Joseph M. Greeley
THE LAST OF HER LINE: THE STEAM STERNWHEELER PORTLAND OF PORTLAND, OREGON, AN ANCHRONISM IN TIME.
(Under the direction of Professor Bradley A. Rodgers) Department of History, May 2000.
The purpose of this thesis is to examine the steam sternwheeler Portland, the last steam powered sternwheeler towboat to be constructed in the United States, and also the last Columbia River steamer to be built. My intentions were twofold. First, to examine the development of the Columbia River steamer as a distinct style, with the Portland as the last example, both chronologically and physically. Second, to examine the decision by the Port of Portland Commission to build the Portland in 1947 when sternwheelers were considered by most to be obsolete. This section will review her career as a ship assist tug on the Williamette and Columbia Rivers and arrive at a conclusion as to whether or not the Port's decision was justified. The last section will discuss the fate of the Portland after her retirement in 1981 and her eventual conversion to a museum vessel.
In the course of research, I toured the Portland extensively and conducted research at the Oregon Maritime Center and Museum which operates the Portland. I also delved into the archives of the Oregon Historical Society and the Columbia River Maritime Museum. I was also privileged to speak to a number of former crew members who now work as volunteers and conduct a lengthy interview with Captain Jack Taylor who once captained the Portland for Williamette Tug and Barge during her working life, and now captains her for the museum.
My research indicates that, first, Columbia River sternwheelers were a distinct style of paddle wheeler, with antecedents derived from both east coast and western river steamboats, but which resulted in a "handsome steamer that was well suited for operations not only on the Columbia, but on rivers up and the west coast from California to British Columbia. Second, the decision by the Port of Portland to build what appeared to be an obsolete towboat rather than a more modern diesel tug was more than justified by the Portland's long career. The Portland is an invaluable maritime artifact, not only for her own history, but also as the last surviving example of a type of steamer that helped develop the Pacific Northwest.