Tuesday, January 9, 2018

1916 - Part 1 - Down the Columbia River with a Ferro

This article from the December 1915 issue of Pacific Motor Boat is an entertaining read.  At least I found it so as way below average freezing weather made sitting in front of the fire reading about some other person facing the elements a desirable situation!  The fact this is the first outboard motor trip down the Colombia using improved waterways makes it fit into this blog.  I'll fess up and tell you now that the Ferro they used does not feature too often in the story, other than in an implied "phew! it didn't fall off or smash up".  It did a great job. (Go, Ferros!)  I have added illustrations, but the sepia colored ones are original to the article.


IN the spring of 1915 the United States government threw open to public use the splendid Celilo canal on the Columbia river and, for the first time in history, there was an open steamboat channel from the salt water of the Pacific Ocean to Priest Rapids, Wn., on the Columbia, and to Lewiston, Idaho, on the Snake.  






















Finally removing the menace of the roaring “Dalles of the Columbia” marked an epoch in Columbia river navigation, and long and continued was the celebration of the cities along the big waterway.
A procession of steamboats loaded with the leading citizens of every community along the Columbia and Snake stopped at each city on the route, and celebrations unique and picturesque marked their every stop.



The “big river”, toward which Lewis and Clark fought their way in 1804-5, with the guiding hand of the Shoshone squaw Sacajawea pointing always onward even as she is shown at the
head of this story, at last had become a commercial highway worthy of the country through which it flows.   

Long before the Celilo canal opened, I hoped to so manage that the very first motor boat to make the through trip from the new head of navigation on the Columbia river to the Pacific ocean should be sent by Pacific Motor Boat, but my plans were not formulated till late in the summer. 



said nothing about it to anyone, for I wanted to be certain before I broached the subject to my associates.  And when I finally had matters pretty well arranged, and told them my plans, they were quite as enthusiastic over the trip as I was.

From our standpoint the trip in a motor boat of any considerable size was out of the question, so I finally decided to ship a small boat over to Priest Rapids, and, with an outboard motor for power, sail of down the Columbia on this initial gasoline voyage down its historic waters.

Postcards of the Celilo Rapids were popular if you consider how many are on eBay now!




The question of a companion for a trip like this is no inconsiderable question, and after due thought I asked Walter P. Miller, the well known outdoor photographer, if he would make the trip with me. Miller was mightily quick on the trigger with his acceptance, which pleased me, for I needed just such a man as he on this voyage.


Selection of a boat was not so easily arranged.  Our first plan was to ship, knocked down a big, able skiff 
which we could put together at Priest Rapids and dispose of at the end of the trip. Later, we decided to use a boat belonging to Mr. Miller, and this craft was the one that
took us through.

Motive power for the craft was courteously offered us by the Pacific Net & Twine Co., of Seattle, agents for the Ferro line of motors in the Pacific Northwest. 

Mr. Edward Cunningham, manager of the Pacific Net & Twine Co., placed at our disposal his own Ferro outboard motor, together with a trunk for shipping it, and all the needed accessories.
This ad was in the same issue as this article.
With crew, boat and engine arranged for, everything seemed to come our way with amazing ease. First, having to ship everything from Seattle meant we must have a “base” at Priest Rapids where we could get our supplies together, and this problem was solved through the
courteous assistance of Messrs. Everett S. and Milton E. Dam, of Seattle, who placed at our disposal their famous “Diamond D” ranch, located right at the foot of the rapids.




The ranch is close to the Beverly-Hanford spur of the Chicago,
Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad,
which made it very accessible, a
quality that after events proved of value.











A little time was wasted in getting our dunnage together, and the heavier articles, including the boat and engine, were shipped across by freight. 

And on Wednesday morning, Oct. 6th, I boarded the splendid “Olympian” of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway and took the beautiful ride across the state
of Washington to Beverly, on the Columbia, where I transferred to the spur running down to Hanford.

That night I went to sleep for the first time with the roar of rapids for a lullaby. And it was a song with which I was to become very familiar in the weeks to come.


It is hard to write of the next seven days without letting my enthusiasm get the better of me, for they certainly were wonderful days. I, who had hardly been out of range 
of Klaxons and trolley car gongs for a year or more, fairly revelled in the solitude of the mountains back of the  the range, in exploring the roaring  rapids, in riding horse back and in appeared inland, and, for aught I doing the thousand and one things that make ranch life worth while.

Off the beaten track though it was, nevertheless, the Diamond D ranch had electric lights, hot and cold water, all the modern conveniences.   But best of all, the hospitality extended by John Reese, the ranch superintendent, went farthest in making my stay pleasant. Every possible courtesy was shown me by Mr. Reese, and every facility placed at my disposal to further our interests.


