V16 N2 Arts of the Mariner and Coming to Terms with the Sea

Page 1

the UARTERDECK Vol. 16 No. 2 Winter 1990

A review and newsletter from the Columbia River Maritime Museum at 1792 Marine Drive in Astoria, Oregon

Arts of the Mariner pg. 3 Coming to Terms with the Sea pg. 8

. • •

As members of the Columbia River Maritime Museum, we should take great pride in 1989, truly a most significant year for this institution. 1989 was the year that the Museum expanded its horizons by entering into the world of living history interpretation, the year that the Burlington Northern Railroad Depot Building demonstrated tangible value with its transformation into a working boat shop Here the Columbia River Sailing Gillnetter Replica was brought to life. It was the year that rope-making and net-mending became integrated components of our public programs most weekends in the Great Hall. During 1989 we established the Visitors Services Department and expanded our operation to being open seven days a week year round. In 1989 we provided an opportunity for visitors and members to walk the decks of two historic sailing vessels, as well as to enjoy numerous special events, which included two out-of-town voyages by our flagship, the Lightship Columbia. It was also a year for major internal changes and reorganization, one of which is the revised Quarterdeck

from the Wheelhouse

-Jerry L. Ostermiller Executive Director

Message from CRMM President


For many of you, seeing the old trailer court, which was highly visible and strategically misplaced, now being transformed into expanded parking for the Museum, will certainly bring satisfaction. The installation next fall of a stateof-the-art environmental control system

As I write this, a special Trustee committee is in process of reviewing a report prepared by Max Chance, the original designer of our galleries who returned to the Museum last summer to evaluate facilities and exhibits. This committee is also pursuing future enhancements, such as better mooring facilities for display vessels and small boats, the continued development of our library and archives as a regional resource, the expansion of the Museum Store, improved visitor access, and upgraded exterior signage. Although many of these projects are only in the planning stages, progress is being made daily. The message here seems clearly to be; the Columbia River Maritime Museum is on the move!

In the museum world the beginning of a new year, when summer crowds become only a memory, provides an opportunity for us to pause and take time for review Such review is useful in examining where we have been so that we may better understand where we are going .

This is my first message to all of our museum friends. I want you to know that I am very honored and pleased to have been selected your President . I am an enthusiastic and military minded person. I will work hard for you and hope my style and actions will fulfill the honor and confidence you have bestowed upon me.

I have studied our by-laws. They are good! We have re-established our five standing committees property, finance, budget, nominating and membership, with Al Goudy, Bill Stevens, Allen Cellars, Peter Brix and Gene Sause, respectively, as chairmen. Our one special committee for Discovery 1992 has Bud Forrester as chairman. These chairmen are all action oriented people who are respected and are hard workers for our Museum. I am convinced that our director, Jerry Ostermiller, now knows the background and history of our Museum and is ready to take us into the future. We are a high quality team, all working together and we will do good and great things.

The QUARTERDECK is published four times a year by the Columbia River Maritime Museum, 1792 Marine Dr, Astoria, OR 97103

I am sure you feel as we do that 1989 was an exciting and significant year for the Columbia River Maritime Museum. However, I am confident that the next few years will be truly outstanding. Help us spread the word and ''Watch our wake!"

Jerry L. Ostermiller, Editor. Editorial Staff: Barbara Minard, Rachel Wynne, Andy Cier, Hobe Kytr, Michael Paul Mccusker .

Photo Credits: Photograph of the William Taylor, page 1, from CRMM archives; Andy Cier, pages 3, 4; Michael Ziegler, page 6 (courtesy of the Daily Astorian).

As we enter 1990 our horizons are virtually unlimited. This will be the year we help the United States Coast Guard celebrate their 200th anniversary Many special events and displays will allow members and visitors to gain entirely new insights into one of our most significant and vital maritime services

We have asked a great deal of the Museum Staff during the past year, and they have worked extremely hard to meet the challenge. The Columbia River Maritime Museum entered the age of word processors and fax machines, resulting in greatly improved communications With new talent, new energy and steadfast commitments by our Trustees, the measured development of the Columbia River Maritime Museum is steadily growing.

-Adm. Jack Williams, USN (Ret.)


will protect our unsurpassed collections and provide enhanced comfort for the almost 100,000 people who visit the museum each year.

