Chapter 27

Stuck in Astoria

From the book Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong
By Herbert W. Armstrong

After the Krohn & Carson experience forced their main clothing-store competitor to break its five-year contract, other stores gradually began cautiously to put a limited amount of advertising in the Messenger. This drove our opposition publisher to adopt a new type of competition. Now the going became rougher than before.

Competition Gets Rough

Both the evening paper and ours maintained job-printing departments. There was, besides, one independent job-printing establishment. But the evening newspaper job department did more than half of all the printing. With this and the newspaper combined, the opposition newspaper employed more than half the employees in all three unions involved—the typographical, the pressmen’s and the stereotypers’ unions.

The depression, by spring of 1932, had descended to such depths that if a man lost his job he had small chance of finding another. At union meetings, the evening paper employees had a majority vote.

So we had the unheard-of spectacle of our competitor’s employees being forced by their employer, on threat of losing their jobs, to vote our employees out of their jobs on strike, while all our employees voted desperately against the strike. It meant the loss of their jobs. They knew they would be unable to obtain employment elsewhere.

Actually, our competitor’s employees did have a technical violation to charge us with. Our employees were not receiving their full wages in cash. Our paper simply did not have the money. One reason I had felt obligated to remain on in Astoria after December 1931 was the responsibility of keeping our 23 employees from starving. I had traded advertising space for meal tickets in local restaurants. I had traded advertising space for rooms in hotels and small apartments in large apartment houses. I had taken most of the Krohn & Carson 3 percent compensation in clothes for our men. Thus we had managed to keep them clothed, fed and sheltered. We had paid them small amounts of cash for other expenses, but the balance of their wages was being paid in stock in the paper. Thus they were part owners. If and when the paper got on a paying basis, they would then receive their wages with interest.

When the strike was first voted against us, Mr. Hopkins and, I believe, our city editor, took a quick trip to Seattle to appeal to the district union chief, a Mr. Pelkey. We awaited their return anxiously. Their smiling faces told us, on their return, they had succeeded. Mr. Pelkey had called off the strike. He realized the desperate competitive situation. But this was a reprieve—not the end of the matter.

A month or two later, our opposition employees again voted our employees out on strike. Again Mr. Hopkins raced to Seattle. Again Mr. Pelkey rescinded the strike vote. During the summer our competitor’s employees did it again. A third time Mr. Pelkey vetoed the strike.

But our opposition simply wore down Mr. Pelkey. A fourth time the opposition men voted ours out on strike. This time Mr. Pelkey said he was getting “fed up” with this Astoria quarrel, and he let the strike become official.

The Strike STRUCK!

The date was Labor Day, 1932. Our employees had to face the problem of whether to defy the strike vote, stay on the job, and thus be put out of the unions—in which case their entire future in the printing business was ruined—or lose their jobs with no prospect of finding others. The men, however, decided that their futures, after the depression had subsided, meant more to them than the immediate job.

Mr. Hopkins immediately brought a few non-union printers from Portland to Astoria. But they were unskilled, and totally unsatisfactory as workmen—and they were too few. I had never operated a Linotype machine, although I had been around composing rooms for 20 years. Now I had to work all night long with a “hunt and peck” effort to set the type.

Also I set ads in display type. After 36 hours without sleep, we finally got out the paper, in the evening of Labor Day.

Our morning paper came out after the evening paper of the same day. But we got it out! Otherwise we should have been put out of business altogether!

For three days and three nights Mr. Hopkins and I and a few of the newsmen worked straight through without sleep. We literally lived that 72 hours on coffee. There was an all-night cafe across the street. We kept them constantly making coffee!

The day following Labor Day we got the paper “to bed” in mid-afternoon. The next day by about noon. Gradually we gained an hour or two each day, and within a week we were getting the papers on the street by early morning. But it was indeed a sorry-looking newspaper! It came out full of typographical errors, bad typesetting. But we were fighting to keep it alive.

