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Opinion >  Column

Huckleberries: Bridge pilgrimage recalls stories from another era

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 13, 2018

Dave Oliveria (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Dave Oliveria (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Coeur d’Alene landscape architect Jon Mueller knew where he wanted to be on what would have been his father’s 100th birthday last Saturday: the bridge over Mica Creek up the St. Joe River.

It’s a different bridge and a different road that his father, William, bumped along with fuel and oils for the logging camps in the 1930s. Jon’s father had been one of the lucky ones. He had landed his job during the Great Depression while attending high school in St. Maries, Idaho.

But William Mueller’s luck seemingly ran out one day when he was fired after his boss accused him of stealing a 55-gallon drum of aviation fuel to sell for spare cash. The boss wouldn’t relent, despite William’s protests and a detailed account of his trip over the rough St. Joe River Road. The report included an encounter with a huge pothole at the Mica Creek Bridge that almost tore his truck apart.

Later that day, the boss invited William to take a ride with him 30 miles up the river road to the bridge. There, the boss and his former employee peered into a large pool and spotted the shadowy form of the missing drum of aviation fuel.

Embarrassed, the boss admitted he should have trusted William and begged him to return to work. Which William did. And the story became such a part of Mueller family lore that it prompted a pilgrimage by a proud offspring up the St. Joe more than 80 years later.

An untimely death

Fifty years ago this week, hydroplane fans in Coeur d’Alene, like then Mayor Larry Gardner and Councilman Howard Hudson, were reeling from news of a fatal hydroplane crash in Michigan. Warner Gardner, 52, a retired World War II Air Force ace with 69 combat missions, had been killed during a race on the Detroit River. Gardner was going about 130 mph when his hydro, Spokane’s Miss Eagle Electric, flipped and cartwheeled. He was trying to catch Bill Schumacher in Seattle’s Miss Bardahl when the crash occurred. The two were battling for the 1968 Unlimited Hydroplane Title, which Schumacher ultimately won. A month earlier, both had competed in Coeur d’Alene’s final Diamond Cup race, which Schumacher also won. Gardner once told a reporter that he was “particularly fond of Coeur d’Alene.” After his death, Coeur d’Alene fans raised money to construct a metal statue memorializing Gardner “and fellow drivers who devoted so much to hydroplane racing.” It featured a metal hydroplane with a fighter pilot emerging from its rooster tail. It still stands north of Lake City’s Third Street Dock.


Poet’s Corner: Come January we’ll remember/how bright the sun shone in September – Tom Wobker, The Bard of Sherman Avenue (“Autumn Thought”) … Believe it or not: In Kellogg, according to police Sgt. Paul Twidt, a gendarme had to explain to a resident that he couldn’t paint the curb yellow in front of his place to prevent an unwanted person from parking there … Spokane’s Billie Gaura was surprised when she heard a male tell her husband, Kevin, in the next aisle at Fred Meyer: “That’s a damned sexy shirt, sir.” When she peeked around the corner, Billie told Facebook Friends, she realized that it “was just a couple of dudes celebrating the start of football season” … The eco-mania of the greater Portland area extends to the Telvet Coffee in Forest Grove. There, a sign in the restroom tells customers that they can limit themselves to one paper towel if they’ll shake their hands 12 times after washing them … An item on the Post Falls PD Facebook page reports that an angry woman clobbered her unfaithful boytoy and another galpal with a golf club when she caught them together at a residence. But it didn’t mention whether she was using an iron or a club. Size matters, in golf clubbings.

Parting shot

Journalists of the 19th century knew how to get their jabs in, too. Joseph T. Scott was editor of the weekly Coeur d’Alene Press 125 years ago, on Sept. 16. 1893, when this item appeared (and has been reproduced in the Coeur d’Alene Library digital archives): “The editor of the Moscow Democrat combines the patent medicine business with his journalistic duties. He is selling pile ointment at $2 per pile. We beg to suggest to Bro. Owings that if the ointment is good for ‘soar’ eyes, he use it on his proofreader.” Ouch!

D.F. “Dave” Oliveria can be contacted at

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