Hassalo (sternwheeler 1880)

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Hassalo running Cascades of the Columbia, May 26, 1888
Name: Hassalo
Owner: Oregon Railway and Navigation Company Oregon Railway and Navigation Company
Route: Columbia River, Puget Sound
Out of service: 1898[1]
Fate: Dismantled
Notes: Ran the Cascades of the Columbia on May 26, 1888 at speeds approaching 60 mi (97 km) an hour.
General characteristics
Type: inland steamboat passenger/freighter (later towboat)
Tonnage: 462[2]
Length: 160 ft (49 m)
Beam: 30 ft (9 m)
Decks: three (freight, passenger, hurricane)
Installed power: twin steam engines, 17" diameter, 60"stroke
Propulsion: sternwheel

The steamboat Hassalo operated from 1880 to 1898 on the Columbia River and Puget Sound. Hassalo became famous for running the Cascades of the Columbia on May 26, 1888 at a speed approaching 60 miles (97 km) an hour. This vessel should not be confused with other steamboats with the same or a similar name, including Hassalo (1899) and Hassaloe (1857).[2][3]


Hassalo was built at The Dalles, Oregon in 1880. She was the first steamboat built for the Oregon Railway and Navigation Co. which had recently bought out the powerful monopoly Oregon Steam Navigation Co. Hassalo was 160 ft (49 m) long, 30 ft (9 m), 6 ft (2 m) depth of hold, and rated at 462 tons. Hassalo was built entirely of wood, driven by a sternwheel which in turn drew its power from twin single-cylinder steam engines, each of 17" bore and 60" stroke.[4]

Operations on the Middle Columbia[edit]

Hassalo ran on the "Middle" Columbia river, that is, the reach between the Cascades and the Dalles, Oregon. The Columbia river was only freely navigable up to the Cascades of the Columbia, a stretch of rapids in the Columbia Gorge that has since been submerged by water pooling behind Bonneville Dam. Above the Cascades there was a stretch of navigable river going east about 40 miles (64 km) to The Dalles. This reach was called the "Middle River." After that, navigation was further impeded by a longer series of rapids, the most important of which was Celilo Falls.

Before rail lines were built, travellers bound from Portland, Oregon for Idaho or the Inland Empire generally went by way of the Columbia River. This route was like a series of giant stairsteps. First, traffic proceeded by steamboat up to the Cascades, where rapids blocked the river to all upstream traffic and made downstream traffic extremely hazardous. This then required transfer to a portage railroad (first hauled by mules, later by steam engines), which proceeded to the top of the Cascades. Travellers then boarded another steamboat to proceed up river to the Dalles, where the process would be repeated for a 13-mile (21 km)[3] portage around Celilo Falls and the other rapids upriver from the Dalles, which like the Cascades were unnavigable both upstream and downstream.[2] This, the middle river, was the route Hassalo ran on from 1880 to 1888. Hassalo’s first captain on the middle river was Fred Wilson, followed by H.F. Coe, then Captain John McNulty for the last five years on the Columbia.

Running the Cascades[edit]

Capt. James W. Troup

As railways began to be completed along the banks of the Columbia, the steamboats, tied to the river which required too much loading and unloading of passengers and cargo, proved to be unable to compete, and one by one they were taken off the Middle River. The turn of the Hassalo came on Saturday, May 26, 1888, under the command of Captain James W. Troup. The event had been announced well in advance, and three thousand people gathered along the banks of the Columbia to watch. The channel through the Cascades was six miles (10 km) long.[3]

The Northwest Masters and Pilots Association organized two steamers, the R.R. Thompson and the Lurline to bring crowds up from Portland and Vancouver to witness the event.[5] Describing the excursion up river, the Sunday Oregonian wrote:

The excursion boats arrived at the Cascades, and the excursionists disembarked on the north, Washington Territory side. There was a scramble up the bank to board the portage train which was to take the crowd to the Upper Cascades where the run was to start. There weren’t enough seats on the train, so a part of the crowd had to wait for the train to run up to the Upper Cascades and return. People had also come down from The Dalles on the Harvest Queen, which ran down to the Cascades with the Hassalo. Other people came up on a train from Bonneville so that there were about 3,000 excursionists overall. As the crowds assembled, both Hassalo and Harvest Queen were at the Upper Cascades wharf with all flags flying. When everything was finally ready, the scene was described by the Sunday Oregonian’s correspondent:

Hassalo with just 15 people on board, passed by the people on the bank in just 30 seconds and disappeared from sight around a bend in the river. As she ran down the rest of the six mile (10 km) run, she exchanged whistle blasts with locomotives on the railway tracks besides the river. Once at the end of the rapids, which she ran in seven minutes, Captain Troup took Hassalo down the Columbia and up the Willamette River to Portland.[5]

Remarkable as this was, even the run of Hassalo was not the fastest through the Cascades. On June 3, 1881, captain Troup had taken R.R. Thompson (sternwheeler), one of the same boats that was to run on the Hassalo excursion seven years later, through the Cascades, completing the run twenty seconds faster, and this speed was bested exactly one year later by the R.R. Thompson, itself, when, then, under the mastery of the earlier mentioned and unrivaled riverboatman, Captain John McNulty (steamboat captain). For those times there were not 3,000 people to watch, nor was a famous photograph taken, so the R.R. Thompson runs are largely forgotten by history.[2]

Puget Sound service[edit]

After minor repairs in Portland, Hassalo was transferred to Puget Sound, where under Capt. O. A. Anderson she was placed on the Bellingham route.[4] She also served on the Olympia-Tacoma-Seattle route.[1] In 1890, Hassalo collided with the smaller sternwheeler Otter, damaging Otter beyond repair.[3]

Return to Columbia River[edit]

In 1892 Hassalo was returned to the Columbia River where she was converted to a towboat, serving there until 1898, when she was dismantled.[1][4]


  1. ^ a b c Newell, Gordon R., ed., H.W. McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest, at 43, Superior Publishing, Seattle, WA 1966 ISBN 0-87564-220-9
  2. ^ a b c d Mills, Randall V., Sternwheelers up Columbia, at 67-79, 195, University of Nebraska Press (1977 reprint of 1947 edition) ISBN 0-8032-5874-7
  3. ^ a b c d Timmen, Fritz, Blow for the Landing, at 15, 67, 102, and 137, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, ID 1973 ISBN 0-87004-221-1
  4. ^ a b c Wright, E.W., ed., Lewis & Dryden Marine History of the Pacific Northwest, at 273 (page 297 online), Lewis & Dryden Printing Co., Portland, OR 1895 (document is in DjVu format)
  5. ^ a b c "Shot the Rapids – The Steamer Hassalo Accomplishes its Perilous Passage Safely – Three Thousand People Witness the Thrilling Sight – Successful Excursion – Six Mile Run Made in Seven Minutes", Sunday Oregonian, May 27, 1888

External links[edit]

University of Washington image collections[edit]

University of Oregon image collections[edit]

  • Hassalo running the Cascades This is another copy of the famous photograph reproduced at the top of this article. It may be a clearer image.