July 02, 2001 11:00 pm
Harlow Speckhart ().
Harlow Speckhart ().

By The Observer

Union County has lost a television


Harlow Speckhart, 83, of La Grande died Monday at a local care center.

Speckhart, a Grande Ronde Valley farmer, played a major role in bringing broadcast television to Union and Baker counties in the 1960s. He later worked diligently as a volunteer to make sure that television reception remained available throughout Union and Baker counties.

Many of the rural people of this area who have television can thank Harlow Speckhart, said Fred Leitch of La Grande.

Leitch formerly was the chief engineer of the Blue Mountain Translator District, which Speckhart helped start.

Speckharts television contributions started four decades ago when he helped set up a translator tower on Mount Harris. The tower relayed the signals of three Spokane television stations into Union County.

Previously only those in the Grand Ronde Valley hooked up to cable received television programming.

Less than five years later Speckhart played a major role in getting a translator tower installed at Mount Fanny near Cove. This translator tower provided a signal which reached much more of Union County and portions of Baker County, Leitch said.

In winter, Speckhart often rode a snow cat through deep snow to repair the translator tower.

He was tireless. Harlow would drop everything to get the translator back on the air. He was very community minded. A very unselfish individual, said Dale Young of La Grande, who worked for Speckhart in the early 1960s.

The translator system was funded by contributions made by those who watched the channels it relayed into Union County. By the mid 1970s, the translator system was in financial trouble because fewer viewers were making contributions.

Speckhart and others then worked with the Oregon Legislature to get a bill passed that allowed television translator districts to charge user fees. It was one of the first pieces of legislation of its kind in the United States, said Stephen Donnell of La Grande. Donnell worked with Speckhart in helping to get the legislation passed. The bill has allowed the Blue Mountain Translator District to continue operating.

The Blue Mountain Translator District today relays signals from five Portland stations and one Boise channel into Union and Baker counties. The translator district relays the signal of one Portland station into Wallowa County.

Speckhart will be saluted at a public memorial service. The date will be announced later.