Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

Smith, 102, was a local historian; Schlingman the "talking pumpkin' for 35 years

By Jayson Jacoby


and Lisa Britton

For the Baker City Herald

Chet Smith preserved in his mind more than a century of Baker City history.

Chuck Schlingman delighted hundreds of local kids during his 35-year career as Baker City's famous 'talking pumpkin."

Both men died this past week.

Smith, 102, died Monday at his home.

Schlingman, 90, died Friday at his home.

If you had a question about Baker's history, Chet Smith was the man to call.

Local historian Gary Dielman says Smith, even at 102, was "just as sharp as ever."

Over the years, Dielman would consult Smith on certain local history details.

About three years ago Smith asked him for help in writing a story about Baker's "waterfront."

The waterfront, in this case, was along the railroad.

"That's how everything came into Baker," Dielman says.

Smith had dictated his memories into a tape recorder, and he asked Dielman to put the oral history into written form.

"It was well organized, right out of his 99-year-old brain. I had to do very little editing," Dielman says.

As he transcribed the story, Dielman wanted to know more about the warehouses along the railroad, so he asked Smith to take a drive to that area.

"He said 'I'll come at 9 to pick you up.' That's how he showed me around the water front," Dielman says.

That area near the railroad was a big part of Smith's life.

"He was born in a house on 10th Street that's still there," Dielman says.

In 1954, Smith bought the Pontiac dealership located at 10th and Broadway streets.

"Back then, all the cars came in on the train," says Robert Savage, who was Smith's business partner for 25 years.

Later Smith moved the dealership to Broadway and Campbell streets.

He was in the car business until 1999.

"He lived that garage 24/7," Savage says. "The only time he was out of there was when they took the mules to the mountains."

Schlingman, who worked as a veterinarian in Baker City from 1954-84, started the talking pumpkin tradition on Halloween 1962 at his home at 2475 Campbell St.

For each of the next 35 Halloweens Schlingman would carve a jack-o-lantern and place it on a chair near his front porch. Inside the pumpkin Schlingman put not a candle but an intercom speaker.

As trick-or-treaters approached, Schlingman, sitting in a comfortable chair in his front room, would adopt his pumpkin persona and chat with his young visitors.

One year an estimated 1,100 kids showed up.

"I've had some very forgiving neighbors," Schlingman said in a 1997 interview.

During the 1970s and into the mid-80s, Chuck and his wife, Virgene, were active with the American Field Service (AFS) program for exchange students.

Eloise Dielman, who was also involved with AFS, said the Schlingmans would often have functions at their home for the students, some of whom they hosted in their home and later traveled to visit.

"They helped me take the exchange students out to the Snake River for an outing," Dielman says. "They were always very happy, very willing participants."