Volume 16 No 2

Printed at Anchor Graphics, Astoria, Oregon

Because our Museum today will belong to our children tomorrow, the participation of each and every member is of greatest value. As many of you have already discovered, one can take great pleasure in supporting this outstanding institution. Certainly each of us should make a point of visiting the Museum more often. Whenever you are here take time to talk to staff members and share your ideas. I also invite you to try your hand at volunteering Few experiences a re as rewarding as helping others discover our maritime history. Make a commitment this year to bring at least two new people into our membership family Remember, our membership base is crucial to our operation financially, socially and most important, spiritually . You can also promote advancement of the museum by upgrading your level of membership. I encourage each of you to contribute to the Museum's financial growth and development. Pick out a project you are interested in and work with us to help raise the funds necessary to insure its success Finally, I urge you to seriously consider becoming more involved in the continuing development of this, the finest maritime museum on the West Coast

If the sailor happened to sign aboard a merchant vessel, he might carve elaborate picture frames from the exotic woods he found in foreign ports-of-call. If he had a particular love of his ship, he would make a shadow box depicting his ship under full sail, or miniaturize his ship in a hoarded liquor bottle. It was not uncommon for a man to whittle fancy chainwork and lovers knots from a single piece of wood. Parquetry, the inlaying of different bits of colored wood, was employed to produce exquisite jewelry chests and compass boxes This particular art required skill and knowledge of the ways of wood.

The Columbia River Maritime Museum is fortunate to have a splendid collection of mariners folk art, some of which may be seen in the Arts of the Mariner display housed between the Sailing Vessel Gallery and the Steam and Motor Vessel Gallery. This location is very strategic, reflecting the overlapping

Folk art is a clear record of the types of things that occupied the common man and woman. Through their eyes we are able to glimpse a slice of their individuality. That is vital, for too often we look at history in terms of periods and ages, seeing only the long of it and not the short. We do honor those personages who, for whatever reason, distinguished themselves in our history books, but the men behind the Farraguts and Lord Nelsons lived under the same sky, breathed the same air, and dreamed the same dreams These men also had something valuable to give.

-Rachel Wynne

Handiwork was the sailor's salvation from boredom and probably helped to reinforce the popular religious adage, "Idle hands are the Devil's playground. 11 Industriousness at that time was encouraged from the cradle.


If the seaman was a whaler, he used the teeth of the sperm whale or the baleen of the right whale. With these he fashioned scrimshaw pie crimpers, cribbage boards, coat pegs, hat boxes, corset stays, walking cane grips, the list goes on and on. The sailor thought in a duality of beauty and function.

One of the finest examples of mariners' folk art found in the Columbia River Maritime Museum collection is this scrimshaw yard swift. The deepwater sailor practiced a duality of beauty and function in the gifts he made for his loved ones.

Arts of the Mariner

The life of the sailor during the romantic "Age of Sail" was filled with work and hardship . Romance rarely entered into his daily routine He risked his life on the yards, in the rigging, and generally speaking was a slave to the ship and the sea. When the weather consented, the "jolly tar" would find his pleasure producing a wide variety of handicrafts or sailors folk art, usually intended for loved ones waiting at home. He worked with his hands and his heart. The average seaman ventured out to sea as a mere boy, with only the most rudimentary of educations. So instead of a dog watch spent curled up with a good book or scratching out a letter home, he whittled, carved, stitched and tied.

transition between the two ages of maritime history. With the advent of steam as a means of locomotion, the once high rate of illiteracy began to decline, along with maritime folk art. This was prompted by an advancing wave of technology that required men to be able to read manuals of operation and repair. The creative ingenuity of the sailor followed a basic theme, his ship and the sea. This basic theme gave the crafts of the mariner an individuality found in no other segment of folk art.

Quarterdeck, Vol. 16 No. 2

During the II Age of Sail, 11 the practice of fancy sennit work and knot tying reached an all time high. Many decorative and multi-functional knots were the direct result of hundreds of hours devoted to this practical seaman's art. The sailor knotted and plaited fancy beckets or handles for his seachest, fashioned belt cords to hold up his trousers, and lanyards to secure his knife. He applied these arts to make everything from bed slippers to handbags. In an effort to make his ship more attractive he covered the handrails, rings, Flemish eyes, or any round surface subject to hard usage

The treasures of the sea aren't always found beneath it. Revisit the Crafts of the Mariner display between the Sailing Vessel Gallery and the Steam and Motor Vessel Gallery to see for yourself.

He spent a few years after the war working on fish boats, doing electrical work. In 1948 he took a six-month job with the Port of Astoria to help convert the former Navy airstrip into Clatsop County Airport and stayed for 22 years, finally leaving after serving as supervisor of the airport . After another 19 years at the Clatsop-Tillamook Educational Service District media center he retired in 1986, although "retired" is not a word to use for Leonard.

Somehow , immersed though he is in dozens of pursuits and projects, Leonard Vernon is a very busy CRMM volunteer He helps keep the Lightship Columbia in operational order as a regular member of the volunteer engine room crew He was involved in constructing a full-sized replica of a Columbia River sailing gillnet boat almost from its inception. He speaks on behalf of the Museum at schools, clubs and fraternal orders, and goes anywhere asked to show his slides of old Columbia River steamboats He is always on hand when needed, and has been since the Museum's early days when CRMM founder Rolf Klep discovered the value of his time and talents.

has been installed in his house for the past 29 years Organists from all over the world have visited to play-and Leonard records them. He also owns a 1922 circus calliope that he restored and brings out to be played every year for the Astoria Regatta and the annual Christmas parade of boats. One year he packed the calliope on a train with a group of Boy Scouts and took it to Valley Forge, Pa., where it was played at a Scout Jamboree .