On Friday the boat and our dunnage came, and the next morning, mounted on a hay rack lightly strewn with  green alfalfa, we drove over to the station and soon had the craft back at the ranch ready for overhauling preparatory to the trip.
Now, understand, this was no ordinary rowboat. It is a boat with a history. 



Back in 1888 (and that’s a long, long time ago) one of Her Royal Majesty’s men-o’-war dropped anchor at the British naval station at Esquimalt, B. C., which is about twelve miles across the Straits of Juan de Fuca from Port Angeles, Wn.  And that night two of her majesty’s blue jackets, tired of deck swabbing, and flag hoisting, and polishing the breeches of the nine-point-twos, eluded the vigilance of the shore gazing “snotties” on watch, and, quietly sliding down a rope into this same little rowboat, sculled noiselessly off into the enveloping darkness and headed for the American shore. Their seamanship being

good, and the weather moderate, they arrived off Angeles next morning.  Abandoning the boat, they disappeared inland, and, for aught I know, they are still ticketed as deserters on the R. N. lists. 
(Midshipmen, the most junior rank for officers, were commonly referred to as "snotties".)



The boat that brought them over fell into the hands of an uncle of my partner, Miller, and later descended to him after many years of faithful service in and around Pt. Angeles. And for several years it has floated serenely on the fresh waters of Lake Washington, at Seattle, all unconscious of this impending chapter of adventurous old age.

The boat was built by coolies in the boat yards at Hong Kong, China, and is absolutely the best model I have ever seen for a craft of this type. It rides the biggest waves like a stormy petrel, and, old as it was, I never doubted for a moment its ability to carry us through.

 It is fifteen feet long, five feet of beam, and even with the 800 pounds of cargo it carried, I could stand on the gunwale without her shipping a drop of water. In as much as the boat had only about six inches of freeboard amidships when loaded, this is a pretty good tribute to her stability.





Since the article so obviously inserted
the "thank you" plug, I thought you
might want to see this ad from that time.
I spent three days in going over every inch of her, and when I was through and she was ready for launching she looked like new. From Jack Merriman, who sells thousands of gallons of Jones-Duncan paints to motorboat owners of the Pacific northwest every year, I had secured a gallon of their famous “2045” Marine White paint, and when I had put three coats of this outside, and two inside, that little boat looked like a yacht.


And I might mention here, in passing, that that paint wore like iron and was fresh and bright above and below the waterline even at the end of the hard trip. And the Jones-Duncan marine putty Merriman furnished was the best caulking I have ever used in a clinker built boat. It made that thirty-year old hull tight as a drum.





We planned to sleep aboard, thus obviating the necessity of choosing camping sites with good sleeping accommodations. To make this possible, I cut boards to fit within the transom scat, supported by crosspieces that swung under the seat during the day. Two boards were also fitted across between the transom seat, and after-thwart, and when these were all in place we had a bed larger than most double beds ashore. And spread with our blankets, etc., we found the bed mightily conducive to dreamless slumber. During the day the boards were removed and stowed.  

We found this method of camping at night very satisfactory at all times, even in the rainy weather encountered on the lower river. A large waterproof “tarp”, loaned us by that dean of sail makers and riggers, George Broom, of Seattle, kept us dry as prohibitionists on many a night. Mr. Broom furnished us with a newly waterproofed  canvas, light and pliable and just the thing for such a trip, for it was really waterproof. (Which is not always true of this article.)

With the boat fixed I turned to other details. A convenient box I fitted with rope handles for easy carrying, and in this was stowed most of the provisions and all of the cooking utensils. This was always the first piece of baggage ashore when we landed for the night. A smaller box carried the engine supplies, and practically all the rest of the dunnage, with the exception of the cameras and plates, went safely into a bag.


With the plates, cameras, moving picture outfit, gasoline, etc., the boat was very well loaded down, but we found this no handicap at any time, for she carried her cargo like a British tramp.
Practically everything was ready for departure when Miller arrived, but we were very anxious to get some pictures at Priest Rapids before we started, and as the weather was none too good, we were delayed till Thursday.



Priest Rapids in 1884
Priest Rapids, in themselves, are among the most interesting rapids of the whole Columbia river. 
For ten miles the Columbia leaps and
surges through ragged channels cut from the solid volcanic rock, with occasional stretches of calm, smooth water. 


They form an absolute impediment to
navigation as they stand, though steamboats have made the trip up, one do-
ing the ten miles in three days against the raging current.


