Of all the exotic places that James Hanson visited during his life as a travel agent, Astoria was the one he wanted to come back to.

And he did Thursday with his daughter, Karin Rodes.

Hanson, 95, moved to Astoria from North Dakota in 1917, when he was nine years old. He remembered that he had never seen trees, a river or even a flush toilet before coming here.

He arrived by boat and settled with his Norwegian parents and siblings in a house on Fourth Street before his father built a home overlooking Youngs Bay in 1918. A house he said was still there.

He took a job delivering and selling The Astoria Daily Budget. He related that the newspaper was non-union at the time and was picketed by a union because of this. He was told to walk behind the picketers holding a sign advertising the assets of the newspaper, which he did - one of Astoria's earliest and youngest "scabs."

He recalled newspapers with dramatic headlines from the war being fought in Europe, which he sold to jail inmates and Chinese workers on the waterfront. "The Germans weren't allowed to live near the waterfront during the war," he said, a waterfront which was all built on stilts at the time. He, however, spent many hours down by the river where there was fresh fish and "all sorts of interesting things that washed up."

As a young boy, he was part of what his daughter called, "The Norwegian Rat Pack." With his brother and some other "rat packers," he built a boat from junk lumber. They were about to launch into the river when Mrs. Josephson, a neighbor, came with an ax and smashed the boat to pieces. "She saved our lives," he said, recalling that the boat would never have stayed afloat and "we surely would all have drowned."

When not delivering newspapers or building boats, he spent his time and money going to movies for 10 cents, riding across to Deep River, Wash., on a boat for 25 cents, learning to speak Finnish, and watching horses out in the river as they pulled in huge nets filled with salmon.

Currently residing in Porterville, Calif., Hanson eyes clearly showed that the once "wild and open town" of Astoria still holds a special place in his heart. Alert and articulate, he belied his 95 years and was like a child in a candy store as he reminisced on his own childhood here.

He left the offices of The Daily Astorian with a firm handshake, saying he was off to the Clatsop County Heritage Museum to catch up on what's been going on in town since he left in 1922.


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