Leonard was born and has lived all his 68 years in Astoria, 59 of them in the same house on 14th Street He worked in local shipyards during World War II, precommissioning Navy troopships and baby flattops His job was mostly electronics, installing and doing final inspection of communications equipment before the ships were commissioned and sent out into the Pacific war.

Leonard Vernon: Cren1e de CRMM

"Every time Rolf had a project," Leonard says, ''he would meet me on the street and say, 'Hey old buddy, how about a coffee?' "

His volunteer work extends far beyond CRMM Leonard served as unit leader and on the district council of the Boy Scouts for 20 years, for which he received the prestigious Silver Beaver award. For 20 years he was on the board of Camp Kiwanilong, helping save it from commercial development, and making it instead an extensively used youth camp. He has been a volunteer with the Clatsop County Historical Society for about five years. He is currently helping restore an old Astoria fire truck as part of a larger project of restoration of the old Uppertown fire station.

Leonard is also a dedicated photographer. He has 22,000 color slides in his collection, covering a wide range of subjects, which he often puts together for shows, including one of Columbia River steamboats. He collaborated with former CRMM education director Richard Fencsak to produce the very popular When the River Was the Road ''I've lost count how many times it has been shown , or how many people it has exposed to the Museum," he says .

Leonard also builds models, usually boats and ships from scratch Since childhood he has made gas-powered models of aircraft, battery-operated watercraft, and lately radio-controlled steamboats His recent projects are scale models of historical boats of the Columbia . He is currently planning to make a

Leonard is a charter member of the American Theater Organ Society He bought and restored a 1000 pipe theater organ which was built in the 1920s and

Leonard Vernon at the console of his Robert Morton theater organ, with scratch built model of the Stettm Tug Seaguin .

said. After several weeks of hard work in the engine room, "We went to Portland under our own power . 11

Anne Witty stated, "Curatorially, I'm an activist: I believe people should have access to museums and collections, through exhibit work of course, but also through sensitive handling of challenges as diverse as labeling and display techniques An object without context is quieter than it needs to be . As curators and museum educators, we have a responsibility to help every object we display or keep 'speak' for itself and an obligation to help our public learn the language so they can listen 11

Hobe Kytr again: "When one speaks of being selfless, what does that mean? I think it means giving of one's self, which implies there is ample self to give. And one does not end up with less by doing so. Quite the contrary That is the spirit and the essence of volunteerism. It is what Leonard does so well."

Hobe Kytr says of Leonard Vernon: ''There are all kinds of learning in this

-Staff 5

The search for a successor to the position of curator began several months ago Prospective candidates for the position were interviewed this Fall by Executive Director Jerry Ostermiller. We are happy to report that the person who is regarded as the number one choice for the position by the top professionals in the field, including former CRMM Director Michael Naab, has accepted. Anne Witty comes to the Columbia River Maritime Museum from Mystic Seaport Museum, Connecticut, where she has served as Associate Curator for Collections Research since 1985. Her professional experience includes extensive and varied work with a number of the most highly respected maritime and historical museums, including the Calvert Marine Museum, the Winterthur Museum, the Radcliffe Maritime Museum, the East Hampton Historical Society, and the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, England. She is a graduate of Middlebury College, Vermont, and earned her M.A. through the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture at the University of Delaware.

Leonard, his brother Bill and his nephew Blaine Vernon, with Jerry Glein and Eino Mattson, make up the regular volunteer engine room crew of the Lightship Columbia. They meet and go aboard every other Saturday (except in December), and provide constant maintenance to the ship's machinery. When plans were initially discussed to take the Columbia upriver to show the CRMM flag in Portland in 1988, it was thought the ship would be towed Leonard disagreed. "Let's make the engine run," he

When asked about her personal and philosophical approach to her work,

-Michael Paul McCusker

replica of the last ex1stmg steam schooner, Wapama, which was built in St. Helens in 1900, and now sits on a barge in Sausalito, California.

''I describe Leonard as a Renaissance man, a jack of all trades," Richard Fencsak says . "I can think of little that Leonard does not have knowledge of, in particular a vast technological knowledge . He is a tremendously likable man, and he is incredibly generous. He's never turned down a request I have made of him in the 11 years I have known him. I think he must be one of the great volunteers of the Museum. 11

Quarterdeck, Vol. 16 No. 2

Ms. Witty is expected to arrive in Astoria to assume the duties of her new position in early Spring. In the interim, the Museum is being provided with museum technical services in the form of contract work performed by Barbara Minard. Barbara is a longtime employee of the National Park Service. During the past nine years, she has provided collections management for three different national parks, most recently at Ft Clatsop National Memorial. Barbara is also currently pursuing a degree in advanced museum studies through an innovative program at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. We welcome Barbara.

