T. J. Potter

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T.J. Potter
T.J. Potter
Name: T.J. Potter
Route: Columbia River, Puget Sound
In service: 1888
Out of service: 1921
Fate: Abandoned, Youngs Bay, near Astoria
Notes: Reconstructed in 1901
General characteristics
Type: inland steamship
Length: 230 feet (70.1 m); after reconstruction: 234 feet (71.3 m)
Depth: 10.5 feet (3.2 m) depth of hold
Decks: three (freight, passenger, boat)
Installed power: steam engine
Propulsion: sidewheels

The T.J. Potter was a steamboat that operated in the Northwestern United States. The boat was launched in 1888. Her upper cabins came from the steamboat Wide West. This required some modification, because the T.J. Potter was a side-wheeler, whereas the Wide West had been a stern-wheeler. The boat's first owner was the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company.

Design and construction

File:Steamboat T.J. Potter (Stanton drawing).jpg
drawing of T.J. Potter by Samuel Ward Stanton, 1895

The T.J. Potter, commonly referred to as the Potter, was built entirely of wood by a firm owned by John F. Steffan. She was built for the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company.[1] She was launched at Portland, Oregon in 1888. She was propelled by two non-condensing steam engines, with 32" cylinders, each with an eight foot stroke, and generating (together or singly is not sure) 1,700 horsepower. Her single boiler and firebox were built in 1887 by the Pusey & Jones Company, of Wilmington, Delaware. The boiler was 32 feet (9.8 m) long with a diameter of 84 inches (2,100 mm). Her gross tonnage was 659 and her net tonnage was 589. As built, the Potter was 230 feet (70 m) long, with a beam of 35 feet (11 m), and depth of hold of 10 1/2 feet.[2] Her U.S. registry number was 145489.[1]

Construction of the Potter was supervised by Captain James W. Troup, one of the most famous steamboat captains in the West. On May 26, 1888, the same year the Potter was built, Captain Troup had brought the sternwheeler Hassalo over a six-mile (10 km) stretch of rapids called the Cascades of the Columbia during low water, reaching speeds of 50 miles (80 km) an hour in the process.[3]

When built, the Potter had a reputation as one of the fastest and most luxurious steamboats in the Pacific Northwest:

[T]he T.J. Potter was the final step in the evolution of the side-wheeler--230 feet long, 33 feet (10 m) beam, with grace and beauty in every inch of her. Elegant was the word for the T.J. Potter; even her paddle boxes were elegant. Where those of the lesser side-wheelers were pierced by simple fan designs, hers were jigsawed into an intricate floral pattern that made them works of Victorian art. A divided, curving staircase led up to the grand saloon, and her passengers could watch themselves mount it in the biggest plate glass mirror in the West. Colored sunlight from the stained glass windows of the clerestory gleamed on soft carpeting and the mellowed wood and ivory of a grand piano.[4]

Operation on Puget Sound

File:North Pacific and TJ Potter (steamboats), Seattle, 1891.JPG
T.J. Potter in center, with smaller sidewheel steamer North Pacific on left, at Seattle, Washington, 1891
File:Seattle waterfront 1891.JPG
Panorama of Seattle waterfront in 1891, with T.J. Potter at Oregon Improvement Company pier
File:Union Pacific dock, Seattle WA June 6 1891.JPG
Steamboats at the Union Pacific Dock in Seattle, Washington, June 6, 1891. Multnomah appears to be the vessel closest to the dock. The larger vessel appears to be T.J. Potter.

The first season after she was launched, her owners put her on the tourist run from Portland to Astoria, Oregon. In August 1888, the Potter made the run from Portland to Astoria in 5 hours and 31 minutes.[2] By comparison, the fastest steamboat on the Columbia River at that time was the Potter's competitor Telephone, which on July 2, 1887 had made the 105-mile (169 km) run from Portland to Astoria in 4 hours and 34 minutes.[5]

After that, she was transferred to Puget Sound to compete with another famous steamboat, the Bailey Gatzert, which was owned by the Seattle Steam Navigation and Transportation Company. The Bailey was a stern-wheeler, and did better in the Sound than the sidewheeler Potter, which rolled from side to side in swells, raising first one paddle wheel then the other out of the water.

Even so, the T.J. Potter was one of the fastest steamboats on Puget Sound, and is reported in 1890 to have bested the famous sternwheeler Bailey Gatzert in a race. The Potter was also reported to have set a record time of 82 minutes on the run from Seattle to Tacoma.[6] While operating out of Puget Sound, the Potter, along with many other local steamboats, helped fight the Great Seattle Fire of 1889:

The mighty T.J. Potter foamed up from Vancouver Island with a Canadian fire engine, the chief of the Victoria fire department, and 22 firemen. Fire was licking the docks so the Victoria fire company went to work where it landed.[4]

Return to Columbia River

Eventually the Potter was transferred back to the Columbia River for good. She was placed on the Portland-Astoria run, where she competed with steamboats owned by the Shaver Transportation Company. The Potter's owners, Oregon Railway and Navigation Company, struck an anti-competitive deal with Shaver Transportation, whereby the Shaver boats, including the Sarah Dixon, would stay off the Portland-Astoria route in return for a monthly subsidy from Oregon Railway and Navigation Company. Other competitors of the Potter on the Portland-Astoria run included Lurline and Georgiana.[5]