The days of their bold defiance are numbered however, for slowly but surely work is being
done that will eventuate in removing the rapids as an obstacle. The Messrs. Dam, at whose ranch we were guests, are at the forefront of the group who are planning to dam the Columbia at this point, making available waterpower equalling 500,000 horse power, which will be used to irrigate the tens of thousands of acres contiguous to the river for miles both up and down the stream. And this land, once irrigated, is fertile beyond the wildest dreams.




And the damming of the river will make possible a canal lock that will take steamers safely by the rapids, and open many more miles to navigation from the sea. It’s a stupenduous project, and will cost millions of dollars, but this is a big country, this west of ours, and big men are doing these big things all the time. There is already a comparatively small hydro-electric plant at Priest Rapids, two big units developing current that irrigates thousands of acres and lights hundreds of homes along the Columbia from Beverly to Hanford.


But to get back to our trip. The weather finally cleared Wednesday, and, with all the pictures we wanted we were ready bright and early Thursday morning, Oct. 14th. 
Again the rack strewn with alfalfa was requisitioned and aboard it was loaded the boat and all our luggage. “Joe” clucked to the big Percherons they strained at their collars and the procession started toward the old Columbia.  We had located a nice beach, no easy matter in the vicinity of Priest Rapids, and there the boat was unloaded and slipped for the first time into the swirling waters of the mighty river.


A “movie” of our “departure” was taken, goodbyes were spoken, and finally, at 9:40, everything was in readiness. Miller came aboard, shoved the boat off, and we were on our way. A few revolutions of the little Ferro backed us out into swift water, and we whirled off down stream, turning ever and again to wave a few last farewells to good old John Reese, and to the Priest Rapids country, weirdly beautiful in the brilliant October sunshine. For some distance below Priest Rapids the country is very much the same, high, rolling hills of volcanic rock covered with sand and sage brush, with occasional outcroppings of the bare rock. 

For nearly two hours we went whirring down the broad, swift river, and shortly before 11:30 sighted our first rough water, the Coyote Rapids. At a little higher stage of the river, these rapids would not bother at all, but as we approached them we saw the bottom of the river come sneaking up toward us in a very uncomfortable manner, and it was a bottom all big, round boulders, with no sand. 


The rapids themselves are just a series of undulations in the surface of the river, caused by the water tearing along over the shallow river bed, and we went bobbing through in fine style, with Miller half erect in the middle of the boat with a tiller line in each hand, steering the boat around boulders that seemed too close to the surface for comfort, and keeping out of the worst of the rollers. We were through in no time, and out upon the comparatively slow water again.

Just before we entered these billows I had cast longing eyes on our life preservers, but as I had never shot rapids before I didn’t know the etiquette of life preservers as related to fearsome looking rapids. Miller had shot many, many rapids, and I thought I’d take my cue from him.  Therefore, I was greatly relieved when I saw him reach around and slip his preserver over his shoulders, and I had mine on and adjusted in no time. We didn’t go through any considerable rapids after that without our life preservers on, and though I dare say many old rivermen—and many a tenderfoot—will laugh at this precaution, I, for one,
am for it.

With Coyote Rapids gradually slipping astern, we took the big bend of the river to the eastward toward White Bluffs, which I had seen in the far distance on one of my excursions up into the mountains back of the Diamond D ranch. We arrived at the head of the bluffs at 12:30, and landed on the edge of a very large eddy just above the highlands, to take some pictures. The bluffs, of some pinkish-white, clay-like substance, were a glare of blazing reflection in the brilliant sunlight. They sweep in a giant crescent to the southward, turning the river at this point at almost a right angle.  Just below here, and opposite, is the village of White Bluffs, and thereby hangs a tale. 


Somewhere, I don’t know where, the White Bluffs paper had secured word that we were coming, but unfortunately they expected us on the previous Sunday. They suggested a very warm welcome, but as we didn’t get along there till Thursday, I’m afraid they got tired of waiting. And the tragedy of it was, that when we did get there, we didn’t stop, just the same as we didn’t stop at many a town on the trip, for lack of time.

 And oh, the roast that newspaper gave us in its next issue for passing up their fair little city. I don’t blame them, for White Bluffs is a nice place, and we would like to have stopped, but time didn’t permit. And so I’m afraid we will never be welcome in White Bluffs, even though we might go there hat in hand and beg for forgiveness.

A few miles beyond, we sighted several Indian tepees on the west bank, but found on investigation they were on a channel of the river on the opposite side of a sand bar from us. At the lower end of the sand bar we turned back to the camp, and landed to take pictures,
if possible. We found several squaws drying peaches in the blazing sun, and one surly young buck, down by the river, repairing some salmon spears very much as his progenitors repaired spears on the same spot a century before. He was a splendid “type,” but evidently the union scale among the Yakimas, for posing for the amateur photographer, is somewhat
higher than among our west coast Siwashes, as he wanted a dollar for letting me snap him with my camera. The trip was too young for me to be paying out any such money so we sadly boarded the “ship” and left.

