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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow The Legend of Joe Bush

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The Legend of Joe Bush

Baker City Herald/S. John CollinsWhen the lights went out on the old Sumpter dredge, it could get mighty spooky, old-timers remember. That's when nervous workers listened for the footsteps of Joe Bush ... (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).
Baker City Herald/S. John CollinsWhen the lights went out on the old Sumpter dredge, it could get mighty spooky, old-timers remember. That's when nervous workers listened for the footsteps of Joe Bush ... (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).

By LISA BRITTON

Baker City Herald

This place doesn't seem so scary.

On a warm fall day at the Sumpter dredge, sunlight filters through the windows and the silence offers a nice reprieve from the bustle of life.

But after awhile the massive gears seem to loom, and the heavy pulleys and chains look a bit ominous.

Suddenly the quietness presses upon your senses.

"It was a spooky place," says Wes Dickison, 77, who worked on the dredge for 4 years in the late 1940s.

It wasn't scary when it ran as it should, he says. This dredge, which dug up and processed gold in the Sumpter Valley until 1954, operated 24 hours a day.

"Of course, it was lit up inside," Dickison says.

But he well remembers those times, in the dark of night, when the power went out.

The lights extinguished. The pumps stopped. There was silence.

When that happened, the head oiler and the winch man lowered the gangplank and left to alert the Dredgemaster.

Someone had to stay behind — usually the most junior employee.

"For the stern oiler who got to stay there, it was a scary place," Dickison said. "He'd sit on the boat, get back in some corner, and stay there."

And wait for Joe Bush.

"He was the ghost on the dredge," says Norm Hansen, 85, who worked on the dredge for about five months. "There were no lights, nothing. They just sat in the dark and waited for Joe Bush to come by."

Norm's older brother, the late George Hansen, is credited with spreading the story of Joe Bush.

"Anything that happened on the dredge, or something went wrong, it was Joe Bush," Hansen says.

"It all started as a joke, and I'd blame George Hansen," Dickison says.

But was Joe Bush only a story?

"You wondered — when water starting running for no reason," Dickison says. "It was a spooky place in the middle of the night."

The legend of Joe Bush always resurfaces at the annual Dredge Workers Reunion held every June.

"We all say it was haunted," Dickison says of the dredge. He and his five brothers all worked on the dredge at one time or another.

For Hansen, a mention of Joe Bush elicits a chuckle.

"(The dredge) never shut down, unless Joe Bush got into something."

Maybe the idea of a ghost just gave substance to the strange noises in the dark. Maybe imaginations ran wild.

Whatever the reason for Joe Bush, Dickison says the tall tales must not have been scary enough to keep workers away.

"I guess we weren't too scared. We stayed."

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