Now, Here, This: Departures and Arrivals

Leonard does all of this volunteer activity because he is passionately concerned that the maritime heritage of the Columbia River not be lost or neglected That is why he has worked for years with CRMM's Education Department, first with Richard Fencsak and currently with Hobe Kytr. He goes to schools trumpeting the Museum's annual Maritime Week. He talks with kids about boats and how to make steam engines work. He designed a coloring book for 4th graders about Columbia River sailing gillnet boats, which was illustrated by Lyle Morris, Larry Haskell and Blaine Vernon, and published by CRMM and the Astoria School District. It has been distributed to all Astoria schools, and to schools in Warrenton, Gearhart and Seaside. It is now in its fourth printing.

On November 30th, 1989, the Columbia River Maritime Museum bade farewell to Larry Gilmore, Curator and Assistant Director. Larry served the Museum through periods of profound growth and great need alike. He was our curator, historian, librarian, archivist, archaeologist, editor, leader, teacher, and friend He was our helmsman in difficult times. We will miss him.

Somehow, with all of that, Leonard manages to find time for the extraordinary amount of work he accomplishes for CRMM. On the Columbia River Sailing Gillnetter Project alone, he worked through all phases of its constructionalmost 800 hours, six hours a day. He even helped shipwright Dave Green loft the boat, which is a process of drawing a boat's plans to full size. "I loft all my models, 11 Leonard says. "Three-eighths of an inch to the foot. Here, we just drew 12 inches to the foot. 11

In my opinion Leonard Vernon is a well educated man. If all the people with letters after their names indicating advanced degrees of book learning knew as much as he does, this world would be a better place."

After his return, Larry plans to tie up loose ends in the vicinity of Astoria, whereupon he intends to move back to the Milton Freewater Walla Walla area, where he grew up and where several elderly family members needing care reside. With his longtime interest in computers, combined with his many other areas of expertise, Larry's professional options include running a consulting business or doing freelance writing, both of which would allow him to undertake familial obligations.

world Leonard is full of the kind of knowledge born of practical experience

''The idea for the coloring book grew out of getting local children to learn of their heritage," Leonard says ''Kids take it home to parents, which is the best way to spread the word."

Plans for Larry's departure began this past summer, at which time the schedule of transition was arranged Following his last official day at the Museum, he began preparing for a long anticipated tour of Great Britain.

The Museum archives contained a copy of a "secret" diary kept by an unidentified member of the ship's company, who is thought to have been an officer and possibly clerk to the Racoon's captain, William Black.

''There are no recorded wrecks of British men-of-war on the North Coast, 11 he told a reporter from the Daily Astorian, ''but there have been a few recorded strandings. These ships were later freed by 'prodigious effort,' or worked their way loose. It's possible that the timber is either the stem or part of the rudder from one of these. It wasn't uncommon for a captain to make on-the-spot repairs following a grounding, so it's quite possible the timber came from one of the grounded ships."

While waiting for verification of the timber's age and type, Naab thought of a couple of Royal Navy vessels that had, as he said '' come to grief'' on the Columbia River bar. Two of them, HMS Chatham and HMS Sulpher, "struck the sands, the latter quite heavily," Naab told the Astorian reporter.

The first step in identifying the mysterious slab of wood was to determine its type and age. A piece of the beam was sent to the Oregon State University School of Forestry for analysis, which Naab said, "should give us clues to where the wood came from and when it was cut "

The diary said of the Racoon's crossing of the Columbia River bar on November 30, 1813: "It being a fine Oay and perfectly smooth, passed over it with great ease and anchored in Baker's Bay (behind) Cape Disappointment."

where it must have been buried. Its square corners and lack of marine life indicate that it's been protected from the elements."

Their anchorage was aptly named, for the crew was soon bitterly disappointed to learn that "our grand attack and expectations were totally frustrated " The Americans, the Racoon's diarist complained, ''well knowing our near approach and that they must inevitably quit the settlement and lose all their property, very knowingly sold the whole of it to the (British) North West Company, who had a long while been contending with them for the same."

The Racoon was perhaps the most significant British vessel to visit the Columbia River during the War of 1812. It had been sent almost halfway around the world to capture Fort Astoria and to take possession of the Oregon country in the name of the British Crown.

Mystery of the Lost Keel

A large piece of wood washed up on a north Oregon beach during a winter storm in December 1973. It was not the usual log that storms drive ashore, but was instead a long beam sheathed in copper with copper fastenings and pins It was about 20 feet in length and shaped like a ship's bow on one end.

Speculating how the timber came ashore, Naab said, ''We assume the timber was buried in the sand or rolled ashore by surf action from another spot

But he had another ship in mind, an Admiralty sloop-of-war with the odd name of Racoon. (Actually, the name is not so odd. Many British warships were named after animals.)

David Megrath, a Clatsop County commissioner, found the timber while beachcombing after the storm. He realized that it must have been from a vessel that perhaps had been lost at sea. He arranged to have it hauled off to the county workshop and called the Columbia River Maritime Museum.