Even before this 72-hour stretch without any sleep, I had been consistently losing sleep in Astoria. For the entire 15 months on this newspaper job I averaged about 5½ hours sleep per night. I need a minimum of seven. This continuous loss of sleep proved a real handicap after I did finally get back into the ministry in 1933.

Two Awe-Inspiring Miracles

During the 15 months of this stay in Astoria, God blessed us with two amazing miracles. For the first seven months, still hoping from week to week to be able to wind up this newspaper detour and get back on the main road of God’s ministry, Mrs. Armstrong and our children remained in the house on East State Street in Salem. During that time I managed to take frequent weekend trips home to be with my family.

Finally, by early July 1932, we decided to move the family to Astoria. This resulted from my wife calling long distance late one afternoon asking me to rush home. Little Garner Ted was stricken with pneumonia! I drove the Messenger coupe down to Salem, arriving late that night. The children were asleep. Mrs. Armstrong was still up, beside little Ted’s sofa, on which he was lying. Immediately, we both knelt beside our sick baby. Little Garner Ted was then 2 years and 5 months.

And I must explain here that he had been, to that time, dumb—unable to talk. While somewhere between 6 months and a year old, he had fallen out of his crib headfirst onto the hardwood floor. We attributed his inability to talk to this fall, landing on his head. He would point to whatever he wanted to tell us about, making motions, and grunting “Ugh! Ugh!” But he was unable to speak a single word. We were becoming much concerned.

I anointed Ted and began to claim God’s promises to rebuke the fever and heal him. As I was praying, Mrs. Armstrong silently prayed, asking God that, if it was His will to heal our baby of this dumbness at that time, to put it in my mind to ask for this, as well as healing from the pneumonia.

I did also have this in mind—or God put it in my mind—for the very instant she had asked for this, I began asking God to restore Ted’s power of speech.

His fever left quickly. The very next day he was able to say a number of single words. In about three days he was talking in whole sentences.

After this experience, my wife and I decided to move the family immediately to Astoria. I remained a few days to help pack our goods.

After everything was packed, I crowded our two daughters and Dicky (we called our boys “Dicky” and “Teddy” until the day they entered junior high school) into the coupe and drove to Astoria. Mrs. Armstrong followed with Teddy on the train. Little Teddy was so frightened by the train that my wife had some difficulty in getting him aboard. But once on, and relaxed and reassured, he began talking.

Here we go,” said Teddy cheerfully, “to see Daddy, see Ba-wee (Beverly), see Dorsee (Dorothy), see Dicky!” That was a 12-word sentence, gushing out only about three days after I had prayed for his healing!

I had arranged for one of the members of the Church, who lived near Jefferson, to haul our furniture and things to Astoria. We went first to the hotel in Astoria. Mr. Hopkins and I had lived there, trading advertising for rooms.

Soon we rented a house, high up on an embankment above a street overlooking the mile-wide Columbia River. We were only 10 miles from the ocean at that point, and the mighty Columbia widens to a very great river at its mouth. From our house there was an unobstructed view straight out the river to the ocean.

About that time I managed to obtain a portable radio by trading advertising space and taking it as part of my salary. This small portable radio would receive stations from great distances—much farther than even large and expensive modern sets today. After our strike finally did strike, I was kept at the newspaper office until midnight or later about six nights every week.

Arriving home at midnight or 1 a.m., I often turned on the radio in order to “unwind” my nerves a bit from the tense business day before retiring. Any night at that hour, which was around 6 p.m. in Japan, I was able to get Radio Tokyo on standard wave direct. There was no obstruction between the aerial atop our house and Japan—just the mile-wide mouth of the Columbia, and straight across the ocean.

Also, at the time, I was able to “bring in” clearly such stations as wls, Chicago; wlw, Cincinnati; wsm, Nashville; who, Des Moines—all of which I was later to have the privilege of broadcasting over.

Hunting for Bear

My son Garner Ted loves to hunt and fish. He may not remember when the excitement of hunting was first implanted within him, and he may read this now, along with all our readers.

