OWEN TRONSDAL GOT HIS OWN STERN-WHEELER, after 40 years.
|JOHN EDWARD |
On the Swinomish Channel at LaConner, WA.
Undated postcard by Puget Sound Mail & Printing.
From the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
Ever since he saw his first sternwheeler chug up the Skagit River to disgorge passengers and take on peas, oats and vegetable crops, he has had one consuming passion––to own his own sternwheeler.
And then the dream that came true right before his eyes. A beautiful river queen took shape near Tronsdal's auto mechanics shop in Conway.
Neighbors and pals dropped around to watch the big flat-bottomed boat grow and none have been able to resist hopping aboard to lend a hand.
Glen Seehorn, Mt. Vernon, stopped at the building site in LaConner to see how his old friend Tony was doing with his new toy. He wound up spending three days getting the boat up on dollies and moving it a mile to the water.
|Top: inscribed, Diesel Sternwheeler|
JOHN EDWARD, Conway, WA.
Bottom: LaConner, WA., 3 Feb. 1963.
Photos courtesy of Jack Russell, Seattle, WA.
It was floated to Fresh Water Slough on the South Fork of the Skagit.
This all began in 1961 when Tronsdal and his wife decided they wanted a summer home. Tony conceived the idea of a sternwheeler that would serve a dual purpose––satisfy his life-long dream of piloting his own sternwheeler and provide a summer home at the same time.
As the boat took shape Tony was asked by so many people to hire out for a trip up the Skagit that he finally decided he would turn the paddle-wheeler into a commercial venture and sell tours from Mount Vernon to the mouth of the Skagit, 12 miles.
Tony wouldn't say how much the boat cost, but did admit "you could buy a nice house, I mean, a nice modern house, for the price of this boat."
The first thing Tony did when he decided to proceed was hire the best boat builder he could find. This was Howard Boling, a commercial fisherman in season and a boat builder in the offseason.
The vessel contained a 180-HP GMC Gray Marine Diesel engine for power that took it easily at eight knots. The paddle is 10-ft in diameter and 11-ft wide. The boat itself was built 65-ft overall in length and 18-ft in beam.
The hull is 100% Alaska cedar and only galvanized bolts were used throughout. An extra slab of concrete five and one-half inches thick backs up the heavy decking in the bow. "No deadhead is going to poke through and sink this baby," Tronsdal said.
The wheel itself is a masterpiece. Two young men in Mt. Vernon High School, Bill and Albert Olson, asked if they could have the privilege of outfitting the paddle-wheeler with its wheel. One brother worked on it two years and when he graduated from shop class a second brother moved in to finish the job. It is five feet in diameter and made of mahogany and teak.
Tronsdal was asked to sell his blueprints.
"There aren't any. This baby came right out of my head. I just drew a picture of what I wanted and some details and Boling started building her. And who's there to go to for advice on building a stern-wheeler? Nobody. They're all dead and gone."
The vessel was named after Tony's son, John Edward Tronsdal. He was 10 years old at the time, the same age as when Tronsdal saw his first sternwheeler.
Text by Willis Tucker for The Skagit Herald, 22 March 1966
JOHN EDWARD lived to go on to other owners under the name of EMERALD QUEEN. More coming.