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Skagit River Journal

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Rockport in the Pressentin days,
and how not to treat your Model-T

(Tailor building)
This photo of a typical early-century building in Rockport is from Will D. Bob Jenkins's book, Last Frontier in the North Cascades, which is still for sale at the LaConner Museum. The original caption: The law in Rockport — Mountain country justice was meted out to law violaters by E.A. Morris, the big man on the right, who was Rockport's Justice fo the Peace. Morris raised chicekans as a sideline to his trade as a tailor. That's Mrs. Morris on the balcony.

      Ed. note: This transcription does double duty as part three of the story about how Ed Pressentin and his family led the Rockport merchants, and the story of Rockport itself in the Teen years and the 1920s. Those of you who have read other stories I have written about or transcribed from Will D. "Bob" Jenkins's writings, will know that I much admire this descendant of Kansas and Whatcom pioneers, and that I consider his book below as the finest of the Skagit County Historical Society's series.
      In the stories below, you will discover a point that Jenkins exclusively made, that Rockport replaced Sauk City as the upper Skagit's transportation hub after the 1897 mega-flood wiped out the latter city, and after Great Northern established their eastern-Skagit terminus in 1900. Along the way, you will find amusing anecdotes of how the town of Rockport revolved around Ed's store and the GN depot, and you'll split your sides laughing about how Cliff Garrett literally beat his new Model-T to death in front of Ed's store. Meanwhile, maybe a reader can answer a question, from their own family memories. Since we know from the story that Ed Pressentin had a gasoline pump in 1916 or at least the late Teen years, was that the first upriver town to have one, east of Concrete, where the Model-Ts were sold?

Mountain Town
Last Frontier in the North Cascades, Will D. "Bob" Jenkins, pages 67-68
      When the Great Northern rails were laid to a terminal on the Graves homestead in 1900 the riverside town of Rockport was born. Shrewd Al von Pressentin, late of Sauk City, came to build the two-story, twenty-one room Rockport Hotel on a cash outlay of $4,900 and the boom was on.
      The hotel brought elegance to the village. It was complete with hot and cold running water, a dining room, and a bar. Miners and prospectors following pack trains into the Ruby Creek and Cascade River mining dis-tricts would remember von Pressentin's hos-pitality and the comforts of his hotel in their weary days along remote and difficult trails. Beyond Rockport lay a primitive wilderness.
      New homes spread along the narrow bench at the foot of Sauk Mountain. There was at first some agitation about a name for the place, some proposing to call it Cascade. But the Great Northern pointed out there were already a number of settlements known as Cascade in the Northwest country. To avoid confusion and give the post office a clear-cut identity, the railroad chose the name Rockport for the budding hamlet and there was no further argument.
      With new stores, a school, and a shingle mill, Rockport soon out-rivaled old Sauk City. Shingle camps in the surrounding hills and miners seeking Ruby Creek's elusive gold or the Cascade River's silver-rich galena kept the new town healthy. Squatters came to stake their claims under the Stone and Tim-ber Act. Because this was still trail country with endless miles of dense old-growth timber stretching through foothills toward the gla-ciered backbones of the Cascade Range, pack trains were the usual means of transport. Among earlier operators of pack strings were von Pressentin and Bill Parry at Rockport, Herman Rohde, Jerome and Roddy Martin and Fred Berry at Marblemount.
      For some, like ourselves, back-packing our own supplies to homestead cabins was an accepted way of life. On homemade pack boards of yew wood frames and canvas covers, tons of grub and other supplies were carried into the hills on human backs. It was said you could tell a homesteader by the round shouldered way he walked, like heading into a hard wind.
      The early expectations of the miners were never fulfilled in my time and over the years shingle mills gradually leveled their output and either shut down or burned, to disappear from the landscape. To the casual eye, Rockport was a quiet place spread out in un-planned looseness, where honey bees droned among cottage rose bushes and warm summer winds rustled the big cottonwoods along the river; where the aroma of frying chicken drifted from open kitchen doors and the loud-est noise was the rumble of squeaking horse-drawn wagons on the rocky natural earth that was Rockport's main street.

