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San Juan Islands, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 500, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

05 July 2011


In this maritime log we have saved historical stories of rowboats, fishboats, sailing schooners, diesel ferries, and the one and only behemoth battleship built in Seattle. Today we remember a Ballard mariner Otis L. Shively and his favorite towboat....

Early steam tug L-R: KATY, AUGUSTA.

Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S©. 

"In telling about 'Shive' and KATY it seems we were writing about towboating in general as it was on the Sound fifty to sixty years ago when towboating was fun. There were a bunch of rugged individualists around in those days who made do with what they had. Most tugboat companies were family affairs. This is an abridged story of one of them"...
Compiled by Ken Ayers.
Courtesy of the PSMHS quarterly membership journal
The Sea Chest, June 1975
By the late, great, James A. Gibbs, Jr., c. 1952
Otis Shively, a stocky, graying, towboater, ran his calloused hand over his sweating brow as he squinted into the blazing inferno that engulfed his tug KATY on the mudflats near Marysville.
      'I hate to see her go', he murmured. 'Guess she's outlived her usefulness, though, and there's no use havin' her layin' around and rottin' away'.
      He turned away toward the wooded hills above the water as though trying to dismiss the fact that he had set the fire to recover her metal. 'There ain't much money in it, either' he added as an afterthought.
      The cremation of the KATY marked the end of a chapter that started shortly after the Civil War and lasted until Seattle's Centennial--the saga of the KATY. Be it known to all that she was the 'grandmother' of all tugboats on the Pacific Coast. She probably was the oldest active tug in the entire USA. She was launched at San Francisco in the spring of 1868 and joined the service of the US Coast & Geodetic Survey fleet upon completion. On her initial survey trip she charted PNW waters. Less than a thousand people lived in Seattle then and Indian canoes were still the principal mode of transportation. So far back does the KATY's government service go that the archives at WA, DC, bear no record of her.
      As a commercial steamboat, the KATY came to Puget Sound about 1885 to stay, long having had her honorable discharge from Uncle Sam. She wasn't far from Elliott Bay when the terrible Seattle fire of 1889 demolished our city. The KATY virtually grew up with the Pacific Northwest through times of inflation and depression, through the days of the fabulous gold rush and the war booms. Time after time she towed tall windjammers and square riggers to and from Cape Flattery. In between, she was towing logs from Port Madison, Port Blakely, Utsalady, Port Gamble, and Port Townsend. She left hundreds of thousands of miles of foamy wake trailing behind, a pace she maintained for 84 years.
      When the 20s rolled in, the old steam plant was removed from the KATY and replaced by a Diesel engine by Otis Shively, who had purchased her a few years earlier. The KATY and Shively seemed to go together. She was a remarkable tug and he was a remarkable operator.
      During the prosperous '20s Shively owned a large fleet of tugs but after the depression, he parted with much of his floating stock as did men in all professions in those hectic years. But 'Shive' kept the KATY. She was his favorite. He soon became known as the Rube Goldberg of the towboat world, for he could do things with KATY that nobody else could do. He rigged up his own pilot house controls in a most unorthodox manner even to the place where clothespins sometimes acted as levers. He took pieces of junk and made them into first-class engine parts and the strange thing about it, his contrivances always worked. He could do anything with the KATY but make her fly. Some even accused him of lying in his bunk and operating the tug with his toes.
      Marie Dressler and Wallace Beery gazed upon the KATY many times when they were in Seattle years ago to film the immortal 'Tugboat Annie'. The KATY did much stand-in work in that film.
      The passing of the oak-hulled KATY went without fanfare; her engine and machinery were removed at the Northwest Rolling Mills on the Lake Washington Ship Canal.  In fact, only a few witnessed her burning on the beach at Arvid Franzen's between Edmonds and Mukilteo. If ships could only talk, what a story she could have told when she reached the port of no return.
 "And Jim was so right. If KATY could have talked these are some of the stories she would have told us.
Shive came to Seattle in the early 1920s where towboating became his way of life and his way of towboating was sometimes something else. Cylde Holcomb says Shive also lived for a while in a float house under the south end of the University Bridge.

Shive bought KATY in 1926 or '27 from the Chesley Towing Co. She was steam, of course, and according to Jim Cary, sported a 10 x 24 x 20 fore and aft compound. The source of steam was a pipe boiler carrying 250 pounds. Not a bad power plant. KATY was launched as the USS KATY in San Francisco in 1868. She was turned over to the US Coast & Geodetic Survey as Gibbs mentioned. Her registered number was 14405, her dimensions were 76 x 18.4 x 8.5 with a gross tonnage of 93. Two of KATY's last skippers when she was sailing for Chesley were Bill Stark and our friend and benefactor of 50 years ago, Captain Lindley Davis.

