"It’s Still Whale of a Tale..."


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Bob updates readers on a key player in Oregon’s Exploding Whale incident: Walter Umenhofer, the gentleman whose brand new Oldsmobile 88 was crushed by a 300-pound chunk of dead whale after it was sent skyward when the Oregon Highway Division attempted to dispose of a dead whale carcass with 20 cases of dynamite.

Bob also gives a quick plug to TheExplodingWhale.com near the end of his column. (Thanks, Bob!)

It’s Still Whale of a Tale to Tell for 'Blubber Victim'

Monday, January 14, 2008

Where Are They Now?

The Register-Guard

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Where Are They Now?” updates readers on newsmakers from the past. Have ideas? Bob Welch is at 338-2354 and bob.welch@registerguard.com.

THEN: Walter Umenhofer, 37 at the time, made international news in 1970 when a 300-pound slab of whale blubber, falling from the sky above Florence, crushed the roof of his new Oldsmobile 88.

The smoking gun pointed to the state Highway Division (now the Oregon Department of Transportation), which, in the “seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time” decision, tried to dispose of a dead whale using dynamite.

NOW: Umenhofer, 75, lives in Eugene; owns the Baron’s Den, an indoor shooting range; and still gets recognized by individuals and the media as the “blubber victim.”

“It’s funny,” he says. “That was one big piece of blubber. It hit so hard that it bent my roof down and pushed the back of the seats to the floor.”

At the time, Umenhofer was vice president of the Springfield Kingsford plant. He was in Florence on business. He was supposed to meet with the port commissioner, but someone said the man was out looking at the whale.

Umenhofer headed for the beach, leaving his car in a parking lot. “Here comes this tractor with 20 cases of dynamite on it. I said: ‘That’s gonna kill someone.’ They had a case per ton of whale.”

When the dynamite went off, everybody knew, instinctively, this had been a bad idea. Really bad.

“Little pieces of the whale were falling everywhere. There was this bloody mist. We stunk. We had to rent a car to get home and this friend with me — his wife made him strip naked and she hosed him down before she’d let him in.”

Within two days, Umenhofer had a check from the state for the full value of his car — $7,000 — and was known worldwide. “It was my one day of fame.”

He still get calls from the media. “It’s all over the Internet (www.theexplodingwhale.com). I have relatives in Germany who say: ‘I read about you’ or ‘I saw you on TV!’

The best footnote: “I’d just bought the car from Dunham Olds. Their motto was ‘Come to us for a whale of a deal.’”

© 2008 Register-Guard