As soon as God gave us our first son, for whom my wife and I had waited 11 years, I wanted to be a pal to him. I had begun calling little Dicky, as soon as he could talk, my “pal.” But now, as soon as little Teddy began to talk, on hearing me call his elder brother “pal,” he exclaimed, “Well, I’m your pal, too, Daddy.”

From that moment Teddy became “Pal Two,” and Dicky “Pal One.”

One of the very first things I did, after we moved into the house in Astoria, was to take my two “pals” “bear hunting.” I have explained that our house sat on an embankment high above the sidewalk below. This hill ran up steeply from the great river below and continued on uphill behind our house, thickly wooded. I took my two sons, armed with wooden sticks for guns, on frequent “hunting trips” up this steep, heavily wooded slope, “hunting for bear.” The boys would growl like a bear, and confidently expected to get a shot at one any second.

The basement of our Astoria house was on the ground level in front, but basement level at the rear. In Astoria, as well as when we lived in Salem and Eugene, we burned wood for fuel. My sons helped me carry chopped wood up the basement stairs into the kitchen. Although Teddy was speaking whole sentences three days after his speech was restored, he did not pronounce all his words like an adult immediately.

I shall never forget his rapping on the basement door, three or four sticks of wood across his outstretched arms, yelling: “Open d’ doagm—open d’ doagm—here tums dreat bid mans!”

Our younger daughter Dorothy got in Teddy’s hair on occasion. On one of these occasions, in the kitchen, little Teddy became exasperated and started for his tormenting sister with clenched fists.

In fear Dorothy ran through the hallway, and up the stairs to the second floor like a frightened deer, with little Teddy scampering after her in red-hot anger, shouting, “Boy, oh boy! I’ll hap your hace!”

Apparently Dorothy found refuge in a bedroom and locked the door.

I suppose we have had quite the same experience rearing children that most parents have. Most of the time our two daughters, only two years and two months apart, have been the best of chums and buddies, but they had their share of quarreling over the things most sisters quarrel over—whose turn it was to do the dishes—or when one girl had put on the other girl’s clothes. But our two sons seldom quarreled, and surely no two brothers could have gotten along better together, or been closer to each other. Their fights were usually with older sisters!

Another typical experience many fathers should understand: Early in the Christmas shopping season, 1932, I managed to obtain for my boys an electric train, with quite a lot of track and accessories—by trading advertising space for it. The price of the train was charged at the newspaper, of course, as part of my salary since only a small part of salaries could be paid in cash. Mrs. Armstrong said smilingly that I got the electric train for the boys, so I could play with it! I wonder how many fathers have done the same thing!

The Second Miraculous Healing

It was during the midst of the winter, December 1932 or January 1933, that Milas Helms appeared in Astoria one night. He finally located me at one of the “movie” offices, where I was picking up an ad at around 10 p.m. His little son, James, was stricken with a most serious case of pneumonia, and was in extremely critical condition. Mike had driven his pickup truck all the way from his farm, southwest of Jefferson. He asked me if I would not drop everything and go with him to anoint and pray for his boy’s healing.

We drove through the night around the icy sharp mountain curves of the only highway in those days, through a driving snowstorm blizzard, on to Portland, and then some 75 miles more to his farm.

We arrived there around 5 a.m. The oil lamps were still burning, and Mike’s wife, Pearl, was still up. Little James was gasping for breath, with an extremely high temperature, but still alive. Immediately we knelt beside his bed, and I anointed him and claimed God’s promises to heal him. Almost immediately the boy sank into a sleep, and then all of us laid down to get some overdue rest and sleep.

We awakened at 10 a.m. Little James awakened, too, at about the same time, and immediately scampered out of bed and began playing around the room. His temperature was normal. He had been completely healed. I returned to Astoria.

An END of Going Hungry

I have mentioned repeatedly how God had brought me down, reduced us to poverty and want, and how much we had suffered hunger through those years. Much of the time in Astoria, up until about the time of this emergency trip to the Helms’s farm, we had not had enough to eat.

