"The Diesel engine that gave new life to so many of the old steamboats, spelled retirement and eventual destruction for some. A new heavy duty Diesel costs a great many thousands of dollars, so owners who could afford them, still had to think twice about their investment. It's hardly worthwhile to put that much money in a boat unless the hull was pretty certain to last as long as the engine. If there was any doubt about it the old steamer usually ended up in the boneyard.
A number of people, particularly steamboat fans, will tell you that the great advantages of Diesel power over steam in the realm of economy of operation was largely artificial; that they resulted from arbitrary government regulations rather than any real mechanical advantages on the part of the internal combustion rigs. There is considerable logic to back up their arguments.
The old steam engine may have been running smoothly after half a century of hard work and showing no signs of wear. The new Diesel may thump, emit evil smells, and require frequent maintenance, but the fact remains that the conversion had saved money in future operating costs that probably meant the difference between profit and loss.
Probably hardest hit by the transition were the old passenger steamers. When highway and railway competition began to make their old routes unprofitable their owners looked around for new jobs to keep them busy. Many of the bigger steamboats compromised with the automobiles by becoming ferry boats. Even splendid sternwheel packets made the change, thereby extending their lives for a while. Smaller steamboats, not capable of hauling enough automobiles to make profitable ferries, turned to towing.
Most of them were getting on in years when they became tugboats. Worth rebuilding once, most of them fell by the wayside when their owners were faced with the heavy expense of another conversion––to Diesel power. Another point against them was their hull construction. Most of them were built on long, slim lines with knife-like bows and low freeboard. This was fine in the day of the passenger steamboat that was a competitive age, for it gave them the speed needed to outrace rivals and garner the cream of the passenger and freight business.
Unfortunately this design, ideal for racing passenger steamboats, was the opposite of ideal for saltwater towboats. They need a broad, deep, high-bowed hull under them to give them the stability and seaworthiness they need. They need heavy timbers to withstand the bruises and shocks that are occupational hazards in their business. The little passenger steamers were built light and limber to give them the high speed that, as tugboats, was no longer needed.
The slim little MAGNOLIA was an example of the lightly graceful passenger boats that tried their hand at tugboating. She was 101' L with a beam of just over 18', while her gross tonnage was measured at just 57 tons. The trend has been steadily in the opposite direction. Puget Sound Tug's TYEE, built in 1927 as the CROWLEY NO. 28 is only 80' L but her beam is 20' and she registers 75 gross tons.
As a passenger steamer piloted by Captain Fred Sutter, the first little MAGNOLIA gained a reputation as a racer which was outstanding in an era and an area where steamboat racing was a favorite pastime. Her greatest fame was gained in her battle with Captain Chance Wyman's VASHON on the Tacoma-Quartermaster Harbor route. Competition became so spirited that passengers on the rival steamboats began to fear for their lives, finally banding together to force a cessation of hostilities. After that, the MAGNOLIA operated as a direct boat between Seattle and Olympia. She remained in this trade until the early 1920s; was the last scheduled passenger steamer to serve Olympia which had been a steamboat port since 1853.
She lost none of her slim good looks when she became a towboat for the Olson Tugboat Co of Tacoma. The Olson colors––white touched up with scarlet trim––set her off to good advantage. Under Paddy Craig, she worked hard at log and barge towing for some 15 years, but she just wasn't built for the work. It was like hitching a dainty racehorse to a brewery wagon, and it wore her out. When the towing fleet went Diesel the MAGNOLIA was dismantled, a new little Diesel tug carrying on her name in the Olson fleet."
Above text by Newell, Gordon". Pacific Tugboats. Superior Publishing, Seattle.
Maritime historian, J. Robin Paterson, told this writer the melodious whistle of the MAGNOLIA went to the RONDA.
Note: The Saltwater People post about the Mosquito VIRGINIA V has been updated from a great little publication, The Washington Fleet by Ron and Kristine Henshaw. Click on a link here