It would have been 1972 I believe when we first rolled up to the little home at 22950 NW Dogwood Street in Orenco, Oregon. Mom and Dad said it was a home we might all like. The dirt driveway led us past roses and grapes and blue hydrangea opening up to a garage and barn and gardens beyond. Like most homes in this strange little place I knew this was unique. Having driven out here from our 90 foot cul-de-sac life and tri-level Wedgewood home we lived in over in Beaverton this place was like being on another planet.
This was foreign- different. And as I rolled out of the beatup VW Van the 6 of us drove up in the smells of the barnyard greeted me. Chickens? Ducks? Man this place was alive. My eyes swept past the small green garage to a 2 story barn covered with faded green paint. Was that a hay loft and a rope? Man for a 10 year old kid like me that was an adventure I wanted to get after.
“You like that rope,” a quiet yet smooth voice said.
Spinning around I saw a man so frail it looked like the wind could pick him off his feet. His overalls were faded and hand weathered and clearly he had lost most of his teeth.
“Yes it’s pretty great,” I replied.
As my brothers and sister followed my parents to go see the chickens and greeted the man and his wife I wondered towards the barn and looked up to the open hayloft and large knotted rope hanging down. I wondered if I could climb to the top and if so what was up there.
Turning back to the man with a look of curiosity he smiled and motioned me up. 3 minutes later I crouched in the opening of a small wooden landing surveying the main barn floor below and across a small cat walk to the hayloft. This was not only the stuff of my “Where the Red Fern Grows” dreams but it was here in front of me. I began to see in the dimly lit wonderland strange metal tools and belts and all sorts of contraptions and I wondered as to their purpose.
“Dirk.. Come down and meet these nice people,” called my Father Jack. When Dad, a former All American Football Player and flat top wearing Head Coach called you went.
Approaching the Van my father announced, “Fred and Alice Sargent this is my oldest boy Dirk.”
As always I shook hands firmly – made solid eye contact- and smiled saying, “I love your barn.”
Old as he was Fred Sargent was a powerhouse of a man. Almost like a scarecrow at that point in life and pushing 95 he was quite a site to behold. So was his wife who smiled pleasantly and squinted at me through here glasses saying tenderly, “So very nice to meet you!”.
This was my introduction to a couple who will forever be en-grained in my psyche as the quintessential Norman Rockwell American couple. Pitchfork, overalls, apron and all they were it.
“Let’s all go have a tour of the place shall we,” offered Fred as we all went along behind his slow methodical pace.
From the garage and the Chicken House we toured the well house and then the Barn. On to the gardens and two story arts and crafts cottage which had 2 bedrooms on the main floor and a sleeping attic with no insulation or heat- but it did have 2 nice windows that looked like eyes out the front and the back. A small kitchen, pantry, living room, and bath (no shower just a cast iron claw footed tub) completed the structure. It was nothing like our modern home- oh no far from it. But being one for the outdoors I wanted to see more.
“Back there is the Orchards and woods,” said Fred as a glint in his eye met mine. “Even a small stream and swamp too.”
The love affair with the 5 acre mini-farm began that moment and has never ended to this day. I think we closed escrow within a month and before Summer was over 3 of us kids had over taken the old attic and all selected our pets which our parents offered us as a “Moving the the Farm Gift”. More on that later. While our family would only stay a few years we would leave our stamp on that place and the little town like it left one on all of us.
I will never forget Fred Sargent showing us his fruit trees- strange and unusual ones that produced things the likes of which we had not seen before. Pears and Cherries and Plumbs of all varieties and apples – oh boy the apples. Then there were walnuts and hazelnuts and other things I can not even explain. Maybe 40 trees in all. We would spend hundreds of hours over the next fee years pruning and harvesting and enjoying those fruits; fruits that I later would learn drove not only Fred but in fact the entire town of Orenco (Oregon Nursery Company).
You see as I grew up I learned that Fred Sargent was a master grafter and grower of award winning fruit trees including many that were unique to the Oregon Nursery Company; his creations as the main man at a company world re-known for producing the finest fruits trees in the world.
During a couple of follow up visits to the farm Fred’s old hands and razor sharp pruning shears had shown me that perfection and creativity comes in all forms regardless of age. This old man, who looked like he was going to cough out dust and spiders webs from his aged frame, was a master and we were blessed to be in his presence not knowing at the time we were watching him at the end of his life.
The Oregon Historical Society showed up a few years later to ask permission to remove some cuttings from Fred’s orchard because they knew these hybrids he had developed were one of a kind. I have never been to see them but I hope when I do go I might get a chance to see them producing. See more on that here-
In closing let me say this. They say you can’t go back right? Well they are wrong. If you go to NW Dogwood Street at 229th avenue and head South you will be on our old farm there; the place now long since subdivided. The old Sargent house is there still and still intact although the barn is gone. Triplexes and duplexes site on the front acreage and those give way heading South to a nice home and then the estate of Dan Bloom and his family who bought 1-2 acres of the farm and made it into an award winning estate using recycled and salvaged materials. See This Link.
And guess what- Fred Sargent is there too. He can be found in a number of his fruit trees that still grow just beyond the Bloom house at a 1 acre pocket park that does not even appear on Maps- See the picture below that shows the outlines of the original Farm and the location of the orchard and park. You have to bike or walk into this one and there is a picnic table so take a snack and just sit and enjoy!
Knowing Fred as briefly as I did as a boy has made me a better man and I want to thank him posthumously for that and acknowledge he and his wife for their contribution to the people and town of Orenco as well as his work developing fruit trees that no doubt have fed people around the world for the past many decades since his passing. If anyone reading this post ever knows anything about Fred or Alice or their family or might have a picture it would be my great honor to have them for the website.
Email us at OrencoLife@gmail.com or call me anytime at 503-799-8383