Thursday, March 27, 2008

Here Lies T J Potter

By the early 1900s, rapid travel on the Columbia River became a reality with the introduction of the steam boat. Just a mere sixty years after Lewis and Clark departed Astoria in 1806, some estimates place the number of steam boats working on the Columbia River at 500. The steam boat provided a ready means for transporting all sort of commodities along the river corridor.
The T.J. Potter, commonly referred to as the Potter, was constructed entirely of wood in Portland, Oregon in 1888. When built, the Potter was reported to be one of the fastest and most luxurious steamboats in the Pacific Northwest. Her overall length was 230 feet and 33 feet across the beam. For it's time, the Potter defined elegance in every sense of the word. The boat boasted a divided interior curving staircase that led up to the grand saloon. The boat's interior was also lit with the colored sunlight from numerous stained glass windows. Except for a short time spent working the waters of Washington's Puget Sound, the Potter faithfully serviced the people who lived and worked along the Columbia River.

But all good things must come to an end, and so did the Potter. Just before the beginning of tourist season in 1916, the Potter was deemed unworthy for passengers. Her service continued as a barracks for boat construction crews until the early 1920s when she was abandoned on Young's Bay in present day Astoria, Oregon.

This is all that remains of the once elegant steamer. If you want to visit, her remains lie directly across West Marine Drive from the Astoria Dairy Queen. During low tide, you can even walk on the remains and perhaps ponder what it might have been like to stand upon her decks while floating down the mighty Columbia.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Which Way Do You Run?

I recently finished reading Big Weather, Chasing Tornadoes In The Heart of America which was written by Mark Svenvold. The story is Mark’s account of the several weeks he spent hunting for the perfect storm throughout the Midwest during the spring of 2004. In this case the perfect storm is not a hurricane, but one of nature’s most powerful forces, the tornado.

Tornadoes are possible at any time of the year by are most likely during the months of April, May, and June when a cold and dry air mass moving south out of the polar regions collides with the Maritime tropical air mass as it advances north from the Gulf of New Mexico. A tornado is possible anywhere on earth but approximately three-quarters of all recorded storms occur in the United States, predominately in the Midwest, all the south tier states, and along much of the east coast.

A tornado is defined by the Glossary of Meteorology as "a violently rotating column of air, in contact with the ground…”. Mark’s description though a little technical, paints a vivid picture of the monster. He states the following: “A tornado represents many thing, beginning with its own extreme unlikelihood. Every tornado represents a supreme, if momentary, trouncing of the second law of thermodynamics, the glum law of entropy that states that all things move from order to chaos. Tornadoes move the other way, from the chaos of cloud swirl, from a mixture of lines of force, density, temperature, lift, speed and convergence, a set of initiating conditions whose exact ingredients are still unknown, to a near perfect level of order and organizations capable paradoxically of delivering immense destruction...”. The only established method to rate a tornado’s intensity is to access the damage it leaves in its wake and to compare to the standards of the Fujita scale.

Are you interested in a new adventure that might possibly provide you with the thrill of your life? If so, Google the term “storm chasing” and you will find numerous operators willing to position you close to the near perfect storm! Sound like fun, it did to me too but the price tag is steep and my wife said no way. So ends my dream of storm chasing!

Friday, March 14, 2008

It Smells Like Money To Me

This is all that remains of a once bustling, salmon cannery, located along the banks of the Columbia River in Astoria, Oregon. The salmon canning industry grew rapidly in the late 1870s as the market for inexpensive canned salmon increased in the eastern United States, Australia, and Great. During this period, the combined production of the region’s thirty-nine canneries exceeded 42,000,000 pounds of salmon/year. That’s a lot of fish no matter how you measure it!

A visitor to the Astoria during this period remarked that salmon canneries were huge and unsightly structures; constructed on plies over the river. He further noted that no concession was given to architectural effect or taste. Since the canning of salmon was a “wet process” requiring abundant cold water, the floors of the cannery were built with gaps between the flooring planks, thus allowing for the water to drain back into the river. Such a design also allowed cold air to draft into the cannery making it an extremely damp and cold working environment.

Beginning in the 1930, the cannery work force evolved and became dominated by local women of Scandinavian decent. It’s difficult to find a longtime Astorian who did not spend part of their working life employed by a cannery. Canneries were also known to have a very distinct aroma; simply put, they smelled like fish! If you asked a cannery worker about the constant odor, their reply would be that it smelled like money!

On this beautiful March day, all that remains are the piling that supported the building above the river and the cement floor where the boiler once stood. Long forgotten are the people who worked the canning lines and endured the smell of money.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

What's A Docent?

The first time I heard the word, my first thought was that it might be a coin from some European country. After a quick check in the dictionary, I discovered that a docent is a person who acts as a guide in a museum. Yep, a volunteer who could even be asked to mop the floor if the need arises!

Now that I am finally retired, a volunteer job sounded like just the ticket, so I contacted the Columbia River Maritime Museum and learned that the annual docent training class was about to begin. I assumed that since it's a volunteer position, little would be expected but was I ever wrong! It turned out that the training class is eight weeks in length lasting for at least two hours per session. You were also expected to attend the eight, two hour enrichment lectures given weekly. Well, I decided to give it a try and as of last week, I completed the entire class except for the forty-five minute tour that you have to prepare and give to the museum's education director and a group of your peers.

I have a stack of research materials on the dining room table as I write along with pages and pages of notes. All of this has to be distilled into a talk will explain the history of the lower Columbia River, its people, and the many uses to which they have put the river. Hopefully, I can do justice to the topic because my presentation covers the time period beginning with the local Native Americans and goes up to Astoria's involvement in World War II. My presentation will also include information on what life at sea was like for a common sailor in the mid-1800s. In case you ever wondered, life at sea was incredibly difficult not to mention dangerous. It's a wonder that anyone ever did the job!

If I pass the final test so to speak, I hopefully will get to give an occasional tour to one of the many groups of tourist who visit the museum each year. If you come for a tour, maybe we'll get a chance to meet!