Chart Showing the Course of the Cruise Down River from Priest Rapids to Astoria and the Sea 
(1) Homly Rapids, 
(2) Bull Run Rapids, 
(3) Bull Run Shoal, 
(4) Mill Rock Rapids, 
(5) Umatilla Rapids, 
(6) Devil’s Bend Rapid, 
(7) Canoe Encampment Rapids,   
(8) Owyhee Rapids, 
(9) Blalock Rapids, 
(10) Four O’CIock Rapids.  
(11) Rock Creek Rapids. 
(12) Squally Hook Rapids,  
(13) Indian Rapids, 
(14) John Day Rapids, 
(15) Schofield Rapids, 
(16) Preacher‘s Eddy, (17) Biggs Rapids, (18) Hell Gate.
Learn more about this...
Nowhere on the whole trip was the water more beautiful than at this spot, and as we sailed away there came to my mind the words and plaintive cadence of that weird Indian song of Cadman’s:  “From the land of the sky-blue water".

For the water was like the sky, a brilliantly beautiful blue, in one broad, mirror-like sheet from shore to shore of the mile-wide stream. ’Round all our horizon there was nothing in sight that might not have been there a century or more ago, even to the rude Indian encampment. Yet it will not be many years before irrigation will make this part 
of the Columbia as populous as many others, for the soil awaits only the magic of water to bring forth in abundance.

Shortly after two we ran into a series of shallows, in midstream, and though we bumped lightly three times on the bare boulders of the river bottom, we slid over unscathed. This running into shallows in the middle of the stream was something that rather got on our nerves the first few days. We would be slipping along easily and confidently on the slow, limpid current, with a half-mile of water on either side of the boat. And suddenly, almost imperceptibly, we would begin to go faster and faster, and up would come that boulder-strewn bottom and the way it went by us two, looking over the gunwales, made our hair stand on end. And then up would jump Miller, and with taut tiller lines and eyes glued to the water ahead, he would guide the boat carefully by the larger boulders till the bottom would gradually disappear from beneath us and we could once more breathe easier with deep water under our keel. 

We found that it was absolutely necessary for one of us to be on watch all the time, for nowhere from Priest Rapids to Bonneville, on the lower river, did we find any considerable stretch of water, at this stage of the river, where there were not occasional shallows and fast water, even though not what might be called rapids. And our boat, with its heavy load and low freeboard, would have filled easily had it once struck bottom and swung broadside to the current in these swift places.


Another thing that surprised me was the absence of sand on the upper river bed. I had believed that we would find much sand in the bed of the entire river, but this is not

so. Practically the entire upper river is swept clean of sand by the rushing current, and the bottom is a solid mass of boulders about as large as one’s two fists doubled together.
Lower down these boulders are 
much larger, but the sand is scarce, except on occasional bars, till the lower river is reached.


At three o’clock we landed at Hanford, the terminus of the C., M. & St. P. Ry. spur (Forgetting its mention earlier, I had to look that up -The Chicago, Milwaukee, StPaul and Pacific Railway) from Beverly, and completed our outfitting with the many things we had planned to buy here instead of bringing from Seattle.



 At 3:25 we were under way again, and an hour later ran into some exceedingly swift water in an “S” turn in the river, winding up by coming about in a small cove on the east shore, where we landed at 5:05 and determined to camp for the night, with 37 miles to our credit as our first day’s run.
There was plenty of drift wood for a fire, and Miller and I each fell to doing our parts in the evening camp-making as naturally as though we had been out a month.  Perhaps previous trips together had something to do with it. While I started the fire, he brought the “cook box” ashore, and by the time I had a good, hot dinner ready he had the boat fixed for the night, with our bed made up aboard.


In October, night falls early over the Columbia river, and we found that 7:30 o’clock was none too early to turn in.
We slept the sleep of tired men till after midnight, when we were both awakened by a cold, penetrating wind that came purring down the Columbia valley from the north
and sought out every little crevice in our covering. Try as we might, it was hard to keep it out, but we finally managed to cover up sufficiently, and morning found us awake with the dawn and feeling like fighting cocks. I have read since our trip, in the journal of the Lewis and Clark expedition from St. Louis to the Pacific coast during 1804-5-6, that they suffered from this same wind at night, so I guess it is as much a part of the country at this season of the year as the river, the hills and the sky.



(Continued in February Number.)