The Museum was in its original location in 1973, the old Astoria City Hall, which now houses the Clatsop County Heritage Museum. Rolf Klep, CRMM's founder, was director and Michael Naab wa~ the Museum's curator. By tha tima Naab got to the county shop to inspect the timber, a part of it had been chainsawed and taken away, leaving about 12 feet. He recognized immediately the 'broad arrow' design that has been used by the British Royal Navy to mark its property since the late 17th century. The copper that sheathed the length of the timber's underside was a method that had been used since 1761 to protect wooden ships' hulls from marine borers. This indicated to Naab that the wood was "pre-20th century." He thought it might be part of a ship's keel or rudder.

The Racoon had left the Admiralty station at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with three

other ships in June 1813; Cherub, which was a sister sloop, a frigate Phoebe, and a storeship, Isaac Todd. The squadron pounded around Cape Horn and three of the four rendezvoused at islands off the coast of Chile. Phoebe and Cherub stayed in the South Pacific to hunt down the American frigate Essex, which was ravaging Britain's Pacific whaling fleet. Racoon was sent off to attack Fort Astoria by itself. The Isaac Todd was missing.

Captain Black dutifully, if not resignedly, claimed the Oregon country for the

In this 1973 Daily Astorian photograph, CRMM Curator Michael Naab (left) inspects a mysterious wooden beam that washed ashore in a December storm. Clatsop County Commissioner David Megrath, who found the timber, is at right. The man in the center is Hiram Johnson, who was also a county commissioner at the time.

The timber is on display in CRMM's Fur Trade and Exploration Gallery It is identified as the keel of HMS Racoon The ship itself survived its long voyage to San Francisco, arriving there "in near sinking condition," according to the diary It was careened and quickly repaired with the help of the missing Isaac Todd, which had turned up in Monterey and afterward sailed on to Fort George/ Astoria with its new royal governor aboard. By the time the Racoon reached England in May 1815, more than half its crew had died from sickness and injuries.

The crew, the diarist wrote, had thought they were doomed. ''The Ship pitching heavy & scarcely making headway presented a perilous aspect and caused the features of many brave men a gloomy appearance, particularly when she struck twice very hard I believe few in the Ship expected any other than going to davy' s locker in a crack."

The Isabella is the property of the State of Oregon, since it is an abandoned wreck lying on submerged land within Oregon's boundaries. State statutes prohibit removal of material from historic or archaeological sites on public property without first obtaining an excavation permit.

160 years later, the piece of wood found on the Clatsop beach was sent to the Oregon State School of Forestry lab and identified as a species of English elm, which was widely used for keel timbers . It was impossible to precisely date the wood, however. Radio-carbon testing at Washington State University indicated that the timber was "probably somewhere between 25 and 180 years old "

National Register status affords protection to listed sites against any activities that might have an adverse impact on them by U.S Government agencies or projects being carried out by others with the support of federal funding. The Federal Government can only participate in alteration or destruction of such sites after demonstrating an overwhelmingly important need to do so through a complex chain of hearings and administrative procedures. In this respect, the situation is similar to environmental laws protecting endangered species. In the case of privately owned sites, being placed on the Register also opens up tax benefits and other incentives for the owners to preserve the site.

Quarterdeck, Vol. 16 No. 2

The Racoon was delayed departing the Columbia by a number of circumstances -charting the river mouth, the bad weather, and Captain Black's temporary loss of sailing directions for leaving the river, which was an extract from Lt . William Broughton' s 1792 journal.

The ship had hardly fired a shot and never engaged in combat throughout the voyage, which lasted almost the entire war. From here, with the exception of its part in the naval support for the battle of Waterloo the following month, the Racoon recedes from history It was a convict ship in 1819 and was sold by the Admiralty in 1838. Captain Black retired from the Royal Navy as a rear admiral.

The Museum recently learned that the wreck of the Hudson's Bay Company trading vessel Isabella has been named to the National Register of Historic Places, a list of buildings, vessels, and historic or archaeological sites deemed to be of national significance and worthy of preservation. The Register is maintained by the National Park Service

Subsequently, the Museum initiated an investigation of the wreck and collaborated with the National Park Service in a mapping of the wreckage by divers from their Submerged Cultural Resources Unit in August of 1987 That work confirmed the identification as the Isabella, and was related in articles appearing in previous issues of this publication (Vol. 13, No. 4, and Vol. 14, Nos. 2, 3, & 4) . The nomination of the Isabella wreck to the National Register was written by James Delgado, Maritime Historian of

Larry Gilmore

Having escaped the wild bar, which in future years would claim hundreds of ships and boats and many lives, the Racoon's crew hardly had opportunity to congratulate themselves for surviving. The ship was leaking rapidly from smacking the bar. Captain Black realized it would be suicide to attempt recrossing into the Columbia, and he set sail for the nearest port, the small Spanish town of Yerba Buena, now known as San Francisco, almost a thousand miles to the south.


