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60th anniversary of hero's crash into OC elevator

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Robert J. Short's truck easily could have resulted in more deaths since he lost his brakes coming from West Linn across the Arch Bridge.


“Lives saved by heroism” was the headline in newspapers across the state in 1956 after a log-truck driver’s brakes failed, and he swerved to avoid children coming out of the then-newly rebuilt Oregon City Municipal Elevator.

To commemorate the 60th anniversary of this incident, we publish for the first time photographs owned by the Depot Barber Shop, where barbers throughout the years have passed on the personal photos to subsequent owners of the shop adjacent to the elevator. On Nov. 6, 1956, the widow of the truck driver who saved lives received the Carnegie Hero Award, which gave her a pension of $80 a month.

PHOTO COURTESY AL KELLEY - Passers-by in Oregon City marvel at how a truck driver without brakes was able to avoid hitting anyone at 60 mph.According to the Oregon Statesman newspaper, “Oregon State Hospital aide Mrs. Wanda Short was 22 when she was left a widow with three children. It was Aug. 20, 1955, when the brakes failed on Robert J. Short’s logging truck and the gallant World War II veteran steered it into an abutment at the base of the Oregon City Elevator. Although he jumped before the crash, he was fatally injured by logs falling from the truck.”

In addition to a widow, Robert Short left behind three children: Richard Lee Short, (now deceased) Linda Maria Short (currently of Spokane) and David Dewayne Short (currently of Bremerton).

Short’s truck easily could have resulted in more deaths since he lost his brakes coming from West Linn across the Arch Bridge. Luckily, as he approached the Main Street intersection at the end of the bridge, the traffic signal changed to green, halting cross traffic.

Continuing to steer the truck and sound the horn, Short moved to a standing position on the running board while shouting warnings to pedestrians. Then traveling at 60 mph, the truck approached the end of Seventh Street, where the pedestrians to the Municipal Elevator are provided a small entrance into a concrete abutment.

In addition to the nearly 10,000 Hero Awards given through the national program founded by industrialist/philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, he funded numerous public libraries nationally. He gave $12,500 to Oregon City’s original public library in 1912.

Wanda Short eventually remarried a man named Harold Mulkey, another truck driver, on Dec. 13, 1957. They lived in a four-room cottage on Brown Road in Salem which Short was able to buy after her husband’s death with the aid of almost $2,000 given by grateful Oregon City residents. Her marriage ended the Carnegie Hero Award pension.

PHOTO COURTESY AL KELLEY - Short was posthumously named a hero since more lives could have been lost after he lost his brakes coming from West Linn across the Arch Bridge.Oregon City was the location of one other incident that received a Carnegie Hero Fund Commission. In the Park Place neighborhood, Emmet L. Allen, 35, died attempting to save Willa C. Woodfin, 18, from drowning on June 9, 1918. Woodfin, while swimming in the Clackamas River 30 feet from the bank, swallowed some water, became frightened, and called for help.

Allen plunged into the river without undressing and swam 125 feet to Woodfin. Just as he was about to help Woodfin, he threw up his hands and called for help before he disappeared underwater. Woodfin was rescued by Leonard Baylis, 26.