Allen, Orla. G. (Pendleton,Hermiston)

Orla. G. Allen (Pendleton, Hermiston, Umatilla)

An outstanding photographer, Orla grew up in Hermiston, His dad owned a drug store that sold postcards, and Orla began photography to make them. By 1908, he had his own traveling studio and darkroom operating around Umatilla county. Photos of his outfit show an automobile, a Mitchell motorcycle and two wagons painted “O. G. Allen. Transient Artist.” He headquartered in Pendleton and operated the Pendleton Postal and View company out of an upstairs room in the East Oregonian building. Allen was the only photographer in Umatilla county who had a professional panoramic camera, it made negatives ten inches high and a yard wide.

He photographed the first Pendleton Round-Up and his postcards sold well. Like most rodeo photographers at the time he shot with a Graflex, but his was fitted with a long lens that yielded distinctly better close-ups than any other local photographer. More important was his sense of visual organization, a cluttered scene like a parade was better realized in his camera than his competitors.

In November 1912 he opened the “Electric Studio” in the Eagle-Woodmen building. The term was currently used in the trade to denote photographers who used electric lights instead of flash machines or skylights for portraiture. His business partner was Earl Gustin, who had been a resident of central Oregon for at least a decade.

Allen photographed the first three round-ups before the stress of his life and work caught up with him. Just a week before the fourth Round-Up, on August 21, 1913, Allen’s dementia made the headlines with the story “Crazed Man Drives His Auto Into Drug Store.” Allen had spent a week in the hospital for a nervous breakdown. When the doctors stopped giving him opiates, Allen escaped and jumped into his Ford. He drove through the fence and sped down Court street at fifty miles an hour while standing and yelling “let ‘er buck.” When the car arrived at the main intersection in the business district, it jumped the curb at full speed and flew through the doors of the Pendleton Drug company. It crashed through every counter and display in the store. “It was the wildest and most thrilling scene ever witnessed on the streets of Pendleton and that no one was killed or injured is considered the most remarkable feature of the incident.” According to the news account, the startled druggists “rushed out just in time to see Allen still standing in the demolished car. ‘Old Allen did it and all he lost was his cigar’ was his greeting to the astonished men and thereupon he descended from the car and picked up a fresh cigar from among the hundreds which had been scattered over the room.” Allen had previously been an inmate of the state asylum in Salem around 1903.

His demise at age 34 marks the unfortunate end of a extremely talented photographer, Allen’s photography had produced some of the better pictures from the first three round-ups. For the 1913 Round-up, Gustin formed a partnership with the noted rodeo photographer Doubleday. After the Round-Up was over, the plates of Allen, Gustin and Doubleday went to Lee Moorhouse (q.v.) and are now in the University of Oregon. Moorhouse erased Allen’s signature from many of the best selling negatives and replaced it with his own name, however these can be identified by Allen’s distinctive handwriting of the caption. Gustin moved to Portland, where he bought the Sowell studio on Washington Street. Doubleday went on to become one of the most prolific rodeo photographers of the century, literally spending his life on the road photographing them.

Historic photos and images