This recent picture of our apartment shows the steep staircase leading to the second floor from the first. Remember the bathroom was on the second floor and my child was two years old. Much to my friends’ amusement, I kept her potty chair in the downstairs closet. This greatly simplified my life so that I could cook dinner and not have to run upstairs with her. After a while, of course, she could navigate fine and the potty chair was retired.
We moved to a new neighborhood after a couple of years in this apartment. The neighborhood had gotten increasingly sketchy, and one day I found a homeless man asleep in the walkway behind our units. While Portland has an enormous problem with homeless people camping all over streets and sidewalks today. at the time it was a signal to move.
Amazingly, property values have soared in the intervening forty years for this apartment. At some point, it was converted to condominiums. The unit we had rented for $180 now rented for $2600 a month. Meanwhile, the units were for sale this year for over $400,000 a piece. Yes, they seem to have painted them, refinished the floor and crowded bigger appliances into the very tiny kitchen, but they haven’t made the unit any bigger. They have even now named the neighborhood “Nob Hill,” though I don’t remember any hill.
Meanwhile in 1979 we were on to our new home.
I first stayed with my parents for a few weeks while I searched for an apartment I could afford. The Sunday newspaper had the apartment rental ads, and it came out on Saturday afternoon. One Saturday I bought the paper and saw that an apartment in an area I liked would be available for inspection at 9am Sunday morning. Knowing that affordable units were scarce, I drove to the unit and sat on the front steps with my daughter just before 9am. The actual unit is the door at the right center in the photo above. It was two storied with two bedrooms and bath up and a living room and kitchen down.
The place was filthy inside, but the manager assured me that it would be clean in two days. I rented it on the spot and it was mine once my check cleared. It would cost me over a half of my part time salary, but it would be ours. I would just have to figure out how to get by with the other half of my pay.
One great blessing of this unit was unknown to me at the time. Hot water was included in the rent, but I was to be responsible for heat. Miraculously enough, our apartment was over the hot water boiler for the whole complex. This meant our unit stayed toasty warm all winter and I had almost no heating expense. For some reason, it never was too hot in the summer either.
I missed the country, but I enjoyed the convenience of a small market around the corner and the company of other mothers and children nearby. The area was extremely walkable and we walked or I pushed a stroller contentedly to shops and restaurants. I breathed a sigh of relief. After a great deal of turmoil, our lives had settled down. We had found a new home and we were all right.
One of the many things we learned after we were living in the house was that the water came from a spring up the hill from the house.(This is a spitting image of ours at the time.) A pipe ran from the spring into the house. Since we had acquired a mortgage from a local bank based on our ability to pay, there had been no home inspection. In retrospect, I might have worried about contamination, but I never gave it a thought. We were in the middle of the “back to the land” movement among everyone we knew, and it seemed very “authentic.”
The house came with several chickens and a nasty rooster. The chickens laid willy-nilly, so the eggs were of no use for eating. The rooster came at me several times, and I used to leave 2X4’s strategically around the yard to fend him off. Fortunately, he disappeared one night, whether by coyote or the neighbor, I never knew. A student of mine gave me a milk goat named Darla, and we kept her in what had been the outhouse over night. In the day we attached her to a rope on a pulley on a long clothesline so she could munch away. She gave prodigious amounts of milk morning and evening, and I learned to make goat cheese and goat yogurt in addition to drinking goat’s milk. I was nursing my daughter throughout this time, and it felt like my life was completely milkcentric.
Things were going all right, so I thought. But sadly, trouble was just under the surface. It began when the spring ran dry for the first time ever. Then a pack of wild dogs attacked and gravely injured Darla, who I eventually had to put down. Then our marriage came apart. I don’t write about living people without their express permission, so I will leave all the details out of this post. Suffice it to say, my time in the woods came to an end.
I was going to have to find a new place to live with my daughter. And I did.
So we needed a home on land and we had very little money. We asked a real estate agent to find us a place in Scappoose(we had gotten fond of the rural life) that was under $20,000. Even though this was 1975, that was still very little money to use to buy a house, but it was all we could afford. We didn’t want to live in a trailer, just a house.
Sadly, not completely to my surprise, the house we bought is no longer standing. The best I can do is to give you a picture of the forest that surrounded us and the road and creek we lived next to. The house was on Apple Valley Road and along Alder Creek. Mr. Baumgardner owned the farm at the top of the road named for him.
The house had been assembled from pieces of other old houses that the owner’s grandfather had cobbled together. They had built a new house for their family on the property next door, and were selling the old house with five acres for $19,000. The couple was our age and had a child the age of our now ambulatory daughter. We were somehow actually able to obtain a mortgage for the property and moved in. My father promptly sold the houseboat to a childless couple.
We moved ourselves that spring of 1976 into our new home and began to learn many of the reasons it had sold for $19,000. But we were young, new parents, and now had a home of our own. The creek was too far away from the house for our daughter to stumble in easily. The woods were “lovely dark and deep,”(Robert Frost) and we were blessed to have them all around us. Most of the area for miles was owned by a timber company and was uninhabited. The nights were dark, the stars were bright, and we were content.
Houseboat living was indeed idyllic. My obstetrician had warned me that it might take me a while to become pregnant. He was wrong. Soon we were expecting a baby in the spring of 1975 and we were, as you know, living on a houseboat. As in, surrounded by water. Deep water. Water with a current.
No children lived at our moorage. We talked with the Browns, owners, and asked them what they knew about raising children on houseboats. I should add that ours was a one floor house with a loft bedroom, a combined living dining room, a kitchen at one end of said combined room and a bathroom. Even not surrounded by water, this was going to be a tight squeeze.
