News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Local has seen Sisters grow and change

Doug Williams has a perspective on Sisters only

long-time locals know. He’s lived in town since 1963 and has watched it survive, grow, and change —

from a mill town to the modern mix it is today.

He moved with his family from Bend and started his freshman year in high school with about 150 students — with only 15 in his freshman class.

For Williams, going to high school in Sisters was like being in the Old West.

“Some kids were riding their horses to school and football games. They just tied them up. It didn’t happen a lot but it did happen,” he said.

When Williams’ family moved to Sisters, the Lundgren sawmill was the economic center of the community.

“My dad hauled logs to the old mill and pond, which is where Metabolic Maintenance is now. He had a log truck with a self-loader. He was an independent contractor. They were called gyppo loggers back in the day,” said Williams.

When the last sawmill closed down in 1965, Williams remembers the town getting eerily quiet.

“The town really dried up, almost like a ghost town and then they jumped on tourism, and look at it now,” he said with a laugh.

The Williams family came to Oregon from their ranch in Nevada. A talented musician, Williams’ love of music began with his dad playing banjo and mandolin with neighbors. Williams didn’t learn to play until he started high school.

“A friend of mine sold me a Stella guitar for $20. Dad showed me how to tune it and a couple of chords and I took it from there,” he recalled.

Starting high school, Williams got a group going called Big Willie and the Wildmen.

“We played at the dances after football and basketball games. My brother played drums and Randy Winkle was on bass and then another little guy named Scrooge Miller played guitar,” Williams said. “Floyd Leithauser was in the group too; he was a great saxophone player. We played rock and roll with songs like “Louie Louie,” “Twist and Shout,” and some of our own stuff. I’ll admit we weren’t very good, but everybody was dancing so we figured if they’re dancing we must be good enough. We were just thrashing away. Music has been a part of my life every day ever since.”

Williams’ old family home next to Eurosports is still there. He helped build a garage for his Dad’s logging truck.

“I was in charge of pouring the floor with cement that I mixed in a wheelbarrow. It took weeks! Dad paid $6,000 for the property and house in 1963. He almost couldn’t get the money together but we pulled it off. Before moving to Sisters we lived in La?Pine in 1957, then moved to Bend. Dad didn’t like it in Bend, and he thought his kids would much rather go to school in Sisters. At that time, there was no pavement in Sisters, except for Highway 20 through town. Dad was right. We kids just loved Sisters.”

Williams and his friends had fun. Whether they were riding their horses in the forests or swamp land around Black Butte Ranch, or driving their cars.

“We all had hot rods,” he said.

“We’d go up Three Creeks Road and mark off a quarter-mile with spray paint and race.

There was only one policeman in town, named Fred Painter.

He didn’t care.

He’d just say you boys be careful.

My first car was a 1954 Buick Century that I bought from a friend for $110.

It was a two-door hardtop.

I sure wish I had that now.

I still like cars.

Last year, I saw an ad in The Nugget for a 1974 Gran Torino Sport all rebuilt for $1,500.

The next day I called the guy and went out and looked at it and went ‘Wow!’ I paid him $1,500 right there.

It was his Dad’s car, bought right off the lot in Bend.

He took good care of it.

So, I’m just living my high school days a little bit.”

High school was full of adventures, high school dances, and a few brawls. Williams remembers some wild boys from Prineville who crashed a Sisters dance at the movie house. One of the Prineville toughs, as Williams called them, targeted a football player’s brother who had an arm in a cast after a car accident. That didn’t go over very well.

“Wrong!” said Williams. “One of the star Sisters football players hit that guy so fast and so hard, he hit the Coke machine and the floor and his eyes were up in his head. He had a cut across his face where he hit him. Then the football player took the guy by the hair and drug him outside in the rain into the gutter. The toughs just looked around, put the guy in the car and drove off. Nobody messed with us again.”

Right before he graduated, Williams had to sign up for the draft. In the Army, after training in Washington and Kentucky, he was assigned to armor. He was lucky enough to serve in Germany instead of Vietnam. Williams drove tanks, and was an ammunition loader which was loud, dirty work.

“The whole front of the tank would lift up off the ground. The concussion was so loud inside the tank it almost knocked us out,” he said. “Then we’d open it up and that hot shell fell on the floor and we’d use asbestos gloves to throw it up through the hole and then load another one. We used old car bodies to shoot at.

“The tank was an M-60, just like the one outside the National Guard building in Redmond,” said Williams.

After two years in the Army, Williams returned to Sisters with no idea what to do next. He had all kinds of jobs pumping gas, bucking hay, and eventually working for the Sisters maintenance department.

Curious about riding freight trains, Williams explored the Pacific Northwest in boxcars and flatcars. During his adventures, he met helpful people who were riding the rails for all kinds of reasons. One man carried everything he owned in two five-gallon buckets. Then there was the time he rode in a boxcar destined for the wrecking yard. Its flattened, worn-out wheels punished them for miles until the train stopped and they could escape. On another ride, the train went right through a fire roaring along the tracks. (Sparks from the wheels often caused fires).

Once they got stuck on a trestle and had to walk across a big long bridge with the Columbia River far below. His friend, Carl Leonhardy, jumped onto the trestle and his book by Woody Guthrie called “Seeds of Man” flew out of his pack and fluttered hundreds of feet to the water. “Carl said that was the perfect place for that book. Walking across that trestle was spooky. There was no place to walk except on those ties that went right along the track.”

These days Williams lives wherever he wants. Sometimes he spends time in the woods with homeless people.

“I try to help out the homeless folks in town. They help me out too. They are good people… most of them are just like everybody else,” he said. “A lot of people don’t understand about the homeless. I live with them in the summer.

“I don’t like to hear anybody talk down on them,” said Williams. “I’m not homeless myself, I’m living this way because it’s the way I want to live. It’s my thing. A lot of the homeless are working; parents who can’t afford rent. They’re doing the best they can. Some of them don’t need anything and others need everything. There’s people living out there right now in tents in this kind of weather. So we just try to take care of each other. They’re a part of the community just as much as anybody else.”

Williams is a man living life just the way he likes it. He plays music every day. He drives a car he loves and spends time with people he admires and respects. Recounting his experiences was just the tip of a vast array of stories he’s happy to share in his music — or if you’re lucky enough to sit down and have a chat.


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