A beloved citizen of Odell, Butch Gehrig is remembered for way he made friends and kept things light at the filling station that served as a town meeting place with Butch at the center.
Butch “was a pillar to the community and a friend to everyone,” said Greg Borton, Wy’East Fire District chief, and (Butch had many) long-time friend.
“I remember when his dad and uncle started the station and Butch started working there, and he has always been a kind of a fixture at the station. We consider him the mayor of the town of Odell. Butch died Feb. 15 (read his obituary).
“In some ways he was like a kid who never grew up,” said his brother, Lou Gehrig, recalling both his collection of toy cars (and full-size ones) and model train sets and his close relationship with family.
“It was a shock and Butch will be greatly missed,” said Mike Oates, Odell orchardist and County Board of Commission president, who spoke of Butch's passing during the Feb. 16 commissioners’ meeting.
Butch also served as president of the Hood River Electric Co-op board of directors.
Oates met Gehrig in 1970. “Everyone knew the Gehrig family and going into the lobby of the station was like walking into the barbershop of Andy of Mayberry, guys drinking coffee and talking, and the photos and toys on the wall are all like 60-70 years old. It’s like stepping back in time.”
Oates said the station was “more than just gas, it was where a lot of us go for propane, especially when we need it for the Hysters for the orchards, that’s where we go to get it. You could just stop in for a tank fill, and while you’re there go in and find out what’s going on in Odell.”
Borton said, “If you wanted to know anything or talk about something, you go talk to Butch and he was always there to offer his advice. That was the meeting place. Every morning, you’d find a group of people there. And a lot of times it was the older generation in there talking to Butch, who knew his dad and uncle. He was always willing to help anybody. I don’t think Butch ever turned down help to anyone, if you needed advice or you had a problem with the car.”
Lou noted that “a lot of younger people worked for him, I don’t know how many, from when they were old enough to work.”
“He’s always been there, he worked seven days a week unless he was gone on vacation and that wasn’t every often, and he talked to everyone, even if one of the other guys was pumping gas, he’d come out,” Borton recalled.
“He really loved playing with toys, and had all these vehicles including pickups,” such as a collectible 1950s NAPCO Chevy four-wheel drive, and a big-engine Beaumont, a 1960s Chevy Chevelle version manufactured in Canada, Lou said.
Lou said Butch “liked to drive cars very fast,” often the Beaumont.
“The police were always after him, but they rarely caught him,” Lou recalled.
About 20 years ago, Butch was in a bad accident on a powerful motorcycle he owned, suffering a compound fracture that laid him up for almost a year.
“He did a wheelie and came off the back,” Lou recalled.
Butch was a fan of ATVs of all kinds, and he owned several tractor-like vehicles called crawlers, three-wheelers, and an assortment of jeeps and pickups.
For years he organized the New Year’s Day Snow Run: A bunch of guys would get together and see how close they could get to Lost Lake.
Lou laughed at the memory, but said, “I’m not sure if any of them ever made it. I never went along.” A snow run annual plaque adorns the gas station meeting room.
Lou did travel around with Butch in their younger days on model-train hunts, including to Salem, where Butch knew a woman named Vivian, a “fiery redhead” septuagenarian who Butch called “his girlfriend,” Lou said, and Butch would negotiate with her to buy model trains.
“It was always fun, the negotiating, but I think he just got a kick out of haggling and hanging out with people.
“There was plenty of hi-jinks and crazy stuff,” said Lou, but always with an eye for helping people and having fun.
“One of the things he did for me, when I was 7 or 8, I had a toy log truck, and it got stolen and years later he found one just like it and had it restored and gave it to me for my birthday. That meant a lot to me. He always came up with an idea for my birthday, whether it was a model train or something.”
Lou said at home, Butch frequently entertained all his nieces and nephews, playing in his basement with tracks for model cars and trains, and “at least a couple of his nephews worked at the station.
“They learned a lot just from working with him. My son Colin was 14 when he started and Butch gave him a bunch of tools and parts and pointed at a vehicle and said, ‘Tune up that engine.’” Colin became a mechanic and now works for Chad Muenzer Repair in Odell.
Lou recalled frequent 3-wheeler trips, and hiking around Mount Hood with Butch.
“We hiked all the way around — it took us a few years and a lot of the ground we covered twice, but we had an incredible time.
“He was unique, definitely quirky,” Lou said. “There was a guy from Hood River who had an income he would get once a year, so my brother would give this guy credit for the whole year with the hope that he’d get the check and pay it off. I think he usually did. I’d go to the box and go through his accounts looking for mine so that I could pay him, and see some that were grubby that had been there five years. He gave credit to a lot of people who maybe never paid him. He definitely had faith in humanity. Sometimes he was cranky privately with people, but it seems like anybody who needed, he would help.”