The Browns said that had seen kids raised on houseboats and that kids ALWAYS fell in, no matter how vigilant the parents. They said we had two choices; leave a life jacket on the child at all times or tie a rope around the child to haul her out when she inevitably fell in. We gave it about 15 seconds thought and realized that we were going to have to move to land. We figured we could make it as long as our baby wasn’t ambulatory, but after that our rocking life was over. Pun intended.
Needless to say, living on the houseboat made fishing very easy. There was a variety of species in the channel, including very large carp. Carp are bottom feeders and are pretty unappetizing. However, they make terrific crawdad bait. We had a crawdad trap that we would bait with a carp and simply drop over the side of the houseboat. After a couple of days, we would haul up a trap full of those ugly crawling bugs, boil them and devour them. We could just toss the shells overboard when we were done.
Salmon ran through in the spring, and my husband was able to catch one off the little salvaged dock we had attached to the front deck of the houseboat. He also caught trout, catfish, crappies and bass, though the warmer water fish were more plentiful across the channel on Sauvie Island.
Friends who lived on the main arm of the Columbia River had a completely illegal set line and came over once with a sturgeon which they cooked for us. The best sturgeon hole was next to the newly built nuclear power plant, and people were pretty dubious about fishing there.
We lived near Steinfeld’s, a pickle and sauerkraut canning operation. On a late summer night we would sit out on our deck eating fresh corn, drinking beer, and cracking crawdads, surrounded by an overwhelming smell of fermenting crops. Such was the houseboat life.
This view of our moorage from the dike side shows you the channel of water between us and Sauvie Island in the background. The main arm of the Columbia River ran on the other side of Sauvie Island, and that was where the majority of boat traveled. Our little back water was ideal for canoeing and little outboard motor boats, one of which we borrowed from my brother in law.
The first time I stepped on our newly finished houseboat and felt the movement under me, I panicked. What if I got seasick? I had never been troubled by being on boats before, but I was still anxious. It turns out that I actually had the opposite problem. After our years on the water, I would have trouble adjusting to living on the land.
A few things took getting used to. When the house rode a little low in the water after we filled it with our furnishings, we had to have additional floats installed. A special machine came along side our house and shot huge Styrofoam barrels under the house. As they floated up, they lifted the house to a seaworthy height. We didn’t need to have our deck sloshed by every passing boat.
The other adjustment was to the rising and falling river level depending on the season and the rainfall. Our house was connected to the large posts you can see in the photo. When the water rose, our house lifted up; when it fell, we dropped. Only once did it look as if the water was rising so high that we might get unmoored. The owner fixed large cables from the moorage to the shore in case they were needed. They weren’t. However, years later in a massive flood year I watched a houseboat moorage float down the river and crash into a bridge in Portland.
I had always wanted to live on a houseboat, and my father’s good friend had a son who had always wanted to build a houseboat. My father contracted with him to build one which he would rent out to me. The challenge was to find a moorage that had a slip available. At that time(1972) Portland had put a moratorium on new moorages and the only way to get in one was to buy a used houseboat.
I looked all around and finally found a moorage with space available on the Multnomah Channel, an arm of the Columbia River which goes around Sauvie Island north of Portland. Brown’s Landing, as it was called after its proprietor, had an active canoe business and about 20 houseboats stretched out in a line at the base of the dike protecting the farm land from flooding. The town was Scappoose, Oregon, and was about a 30 minute drive from Portland.
While it appears from my WEB searching that our little house no longer exists, this is an accurate view of the moorage taken from across the channel in 2014. It was as bucolic as it looks, with calm water and a backdrop of cottonwood trees. Water and sewer were supplied in pipes that ran along the walkway. The parking lot was up the hill at one end of the walkway.
How was it to live on the water? I will be telling you in the posts to come.
I still had the problem of more expenses than income. Fortunately the owner of the large apartment complex had also built an 8 unit in a much more peaceful neighborhood. My responsibilities were simpler: renting the other seven units, collecting the rent, phoning him with maintenance issues and generally keeping an eye on things. The units rented easily, they were new and needed little maintenance, and nothing much went on in the neighborhood. I moved into the top right unit pictured more recently in the photo.
By now I had acquired a roommate, my husband to be, and it was a comfortable place to live. During the time I lived there I encountered no drama and no need to call the police. The river was an easy walk away, and a new shopping area was another few blocks away.
But I had a long standing dream of living on a houseboat. More tomorrow!
After a year of working boring jobs, I decided to use the always available fallback plan for a female English major in 1970, go back to school for my teaching degree. I was admitted to a Master’s in Education program which began that summer. Even though my house was only $90 a month, it was too expensive on my small stipend. I accepted an offer to manage a 24 unit apartment house which had been newly opened a few blocks from my house. Then I could live there for “free.”
All I can say in my defense is that I was 23. Not to insult anyone who is 23, but I was really pretty clueless about managing a 24 unit apartment house and only thought about the free rent. This was a HUD subsidized building, new construction with income limits that were fairly easy to meet. I filled the place quickly, only requiring pay stubs to ensure eligibility. No background checks, no instant internet access to past history, no nothing! Many single mothers with small children were in most of the units, since it was designed for families.
I was horrible about hounding people for the rent. I was useless about routine maintenance. I disliked being bothered at all times of the day and night. In short, I was a terrible manager. The final straw for me, however, came when a tenant pushed another tenant through a window. The cops didn’t come when I called. The taxi I called to take the woman to the hospital refused to take her because she was bleeding. When the taxi driver called the cops, they came. I suddenly realized that I was not safe. Somehow this had never occurred to me!
I moved out. I had lasted six months.