“I’ve got the keys.”
Tom Cramblett stood by smoky Forest Lane on Sept. 3, 2017, with his old friend Jess Groves as the two community leaders talked over how to respond to the Eagle Creek fire that was threatening the town they grew up in.
As fire neared homes and the freeway, it was the classic Mayor Tom Cramblett moment. As captain of the Sternwheeler Columbia Gorge, he had the keys, and he told Groves they could evacuate the town by boat.
As hard-hit as Cascade Locks was by the destructive fire, matters never got to the point of escape by the river, but Cramblett was ready to serve and literally wore the various hats needed to do so.
Tom Cramblett: Mayor, riverboat captain, park maintenance guy, and fervent Cascade Locks booster. He was elected mayor in 2010.
For all that, and 35 years of community service, the Port of Cascade Locks honored Cramblett at last week’s port commission meeting for what he has done for his community.
“Since Tom and I go back all the way to high school, I thought it would come to me to tell a few stories,” Groves said at the meeting, where Cramblett received a light roast from friends and family, and the port’s traditional honorary gift, a framed image of Charles Lindbergh’s famed flight under the Bridge of the Gods.
Cramblett got his start after the late-1970s aborted tramway project proposal for Cascade Locks; a federal grant for the project led to the purchase of the Sternwheeler Columbia Gorge (formerly owned by the port, now privately-owned but still based at the port.) Cramblett got his start on the boat’s predecessor, a 100-seat sightseer that was a joint venture between Cascade Locks City and Port and Port of Skamania. He was first a deckhand, and then engineer and got his captain’s license in the 1980s after fulfilling the required 365 on-board eight-hour days of work.
Cramblett is still captaining, three or four days a week, in addition to the park maintenance work, which involves setting the lawn sprinklers in the morning and moving them in the evening.
“I have such a great a job: I get to see the Cascade Locks sunrises and sunsets every day from Thunder Island,” he said.
Said Groves, “The hats he wears is really interesting — captain, mayor and he changes the water. It just shows you what a little community has to do to survive.”
“I grew up in Cascade Locks, and my family has been here since the late 1800s and my family have always been very community oriented, like lots of people are in small towns,” Cramblett said. “We are not unlike a lot of people in small towns. The whole family, all brothers and sisters here, are people who give back to society, and they will give you the shirt off your back. I am just one of that. When they talk about ‘it takes a village,’ that went on here in Cascade Locks. However I am, it comes from lots of people in the community.”
All this for a guy who, as a teenager in the 1960s, used to take Halloween candy from younger kids — an honor from the guy who did the same thing: Groves and Cramblett are both 1969 Cascade Locks High School graduates.
“One of the things we did as high school kids, we would take candy from the youngers,” Groves said.
“I can attest to that,” interjected Joeinne Caldwell, port commissioner and Cramblett’s younger sister. As a sophomore, Cramblett had broken his leg and was in a full cast. That Halloween, the group’s candy exploits were observed by the local deputy, who chased them and they hid behind the old theater. Since Cramblett was in a full leg cast, Groves said, he thought he’d get apprehended, but somehow he caught up.
“I had no idea how he got there with his leg like that.”
“We didn’t take all their candy, just a little,” Tom added to laughter from the audience, who included their sister Kathleen Sundby of Camas and her husband, Roger, brother Larry Cramblett of Cascade Locks and his wife, Susan, and Tom’s wife, Brenda.
The event was a mini-reunion of Cascade Locks families who have done extensive public service.
Brenda Cramblett is a former Port commissioner, and a current Port Board member is Dean Bump, who played sports at CLHS with Jess and Tom, and whose father, Marion, served on the commission with Crambletts’ father, the late Harry Cramblett.