By Jean Cerar
This year’s construction and disruption at Issaquah High School are nothing new.
Dust and smoke rose in 1961 when the land at the foot of Tiger Mountain was cleared for a brand new high school. Dick Campbell has vivid memories of those days.
“When I was going into the 9th grade, my dad, George Campbell, got the contract to clear and grade the site for the new high school building and football field. At that time the railroad line ran around the south and east sides of the school property.
The road to the gun club and to several homes east of the tracks ran right through the construction site.
By late summer we were working at the south end of the property, where the football stadium stands today. We had brush piles to burn, and they needed to be watched 24 hours a day.
My job was to watch the pile at night. I worked at the Grange from 4 to 9 p.m. and got to the site by 9:30.
Dad went home and returned to spell me at 4 or 5 a.m.
On most nights the Issaquah school superintendent, Mr. [Thomas] Derring, dropped by around 9 or 9:30 to see how things were going. I’m sure he was really worried about this kid out in the dark, alone with the fire. But he never let on. We just sat and talked.
He asked if I planned to go to college and then asked what the biggest barrier would be to keep me from going to school. I said money. So he began to explain about scholarships, loans, etc.
Looking back, I think he must have talked to my 7th grade shop teacher, Don Hayes. On the first day of school he asked our class who planned to go to college. No one raised their hand.
I liked Mr. Hayes, so I put my hand up. He asked why I wanted to go to college and I said, “Because it would make my mom happy.” After that he held me to it.
One night about 10 or 10:30 while we were watching the fire, Mr. Derring suddenly asked, “What’s that?” Embers from the burn pile had blown east across the tracks into a pasture and started a slowly burning grass fire.
Just as I grabbed a couple of shovels and started running, the fire flared up. It was going to take more than shovels to put it out before it started moving up the mountain.
Dad had an old Caterpillar D8 dozer at the site. It had a diesel engine, but you had to start it with a pony motor – a hand-cranked gas engine.
While Mr. Derring poured starter fluid into the air filter, I cranked the motor. It started on the first try and we got the D8 going. I knew how to operate it, but I wasn’t very good at it. The thing had a cable blade that didn’t work very smoothly because of all my dad’s patches on the cables.
We were in such a panic and hurry to get to the fire that we decided to go directly over the tracks, rather than try to find the road in the dark. I was worried about the D8’s tracks damaging the railroad track. As it turned out, that wasn’t the problem. I didn’t have the blade high enough and it knocked one of the railroad tracks out of line.
Once we got to the fire, we had it out in 10 minutes. All it took was a few passes with the dozer and some shovel work.
Mr. Derring said, “Stay right there. I’m going to go call the fire department to come put the burn pile out.”
When it was all over, he took me home.
The next morning I discovered that a train car had derailed where we crossed the track.
My dad was livid, as only he could be. He was afraid he was going to have to pay for the damage because, as he pointed out, “My damned kid broke the track.” “No,” said Mr. Derring. “I did it. If there are any expenses, send the bill to me.”
Mr. Derring and the other educators who encouraged me – and many other students – were World War II veterans who wanted better things for the next generation.
They gave us the expectation that we could go to school and do well; that it is important to better yourself and to give back to the community.
Many of us became educators and returned to the Issaquah School District.”
Dick Campbell is a member of the Issaquah High School class of 1965, the first class to complete all three high school years at the new school.
He attended Central Washington University with the help of the work-study program and grants. After graduation he was hired as an industrial arts teacher and coach at Mount Si High School.
He moved on to other districts as a high school assistant principal and athletic director, and finished his career as principal at several high schools, including six years at Liberty High School.
Campbell lives on Tiger Mountain on land settled by his family in the 1860s.