Backroads Bookscouting: A Couple of Days In the Willamette Valley, Part One

We finally got our promised Christmas trip…. in late January. But by God, we got it.

The trip itself kept changing shape until the last possible minute. My original idea had been to spend a little time in Portland catching up with friends and stopping in at favorite places we’d missed on our last expedition, but circumstances conspired against us. People were busy, they were sick, they were out of town.

But then Ed Bosnar told us that he would be visiting his sister in Salem. Salem’s only about forty minutes further south from us than Portland– we’d never really spent any time poking around the bookstores and thrift shops there, and we realized it would be the perfect opportunity to give Ed his promised copy of Silver Riders, and actually spend time hanging out in person. Moreover, Julie reminded me that we’d always meant to get back to Silverton, which is just a few minutes out of Salem. So that became the plan. A few minutes on the internet locked up the hotels for us and we were good to go.

We planned to stop in Kalama again because we had missed checking out the antique malls on our last trip, and also because, since our new work schedules made it necessary for us to leave Thursday night, there was no compelling reason not to just take the interstate. (Our preferred back-road routes are charming scenic vistas in daylight; at night they’re just mile after mile of blackness.)

Friday morning we treated ourselves to our traditional huge breakfast at the Columbia Inn, home to the Maddening Puzzle.

I’ve given up on it, but Julie is always compelled to try one more time. But she couldn’t get her final tally lower than three. I suspect there is a solution somewhere on the internet but I have resisted the temptation to look it up… so far, anyway.

Once breakfast was done, we set out for the antique malls, but found all three of them closed. Foiled again. Since there is literally nothing else in Kalama we care about — it’s only about four blocks long– we decided to press on, taking the I-205 bypass and skipping Portland entirely. My original idea had been to go down the old Highway 99 east, but then we looked at the map and decided Route 213 probably would be more interesting, if for no other reason than that was where you found towns like Liberal and Sublimity.

However, there was little of interest for us other than the scenery, which was largely flat farm country. The weather was gray and rainy and gave everything a bit of a sinister pall. We made good time, though, even with having to skirt the mudslide damage in Mulino.

We made such good time, in fact, that we hit Silverton way too early to check into our hotel; I had been told flatly that we would not be able to get into our room until after three, and it was barely noon. We were still stuffed from breakfast in Kalama, so we wandered over to Woodburn to see what we might turn up there.

Woodburn, as it happens, had some really nifty finds in the book section of the Goodwill.

They had a “Vintage” shelf, which I could tell at a glance had not actually been stocked by a genuine book person. (If it had, there would never have been one of those vile Reader’s Digest Condensed Books shelved there.)

Usually that’s a clear signal that there’s nothing worth bothering about. But even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and I found a couple of interesting ones.

Year of the Cloud caught my eye because it was Kate Wilhelm, and I’d never heard of this one. It’s an after-the-disaster novel she co-wrote with reporter Ted Thomas…”A tidal wave of 250 feet had swept over Hawaii leaving death and destruction in its wake. An earthquake had sheared away part of Peru. Battering rains were causing rampaging floods everywhere. And where Nature wasn’t devastating the landscape and killing thousands, there was mass starvation. And it was common knowledge that the fate of mankind was hanging in the balance. The world had passed through a massive and inexplicable cloud formation and the result had been this rampage of Nature. What was more frightening was the condition of the water. It had suddenly become a gel-like substance, unfit for consumption and contaminating all forms of life.” Worth the two dollars asked, easily, and it was still in the jacket.

The other one was Collier’s Junior Classics volume nine, Sport and Adventure. The Junior Classics were anthologies designed to be gateway books to the wider world of children’s literature.

You used to see them all the time in school libraries and such. There were ten volumes in all. This one has an interesting cross-section of stuff, including Charles Lindbergh’s account of his flight from New York to Paris and Conan Doyle’s “The Red-Headed League,” along with odder pieces like “Stover Plays Football” and “Knapsack of Salvation.” I know I’m going to get two buck’s worth of enjoyment out of it. Might or might not add the other nine volumes to the list of things we look for; I’ll make up my mind after reading this one. There certainly are a lot of them up for sale on Amazon, eBay, and Etsy. I guess a lot of parents forced them on ungrateful kids in the sixties and seventies. But mostly you see them as complete sets ranging form forty to a hundred dollars, and I certainly don’t feel that strongly about it.

But the real vintage finds weren’t on the “Vintage” shelf; as is usual at thrift shops, the genuine rarities were out in the general population.

I was tickled to find the first of Walter Deptula’s Frank Arrow series, Wine, Women… and Death, for a mere fifty cents. In pristine condition — and this one was– it goes for around seven to ten dollars to collectors.

Those are pics from an internet listing offering the book for $9.99; my copy is in much better shape. There were only three Frank Arrow books published, though six were written. They are great fun from what I hear, and certainly the excerpt on the flyleaf is promising…

I shoved the gun hard in his ribs and led him to the shark’s pool.

“Mr. Livermore, meet Aku.” I threw the blood-wet rug into Aku’s pool. “Now get in the water.”

“I won’t! I won’t do it.”

