Spray, a place named for a man and not a splash of water, lies in a valley dotted with irrigated fields and groves of pine, poplar and locust. The John Day River flows through it, shimmery and shallow, making a curve that wraps the town’s edge. This is rimrock country, and the underlying stone of the surrounding hills turns burnished gold in the early morning and late afternoon sun. Oregon 19 connects it to other small towns, including Service Creek, Fossil, Condon and Arlington, but it’s still a jaunt to reach another outpost. At night about the only sound is the river’s silvery rush and the wind in the poplars. The town isn’t prettied up much because the river lends all the romance, variety and beauty it needs. It’s a place that definitely recalls another era—let’s say 75 years ago at least. Elderly men gather on the porch of the general store and exchange memories and observations. Everyone knows everybody else and a good many are related. About 80 students attend the local school, and the young people are spoken of with affectionate approval. Spray has little serious crime, and small wonder because it’s hard to go unnoticed in a town of 160. “You do anything and people talk about it” says Judy Simmons, manager of the River Bend Motel.
History: The town’s namesake, John Spray, came here in 1900 and helped establish a post office, then a ferry, and then laid out the town. Two sawmills once provided an economic spine, but those are long gone.
The Spray Pioneer Museum occupies a recycled 1912 Baptist Church and displays a variety of artifacts from the town’s past.
Not to miss: For a visitor, Spray is probably most hospitable from late spring to mid-summer when the river is low enough to be safe and high enough to speed a raft downstream. J & Z Shuttles offers shuttle service for boaters and rafters and will deliver your car to your destination. (541-468-2182 or 468-2447). (cq) Rafts also can be rented 12 miles away at Service Creek, which also offers shuttle service on the river. (541-468-3331; www.servicecreek.com). And if this sounds like too much work, there are several places in and near Spray to swim and fish.
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Newcomers aren’t exactly pouring into town—the population has stayed the same for several years. The people who do move here or to Mitchell or John Day are mostly retirees or people with a vivid, independent stripe. An example of the latter is Bruce Gray who came to town in 2006 with his wife, Beki, and opened a gunsmithing business, Grayguns, two miles outside town. He’s a master gunsmith and grand master practical shooting competitor who brings a Zen point of view to his discipline. His company specializes in firearms instruction, industry consulting services and high grade pistolsmithing. He’ll take your M1911 pistol or SIGARMS P-Series —or whatever handgun you own—and customize it just the way you like it. He also instructs in practical shooting, a term for shooting quickly and accurately at multiple targets. In his spare time, he also serves as a Wheeler County Deputy Sheriff. He welcomes visitors to his shop but asks that you call first; (www.grayguns.com; 541-468-3840).
Getting there: The easy way is to take Interstate 84 from Portland136 miles to Arlington and then turn south on Oregon 19. More of an adventure is to take US 26 east, continuing through Madras, Prineville and Mitchell. About eight miles past Mitchell, look for Waterman Road on the left. It’s 27 miles from there to Spray, and the road is mostly dirt, but it’s well maintained and passes through some pretty country that not everyone sees.
Where to stay: The River Bend Motel offers units in the downtown area and a two-bedroom house with deck near the river. (541-468-2053; www.riverbendmotel.com).
Dining and nightlife: Neither of the town’s two restaurants offer high cuisine, but the service is good-natured and the food will fill you up. The Lone Elk Café is in the back of the grocery store downtown; (541-468-2443). The River Bend Bar and Grill is up the street and serves daily lunch and dinner specials including prime rib on Friday and Saturday nights, (541-468-2222). Spray can get along without a scintillating social scene, since the night sky is really all it needs. Without a strong artificial light source for miles, the sky is silver-spangled blackness.
More information: Information about the town can be obtained at Spray City Hall at 300 Park Ave. The city also maintains a helpful website. (541-468-2069; www.sprayoregon.us