Oregon Tavern Age: Brownsville Newspaper

It was just past noon. My tour of the excellent local history museum was complete and my body needed sustenance. I walked into the Brownsville Saloon in Brownsville on a Friday with a copy of the town (population 1871) newspaper, The Times, stuffed in my back pocket.

I had never visited Brownsville before. The only thing I knew about it was that a legendary rock and roll band fronted by by a woman from the late 60s and early 70s called Wings of Freedom had allegedly originated from this smart-looking Willamette Valley town. The band had played at Vortex I, the 1970 state sponsored rock festival held outside of Estacada that was and still is, the only event of its kind in American history. I had written a book about the festival that came out in 2004. I’d never heard any of the band’s music, but they were said to have cut some 45’s that made it up the regional PNW rock chart back in the day. Imagine that, a PNW rock chart of entirely independent music that was played on independent PNW radio stations with a stoned DJ spinning the records. Incredible.

The Times became known to me during my visit to the museum. I was told it could be procured at the nearby pharmacy/Hallmark gift shop down the street. Stepping into that non-chain pharmacy was like traveling back 75 years in time. To complete the time travel I purchased two post cards of Brownsville at 20 cents apiece. A couple people I knew were going to mighty surprised soon when they received a post card because I think I might the last person in Oregon still sending them.

The joint was packed and convivial. It was a Friday after all. Two OTAs were hitting it hard at the bar. Some construction workers played pool and drank beers. Most of the video slot terminals were occupied and rolling in operating revenue for the state.

I found a seat at a back counter and placed the newspaper on a slab of wood. I ordered a fish sandwich and craft malt liquor.

Molding classic rock played softly through the speakers. The joint’s interior intrigued me: an old log cabin that made up part of a wall; a classic and towering back bar undoubtedly shipped around Cape Horn before the Panama Canal was dug; a piano dying for someone to play boogie woogie; red and gold flowered wallpaper that looked straight out of a B Western brothel!

I started reading a weekly, eight-page newspaper that cost a buck per edition. Vol 8 of its 135th years in existence—135 years! Subscription was 29 dollars a year. It was owned and operated by a husband and wife team with the last name of Parrish.

The lead front page story was about a 118-year old time capsule recently opened at the hardware store. Another story feted the coaches of the year from the local high school. There were obituaries and press releases and and a letter to the editor raging against Pandemic protective measures that was cribbed straight from Fox News talking pointsand didn’t demonstrate a single original thought. There was a crossword puzzle about the US Presidents that surprisingly didn’t list a clue about the one President who fornicated with a porn star while his wife was pregnant nor the one who was so fat he got stuck in a bath tub.

There was also a list of Honor Roll students and dozens of local businesses advertising their business cards to support a local newspaper.

It warmed my heart to read The Times in a dive bar. I could see room from improvement but it was doing well enough, and indeed, that it even existed at all was a miracle considering how many thousands of rural newspapers across America have folded in the last decade, or been gutted by small and large media corporations executing the novel journalistic approach of publishing rural newspapers without any reporters or editors or ad reps or page designers actually living in the communities where the newspapers exist. It’s happening all over Oregon, but not in Brownsville.

I thought about the Parrish couple and their publishing this newspaper 52 times of year in the age of the Internet and smart phones and social media and making a living from it. They had my dream job. I’ve always wanted to own and operate a small town Oregon newspaper with a wife or partner or dog. Where is that woman?????? She’s got to be out there somewhere, marooned in some big city, waiting for a monumental change in her life that might entail her writing a news story about the library needing a new roof and a prize-winning goat.

I sipped my beer while waiting for the sandwich. I scribbled notes on the newspaper. The pool game picked up in spirit. I thought I might later submit a column to the The Times because they were asking for contributions and it might be a good way to see if anyone in Brownsville knows anything about Wings of Freedom. Apparently, the lead singer’s name was Janine. Someone in Eugene told me that at an event promoting the book almost 20 years ago.

Maybe if someone contacts me, I can write a feature about the band for The Times. I would be honored to have a piece published in this newspaper.

And just for the record during the Pandemic: everyone in the Brownsville Saloon, including all the employees, violated state law on masking. Everyone, that is, except me.

Wings of Freedom indeed.