‘A whale of a deal’: Man recalls how family’s new car was crushed by blubber in 1970

EUGENE, Ore. – Kelly Umenhofer tagged along on a business trip with his dad 45 years ago in the family’s brand new car from Dunham Oldsmobile.

The man the 14-year-old’s father was meeting November 12, 1970, was watching a 45-foot, 8-ton whale that washed up on the beach – and the Oregon highway workers tasked with removing the carcass from the sand.

“So I’m all excited, and I went over to my dad: ‘They’re going to blow it up, 20 cases of dynamite,’ and my father proceeded to say, ‘I think you misheard them. I think he said 20 sticks,” Umenhofer recalled Thursday. “And I said, ‘No he said 20 cases.'”

The rest is history.

“After they blew it up, everyone is watching in awe, and then 30 seconds later – blam blam blam – then everyone’s going, ‘There’s huge chunks of whale blubber getting thrown on us,'” Umenhofer said.

An over-whale-ming chaos ensued.

“So then there’s people running everwhere scattering,” Umenhofer said. “There was whale blubber everywhere; even the cameraman left his camera and went running, as did the reporter.”

But it wasn’t the people on the beach that were hit the hardest.

“As it started to come down, it went boom!” Umenhofer said. “It almost bent the car in a V, and my dad goes, ‘My car!’

“My dad bought it from Old’s Dunham Cadillac,” Umenhofer said, “and their slogan at the time was come on in – and we’ll give you a whale of a deal.”

Umenhofer said the State of Oregon footed the bill to replace the family car – and learned never to blow up a whale again.

“It might be concluded that should a whale ever was ashore in Lane County again, those in charge will not only remember what to do,” reporter Paul Linnman said in his now infamous report. “They’ll certainly remember what not to do.”