Facebook Page
The Bethlehem 4
The “Bethlehem 4”
© George C. Thomas 2002

Jeff Saxton had been bugging me for a few years about attending a NW Logging Modelers’ Convention, but I always seemed to have something better to do. But in 1999 I heard it was going to be held at a former logging camp, and that we would be sleeping in actual bunk cars, I decided to partake of this once in a lifetime experience. What does this have to do with the “Bethlehem 4”? Give me a chance and read on.

I flew into Portland airport and found Jeff waiting for me. That’s also where I met Jim Besleme and Hiromi Masaki for the first time. We rented a car and headed east toward Starkey, Oregon. We stopped in Pendleton because Jeff and Hiromi needed to buy sleeping bags. I had one with me, and Jim said Rita, his wife, had packed his. Then it was back on the road again ~ headed for the convention.

Camp Elkanah is located near Starkey, Oregon. It was a working logging camp of the Mt. Emily Lumber Company until 1956, when they donated it to the Blue Mountain Conservative Baptists to use as a camping and retreat center. As such, the bunk cars are named Samaria, Damascus, Bethlehem, etc.

We checked in with the convention organizer, one Clark McAbee, and were assigned to our bunk car. You guessed it, we were assigned to Bethlehem. Thus was born the infamous “Bethlehem 4.”

We found Bethlehem and went inside. It had six bunks and a pot belly stove. Hiromi headed to the three bunks on the left side. He was tired after his long flight from Japan, and sensed he would get more sleep away from us. How right he was! Jeff, Jim and I went to the three bunks on the right and started to unpack. That’s when Jim discovered that he didn’t have his bindle ~ loggers lingo for sleeping bag. Luckily Rita wasn’t within earshot! It was about this time that I nicknamed him “Bindle Jim,” or BJ for short. Jeff and I would later become JR for “Jeff the Ripper” and JG for “Jersey George.”

Sonia McAbee served us some wonderful chili before the first evening’s presentations. It was delicious, and made for an interesting evening back at bunk car Bethlehem! In addition to our “eruptions” and laughter, “Bindle Jim” kept complaining about how cold he was. Yes, it was cold, but Jeff and I were warm enough! Meanwhile Hiromi slept soundly in his end of Bethlehem.

I believe it was during the first full day of the convention that “Bindle Jim” threw away his dirty and torn blue jeans. That evening we discovered that some windows were open in our bunk car, so we closed them. BJ was pretty happy about that ~ he would sleep a little warmer that night. While he was answering nature’s call in the somewhat distant john, Jeff and I found BJ’s jeans in the trash and put them in the pot belly stove. We figured they would add some heat to our chilly bunk car. Anything for our bindleless friend. We also “donated” a few dirty socks, shirts, and underwear to the eternal flame of warmth, as well as all the sticks and pine cones we could find laying within a reasonable, barefoot, walking distance. Remember, it was cold outside. When BJ returned he saw the smoke rising from Bethlehem. His happiness was somewhat diminished when he realized the major source of the fire was his beloved jeans. Jeff and I have yet to hear the end of this, but hey, they were in the trash.

Late one night Jeff felt the need to head for the john. Half asleep on the throne, he was rudely awakened when something rubbed up against his leg. I wonder how high he jumped. Imagine how relieved he was to discover that it was the affectionate camp cat who loved to wander around camp, including bathroom stalls, during all hours of the night. That may have been Jeff’s last nighttime trip to the john!

The next year we met again at Steam Logging 2000 in Kelso, Washington. One of the highlights of that convention was a visit to see Clyde Shurman’s collection in Woodland. Did I say collection? To name a few items, Clyde has some steam donkeys, several tractors, and an 18-ton Porter. The picture to the left shows the “Bethlehem 4” in front of the Porter. Note that three of us are sporting new, red suspenders. Somehow Hiromi was able to resist buying a pair when we visited Wood’s Logging Supply store in nearby Longview.

Since that convention in 2000 one or two of us has been unable to attend the logging gatherings, western or eastern. I miss seeing my friends, the other three members of the “Bethlehem 4,” and I hope I fully appreciated the times when we were all together.

Gads, I better stop. This is far too serious for something about the “Bethlehem 4.”

Use your BACK button to return to the page that got you here