Living History with Earl Bower

by James Hearne

Horizon Reporter

Earl Bower enters his American History class without much fanfare. He doesn’t need it, as he is not easy to miss. He proudly displays on the white board a vintage nuclear fallout shelter sign, from the 1950’s, in keeping with the topic of the class session today: The Red Scare.

            “I tried to find the dog tags people used to get back then,” Bower says to, “but I couldn’t find mine.” The dog tags were distributed, he said, so that after a nuclear holocaust, “they would know where to send whatever was left of you.” 

            Bower is a history and political science instructor at Whatcom Community College, and somewhat more than that. He was born in Wenatchee, and got his degree in History from Washington State University.

            Sitting in his office, surrounded by such antiquities as a “Nixon Now” bumper sticker, and a scale model of a steam-powered grain thresher, Bower seemed relaxed, as though this is where he is meant to be.

            “I was brought up in a family that came west on the Oregon Trail,” said Bower referring to his ancestry, of course. He’s not that old yet, he said.

            Bower actually owns several farms out in the county and loves to visit them. He collects antique steam and gasoline engines. He grew up on a 13,000 acre cattle ranch, but says he did not ride the range on a horse. When he was still pretty young, he got himself a Yamaha Four-Wheeler.

            Speaking of wheels, Bower also restores antique motorcars. The oldest in his collection is a 1912 Reo delivery van. In addition, he has several Model T Fords.

            Bower is nothing if not a traditionalist. During class, he asks how many have read the children’s book, “The Little Engine That Could,” which he revealed to actually be a metaphor for the American work ethic. A majority of the class raised their hands.

            “Good,” he said, dryly. “So this generation is not yet totally down the drain.”       

            Bower’s music is also something of a source of pride for him. “My mother owned a wheat ranch, my dad was a choir director,” he said. “I inherited a little of both.”

            Bower said he enjoys lots of different kinds of music, but mainly classical guitar, as well as Brazilian guitar.

            As he demonstrated this in his office, his friend and colleague Ben Kohn dropped by. Kohn has played alongside Bower in the Librettos, the faculty musical ensemble.

            “He’s the best Brazilian guitarist in town,” Kohn said. “You can quote me on that.”

            “Well,” Bower replied, sheepishly, “I’m certainly the loudest.”

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