Charlie Chinn, 82, and Duane Schaer, 81, met on a school bus in the 1940s
Charlie Chinn and Duane Schaer don’t need words to share a joke — a simple glance is enough to send them into quiet chuckles.
Charlie Chinn, left, and Duane Schaer have been building and collecting memories all through their life-long friendship. Fetching wood for their winter home-heating puts them out in the mountains each summer. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins)
But that’s bound to happen when you’ve been friends for nearly 60 years.
Charlie is 82 (he turns 83 in March) and Duane is 81.
They both grew up in Baker Valley, but didn’t grow up together.
In their youth, grade schools were scattered around the valley to serve the kids from ranches and farms.
Duane spent his early years in the area of Sutton Creek (he still remembers how the hobos would throw coal from the trains to thank his family for providing a warm meal).
His family moved to the Pocahontas area when he was in the first grade.
“They made me take over the first grade,” he says, which makes Charlie laugh.
From there, Duane went to Pocahontas School, while Charlie attended Wingville.
“The Wingville kids couldn’t associate with the Pocahontas kids,” Charlie says with a smile.
Wingville was the first to consolidate with the Baker school district, so Charlie rode a bus to town for junior high.
Two years later Duane climbed on the same bus.They didn’t become immediate friends.
“You were in the ninth grade and I was in the 11th — isn’t that right?” Charlie says.
They soon discovered a mutual love of hunting.
“And we picked spuds together,” Duane says.
Charlie graduated in 1945.
“I was drafted three days after I graduated,” he says.
Even though “the war ended before they got me trained,” Charlie still served on the ship “Comfort” in the Pacific Ocean.
“I worked in the laundry. Not too exciting.”
After he was discharged, Charlie returned to Baker Valley. That was in 1947, the year Duane graduated from Baker High.
“I got home, got about two or three hunts, and then he got drafted,” he says, hooking a thumb toward Duane.
Duane served for 21 months in Korea with the U.S. Army.
“When I got back, he had a new rifle for me,” Duane says.
“And we went hunting again,” Charlie says.
These two, as any good hunters do, have lots of stories to tell of their adventures.
Some they’ll even share.
“There’s been some hard times dragging out elk,” Duane says.
Then Charlie: “Ever heard of the Columbus Day storm?”
For those who don’t remember (or weren’t around), the Columbus Day storm happened on Oct. 12, 1962.
The National Weather Service describes it like this: “A generation of Oregonians received searing memories that day. This quintessential windstorm became the standard against which all other statewide disasters are now measured. The storm killed 38 people and injured many more and did more than $200 million in damage (more than $800 million in today’s dollars). Wind gusts reached 116 mph in
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downtown Portland. Cities lost power for two to three weeks and over 50,000 dwellings were damaged.”
Charlie and Duane were elk hunting near Enterprise on that day.
“You could hear the wind coming — it sounded like a freight train. And the trees started falling,” Charlie says.
Duane suggested they drive their Jeep into a nearby meadow, but Charlie convinced him to hunker down in the tent, instead.
“It felt like all the air got sucked out of that tent, then poof! But I held on,” Charlie says.
“Then we went out in the meadow,” Duane says.
These two have about as many fishing stories as hunting.
“Weren’t we fishing in Wallowa Lake when that boat tipped over?” Charlie asks.
“Not ours, theirs,” Duane says.
What was the cause?
“Pilot error,” Charlie says, his sly smile suggesting he and Duane might have had a hand in the capsizing.
And sometimes a boat doesn’t need any help to tip over.
“Then we went to Malheur Reservoir and sank our boat over there,” Charlie says.
“We had to swim that time,” Duane says.
“And we lost all our fishing tackle,” Charlie adds.
“We discovered there were girls,” he says.
“We got married the same summer, a week apart,” Duane says.
“And the girls were best friends, too,” Charlie says.
And along with marriage in those days came a chivaree — a celebration that featured, in Baker, the groom carrying his new bride down Main Street in a wheelbarrow.
“Start at the post office, into the Royal Cafe, then on down Broadway,” Charlie says. “Of course, everybody is a hooping and a hollering and carrying on.
“It was more fun if it wasn’t you.”
But Charlie’s career ended a bit short when, 21 years ago, he was diagnosed with macular degeneration, a disease that destroys your sharp, central vision.
It hit his right eye first, in November, and then his left in March. In June he saw a doctor in Portland.
“He said, ‘You’re legally blind.’ It was tough. I always drove, and all at once I was the passenger.”
But that wasn’t about to stop these two and their adventures.
“He’s my eyes,” Charlie says, nodding toward his friend.
Eight years ago Charlie got a bighorn sheep tag for the Owyhee area.
“Duane took me sheep hunting — drug me through the brush,” he says. “Last year he drug me all over Sutton Creek antelope hunting.”
With Charlie’s sight problems, he can hunt with a licensed hunter, who can help shoot the prey.
Back in the day, when they weren’t hunting, these two could be found riding motorcycles.
“We were in the Hells Angels,” Duane says.
Then he smiles.
There were 19 in the group and they rode Harleys.
“The only kind,” Duane says.
“I never saw anything other than a Harley before we went to Washington,” Charlie says.
And, about 15 years ago, they bought a 1959 Jeep Wagoneer.
“Station wagon, you know, fancy,” Charlie says.
“For sale,” Duane adds with a grin.
The two bought it “because we wanted it.”
“We took it hunting a couple times, fishing a couple times. It’s so slow,” Duane says.
But every year, on the Fourth of July, they dutifully drive it out to join the parade in Haines.
But now, as winter is beginning to wane into spring, these two are gearing up for getting wood.
“We’ve been in the wood business for a while — but it’s not a paying proposition,” Charlie says.
“I have the wood-hauling pickup and he has the trailer,” Duane says, whose job is to fall the trees.
But Charlie does have fun with his poor eyesight. He remembers one time when a woman at church was surprised that he went out to get wood.
Her: “You cut wood?”
Her: “With what?”
Charlie: “A chain saw.”
And then he grins, of course.
They end up with about six cords of wood each.
“We hardly have time to go fishing,” Charlie says.
But they will, as always, make the time.