Captain and crew

In 1901, Joe Turner was the captain of the T.J. Potter. Other crew at apparently the same time, but whose positions are uncertain, included Al Gray (Faber, cited below, identifies Gray as captain), Julius Oliver, James Healey, Harry O. Staples, Ed Scott, Fred Ware, Claude Cooper, Wendell Smith, and Henry Hoffman.[5]


File:TJ Potter (steamboat) 1901.jpg
T.J. Potter following reconstruction in 1901.
File:TJ Potter (steamboat) 1910 postcard.JPG
This photograph is from an old colorized postcard. The view is towards the west, and shows T.J. Potter pulling away from a landing, probably just before entering the Cascade Locks. Another steamer, a sternwheeler, is in the foreground, this is possibly the Charles Spencer. Coming up to the landing from the west another steamer can be seen, which from the vessel's apparent configuration and the white collar on her funnel, appears to be the Bailey Gatzert. The large crowds on all the steamers are readily visible; this is an excellent depiction of the high point of steamboat operations on the river.

In 1901 the Potter was rebuilt, increasing her length by only a few feet but greatly increasing her weight. Her gross tonnage rose from 650 to 1017 tons, and her net tonnage from 590 to 826.[7][1] The increased weight cut several knots off her speed. Her wheelhouse was rebuilt, and instead of a flat roof, she had a dome with flagpole. This was unique among Columbia River steamboats.

Following the rebuild (which cost $86,000), the Potter's owners put her on the run from Portland to Ilwaco, Washington for connection with the narrow-gauge Ilwaco Railway and Navigation Company, serving primarily the summer tourist trade. [8]

Later years and abandonment

The Potter was refurbished in 1910, and continued in operation on the Portland-Ilwaco run.[8] In the early 1990s, Professor Frederick Bracher recalled riding on the Potter from Portland to Ilwaco as a young child in 1915:

The T.J. Potter was an old but comfortable sidewheel steamboat, ponderously slow, even when going downstream. Although it was later replaced by the Georgiana, a sleek and narrow twin-screw steamer, I preferred the T.J. Potter to the smaller and faster rival. The monumental semi-circular paddle boxes, painted like the rays of the rising sun, arched up as high as the boat deck; the paddle wheels produced a prodigious wake to port and starboard, as well as astern. On the main deck were staterooms for the elderly, the rich, or the newly married; and a continuous seat ran all the way around the stern. If the weather was good, there would be deck chairs on the open afterdeck, and the glass-enclosed lounge cabins were comfortable on cold or rainy days.[9]
File:T J Potter steamboat folk art model.JPG
folk art model of the T.J. Potter

Just before the opening of the tourist season in 1916 the Potter was condemned for passenger use.[8] The Potter was not replaced[10] on the Portland-Ilwaco run, as there was insufficient passenger traffic to justify putting a new boat on the route.[8]

The Potter then served as a barracks boat for construction crews until sometime in the early 1920s, when she was abandoned in Youngs Bay near Astoria. She was reportedly burned for her metal,[5] but this may not be correct. Faber publishes a photograph showing her abandoned, stripped of upper works, but with her hull substantially intact, with large metal components such as her rudder strap intact. (Faber, at page 155).


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Affleck, Edward L., A Century of Paddlewheelers in the Pacific Northwest, the Yukon, and Alaska, page 26, Vancouver, B.C., Alexander Nicolls Press (2000) ISBN 0-9200-08-X
  2. 2.0 2.1 *Maritime History of the Great Lakes (includes information on non-Great Lakes boats, including sketches and specifications of T.J. Potter. Accessed 11/14/07/
  3. O,Neil, Paul, The Rivermen, pages 138-39, Time-Life Books, Chicago, IL (1975) ISBN 0-8094-1498-8
  4. 4.0 4.1 Newell, Gordon R., Ships of the Inland Sea - The Story of the Puget Sound Steamboats, page 111, Portland, OR, Binford & Mort 1960
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Timmen, Franz: Blow for the Landing, A Hundred Years of Steam Navigation on the Waters of the West, at 50, 133, 139-40, and 174, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, ID 1973 ISBN 0-87004-221-1
  6. Newell, Gordon, and Williamson, Joe, Pacific Steamboats, page 28, Superior Publishing, New York, NY (1958)
  7. Mills, Randall V., Stern-wheelers up Columbia -- A Century of Steamboating in the Oregon Country, page 201, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE (1947)
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Feagans, Raymond J., The Railroad that Ran by the Tide, at 49 and 80-81, Howell-North Books, Berkley, CA (1972) ISBN 0-8310-7094-3)
  9. Braucher, Frederick, Reminiscence - Going to the Beach, pages 168-69, 93 Oregon Historical Quarterly No. 2, Oregon Historical Society (1992) ISSN 0030-4727.
  10. Professor Bracher's mention that Georgiana replaced the Potter may refer only to the run from Portland to Astoria. No other source records another boat running directly from directly from Portland to Ilwaco after the Potter's retirement.

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