BROOKS, Ore. — Harry Truman, the mountain man of Mount St. Helens, dropped in by helicopter Wednesday to visit elementary pupils at Clear Lake School.

"Do you know when the lava will come?" asked one of the 110 pupils at the elementary school in the community some 5 miles north of Salem.

"I wish I did, because I would run," said the feisty Truman, who admits to being older than 80.

"I'm going to tear down the hill as fast as I can."

Truman visited the school to thank pupils for the letters they sent him after he became a media star when the volcano came to life.

He has operated a resort at Spirit Lake at the northern base of St. Helens for 50 years and has refused to leave his home despite daily rumblings and occasional eruptions from the volcano.

"There are dozens of quakes every damn minute. There is never a dull moment," he told the pupils.

"About the time things settle down, here comes one of those babies," he said.

Truman made the trip in a helicopter provided by National Geographic magazine, which has been photographing the mountain.

Truman said he would have visited sooner but that he doesn't like to drive through Portland.

Dwight Reber of Aurora, pilot for the trip, said Truman arrived with only 10 minutes' notice to the school so the visit wouldn't attract an army of reporters and photographers.

Clear Lake Principal Kate Mathews said she saw excerpts from some of the letters in a story in a Salem newspaper.

"That's when we knew you wanted to come and visit," she said.

"You'd be surprised what a hit those letters made in my kitchen," Truman told the children.

"Every mother and father cried."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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