Now, as all of you know who were familiar with Shive's style of towboating, he was not widely known for having a surplus of crew members aboard at any time. In fact I was told he used to run KATY by himself when she was steam! That's almost like flying a 747 solo but not quite. Also, it would (to be legal) require that Shive have both a Master's license for steam vessels as well as a Chief Engineer's license. I'm not sure he had them or would have considered it a matter of importance if he didn't.

It wasn't too long before Shive decided he should modernize KATY's main propulsion by removing the steam plant and replacing it with an internal combustion engine. Somewhere he latched onto a six-cylinder, four-cycle Union gasoline engine. Now this was quite a pile of iron for 300 HP. Someplace along the line Shive decided gasoline was too dangerous or too expensive so he called in a well known Marine Engineer named Stroud who specialized in converting gasoline engines to semi-Diesels or semi's to full Diesels. Now there was a real pair because Shive himself was a very innovative mechanic of considerable talent and imagination. Would you believe it, when these two gentlemen were finished with that four-cycle gas rig, it turned out to be a two-cycle semi-Diesel? This is about the equivalent of tossing a can of beans and wieners into a frying pan and coming up with a three-egg, cheese omelet. It just isn't done in the best of circles, but they did!

As has been mentioned, Otis Shively was quite a mechanic. If he had had any formal or technical education he could have gone a long way in the marine engineering field. As a matter of fact, he did pretty well as it was. Les Reynolds tells me that when Shive dropped the Union into KATY he decided to make it a one-man boat as much as possible with wheelhouse control, etc. This he proceeded to do. I don't know all the technical ramifications of what he did but Les says, and is backed up by others, that Shive had a couple of automotive electric starters mounted up over the reverse gear and connected to it with suitable shafts and right angle gearing. Then, all over the boat, wheelhouse, foredeck, after deck, etc., he had mounted switches like dimmer switches on a car. In this manner, no matter where he was on the boat, he could put her in the go-ahead, backup, or kick her out of gear.

Now we beat our brains out trying to get to run a small tug with two or three men. In those days Shive had it licked. He used to run two or three boats with one man--himself. This is one reason it has been so difficult to learn about Shive as very few people worked for him. I have been told, he used to lash the ALITAK alongside KATY and run them both himself while on a log tow and that once in a while when he needed some extra power he would make the TRIO fast on the opposite side of KATY. I don't have any pictures of such goings on but believe me there are a lot of old timers who will swear to it.

Church Griffiths recalled the time someone asked Shive how he got any sleep while on a log tow by himself. Shive replied, 'No problem. I have a fourth mate who stands the opposite watch'. Well, a smart man would have dropped the subject right there but instead, he came back, 'Fourth mate, how come you carry four mates'. ' Well, it's like this', said Shive. You see I have a tall four-legged stool in the wheelhouse. To one I bend on the lead line, run it out the door and over the side with the lead in about 20 or 30 feet of water. I have four old coffee cans which I place on top of the stool and turn in. When the lead hits bottom it turns the stool over, the rattle of the cans turns me out, I look around, come one or two spokes left or right as the case may be, replace the becket, stool and cans, thus turning the watch back to the fourth mate and turn in again'.

In those days there was a very astute gentleman named Captain John M. Fox who covered the waterfront as President of the Ferryboatmen's Union; Master, Mates, and Pilots; Inlandboatmen's Union, etc. It was part of his responsibility to see that proper manning (number of crew members, etc.) was maintained on the various vessels. One day he met Shive on the street. After proper salutations the conversation went something like this:

Captain Fox: "Shive, I hear you are having some manning problems".

Shive: "Well, not really, Captain. The mate's not bad, he's a little new to these parts but he's learning fast. The Chief Engineer is a little hard to get along with but he knows the engine well and keeps it banging away. The A B is a good man, should be sitting for his Mate's license one of these days. The Ordinary is trying hard and will make a good seaman with a little experience. The cook, now there's a place we could be improved! He's not so good. Other than that we don't have any manning problems".

Captain Fox, being a very intelligent man, knew when he'd been had and that Shive was and would continue to run KATY by himself. He did the only thing possible. Put his hands in his pockets, shrugged his shoulders, turned around, and walked off.

Otis died 24 June 1954 of a heart attack. His ashes were consigned to Davy Jones locker but you can bet that wherever Shive is he is sitting around figuring out some way to run the place all by himself and he just might do it.

What a wonderful Northwest maritime legend--"Shive" and KATY--the names go together like anchor 'n chain. Now many old mariners, some with Captain before their names, meet and laugh at stories of their youthful experiences and hardships aboard the KATY and wonder how everyone survived encounters that would now overheat the OSHA Bureau."

For stories on Shive and KATY not recorded here, please see WATERWORK by Captain W. Leiter Hockett; Trafford Publishing, Victoria, BC., 2005. Leiter wrote six fascinating pages about his Ballard friend.

The book can be hard to find, but you can register Water Work on your "want" list –– please search here

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