Gail Oberst/For the Capital Press
Gordon Ross, 82, spreads his photos on the Friends Café table in Eastside, Coos Bay, points at one and makes his claim: His great-grandfather brought the first dairy cows to Coos County in 1857. He adds that nearly everyone coming over the Oregon Trail brought with them at least one milking cow.
He elaborates: A.B. Collver, Ross’ mother’s grandfather, moved from Iowa to Oregon, looking for free land. A.B. eventually bought a claim along the Coos River, moving his family and 31 Durham cows there from the Umpqua Valley.
Ross spins a tale of family fortune and misfortune that meanders like the sloughs of his home county, both the Collver and Ross families booming and busting in apple and milk processing long before he was born. By the time he was born in the 1930s, his family had a small dairy farm on Ross Slough, now owned by his son.
In those days, milk and people were transported down Catching Inlet to the creamery by boat. Until electricity and milking machines came to the slough in 1939, cows were milked by hand. In 1941, a road was built into his family’s farm.
“I always knew I was going to be a dairy farmer,” Ross said, more than a dozen years after he sold his herd and farm to his son, Bob. His son now dairies in Lee Valley near Myrtle Point, milking 300 cows, but uses the old farm for raising heifers. Ross continues to help his son as needed.
Bob has four adult kids — the two boys help on the dairy. This spring, they’ll be putting up silage while Gordon drives the truck.
“My labor’s free, but sometimes my son says even that’s too much,” Ross laughs.
While he was a dairyman, Gordon Ross supplemented his earnings for more than 40 years by hauling fish waste to farmers for fertilizer, an industry that still thrives.
Gordon had intended early in life to be a minister, attending Bible school in Portland until his father decided to sell the farm. Gordon, newly married to Wilma, returned and bought the Ross Slough farm and for a while also owned Collver’s Stock Slough farm.
Many locals also know Gordon as a long-standing Coos County commissioner, serving from 1976 to 2006. Gordon said he decided to join the commission when he learned that he couldn’t get a permit to dig a drainage ditch on his property. He ran for commissioner and won, several times over.
“One lady who knew I was a dairy farmer said I milked that job for all it was worth,” Gordon punned.
Gordon has not kept his collection of humorous quips, his love of God, and deep knowledge of Coos history to himself. He’s written two religious pamphlets, and is working on a third book to be released this year called “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, God Will Take Care of the Rest,” a look back at his public life.
His most widely read book is “Yester Years,” a collection of humorous stories passed down from his forebears originally published in a newsletter for retired senior volunteers. He’s also published Collver family letters from the turn of the century, wrote a book, “Gordie,” about his father’s life, and a 75-page book describing the unincorporated areas of Coos County titled “Welcome to Rural Coos County.” Many of the books can be found in a deep search on Amazon.com.
Or call him up. If you meet him for a burger at Friends Café, he may bring you a copy.
What’s ahead for a retired dairyman? He still likes to work with cattle, and says his favorite job is to hold the gates to the stock trailer while his son loads the livestock.
What happens if he doesn’t show up for the job?
“Bob said he’ll replace me with baling twine,” Gordon said.