“If you jump, it’s only the shark. If you don’t jump, you get a couple of hot bullets in your gut first, then the shark.”

He panicked. He started to run. The edge of the pool was wet. He slipped and lost his balance. His eyes widened in terror as he realized he was falling.

He screamed as he went in. Aku came around, his mouth gaping open. I could see the rows of teeth. I turned and walked away as Aku went in for the kill.

Even better was a beautiful hardcover first of The Turquoise Lament by John D. MacDonald.

Travis McGee is, as it happens, one of my favorite series of all time. It was originally one of the Gold Medal paperback-original series, along with other hard-guy series like Shell Scott and Matt Helm, though I like McGee better than either one of those.

McGee built such a following, in fact, that the books eventually began to appear in hardcover; which is why, even though they are the first hardcover editions, all the McGee hardcovers are listed as “second edition” on the copyright page. (Many are actually THIRD editions; the British versions weren’t counted.)

That is, until you reach The Turquoise Lament. This one, the fifteenth in the series, actually premiered in hardcover, and the trade dress on all the paperbacks changed to reflect the new edition.

I already had a copy but this one was much nicer than the one I had at home and for two dollars you bet I was trading up; the last time we’d seen this book was under glass at the Antiquarian Book Fair for something like fifty dollars.

By this time we figured it was safe to try the hotel, and so we were off to Oregon Gardens.

We’d never heard of the place but the price was right online, and frankly we had been expecting something maybe half-a-step up from a Motel 6. Instead, what we got for our $109 was more like a one-bedroom apartment, complete with fireplace….

…and even a back porch.

Oregon Gardens is actually an arboretum, something of a local landmark, and a frequent visit for tourists and school field trips. You can see from the above photo that in the dead of winter the greenery was lacking, but there was still a vague sort of medieval deep-woods vibe to what we could see. We love going to places like this in the off-season because they are never crowded, and the staff is so delighted to actually have someone to wait on that you get much better service. Often, as well, there are all sorts of perks, like the breakfast buffet that was included in the price of the room– and it was a REAL breakfast, too, not just the English muffins and coffee they kiss you off with at a Best Western– as well as pool and hot-tub privileges, and free passage to the Gardens themselves, not to mention the waiver of cover charges to get into the nightclub with the jazz band.

We were too tired to indulge in any of these that evening, though we looked forward to breakfast.

Meanwhile, there was dinner. Though we were disappointed to find O’Brien’s Cafe was apparently defunct– there’s some sort of snooty wine joint there now– Silverton offered us instead The Home Place, an odd combination of pizza-parlor and old-school diner that we thought was very congenial: as you enter, you are able to go left to the pizza parlor or right for full-on diner service.

We opted for the diner and were very pleased with our dinner. Something we’ve noticed on our road trips is that the portions get bigger the further you get from the city, as long as you avoid chain restaurants like Shari’s or Denny’s. They like Big Food in farm country. Since we live on very light diets most of the time, we regard our road trips as cheat days and tend to indulge ourselves, so Silverton was just right for us. This shot we took at the grocery store seemed to sum it up…

Pie samples from a local bakery. The slogan on the box says, “Pie Fixes Everything.” After our Silverton dining experiences, we were hard put to disagree. It was a near thing after trying the sample– which was AMAZING– not to buy one and take it back to the hotel, but I feared we’d snarf it all down at a sitting. Even cheat days should have limits.


Once again I see I’ve gotten a bit carried away, and I’m only halfway through. So I will stop here and resume this account next week, including finally getting to meet Ed and what we found at the wonderful bookstore he aimed us at. See you then.


  1. Jeff Nettleton

    I’ve beaten that infernal puzzle two or three times (got it to one); but, the last time I tried it I couldn’t remember how I did it. All I can remember was that I tried to clear one point and work down; but, I know it involved also working from the middle out. It was too long ago.

    I always wondered; does anyone ever get cold bullets to the gut? It’d be a nice twist on the usual hard-boiled patter.

    And, pie does make everything better. So does cake/

  2. Edo Bosnar

    Yep, big stretches of “flat farm country.” That’s pretty much the way this former resident recalls the Willamette Valley.
    I’m just so tickled that one of these bookscouting columns is covering a part of my old stomping grounds.
    I was, by the way, in that very same Goodwill in Woodburn, albeit a few days later. I guess you’re the guy who picked it clean – I probably would have bought that Travis McGee if I had found it; as it is, I found a 99-cent copy of MacDonald’s short story collection Seven. You’re right, though, that the books were very disorganized there. I think I mentioned the Goodwill in Keizer (near Salem) to you guys: whoever’s in charge of the books there really keeps them in order, i.e., all the genres, SF, romance, etc. are strictly separate, and the prices are much lower than in Woodburn.

  3. Swario

    I’ve been reading a lot of your articles at the now shitty/previously awesome CRB and your bookscouting posts are some of my favourites.

    Nice score on the John D. MacDonald book! I keep looking for anything by him at my local used bookstore but I’ve yet to find one. Maybe someday I’ll get to read a Travis McGee book. Until then, i’ll keep reading my Richard Stark books.

Leave a Reply