PORTLAND, Ore. — The territorial system is long gone from the pro wrestling world, but there are still some out there keeping the memories alive.

I was fortunate to recently spend a couple of hours with two of the best, Mike Rodgers and Kerby Strom, who both are experts in what happened through the years in the Portland Wrestling promotion, which started in the 1920s, debuted on TV in 1953, and ran until 1992, one of the last territories standing.

The genesis of the visit to Kerby’s home to see his collection came through my wife, Meredith, who really wanted to visit a friend in Portland, Oregon, not exactly the most direct route from Toronto. It was her first trip since the pandemic, while I had traveled for wrestling and baseball-related books to Texas, Georgia, California, Florida, Nevada, and Tennessee. It was her time to pick a destination.

I posted to Facebook that I was heading to Portland in late May, and not long after I got an invitation from Kerby to check out his place in northeast Portland, actually not too far from where we were staying.

Fortuitously, I’d been in touch with Mike, as well. He’s the long-time publisher of The Ring Around the Northwest newsletter, and we first started exchanging our newsletters back in 1986 or 1987, so we’d known each other a long time, and had always caught up at Cauliflower Alley Club reunions.

Mike said Tuesday would work best, and, since Meredith is not one to overbook trips, it worked out for me and Kerby (who is a bartender by trade, though also does a number of other gigs, including music and lawn care). Heading in from the suburb of Troutdale (where Meredith and I had a lovely lunch the next day, by happenstance), Mike swung by our hotel and we headed off to Kerby’s.

Though they live in the same city and are both very into Portland Wrestling, neither Mike nor Kerby had met in person before. Matchmaker Greg? I suspect it won’t be the last time they get together to talk about old times.

What struck Mike and I from the start was how young Kerby was to be so absolutely, enthusiastically, head-over-heels in love with Portland Wrestling, which went kaput when Kerby was only about four years old. (Mike is 62, retired from the teaching profession, and I’m a decade younger than Mike.)

Kerby Strom pulls out some vintage wrestling outfits. Photo by Greg Oliver

Kerby’s knowledge of Portland Wrestling was off the charts for a 35-year-old, but he came at it in a very physical, memorabilia-focused fashion, compared to Mike, who, while flipping through some programs, casually noted that the January 16, 1979 one that we came across was the first show that he’d gone to in Portland, he and his college friends heading out on a whim, not especially knowing where the Portland Sports Arena was. They found the arena and Mike found his calling.

With a wife, Jenn, who deals in second-hand, vintage goodies, Kerby was well-situated to become the connoisseur of vintage Portland Wrestling that he has grown into. He’s chased down a number of estates for Pacific Northwest wrestlers and, combining that with sleuthing and trading, Kerby has amassed a pretty great collection. (And I have to say that Jenn and Kerby have tons of other unique stuff for the non-wrestling fans!)

Plus, Kerby is an artist by nature, and knows that creative crowd, and has sourced people to help make reproductions of Portland signage, T-shirts, and even a wild “I dunked Buddy Rose” patch (and patches are one of the few things that I collect, so I was pleased to leave with one). He knows the visual world, and has had his goodies on display at art galleries like World Famous Original, and pop-ups at local shows promoted by the likes of Defy Wrestling … and he knows promotion, has has done interviews like with The Wrestling Collectors on YouTube.

Greg Oliver, Kerby Strom and Mike Rodgers in the Portland room. Photo by Jenn Strom

What all did we see? A lot!

There were:

  • Loose photos from a variety of fans and photographers, many printed from negatives that Kerby bought (try as we might, we never did find Mike in any of the old photos)
  • Countless photo albums, some from wrestlers like Buddy Rose and Dutch Savage

Giant Baba’s autograph in a special photo album made for Dutch Savage by All Japan Pro Wrestling.

  • An original title belt and some replicas
  • Datebooks from wrestlers and promoters, with a list of their destinations, and, in the case of one from Rose, it included the paydays he got in each town

Buddy Rose’s datebook.

  • Video tapes (and not VHS) from Rose’s collection; while so much of it has already been digitized, there’s still something about the old tapes
  • A vintage Jesse Ventura T-shirt—probably his first piece of merch—from his time in the PNW

That’s a vintage Jesse Ventura shirt on the left. Photo by Greg Oliver

  • A personalized-Buddy Rose New Japan Pro Wrestling suitcase

Buddy Rose’s New Japan Pro Wrestling suitcase. Photo by Greg Oliver

  • Posters and programs from PNW shows, with the programs especially ultra-organized for quick reference so he knows what holes in the collection he needs to fill.
  • More than once, Mike and I paused to try to figure out MORE about the show—who was on it, which names they later became, to tell our own personal stories about the wrestlers
  • Tights and outfits from Rose, Savage and, most impressively, the enigmatic “Crazy” Chris Colt

Ah yes, Chris Colt. This isn’t just a name that can be glossed over.

Chuck Harris—Colt—was hardly ever wrestling’s biggest star, but he was certainly among its most fascinating, from his various character transformations to his living out-loud and OUT loud lifestyle (see the gay porn story Slam ran). Steve Johnson and I wrote about Colt in The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels, and could have done a lot more on him. Now, having seen what Kerby has, there could be a book … for the dozen or so people that might buy a copy.

Much of Kerby Strom’s Chris Colt collection is in this bin. Photo by Greg Oliver

When Kerby sussed out that it was almost certainly Colt’s stuff up for grabs at an estate sale in March 2022, he moved to grab what he can, showing up at 3 a.m., so he could be the first one in the door. At that point, he just grabbed what he could that was wrestling related, and it was truly astonishing how much he snagged for $600.

A rare French-language Bearman McKigney poster, this one from April 30, 1982.

There were programs and posters—including the first-ever French-language Bearman McKigney poster I’d ever seen—and lots of articles and magazines, since Colt was an expert at getting attention. One of his most famous photos has Colt with rocker Joe Cocker, taken by SlamWrestling’s Brad McFarlin, so there were a few clips or articles about that, but it was an amazing photo signed to Chris from Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant—“To Chris, Best luck always & success, Bob”—that blew my mind at least. All of Colt’s ballyhoo and connections to the rock world were true!

Robert Plant’s autographed photo to Chris Colt. Courtesy Kerby Strom

It was tough for Mike and I to pull ourselves away from it all, though eventually even Kerby ran out of times he could say, “Wait, I’ve got one more box to show you!”

From there, Mike and I went out for a quick lunch to catch up.

This was meant to be a “non-wrestling” trip for us, meaning that we didn’t plan the vacay around something work-related, but I’m glad my wife allowed me a chance to pop out to see an old friend and make a new one.

TOP PHOTO: Greg Oliver, Kerby Strom and Mike Rodgers in Kerby’s Portland Wrestling room. Photo by Jenn Strom