Saturday, May 25, 2013
Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868
October 09, 2012
MONMOUTH -- "They wouldn't let any of us out of the door," Wes Luchau said. "And there was nobody out on the street."
Luchau settled for a view from the foyer of the Administration Building at then Oregon College of Education that afternoon on Oct. 12, 1962, to watch the most powerful storm the Pacific Northwest had ever seen descend upon Monmouth.
Luchau had seen his share of tornadoes growing up in Minnesota, but "I was in awe" as he watched firs topple to the ground before him.
Don Mayo, a faculty member who knew Luchau was a photographer, came sprinting down Monmouth Avenue with a Graflex camera, two sheets of film and instructions for Luchau to start taking pictures.
Luchau, then 28, snapped shots of the original Grove being felled by Mother Nature. Minutes later, Wes Roberts, the school's maintenance man, directed Luchau's attention to the bell tower atop Campbell Hall, swaying under the force of sustained 90 mph winds.
Luchau stayed put for a few minutes and watched through the view finder.
"I felt like `This is going to be something worth hanging around for!'" he said with a laugh.
It was. The tower rocked back and forth a third and final time, and with the last of four shots, Luchau captured the building's steeple crashing to the ground.
The photograph would reach news outlets across the globe, and become perhaps the most prominent image of the Columbus Day Storm -- then and now, on the eve of the disaster's 50th anniversary on Friday.
The 78-year-old Luchau now lives with his wife, Ennetta, in a rural part of Salem. He has original prints of the shot, clippings and even a photograph of the check LIFE magazine paid him to publish the
Wes Luchau's photo of Campbell Hall's tower falling was featured in the Oct. 1962 issue of LIFE magazine.
Tickled as he is to have contributed something special to Oregon's visual history, Luchau downplays what went into it.
"I think there were a lot of good pictures taken of the storm," Luchau said. "Maybe it was because we were on a college campus ... there were probably more dramatic pictures to be taken that day that weren't."
Luchau was a math and science major at OCE during the early 1960s after a few years at Boeing in Seattle. He, Ennetta and their two daughters lived in "Vet's Village" on campus.
An amateur photographer, Luchau also earned $1.50 an hour working for the school's public relations department.
Luchau said the day seemed normal to start, but clouded over and transitioned to high winds by the late afternoon. He had been doing laboratory work in the Administration Building when the lights went out.
After Luchau took that fateful picture, Mayo navigated his way through stormy streets to the old Oregon Statesman newspaper offices in Salem with the negatives.
Luchau saw the results of his effort in the morning paper the next day.
"Somebody in our apartment complex had a copy," Luchau said. "I thought that was kind of neat and that that was the end of it."
Hardly. The Associated Press sent the picture out across the world. Luchau said his brother, who was in Germany then, told him he had seen it there, too.
"It was a hell of a shot," said Scott McArthur, a Monmouth historian and former reporter for Salem's afternoon newspaper, The Capital Journal, at the time. "I don't know if anybody ever put Wes up for a Pulitzer for it, but they should have."
The following week, Luchau received a phone call from a LIFE magazine field reporter to come meet with him in Portland about buying his picture.
Luchau said he was hesitant about parting with the negative, but relented after they agreed to mail him a check. The photograph of Campbell Hall was featured on a two-page spread inside the magazine's Oct. 26, 1962, edition. He also was sent $400.
"I was happy as a camper," Luchau said, noting he spent the money on a twin lens reflex camera -- "kind of a hot dog thing at the time."
Luchau said he didn't work alone in getting that photo and if not for Mayo and Roberts the handyman, it might not have happened.
"I was a lucky guy," Luchau said. "I just happened to be there, looking at (Campbell Hall) when Don brought me the camera."
Fanfare over the picture lasted for about a year. Luchau guesses he got 20 requests from magazines or business publications to use the image. Pay was modest, perhaps $25 to $50. Luchau said he toyed with the idea of becoming a professional photographer.
"Right away, everybody in our circle of friends wanted me to do their wedding pictures," Luchau said with a laugh. "They figured I knew what I was doing."
Instead, Luchau taught science for 17 years in public schools throughout the Willamette Valley, and then ran a trucking business.
He doesn't often have to retell the story of how he took that picture -- "young people weren't there, but maybe their grandparents heard about it."
He still gets requests to use it. Two years ago, for example, a textbook writer inquired about publishing it for material on unusual weather, he said.
"I said `Go ahead' and thought maybe they would send me a copy of the textbook," he said. "But they didn't."
* Wes Luchau will be on hand at a pair of events this week commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Columbus Day Storm on Friday.
Luchau and Betty Plude, who compiled the book "Columbus Day Storm: Memories, 1962," will speak at a Central Rotary Club meeting Thursday at noon at First Baptist Church, 1505 Monmouth St., Independence.
On Friday, the pair will also speak at a Columbus Day Storm gathering at the Independence Public Library. The presentation starts at 7 p.m. and is free and open to the public. Copies of Plude's book will be on sale, with proceeds going to the library.
For more information: Betty Plude, 503-838-4039; library, 503-838-1811.