley. Available by mail for $23/yr in Lane County, $29/yr outside Lane. Digital subscriptions are $23/yr. Subscribe at: http://mckenzieriverreflectionsnewspaper.com/catalog/subscriptions-0. Purchase copies online at: http://mckenzieriverreflectionsnewspaper.com/catalog/back-issues-0. Read about area communities including Cedar Flat, Walterville, Camp Creek, Leaburg, Vida, Nimrod, Finn Rock, Blue River, Rainbow and McKenzie Bridge.