The Racoon was built in 1808 at Yarmouth, England . Michael Naab sent for plans of the Racoon from the British National Maritime Museum The timber's shape conformed to the Racoon's original plans Everything seemed to fall into place : the copper sheathing, the copper nails and drift pins, the age and type of wood, the keel shape of the timber, and the final bit of evidence that it fit the ship's design.

Isabella Wreck Placed on National Register

the National Park Service (and one of those who participated in diving on the wreck in 1987), with some input from myself.

Finally, on December 31, 1813 the Racoon set off across the bar The vessel was nearly swamped by mountainous swells as it reached the bar and momentarily lost headway. Suddenly it struck the bar, and struck it again. A few minutes later an ebb tide carried the ship into deeper water.

Michael Naab, who served as CRMM's second director, delighted in telling visitors to the Museum that the slice of the Racoon was a museum mystery story He is currently in Washington, D.C., where he is Director of Maritime Preservation of the National Trust for Historic Preservation David Megrath, who found the keel of the Racoon on a storm littered beach, died in 1983

In 1818, as a result of provisions of the Treaty of Ghent which ended the War of 1812, Astoria was restored to the United States .

-Michael Paul Mccusker

Crown and renamed the two-and-a-half year old settlement in honor of his king, Fort George He raised the Union Jack over the stockade and remarked that he could have "battered the fort's walls with a four pounder " The crew, cheated of their spoils of war, remained bitter. Not only were they denied their prize after so long and dangerous a voyage, the Racoon's crew spent a miserable month at anchorage in the river "During our stay we had incessantly bad, rainy, blowing weather, with the exception of two days," the diarist recorded

The Isabella, variously described as a brig or snow, went aground without loss of life while entering the Columbia River, bound for Fort Vancouver, in 1830. The location of the site was rediscovered in 1986 when Daryl Hughes, a commercial fisherman from Chinook, Washington, sent down a professional diver, Bob Cutting, to free a snagged gillnet.

He left behind the Racoon's forefoot and a part of its stern and keel, which had broken off when the ship struck the bar.

Diagram of donhle-end, can,t'll-bnilt whalo boat, from Knight's Modent Seamanship, 10th edHion, 1941.

Man has been going down to the sea in ships for thousands of years, and utilizing small craft even longer. From the very beginnings of maritime history, people have employed already existing words as well as coining new terms to describe what they did and what they used to venture out upon the sea. The language of the sea is both ancient and exact, even if somewhat complex for the novice . One of the most useful strategies in trying to explain these words in the museum setting is to provide a short explanation of where they came from As one might expect, some of the commonest of terms related to boats and ships are among the most ancient, owing their modern forms to word roots once widely used in other contexts

back to the Old Norse for ridge, perhaps because of the keel's similarity to an inverted ridgepole. The term is virtually the sam e in all the Teutonic languages (The opposite metaphorical application survives today in church construction in the nave, or portion of the church where sits the congregation, from the similarity of the peaked roof to an upside down ship's hull.) Once the keel was laid and stem and stern post in place, the planks forming the sides were steamed and bent into place. Thus a strake or row of planking owes its descriptive origin to the Old English word meaning to stretch. These strakes were overlapped, a construction technique still described as lapstrake. Between each strake is a seam, owing its origin to an Old Norse word closely re lated to the verb to sew, which connotation of course the word retains in shoreside usage. Early vessels of Scandinavia and Britain were fastened together with thongs, in effect sewn. Another interesting term is garboard, which denotes the problematic strake where the sides attach to the keel. It is derived from a Middle Dutch contraction, meaning gathering-board

The wooden gillnet boats of the Columbia River, despite their shape reminiscent of Viking boats, are constructed using a technique probably originating in the Mediterranean region. Carvel construction designates hull planking which lies flush, or edge to edge, rather than overlapping Although there is a possible derivation from Old Norse, the term is

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A distinct class of nautical terms derives its origins from the maritime traditions associated with the Teutonic peoples of Northern Europe, and can be understood by thinking of the Norse longships Interestingly enough, three of these terms, stem, stern, and starboard, all owe their ultimate derivation to a single Indo-European root, meaning to stand The stem, which is the upright structural member forming the shape of the bow, is a term known in all the Nordic languages. Its derivation is from a word meaning stem or tree trunk, probably because of the practice of selecting a timber for this purpose from a curved standing tree. Starboard and stern are more closely related, being derived from a separate family of words than is stem,

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Ris1ngs- ----· , ,l(eelson -i4 wnmgSftmchion -flag Staf'f' / Steermg Rowlock , ' ,-Ho1sfmgShadle' -~Ho1sftnaRod ::, ·>Backboard Ho1slmglud

