The Steamer Almota (1876)
cruised the Snake and Clearwater Rivers.
The Harvest Queen, a turn-of-the-century,
sternwheeler operated on the Columbia & Willamette Rivers
out of Portland.
The passenger steamer, Bailey
Gatzert, built in 1890, was the fastest (20+ MPH) on
the river. She also carried more passengers than any other
vessel in her 10 years on the Columbia.
The mighty Columbia River is some 2,000 miles
long, making it the second longest river in the United States.
From its confluence with the Snake River to the Pacific
Ocean, the Columbia River of the early 1800s crossed over
a hundred areas of whitewater and rapids. Moving downstream
was fairly easy, but the rapids and occasional falls made
it virtually impossible to establish any upstream commerce
with sailing ships or canoes.
A new type of watercraft was needed: one with
a shallow draft and high maneuverability, yet capable of
carrying large loads of freight and people. The steam powered
sternwheeler was the perfect boat for this diverse river
and in 1855, the Jennie Clark was placed
into service. Fast and maneuverable, the paddlewheeler was
to dominate ship traffic on the Columbia River for nearly
a century and would grow from a workboat into a beautifully
appointed passenger vessel.
In just a few years after the introduction,
hundreds of sternwheelers were built and operated along
the Willamette, Columbia, and Snake rivers. Between Portland
and the Snake River, the Columbia was divided into three
operating sections, each worked by its own set of river
boats. The dividing lines between river sections were caused
by the narrow rapids of the Cascades and the towering Celilo
Falls. These hazards were virtually impassable by river
boats (although that did not stop some unfortunate captains
from trying) and required the development of short portages
to carry passengers and freight around the obstructions
of one section of the river to board a vessel in the next
section to continue upstream.
Passengers and freight would travel the lower
Columbia River to the Cascades on the Fashion,
Carrie Ladd, Mountain
Buck, or Julia. There they would put
ashore and ride the portage railroad behind a tiny rail
car, affectionately known as the Oregon Pony,
to the upper landing, where they would board the Idaho,
Hassalo, or Wasco
to The Dalles. There they would ride a horse drawn wagon
for a short ride around Celilo Falls then board the Colonel
Wright, Nez Perce Chief, Yakima,
or Spray for a cruise to Lewiston on
the Snake River.
But the most famous of all Columbia River
sternwheelers was the Bailey
Gatzert, one of the fastest ever built. Unlike her less-refined
cousins who were primarily built for hauling freight, the
Bailey Gatzert was crafted as an overnight passenger vessel.
With luxurious appointments and fine service, she set the
standard that other vessels would follow.
The sternwheelers were not the only thing
becoming more refined. The Columbia River itself was modified
several times to facilitate vessel traffic: first with the
removal of the dangerous John Day Rock in 1873, then with
the construction of the Cascade Locks in 1896. Next, the
Celilo Canal around Celilo Falls was constructed in 1915.
The big dams of the Columbia River finally
tamed the most dangerous parts, but by then the traffic
on board those graceful ships was being diverted by the
building of roads and railroads. Finally trucks, Model T's
and buses took over as the new methods for hauling freight
and people. Most of the ships then moved on to other areas
of the country or were abandoned. The last overnight passenger
sternwheeler operating on the Columbia was removed from
service in 1917, nearly 62 years after Jennie Clark was
constructed. Now it is over eighty five years later, and
the Queen of the West
and Empress of the
North proudly continue the tradition and legend of the