Southern Oregon Journal: Trail Museum satisfies your history cravings

Each time I drive the upper Rogue region, I relive my transplant days, when we traded the desert for a river and a city for a garden. Life hasn’t changed all that much in those parts, though lifestyles have been altered.

Last weekend Russ Underwood cordially ushered me through the newly revamped Trail Museum just off of Highway 62 north of Shady Cove. Russ and his wife, Pam, have put a love of history into gear by cleaning and clearing the former Trail Tavern and transforming the space into a “Walk Through Time,” their theme.

Russ began by showing me a picture of his grandmother, Thelma Underwood Keithley, who, along with his step-grandfather, owned and ran the Last-a-Lunch Café from 1938 until the devastating flood of 1964. It became the Trail Tavern after they sold it. He shared how Thelma stirred up large vats of chili for the troops during World War II when the soldiers practiced fording the river. The chili reference reminded me it was lunchtime.

Russ took me through the early days of fur-trapping and gold-panning. He showed me pictures of old mountain men, one of whom still lives there. There are pelts to pat and a photo of a 4-ounce gold nugget discovered in the river nearby.

I saw a table spread with sandwiches and cookies and things, but Russ kept moving me through the time walk, and I made a mental note never to come to an interview hungry.

Russ is a natural-born storyteller. He pointed to another photo of Thelma holding a large fish and explained, “That’s my grandmother. She’d had a heart attack that year, and she hooked that 38½ pound salmon. I was with her, and she’s yelling, ‘Get my glycerin pills!’ And the skipper of the boat went to take her pole, but she said, ‘Get your darn (modified expletive) hands off my pole and get my pills!’ My grandad was seasick while she was catching the fish, and he lost his false teeth overboard. So, we laughed about a salmon swimming with false teeth.”

Folks were wild in those days, and women landed their own fish. It’s great to have a direct connection with history, but it’s important to note not all the photos are of Thelma, even though she was obviously a corker. I asked Russ why he gave so much of his time organizing the effort.

“I love history, and I’d like to preserve it for the children as much as I can. It’s important.”

As my stomach growled, he told me of future plans for better displaying photos and moving things around. “I got a lot of work to do.”

Next stop included remnants of logging glory days, old woodworking tools, tools used for building Lost Creek dam, telephone line stringing tools and handsome taxidermy specimens, on loan from the Forestry Department.

Russ was gracious with me when I couldn’t help mentioning that on the signs it should be R-O-G-U-E, not Rouge, a common error seen throughout our fair land. Our mighty, flowing river bears the name of a roving band of Native Americans, not a cosmetic. He told me he put it there for spellcheckers.

He mentioned the free food then, but continued showing me cool old-timey stuff like looms, switchboards, butter churns and telephones.

When a friend of his entered the museum, I made use of the distraction to scuttle over to the goody table, but he soon informed me that there was much more outside. “Oh?” I said. I made a mental note of what my plate would look like when I returned to fill it.

Russ says to come on out and visit. They’ve worked hard to make the new Trail Museum ready for the public, and with his enthusiasm, it will only get better. Just take a sandwich or a snack, because there’s a lot to see.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer living in Eagle Point. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.

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