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And She Floated

When You Live On the River You Have To Make Plans
by Paul Walters
Ye Olde Scoope Sheet Vol Num 1
January 14, 1965

When The Oaks got through picking up the pieces after the 1948 flood, which left them completely wiped out, including the 104 by 208 foot hardwood skating floor, they decided that plans had to be made for future years. A simple plan when you look at it, fix the floor so it will float. Construct the center section so that it floats free of the rest of the building, without the whole thing collapsing. The only thing that now connects the two parts of the building is a sub-floor that runs all the way through. Connected to this in the center section are 300 air tight 50 gallon drums all lashed to the bottom of the sub-floor with steel straps. In "48" the flood waters sat on the Oaks hardwood floor for over 4 weeks. In the Christmas flood of "64" the might Willamette was not as merciless, for after reaching its crest on Christmas Day (Friday) it began almost immediately receding and on Monday you could once again touch earth in the Oaks Park.

Devoted skaters from throughout the area diverged on the park Sunday morning when there was still 2 inches of water inside of the rink, which is about three feet above the park grounds. By noon Sunday fifty skaters had broken out fire hoses, garden hoses, brooms, mops, and any other cleaning device which could be used to remove the muck and mud that was everywhere. It was on the floor in the shelves, anywhere you looked - mud - good old Willamette mud washed down the river in the most devastating flash flood the State of Oregon has ever known. When give p.m. came the rink has been swabbed out, the bulk of the mud lay outside in the parking lot that surrounds the rink. You could walk in the Oaks Park Skating rink for the first time since it all began without wading through water.

Next came the job of putting the Oaks on a skating basis. Lots had to be done, wherever the water had reached, repairs of some nature were needed. If you are wondering how high the water got in the rink, some quirt of nature must have designed just the height the water level would reach, for the water came up to the second red tile line just above the water fountain. In case you are wondering in inches and feet that's 4 feet 8 inches of water in the Oaks This is 30 inches more water than in 1948, and makes this the worst flood to have ever hit the Oaks Park since it opened in 1905. Back when you have such devastation, just where do you start. I guess you just start everyplace, lockers needed to be repainted to prevent them from rusting, walls had to be replaced that had buckled, tile on the wall had to be put back that washed off, miles of wires and cords in the mighty WurliTzer had to be re wrapped, and all the floors that surround the main floor had to be sanded, in fact, they were sanded three times before they were in shape to skate on. Figure club skaters, social club skaters, hockey players, speedsters, and parents all joined in at one time or another to help in any way that they could. Over 150 skaters put in hundreds of non-paid hours to help replace tile, wrap wires, polish skaters, wash walls and clean, and clean, and still clean some more. All Robert and Ruth Bollinger could say as opening day was just around the corner, "Thanks to everyone, words cannot express our appreciation for all of the effort."

Time: it always seemed that they were working not only against the river, but time as well. To those that stood and watched the Willamette raise it may have seemed as it it were rising slowly, but to those that had to race the river and that clock, it seemed as though they were both working against them. As one of the workers told us, that was at the Oaks as the waters rose, "I was called early Wednesday morning (December 23rd) to help move out everything we could, for the Oaks was going to flood, in fact, we might even have to cut the floor loose. I arrived about 8 a.m. and the water was up to the back of the Skate Agency which sits on the banks of the Willamette. It had not yet started to come in the Agency. We began moving all of the skates and parts off of the bottom shelves, and there were hundreds of little parts, but before we could get the bottom, shelf cleared the water was up to it. We were told the river would crest at 25 feet so we moved everything that we could up to above this height. But as you know, the river rose to 30 feet so most of the equipment about 25 feet was lost or damaged." This was just one person's story as to the river and how fast it rose. Late Wednesday afternoon it was apparent that the 104 by 208 foot main floor of the Oaks was going to have to be cut. At seven that evening 50 people began working to cut the sub-flooring that held the 330,000 pound floor. By ten that evening the chain saws and crew got a rest as the job was completed. By 6 a.m. Thursday morning, Christmas eve day, the river was floating the mammoth Oaks floor, stanchions and all were no longer resting on their cement pads.

No one knew if the idea would work, there was just no way of testing it out until now. It did, in fact, the stanchions that hold up the rink, which for four days floated free at the mercy of the river, came back to rest on their cement blocks to within an eight of an inch of their original resting place. And most of this deviation was caused by mud that came to rest on the blocks.

It seemed everything wanted to get into the act. One park bench that had been aimlessly floating around during the high waters decided that it would come to rest on one corner of the building where the floor was to also be. Alternative, of course, was to sacrifice the bench to the power of the saw and cut it loose before the full weight of the floor bound it in securely. At the same time this was going on a door in the basement of the rink somehow swung open and decided it would get into the act on the other corner and proceeded to jam itself in under the floor, as it was descending into its original position. A diver had to be called to go down under the rink and free the door. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as the door was destroyed and the last obstacle was removed for letting the largest roller skating surface in the Northwest settle back to its home grounds.

Loss to the Oaks, in the terms of dollars was great, but floating the floor was the greatest savings that could have ever been made. In "48" it cost $40,000 and took four months to rebuild the floor. Each board that comprises the two curved ends of the rink has to be bent (*popular method of bending used steam; in 1948 there was already too much water so a dry method was devised) and fit into place, and no two board were the same length. And when it comes to bending Michigan Maple, we can only say good luck, for it, believe you me, is not the easiest. To build that same floor would have run well over $75,000, and to date the rink has been closed for business only 24 days, less than a month. So floating the floor not only saved it, but it saved lost business and skating pleasure for many. When you live on a river you prepare for a river, the Oaks did, and today it is back in business providing for thousands of Portlanders a pastime and enjoyment for years to come.

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