I have explained in past chapters how, after conversion, I had to come to learn and understand one doctrine at a time. The truth was not acquired all at once. I had known that the Bible had quite a little to say about tithing one’s income. Yet somehow it had never become completely clear.

At about this time, in the little time I had from my work at the newspaper for Bible study and prayer, I had made a special and thorough study of this matter of tithing. We saw the mistake we had been making, and started a definite practice of strict tithing. We had only a very little on hand, but we sent a 10th of it, plus an offering, to the Oregon Conference treasurer.

That very day, the way opened for us to be able to stock up at home with a reasonable abundance of food. For one thing, we had a large thick steak. My wife cooked it at low heat with the utensils we had acquired when I had devoted a year to selling them. I shall never forget that steak! It was way and by far the best steak I have ever tasted!

Although we still were required to live another 14 years in the barest and most modest financial circumstances, we have never from that day had to be actually hungry, and miss meals, because of financial poverty! We have since heard of scores and scores of case histories of the experiences of others who were immediately prospered, once they began tithing. But we, ourselves, lived through this same experience. I am very grateful to have been privileged to have been instrumental in bringing countless others into this same divine blessing! My wife and I had to learn it the hard way!

Dicky Becomes Lost

One day in August or September 1932, shortly before Dicky was 4 years old, he became lost, and his mother became frantic. I was not home at the time.

When Mrs. Armstrong discovered he was missing, and was nowhere to be found around the house or yard, she started an immediate worried search. Neighbor children had seen him going east. A little farther along the street two little children said he had asked them to go with him to a children’s playground in Rose City Park to play on the swings and slides.

Rose City Park was in Portland, more than a hundred miles away! After running, out of breath, some distance past the end of our street and onto the highway to Portland, not finding him, she turned back. He had not been gone long enough to have gotten farther on the highway. Now the terrifying thought gripped my wife: “What if little Dicky had wandered down to the riverbank, and had fallen in the river!”

She retraced her steps back, and, half running, half walking breathlessly, began following the riverbank westward. Finally she found him, trying to walk back home along the riverbank. When the two children had refused to go to Rose City Park with him, he had decided he didn’t want to go alone, and had started back home—by way of the riverbank! He had supposed he could soon walk to Rose City Park!

I have often wondered how any of the millions of us men on Earth ever survived the dangers of growing boyhood, and lived to be men—unless indeed God has assigned an angel to watch invisibly over every boy, and keep him from physical harm and tragedy!

While we were in Astoria, I received a letter from Elder Taylor. Just one letter, in that year and a quarter. It told me, “we have lost the little church” in Eugene. The brethren, he said, had been unable to keep up payments. When I finally got back to the Valley I learned how we really had lost it. Mr. Taylor had traded it for a more salable house and lot next door. Then he had traded that, with another place he had acquired, for an island farm. But more of that at the proper time, later.

Our Prayers Finally Answered

One day, late in February 1933, Mike Helms drove his pickup truck up to our house. He had come to take us back to the Valley. The church conference had now accumulated a small balance. Mike was now president of the conference. He said they would be able to pay us only $3 per week, but farmer brethren would supply us with vegetables, and the members would buy other food for us.

Behind him, he said, was coming one of the men from the Valley with a large truck to haul our small amount of furniture and furnishings back to the Valley.

At last God had answered our prayers to allow me to be put back into His ministry! Mrs. Armstrong got into the truck with Mr. Helms, and they drove downtown in search of me. I was overjoyed at the news.

We were nearly all night getting packed and ready for the tedious trip back to the Valley. The next day we left.

All of the newspaper employees I had felt a responsibility for keeping alive, except Mr. Hopkins and two or three newsmen, had long since left, anyway. I felt no obligation to remain another day.

A couple months or less after our departure I heard that the Morning Messenger, which had come to be dubbed the Morning Mess, had gone out of business. I had kept it alive for 15 months. I had learned a valuable lesson, and collected some valuable experience.

Continue Reading: Chapter 28: Back Into the Ministry