Capping, 611nwale. / \ ',,R11bbingSfrake \·-Thwart Knees =Th=w:=a=r=f-=s·,~=e!ll •'Sheer Sfrake



even though ultimately traceable to the same word root . Stern is from an Old Norse word meaning steering, for which the connection is readily apparent Starboard means steering board Before the advent of the stern rudder, all Teutonic vessels had their steering oars on the right side near the stern The steersman stood at the stern to steer, thus proving the logic of the association with the ancient word root. That the stem and the stern are vertical structural members also provides a certain coherence to the grouping . Rudder, which at first glance one might suspect to be the product of a later development, actually owes its origin to the Old English word for steering oar, itself ultimately derived from an Indo-European root, the meaning of which is to row . Another term loosely related to this same topic suggests some interesting speculation on borrowed technology . Tiller is the designation for the bar or handle serving as a lever to turn a rudder. It comes from a Middle English term, meaning beam of a cross bow, derived from a Norman French word, meaning weaver's beam, coming originally from Latin terms related to weaving. Yet tillers were known both on Viking longships and Roman merchantmen Was it the term that was borrowed, or was a familiar object put to new uses?


t,,:>- ···•V/ Ho,sf Pad Floorsrs'frames .. not, oho,.)


Fooflings or Floor; \ ···filling Pieces Boards '- False Keel KasfSfep'

Awninq Slcmch1on

The early boat construction techniques of Northern Europe have also left their mark on the language . The stem and stern are tied together by the keel, or backbone of the vessel, which term goes

Coming to Terms "'ith the Sea


of a platform. This readily can be seen by its origins in Middle English and Middle Dutch, both derived from a verb meaning to cover The term thwart, denoting a seat or crossbeam in a small craft, comes from a Middle English word which meant athwart or across, but also perverse, and derived from the Old Norse for transverse. It is interesting to note that the Indo-European root, meaning to turn, is the antecedent to a whole family of words, such as torque, tort, contort, distort, torture, etc Thwart retains in modern English its dual connotations, meaning both across and to cross up, prevent, or intentionally frustrate.

Two of the most commonly used maritime terms are derived from Medieval warships, but are used today with contracted pronunciations and radically altered meanings Gunwale, familiarly pronounced II gunnel," originally referred to the top bulwark structure, serving as a prop for the ship's guns carried on the main deck The term wale, meaning any one of a number of strakes of planking which form the sides of a boat or ship , is derived from Old English. The path of origin eventually leads to an Inda-European root, all of whose derivatives refer to curved, enclosing objects, such as wall and well, But what about the guns? This term predates firearms, once referring to war engines. One possible derivation is from the Old French for engine. Another is from the Old Norse "Gunnhildr," a compound feminine name made up of two word roots, both

ForrHasf Step Botto Boc,rds Thwart __ Sfanfion Kee

most commonly associated with an old spelling of caravel, which denotes a ship type and construction technique developed in Italy, but perfected by the Portuguese under the direction of Prince Henry the Navigator One of the major differences between this method and that employed in Viking longships is in the fact that the longships were built as shells, into which a framework was later inserted to provide added structural support Carvel construction, on the other hand, begins with the framework, onto which are securely fastened the strakes of planking. These frames, also commonly called ribs in the same manner that the keel is the vessel's backbone, owe their derivation to an idea and a word traceable to Old Italian.

Section of a clinker-built (lapstrake) boat, from Olson's Small Boat Seamanship, 1956.


The beam of a boat or ship is the measure of its maximum breadth, also a structural unit such as a deck beam, which being placed thwartship probably provided the origin of its other meaning. The term is derived from the Old English for tree, and is related to boom, as discussed above. The deck such a beam supports formerly meant only a covering, or roof structure, rather than the modern sense

There are a number of methods for spreading a sail. All of them require a mast. Not surprisingly, linguists believe that term to be extremely ancient. Even the Indo-European root designates virtually the same thing as its modern derivatives Some of the other terms denoting the poles used to support sails owe their origins to words that once meant trees or sticks. Boom is derived from the Dutch for tree or pole, with an Indo-European root meaning to be, exist or grow, and therefore having applications meaning growing things such as trees. Yard is, of course, a unit of measurement as well as a horizontal support for a sail. Both owe their origins to an ancient term for rod or staff, thus both a measuring stick and a shipboard spar. Spar itself comes from the Middle Eng lish for rafter or pole, and probably thence from the Old Norse for beam. Its Indo-European root is the same from which is derived both spear and spareribs. The sprit used to spread the peak of certain sails, such as those used on Columbia River sailing gillnetters, is derived from an Old English word meaning pole, and its Inda-European root shows the relationship to the modern English words sprawl, sprout, spurt, and spread. In contrast, gaff rigging derives its name not from the pole but from the yoke which attaches the forward end of it to the mast, being essentially the same term as the hook commonly used to land large fish.

meaning war. Today the gunwale designates the thick member capping a boat's side, or low bulwark structure on the side of a vessel. Another much changed term is the forecastle, pronounced foc's'le and sometimes written that way It is now simply the area under the foredeck of a boat or ship. Between the 17th and early 20th centuries, in many ships the forecastle was the cramped location of the crew's quarters, a connotation the word keeps to this day However, as the old spelling implies, the term originated in a raised structure at the bow from which archers and, later, musketeers launched their missiles The name of the corresponding structure at the stern did not survive into modern usage.

