Forest veteran, 94, says goodbye to a place changed

When Ancel Reinkens moved to his Montello Avenue house in 1953, the surrounding area bore little resemblance to its present state.

A pond with ducks and tall cattails stretched west of his home, land now filled by a housing development.

In the 49 years since Reinkens moved to Hood River, more than the scenery has changed. When he and his stepdaughter Karen Horsell leave today on a journey to Horsell’s home in Overland Park, Kan., 94-year-old Reinkens will say goodbye to an area that’s a mere shadow of what it once was to him.

When asked what he’d miss about Hood River, Reinkens replied, “Not much.”

Of course he’ll miss the forests in which he spent much of his life. But many of the people who he spent time with among the trees are no more.

“There’s no one around here now,” he said. “Even people who used to work for me, most of them are gone, too. The young ones are still kicking, but they’re getting up in age, too.”

Reinkens was born in Garfield County, Wash., in 1908. A 1912 picture hanging on his wall captures Ancel and dozens of relatives lined up in front of a row of Model T Fords.

“I’ve been in the woods all my life,” said Reinkens. “I was about 15 when I started, and I’ve worked in the woods ever since.”

His first job was splitting wood to fuel steam donkeys, machines that created steam used to power winches that hauled trees from the forest.

Eventually Reinkens became foreman of a camp of 150 men in the Seattle watershed, overseeing logging and road building efforts. His expertise landed him work in the forests near Hood River, where he built roads for the Elmgren Logging Company, Oregon Lumber, Hanel Lumber and Neal Creek Lumber.

Reinkens’ roads wound around Mount Hood, Fir Mountain and Mount Defiance. The roads themselves were laid out by state authorities, and Reinkens’ job was to design effective plans by which the typically five- to 10-mile roads could be built, following the existing guide stakes.

“Up by Mount Defiance, you can still see places where we logged,” said Reinkens. “We had to pull logs down a skid road that was one thousand feet long and crooked.”

It was a dangerous job. One day Reinkens’ legs were crushed when a log rolled onto them.

“The log pinched my legs and turned my shoes around like Charlie Chaplin walks,” said Reinkens. “That’s why my legs are bad now.”

Other times his luck was greater.

“Once I fell 90 feet out of a tree, and got up and walked away,” said Reinkens. “Of course, I didn’t go back to work for a week or two.”

Injuries aside, Reinkens loved his job so much that when he retired in the early 1960s, it wasn’t a permanent arrangement. He got a job selling and delivering cable to loggers, and continued to work part time until he turned 94, chalking up two more “retirements” in the process. He also worked on projects at the Hood River Marina and plowed snow during the winter.

When he wasn’t in the woods, Reinkens enjoyed flying airplanes. Once, flying with friend Tex Ranken, he faced a fall greater than his 90-foot plummet.

Their World War II-era plane’s engine gave out 14,000 feet above Mount Rainier, but Ranken managed to dive and coast his way down to a sandbar, where the pair made a successful landing.

Usually, Reinkens’ flights were less stressful.

“I flew for the fun of it, to see the countryside more than anything else,” he said.

Reinkens also loved deer and elk hunting with friends outside of Heppner. He was married twice, for many years to Bertha and later to Margie, but outlived them both. His two sons live in California. Reinkens is moving to Kansas to live with his two granddaughters and Horsell, who used to live in Hood River, but moved away with her family when her late husband was transferred by Sprint. The pair will drive to Sacramento, where they will catch a flight to Kansas.

“I’ve found a buyer for my house, and most of my things are packed,” said Reinkens, standing in his front yard next to a dogwood tree that has lived there as long as he has. “I’m ready to go.”

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