Rockport revolved around the GN depot
      Twice a day Rockport stirred with a brief burst of activity at the depot, in the early morning departure of the train and its evening return. Near dawn you heard the impatient hissing of the Great Northern's locy [locomotive], standing with its cars lined at the station. Building up its head of steam over the coal fire on its grates, the engine sang the song of its expand-ing power for an hour as the train crew made ready. The hiss and sigh of steam passing through the exhaust ports of its chests was a live and urgent thing to listen to. And then there was the rhythmic, rolling music of the heavy brass bell.
      It rang for a full five minutes; it seemed to make everybody hurry before Conductor Ted Kibble bawled "B-o-a-r-d !", pocketed his chained watch, and waved the train outward-bound under a short blast of the whistle.
      With a chug and a jerk, and another and another, the train moved out, building up speed. Rocking around the long curves below Sauk Mountain, the train's growing distance could be measured by the fading echoes of its whistle. The beautiful wailing harmony of the brass tubes swelled and moaned, filling the valleys of the Skagit. It rolled from moun-tain to mountain and came back to your ears as the sweetest hymn our hills ever heard.
      Then there was the evening return from "the Flats," and Hugo Bauman would be on the depot platform to glad-hand new arrivals needing hotel accommodation, and drummers would check their baggage in the dim light of the station's coal oil lamps. You knew the train was being put away for the night when you heard its wheel flanges squealing around the "Y" at the end of the line, the turn-around that reversed the Baldwin and its mail car and day coach on the tracks so the train would be properly headed out again, come morning.
      The town's population by 1915 was about sixty-odd, take or give a few. By now our heavily timbered hills were a haven for moon-shiners. This was — and still is — ideal country for the purpose, there being no dearth of free-flowing mountain streams to cool the copper worms of the corn pots.

Ed and Paul Pressentin in Rockport
Last Frontier in the North Cascades, Will D. "Bob" Jenkins, pages 147-48
      Paul V. (Polly) Pressentin had "made so much money" in his general store at Marblemount that he got ambitious and put up a new frame building in Rockport to house his expanding business, and to take advantage of a growing river trade. The town was boom-ing now. The Grange had a store and ware-house on the site formerly occupied by Old Man Currie, and Clark was doing well by himself down by the depot. Three stores, Lempke's shingle mill, Hugo Bauman's 21-room hotel with Mattie Rose's family style dining room, now gave Rockport a metropolitan air. Even Bill Parry's old red barn, long in disuse except for rented hay storage, had become important as a rendezvous and whisky stashing point for the moonshiners who were no small part of the economy of the Upper Skagit. The secretive manufacture of corn squeezin's had come into full flower after 1916 in the richly cultivated soil of state Prohibition.
      Polly's nephew, Ed Pressentin, who was Skagit Bill's brother, had gone on to school and gotten a fair business college education in those years while Bill was busy chasing bobcats with his redbone hounds and courting Ab's pretty daughter Rona. So it seems logical -that Polly chose young Ed as the blood-kin to run the new store in Rockport. Most everybody liked Ed and he turned out to be a capable merchant. Like Bill, Ed spoke the Skagit tribal language almost as well as the Indians themselves and got along with an easy friendliness the Indian women liked when they came to trade. Few of them could speak "Boston" but willingly palavered with Ed in their own tongue.
      I came down from the claim one day to see Rockport's first gasoline pump being installed at the west end of Ed Pressentin's wagon loading platform, which spanned the whole -front of the new store. The pump had a clear glass cylinder on top that showed the level of 7 the gas against a vertical gauge. The pump was manually operated by a big iron hand lever and you knew how much gas ran -through the hose simply by watching the level of gas on the gauge.
      I think Old Man Jensen was Ed's first cus-tomer. Jensen drove a 1913 model Dodge touring car, one of the two automobiles then in Rockport. He used it for freight and pas-sengers — freight piled in the rear, passengers up front — between Rockport and Baker City (Concrete). The other one was a Model-T Ford owned by a lanky Tarheel youth named Charley Jones, who lived with Ab Clark's family. Charley's youthful enthusiasm favored lots of noise and he drove his Ford with an open cut-out that made the exhaust pipe roar. On the floor boards — just before 2 a trip to Seattle — he bolted down a brass fire gong that could be clanged with one foot, adding a loud accompaniment to the hysteri-cal squawks of a Klaxon horn. Charley and his friends got as far as Seattle's First Avenue when the police nailed them for an illegal use of the fire gong. The fire bell was only part of their trouble, however. The police were far more concerned about a gallon jug of "white lightnin' " stashed under a rug in the back seat of the flivver — and this contraband had a delaying effect on the return of the boys to the Upper Skagit.
      The only other cars I remember distinctly at this time were a Model T owned by Frank Pressentin, who ran the Marblemount stage, and a little runabout owned by Cliff Garrett, who lived up on Cascade River. Times were changing, and some prophetic new tracks were being left in the mud of the river road that was still Rockport's main street — the treads of automobile tires were blotting out the older tracks of wagon wheels. I was still too young to appreciate their signif-icance. Finally, Ab Clark's little store burned and Pressentin's model modern mercantile dominated the business of the river town. The smoke that drifted over Sauk Mountain from the ashes of Ab's store carried away the final substance of what was the last real old-time country store in our hills. [Ed. note: Ab Clark's store burned sometime not long after the Currie store burned, up the slope. After Currie's store burned, along with the possessions of many local residents that he had stored in the attic— including Bob's mother's cherished family keepsakes, Clark built his humble little store downslope near the Great Northern depot.]

