Late Frank McCubbins’ stories come to life in new book

Sean C. Morgan

The late Frank McCubbins lived a colorful life, and he used to tell his family and friends all about it.

He wrote a book about it, but that was in manuscript form – just for his family.

His daughter Susie Burns told him years ago that he should publish it. She was convinced others would want to read it. He told her, no. He didn’t think anyone would be interested in it – an entertaining book about his life as a child, a teen and his first job.

He had written and published another book, Burns said. “‘Animal Tails’ was very successful, and he sold it to people all over the world.”

Frank McCubbins’ father imported exotic animals from all over the world, for zoos and other uses, Burns said, and McCubbins “had incredible stories about the animals.”

“Reaching Back” is about his life, Burns said. “That’s why he didn’t ever publish it.”

The new book chronicles the experiences of a man who could be seen flying high above Sweet Home regularly in an ultralight. He crashed it twice.

This was a man who owned a zebra that appeared in the Disney movie “Swiss Family Robinson” and a monkey that appeared in a “Tarzan” film.

This was man who owned the 131-acre Glacier Springs Farm, where hundreds of people saw his collection of exotic creatures. On a full tour, visitors might ride a camel and enjoy a drive in a 1928 Ford Model A, endure a few practical jokes and take a shot with the family’s bowling ball cannon.

In the winter, McCubbins would help missionaries, usually in some primitive place in an assortment of 15 countries, mostly in Africa.

At his farm, near the end of Ames Creek Drive, he also enjoyed woodworking during the winter months in a large, well-equipped shop, metal working in a similar shop, raising trees, maintaining several antique cars and tractors he had restored, building and flying radio-controlled airplanes, building toys for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, playing tennis and “desert” golf, riding and training horses and camels, and raising a family of champion archers with his wife Jo, who is one of “a very few women in the Archery Hall of Fame.”

Under his guidance, his family has won some 286 world, national and state archery titles.

McCubbins hiked the length of Oregon with Burns, who went on to complete most of the Pacific Crest Trail – and has hiked all of Oregon’s trails.

Burns was convinced and knows, in fact because people tell her so, that many people are interested in her father’s stories. McCubbins was well-known for his tales.

Burns said McCubbins’ friends loved to take road trips with him because the expert storyteller would share those stories nonstop.

It was a great way to pass the time, and “he never ran out of interesting stories,” she said.

“We had the book,” Burns said. “It was just for us kids (in manuscript form). I asked my dad over and over and said we should publish this book.

“I had a talk with him. OK, Dad, you don’t think anybody’s interested. I’m going to publish it. He said, ‘You do what you want. I won’t be here.’ We got it published for Christmas. We surprised everyone and didn’t unwrap the package till Christmas Eve.”

McCubbins died April 13, 2016. He was born in Perryton, Texas, Dec. 18, 1931, the son of Clarence Henry and Wilamina Lea (Phillips) McCubbins.

Frank McCubbins grew up in Orange County, Calif., his parents settling on an eight-acre ranch on Harbor Boulevard, seven miles south of Disneyland’s present location.

In the ninth grade, McCubbins began boarding dogs, eventually growing his business into a large enterprise that employed 16 people. He also raised oranges and ran a produce market.

He married his high school sweetheart, Johanna Palmer, in 1950. They left for Oregon in 1969. They had four children, Frank Jr., Dan, Susie Burns and Melissa Swanson.

“When he arrived here, he just fell in love with Oregon,” Burns said. “”He said this was paradise.”

“Reaching Back” documents that life, beginning with his childhood.

“He didn’t know how to read and write in the fourth grade,” Burns said. McCubbins had dyslexia – not that anyone knew what it was then. “That’s what made him so passionate about writing a book.”

He was so excited when he learned to read, Burns said. The credit for that goes to one teacher, Mrs. Pickenpaw, in the fifth grade, who took the extra time to help him cope with his disability. He later sought her out and maintained contact with her.

He had an incentive to learn to read, Burns said. “It became imperative (that) he figure out how to read. He had this crush on a girl, (and) she (had given) him a note.”

His talent as a storyteller came from his mother, Burns said. “She was an incredible storyteller.”

A storyteller can make anything interesting, Burns said, and McCubbins picked up that skill, ultimately putting it to use with his family, in classroom presentations, with friends and with his community.

McCubbins was always busy trying and doing new things, Burns said. He was famous for saying, “‘I know what we can do.'” Then we knew we were all in trouble. He enjoyed life to the max.”

His mother was that way too, Burns said. It was nothing for her to stop and say “let’s hike to the top of that mountain.”

At McCubbins’ funeral, the family had a copy of “Reaching Back,” and many in attendance signed up to request a paperback copy of the book. Burns said that list was lost, and she wants to let people in the community know the book is out.

She doesn’t have any intention to mass market the book, she said. “I just want to get it to people who love my dad.”

She wanted to get it to people who knew her father or are interested in getting to know him and to make sure people who signed that list know the book is out, she said.

“Reaching Back is available at Santiam Feed and Garden and at Community Chapel, where McCubbins was a member.

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