TOUTLE — Can you put a price on a piece of Mount St. Helens eruption memorabilia? Apparently, it's a buck.
Clara Ottosen, the owner of the car driven by KOMO-TV cameraman Dave Crockett May 18, 1980, sold the vehicle to Cowlitz County for $1. Thursday morning, the late-'70s Mercury Monarch was towed from 19-Mile House east of Toutle to Hoffstadt Bluffs, the county's visitor center overlooking the volcano and upper Toutle Valley.
"I'm so glad they're taking this," said Ottosen, watching as workers winched the car onto a trailer.
On the morning of May 18, Crockett left Seattle early in the morning and arrived at the mountain just as it was erupting. He started out filming from his car near the south fork of the Toutle River. He was hit by a small mudslide and continued on foot. His news video shows an advancing ash cloud and mud flows, with Crockett narrating the 11-minute long clip.
"Ash is coming down on me heavily. It's either dark or I am dead," a gasping Crockett says in the video. "I am walking towards the only light I can see."
He was rescued later that day by helicopter. His video made worldwide news.
Ottosen, 81, procured the car the following year from KOMO. She was collecting Mount St. Helens items for a museum she eventually opened near Silver Lake.
"KOMO called me because they knew I had taken the Reid Blackburn car," she said, referring to the newspaper photographer who died in the Coldwater Creek area that morning. The eruption blasted out his Volvo's glass, and ash engulfed it up to its windows. "With the KOMO car, I had seven or eight vehicles."
Crockett no longer works for KOMO and could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Ottosen was in the museum business just three seasons.
"I spent a lot of money setting it up, but I was working 12-hour days, seven days a week," she said.
She loaned the car to a Toledo mini-museum for another few years. Then it went to behind the 19-Mile House restaurant, owned and operated by Susan Wheeler and her family. (Ottosen's red Weyerhaeuser firetruck with its smashed cab sits at the edge of the restaurant parking lot and is visible from Spirit Lake Memorial Highway).
"We had a few Mount St. Helens items here, and when the girls were younger, they'd take tourists out back to show them," Wheeler said Thursday, as she, too, watched the KOMO car being loaded. "But then they grew up and we were too busy in the restaurant to really do anything with the stuff."
The restaurant's new lessors, Sam and Patty Gardner, asked that the car be moved.
The car is showing its years in the weather. The KOMO letters on the door are faded, the tires are flat and moss is growing in the chrome grooves.
The county plans to do some clean-up on the car and place it near the upper parking lot at the visitors center, said Mike Moss, director of the Cowlitz County Expo and Conference Center, which runs Hoffstadt.
"We plan to have an outdoor TV monitor and a video display with a kiosk," he said Thursday at Hoffstadt.
The car already was proving to be a tourist attraction even as it was being unloaded.
"Honey, you've got to get a picture of this. It was in the original blast zone," Jean Cheyney of Prosser, Wash., said to her husband, Ed. "I'm just glad we're here to see it."
Ottosen said she had contacted KOMO about the car, but station officials told her they didn't want it. So, she contacted the county and said she'd donate it for a dollar. She had Moss make the check out in both her name and KOMO; she said she's going to send the check special delivery to the TV station.
"Don't spend it all in one place," Moss quipped as he handed her the check.
"I've got more money than the county, so a dollar is enough," Ottosen shot back.
She said the county's visitor center was a good fit to keep the historic car.
"I'm happy it's going to a new home."