Cliff Garrett's Revenge
Last Frontier in the North Cascades, Will D. "Bob" Jenkins, pages 73-74
(Garrett's Model-T)
This cartoon is also from the Jenkins book. It features Bob's friends, Ed Pressentin and Cliff Garrett and the soon-to-be defunct Model T.

Cliff Garrett's Model T was one of the few cars around Rockport when I was sixteen. The new runabout was a real beauty, shiny black with a brass radiator band, 30-inch wooden-spoked wheels, and kerosene side lamps.
      Cliff's association with the new Ford was a short two days. The first day was when he drove it home from the Baker City agency [the Lisherness Ford dealership in the new town of Concrete]; the second day was when the Model T expired in a most unusual manner. Being a stem-winder, the car was equipped with the customary crank handle, set in the bottom of the radiator frame just above the yoke connecting the front wheels and steering system. And like a million others of the same model that inspired a national reputation for breaking arms, it required vigorous manual cranking before its 4-cylinder engine would explode into action, shaking the vehicle vio-lently in the sudden spasm of internal com-bustion.
      On the second day of its new and first-owner use, Cliff drove up to Ed Pressentin's Mercantile to fill the gas tank from the pump at the end of Ed's wagon-loading platform. And that's where the action really began. Ed filled the tank, five gallons for $1.05.
      "That's a nice looking rig you got there," says Ed.
      "She's a real dandy," admitted Cliff. "Cost me more'n six hunnert dollars."
      "You shouldn't wear your corked shoes on that nice new rubber mat," suggested Ed.
      "Hell, man, I wouldn't know how to walk without 'em," Garrett declared. Could have -been some truth to that. "Got to have some water in this here radiator." Ed obligingly filled the radiator from a garden can. Finally Cliff got around to the business end of his engine again, set the crank, gave his thumb the proper adjustment to avoid a back-fire, gave the handle a spin that shook the Ford on all its wheels. There was a gassy cough from the tail pipe, the shaking stopped, the Ford stood mute. Cliff gave the crank another mighty spin. And another. And an-other.
      "Come on, damn it!" says Cliff, getting red-necked from his exertion. He threw his hat to the ground. Another spin. Another soggy burp from the tail pipe.
      "Choke it a little," suggested Ed.
      "I've already choked it twice," says Cliff, pulling the wire ring out from the radiator shell.
      "Maybe it's flooded," says Ed.
      "Damned if I know," says Cliff. He gave it another spin. Another weak cough, a little gasp of smudgy smoke from the tail pipe.
      "Your goddam tank got water in it" demanded Cliff, now reddened up with growing rage.
      "Nothing but John D's purest gasoline [Rockefeller's Standard Oil brand]," says Ed, unruffled.
      "Sure as hell don't act like it!" Cliff gave the crank a multi-turn spin this time. No re-sponse, not even a cough. And then it back-fired and the sudden reverse spin of the crank walloped Garrett across the back of his thumb. He jumped back, swinging his paining hand like it was on fire, hollering, "Jeez-zus!" He let go a kick from his right logger boot that left a ragged imprint in the honeycomb of the radiator grill.
      And now Cliff really went wild. Rushing across the dirt road to the old Jensen orchard fence opposite Ed's Mercantile, he jerked a cedar rail from the fence, ran cursing back to his new Ford, and began beating on the hood. He smashed it right down to the top of the engine block, battered the double folding windshield with blows that shattered glass all over the road; smashed the head-lamps and flailed the fenders; blow on blow, the while yelling, "Goddam you, goddam you, goddam you!" and when he was all out of wind, he threw his club through the broken windshield in a final gesture of his rage, hollered, "I guess that'll hold you, you black sonofabitch!" and headed for Hugo's [Bauman's Rockport] hotel, cursing Henry Ford at every step.
      The new wreck sat in front of Ed's store for two days. Ed finally had to move it away from the pump because Jensen's Dodge was out of gas and Ed's pump hose was a short one. I never heard what Cliff did with his new Ford after that wild day at the Rockport Mer-cantile pump. I never saw it again.

Links, background reading and sources
      The von Pressentin is the most extensive family section we have on the website as of 2006. Out of roughly 500 story files, 14 are now about various members of this family and many more will follow, with cross-links between them. Here are some links we particularly suggest:

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Story posted on Jan. 14, 2006
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