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The portion of Highway 99 owned by the Stumbo brothers is now part of Interstate 5.

The Stumbo revolution

One Sunday afternoon in 1956, the Stumbo boys, Bob, Allan, Harry and cousin Clair, decided it was time they got their due.

To some, Bob was Davy Crockett at the Alamo, leading his family in a desperate last stand against the state highway department. Others saw him as a dreaming Walter Mitty or a Don Quixote thrusting his lance at an impossible dream.

Had Bob not received a delinquent property-tax notice that summer, demanding $1.50, perhaps none of this would have happened.

Forty or more years earlier, Bob's grandfather, Sam, had built a mill on his 160-acre land claim. Because the easiest way to get to the mill was over a neighbor's property, Sam bought a strip of land 161/2 feet wide across the neighbor's property.

In the fall of 1946, the state highway department inadvertently placed the realigned Highway 99 across the Stumbo Strip, not realizing that when they had purchased the property they had overlooked a 200-by-161/2-foot section of Stumbo land.

On Aug. 12, 1956, the boys pulled a heavy rope across the highway, and 400 cars in both directions came to a dead stop. Alongside the barricade was a sign.

"PRIVATE PROPERTY. Permission to pass over revocable at any time."

Each driver was given a handbill explaining why it was "necessary to close the highway."

In building the highway, it said, the state of Oregon had "made no effort to purchase this bit of land nor did they bother to notify its owners of their intended trespass."

Although somewhat confused, most motorists found the delay amusing. A few even got out of their cars to congratulate the boys for standing up against the government, although some did object.

"You can't do this!" said one man. "Some of our tax money went into building this highway."

But the rope stayed up for another half-hour. The next day the boys filed papers to operate the strip as a toll road.

The state countered with an offer to buy the property for $100 plus interest, not enough for the Stumbos, who listed the property for sale with a real-estate broker.

"This would be an ideal home site for a family since it is located on the longest dead-end street on the West Coast," they said.

When the boys decided to break up the strip into 4-inch square lots and sell each one for $2, with a portion of the profit going to the Grants Pass Elks Lodge, the Highway Commission had had enough. Officials began condemnation proceedings to take over title to the property.

Because the Stumbos had become populist heroes by fighting against government intrusion, they had already sold nearly 300 lots before the law shut them down.

Comparing them to Spanish matadors, one Klamath Falls woman urged them on with a call of "Viva la revolution."

The revolution effectively ended in January 1957 when the Douglas County Circuit Court ruled that the Stumbos were entitled to only $125 plus interest. Three years later, the Oregon Supreme Court upheld the ruling.

"The Stumbos weren't mad at nobody," said Bob Stumbo. "Just sticking up for their rights in a friendly sort of way."

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.

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