Of the Baker City Herald

Aletha Bonebrake, chief librarian at the Baker County Library, just received word that the library has been awarded a $55,000 grant from the Ford Family Foundation toward the purchase of a new bookmobile.

The Ford Family Foundation, based in Roseburg, has a history of family and community-oriented service both to Roseburg Lumber Company employees and the small towns they live in. The foundation continues to support rural communities throughout the state.

This extremely generous gift validates the importance of providing bookmobile service to the rural communities of our large county and recognizes our great need for a modern, reliable vehicle to make it possible, Bonebrake said.

Bonebrake said the total cost of a new vehicle the same size, quality and durability as the present bookmobile is $115,423. The library has $41,000 in its bookmobile reserve fund which it has protected over the years for this purpose. The library has also applied to the Paul G. Allen Foundation for the remaining $20,000 needed to purchase a new bookmobile.

The present green and white bookmobile is an old-fashioned panel truck with small skylight windows in the roof. It is outfitted as a small, general purpose library that has been stocked with juvenile and junior high books as well as adult fiction and non-fiction. It also has a supply of recent magazines.

This vehicle has been on the road for 33 years and has been through four engine replacements. It travels a 600-plus mile route each month.

But in the past four years the vehicle has been out-of-service twice for several months while repairmen searched for replacement parts for its antiquated systems and body.

The disruptions in service have made it difficult to provide trustworthy and timely service to the outlying communities, schools and ranches, Bonebrake said.

As recently as six years ago, bookmobile service accounted for 25 percent of the circulation of the entire county system. This past year it was only 14 percent due to downtime and missed scheduled.

The bookmobile has two regular drivers, Keith McGonagill and Bob Northman, both retired foresters.

There are six regular routes which the bookmobile travels each month. They include the Richland and Halfway schools, Unity and Burnt River areas, the Keating and Medical Springs area, Sumpter, Durkee and Huntington, and the Brownlee, Oxbow and New Bridge route.

The new bookmobile specifications are based on OBS Inc. (formerly the Ohio Bus Systems) Blue Bird Model, which has a 20- to 30-year life expectancy. Its overall length is 26 feet and it will carry 19,000 pounds.

OBS Inc. bought the Gerstenslager Company which manufactured our present bookmobile in 1967, Bonebrake said. Bookmobiles are a speciality vehicle requiring a greater load capacity than any other mobile unit its size. They are built to order and require about eight months from order to delivery. The interior will be custom-designed to meet the librarys needs.

The library will hear from the Paul G. Allen Foundation in January about its grant application. The Ford Family Foundation grant will account for 47 percent of the total cost and provides the partnership investment that other foundations seek when funding a project.

We have positive expectations for finding the remaining $20,000 because of the great faith placed in the project by the Ford Family Foundation, Bonebrake said.

Other librarians at the main branch on Resort Street concurred with Bonebrakes enthusiasm.

Were all excited about having something new that we dont have to worry about, said Librarian Carmen Wickam, referring to the staffs concerns about the reliability of the old vehicle.

The library hopes the new vehicle will continue the tradition of bringing reading enjoyment to everyone in the rural Baker County community. Baker Countys bookmobile is one of only nine bookmobiles operation in the state of Oregon.