Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.

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We drive by the old gray ghost of the greyhound track almost every day. Encircled by a shopping center, it’s easy not to notice the big building.


This week’s Outlook special publication, “That Was Then, This Is Now,” features a story by Beverly Corbell on the history of the dog track. She mentions the pageantry of the place in the days when it was just about the only action in East Multnomah County.

The track caused traffic jams in our community. You stayed away from the Fairview and Wood Village intersections on race nights.

Hubs and I used to drive out to the track from our home in Portland. In those days the grandstand was open and it was fun to spend a warm summer night sitting there in the breeze, making $2 bets. As I recall, our budget for the entire evening was less than $20 and that included a hot dog and a drink.

We sat in the cheap seats. Later, the track would go upscale, enclosing the grandstand in glass, offering a fancy dining room, table service and all sorts of things we couldn’t afford. There was valet parking for big spenders, but we hoofed it from the far lot. (Those big, empty parking lots would be a real draw when we taught our kids to drive.)

Entry to the track was cheap, maybe 50 cents a person. The program cost a dollar, but you had to buy that. Half the fun was reading about the dogs, their lineage, the names of their parents and their owners, and — as we became more expert — understanding the shorthand that described the animal’s previous races.

Then the decision — I waited until the dogs were paraded because I wanted to see how they looked in their racing colors. I lost many a dollar because of my distaste for dogs with brindle coats. Then the hike to betting booths where nearly every school teacher in the Reynolds School District worked nights and weekends.

The spectacle was worth the admission. The grounds were beautiful, and the center of the track was filled with flowers. White-clad dog handlers were local high school boys, a lucrative after-school job for a kid. There was a big to-do when the first girl was hired.

The sound of the trumpet — I think it was a trumpet, but longer and fancier — announced the race. The trumpeter, usually a school music teacher, wore a beautiful red coat. For the feature race, dog handlers wore red coats as well.

Once the dogs were paraded, the handlers pushed them into the starting boxes. With the announcer drawing out, “Heeerrrreeee comes Rusty,” the mechanical rabbit hurtled the track ahead of the dogs. I remember a couple times when the rabbit broke down but the dogs ran anyway.

Later came the complaints. It was suggested darkly that training methods used live bunnies. There was distress that non-performing dogs were put down. Greyhound adoption efforts were made to counter that practice. But in those days we did not think it necessary to save every cat and dog on the planet.

I wasn’t looking critically, but then I saw working dogs that liked to run. Those greyhounds arrived at the end of the race, joyous and barking through their muzzles, prancing in the victory walk with long tongues lapping.

And if I had a winning ticket, I did a similar dance to the pay booth.

Sharon Nesbit’s book of 100 selected columns, “Sunny with Occasional Tirades,” is on sale at The Outlook for $15.95.

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