Those who wish to further investigate this subject are urged to consult their favorite maritime dictionary. Two that I have found to be most useful are The Origin of Sea Terms, by John G. Rogers, Mystic Seaport Museum, 1985, and the Encyclopedia of Nautical Knowledge, by McEwen and Lewis, Cornell Maritime Press, 1953. In addition, for lucid etymologies and derivations, including insightful discussions of the research into comparative linguistics and the reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European, the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, William Morris, Editor, is very highly recommended. Be sure to find the unrevised edition complete with the scholarly appendices rather than the newer College Edition.

-Hobe Kytr

Quarterdeck, Vol 16 No. 2

.Ringf'or Painter', \ L,f'fing Rod

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Astoria Regatta

Mr. & Mrs. William Bateson

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The boat was jacked up in several places, the rollers were introduced to the starboard side under the cradle. Hampton gently nudged the boat onto the rollers using a forklift and the boat began its journey to its new station.

General History of Oregon, by Charles H. Cary. Binfort & Mort, 1971. 25.00/ Members 22.50.

Capt. & Mrs. Paul Jackson

Walter McManis


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Encyclopedia of Nautical Knowledge, by McEwen and Lewis Cornell Maritime Press, 1953 36.50/Members 32 85.

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Sea Language Comes Ashore, by Joanna Colcord Cornell Maritime Press, 1945. 5.00/Members Hampton4.50. had four assistants to man

Longview Booming, Inc.



What did we do? We moved the 10 ton, 36 foot U.S Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat #36474 approximately 60 feet across the Great Hall. The shift from the east wall to the west wall was part of an experiment aimed at enhancing the interpretive potential of the Great Hall.

Mrs. George Hall


Mr. & Mrs. Robert J. DeArmond Seafirst Bank

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. ..

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Astoria, by Washington Irving. Binford & Mort, 1967. 14.95/Members 13.45

Changes are part of growth for people as well as for museums. The future of this Museum is bright We believe that these innovative changes will help us in polishing the beacon of education for everyone

Mr. & Mrs. Edward Haupt

Mr. & Mrs. Kenneth Lundgren

So how did we do it? It was not an easy task. At first a crane was thought necessary, but bringing heavy equipment into the Museum was judged too impractical and costly. Instead, Hampton Scudder, the Museum's exhibit specialist, worked for several days constructing a large cradle to support the boat on its move. He also cut dozens of 2½ foot lengths of 1 ½ inch hardwood doweling to use as rollers that would give the historic vessel a much smoother ride than it could have received during its 40 year career in the waters off the Oregon and Washington coasts

Gray Whale Gallery

John Marshall

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Origin of Sea Terms, by John G.

Moving slowly , but surely, she nestled into her new berth. When at last the forklift was taken away and the rollers still beneath the boat removed, the staff heaved a sigh of relief and stood back to take a good look at the project . The newly opened space, which had been hidden behind the lifeboat yielded a wealth of possibilities for mounting temporary exhibits and providing much needed space for special interpretive projects.

Today the lifeboat has no distinguishing identification numbers, home base name or the easily identifiable red stripe

Pirates and Patriots of the Revolution: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Colonial Seamanship, by Keith Wilbur. Globe Pequot Press, 1984 10 95/Members 9 85.


Mayor & Mrs. Fred H. Rutherford

Rogers Mystic Seaport, 1985. 15.00/ Members 13.50.

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As an added benefit, an observation platform will be built next to the lifeboat so that visitors will be able to step up to her and peer onto the working deck


Tall Ships of the World, by Keith Wilbur. Globe Pequot Press, 1986. 9.95/ Members 8.95.

Ronald Ford

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the rollers, which needed to be quickly replaced on the starboard side as they exited out the port : Rino Bebeloni and John Davis manned the starboard watch, with Tracy Sund and Bill Dee keeping up the fast paced replacement duty, port to starboard.

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Moving Right Along

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and Coast Guard insignia. That will change too. Previously, it was not known whether this particular vessel carried the stripe because of her age. The stripe and insignia became official in 1967 after the transference of the Coast Guard from the Department of the Treasury to the Department of Transportation. Recently, however, the Museum was able to confirm through photographic documentation that this vessel did in fact bear the familiar stripe during her later years of service. There are plans to reinstate the identification numbers, home base name and the Coast Guard stripe, as a part of this summer's celebration of the 200th anniversary of the United States Coast Guard

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On November 16, 1989 something nearing monumental proportions took place in the Great Hall of the Columbia River Maritime Museum; something so exciting in its conception and execution that it brought to mind the moving of the huge blocks of limestone used to build the Great Pyramids of ancient Egypt.


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Quarterdeck, Vol. 16No. 2 11

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