By W. P. White
(provided by Don R. Best)
In 1929 a small group of Garibaldi High School juniors traveled to Corvallis, Oregon Principal J. E. O’Neel’s 1927 Hudson sedan to Oregon Agriculture College (now Oregon State University) open house for the state’s juniors in high school who may be interested in going to college after graduating.
Passing through Amity, Oregon on 99W (there was no I-5 then) they saw a large letter “A” on its nearby hill. As the miles decreased toward home a question was posed, “Why not have a “G” for our town?”
Later the idea was passed from student to student with at first very little enthusiasm shown. At one time, the idea was nearly dropped. If it hadn’t been for Roy Albers insistence that we renew our efforts its future would have been in doubt. Eventually the matter was brought up before the next student body meeting wherein it was accepted. By-laws were drawn up and the go-ahead given to lend the impetus necessary to see the project through to completion.
Albers and White were assigned the task of selecting the site of the proposed “G” and to design it.
White consulted Otto Schrader who was the plant engineer for the Hammond-Tillamook Lumber Company sawmill – the third company to operate a sawmill on that plant site (the only thing that remains of this mill is the iconic smokestack in south Garibaldi.) He advised to keep the construction simple by driving 2×4 stakes into the side of the hill so that they would outline the ultimate shape of the letter. Across the tops of the stakes other 2x4s would be fastened horizontally to form joists on which to lay and fasten 1×8 shiplap boards to form the body of the letter.
Based on this valued advice, White created the design of the “G”. It was to be 32 feet wide and 40 feet high with this breadth being 8 feet. One thousand six hundred board feet of lumber would be required all of which was donated by the company. The local merchants of that time also donated nails and paint.
The site on which the present “G” sits was the one chosen at that time; however there was a flaw in that choice that was foreseen but more on that later on.
The next challenge was how to position the “G” so that it would appear vertical regardless of the viewing angle.
The solution was to actually lay out a vertical line of reference on the hillside that later would be used to properly orient the “G”.
White borrowed five or six bed sheets from this home. They were tied together and stretched down the slope thus making a line that could be seen from afar. One end was tied to a stake that was arbitrarily selected as the top of the “G” and the other end was pulled down the hill until it was taut. Albers stationed himself across the estuary of the Miami River just south where the railroad bridge crosses the Miami River. With a long pole and a white bed sheet as a semaphore he was able to communicate with White on the opposite hill by indicating which direction to move the lower end of the line until, in Alber’s judgement, that line appeared to be vertical. From that base line, the supporting stakes of the “G” were driven and construction started.
The arduous work needed to carry the necessary materials to the site was successfully accomplished by many volunteers of the high school student body and possibly some of the townspeople who made trip after trip up and down the steep ridge that began at the highway near the old Garibaldi Beach Hotel (now gone) and ended at the project site.
Clifford Skinner, teacher, was an ardent enthusiast of student interests. He coordinated and supervised as well as joining in the carrying with the rest.
Shortly, by working Saturdays, it was finished. A fire stop was cleared for about 20 feet on all sides of the “G”. Its future maintenance was the responsibility of teach succeeding freshman class in accordance with the directives of the by-laws of the student body.
Near the top of the “G” that by then was one or two years old were two standing dead tree trunks or snags. At the base of the hill directly below the “G” a controlled burn of piled brush had been set. Eventually it had jumped to the hillside and raged upward directly to the “G”. The foresight of having a fire stop around the “G” saved it for the moment. However, it’s fate was still be decided. Although the fire burned around it and closed in above it also included the two snags before finally burning out at the crest of the hill. For days, wisps of smoke could be seen coming from the base of one of the snags. Then one afternoon a crash was heard as it fell. It’s base, weakened by the smoldering coals, caused it to topple and unbelievingly, hit the doomed “G” squarely in the middle. Lumber flew in all directions and much of it was carried down hill with the scooting snag
Immediate arrangements were made to reconstruct it which should be a historical topic for the successor “G”.
Editor’s Note: With the consolidation of the High Schools in the late 1950’s the maintenance of the “G” was left somewhat in limbo. The second G lasted 40 years, until deterioration set in and a new one was built by the fire department, made of metal.
In 1999, Carolee North helped organize the “The Friends of Big G” to raise funds for the maintenance of the G, which in this case meant replacing all the light fixtures and bulbs with new fixtures made of unbreakable plastic. Fundraising involved citizens “buying a light.” They received more donations than necessary at the time. The money was put into an account for future maintenance. Carolee says that that the Big G is “very loved. It is an important source of pride and ownership to the people of this area.” She says the Coast Guard pilots use it as a landmark. The Garibaldi Fire Department and Coast Guard help maintain the grounds, as do the Boy Scouts. The color of the lights are also changed for different effect. Red, white and blue reigned after September 12, 2001 (the day after the 9-11 attacks) and stayed until the following 4th of July. Now, the G is lit by white lights throughout the year, and at the holidays, the lights are changed to red.