National Park Service
Return to Maritime home page
Maritime Landmarks
Back to Large Vessel Landmarks Main Page
Back to Landmarks Main Page
Tugboat Arthur Foss, ex-Wallowa
National Historic Landmark Study
by James Delgado, 1988
Designated April 11, 1989

Present and Historic Physical Appearance

Tugboat Arthur Foss, Kirkland Washington. Photo by James Delgado, 1988.
The 1889 tug Arthur Foss, ex-Wallowa, is a preserved historic vessel owned and maintained by Northwest Seaport Museum, Inc. of Seattle, Washington. Arthur Foss is moored at Kirkland, Washington on Lake Washington at the Moss Bay Marina.

Arthur Foss as Wallowa and as Rebuilt and Maintained

As built in 1889 and launched as Wallowa, the vessel was 111.6 feet in length with a 23.9-foot beam, a 11.6-foot depth of hold, and a 15-foot draft. Wallowa was registered at 225 gross tonnage and 127 net tonnage. [1] Built of Douglas fir, the tug's wooden hull was heavily built with 8- x 7-inch double-sawn frames, wooden knees, 4-inch thick outer hull and ceiling planking, treenail-fastened. The 15-inch thick keel was built with a 2- 1/2-inch thick ironbark shoe, and the hull above the turn of the bilge is sheathed with 1-inch thick ironbark. The tug's form then, as now, was of a "typical" form for this type of craft prior to the Second World War. In 1927, one author explained that while there were slight differences in design and powering,

American sea and harbor towboats, irrespective of their duty, which distinguishes them...and leaves no possible doubt as to the country of their origin. This similarity manifests itself in the long deckhouse, extending for practically two-thirds of the length of the hull, rounded forward, square or round at the aft end....The top of this house has a slightly greater length and beam than the house itself and has a tall wheelhouse, rounded in the front and square in the back....Abaft this is the stack....The deckhouse is mounted on a strong bluff hull of internationally conventional tug form, having a big block coefficient, and propelled by a large diameter, big pitch, slow running wheel. [2]

The description could practically be the same for Wallowa then and now.

The original engine was a 122-h.p. double-cylinder compound marine steam engine manufactured in 1887 by the Union Iron Works of San Francisco for Oregon Railway and Navigation Co. for the tug Donald. The engines drove the tug's single 8-foot diameter screw. Wooden-hulled tugs were said to be stout and hence "likely to be in operation for many years to come....[and] will often outlive several sets of machinery and there is more than one such vessel which has outlived the change from coal burning to oil burning and from steam to diesel." [3] Such was the case for Wallowa. In 1904 her 17-year-old engines were replaced with new compound engines. This new machinery was again replaced in 1927 when a fire destroyed the deckhouse and engine room. The deckhhouse, reportedly built with timber cut for never-built World War I emergency fleet wooden steamers, was reconstructed along the original lines. [4]

The shift from steam to diesel took place in 1934 after the tug had been renamed Arthur Foss. A direct-reversing Washington Estep Engine manufactured by the Washington Iron Works of Seattle was installed in April 1934. This air-started 6-cylinder, 700- h.p. direct-lubricating engine is the engine currently in the vessel, and has been restored to pristine operating condition, driving the tug along at a respectable 13 knots. All original (1934) engine room machinery remains in the vessel, including riveted steel air and fuel (80,000-gal. capacity) tanks, 120-v. D.C. generators, switchboards, telegraphs and gauges.

Arthur Foss Today

The hull retains the original lines and form and is in good condition below the waterline, though the bulwarks are dryrotted. The fir decks are tight and mount Arthur Foss' wooden deckhouse, towing winch, windlass, and the quadrant-cable steering system. The steering cables run aft on the deck, covered by wooden shoes, from the deckhouse to the counter. The quadrant rests on deck beneath an elevated poop. The tow winch, driven by a 120-v. generator, has no manufacturer's plate but seems to date to circa 1930; it may have been installed when the new engines were put into Foss in 1934. Arthur Foss carries two unrigged masts; the foremast carries the ship's bell, horn, and running lights and the mainmast mounts a craneboom for the boat carried on the Texas deck.

Below decks the hull is divided between the large chain locker forward and the engine room. The deckhouse is a two-level structure, with the lower portion housing over and providing access to the engine room below deck. Forward of this space is the galley, with a diesel-fired range with attached hot-water tanks and a wooden reefer. Forward of the galley and on the port side is the wardroom with a single wooden table; opposite the wardroom are crew's quarters with two bunks. Occupying the entire forward space of the first level of the deck house are two quarters for four crew members, each with two bunks.

The next level, reached by stairs running inside abaft the galley, covers only half the area of the deckhouse. The second level includes the Texas deck, now fiberglassed to stop leaks. The Texas deck is an open space which carries the tug's boat and the single riveted-steel stack, which mounts the porcelainized steel emblem of Foss Launch and Tug-- "Foss `Always Ready' Tugs-- Bergen." The second level holds a single head, three cabins (in order running aft) the captain, mate, and engineer's--each with original diagonal tongue-in-groove planking, individual running water, and fittings. The pilothouse, the highest point in the tug, has all original equipment, including the large wooden manual wheel and a smaller brass power wheel, telegraph, binnacle, and steam radiators.

Ninety-nine years of operation resulted in minor changes but, beside the engines, no major modifications to Arthur Foss. All repairs and replacements to the hull and superstructure followed original lines and used in-kind materials, retaining the vessel's pre-Second World War "typical" tugboat appearance. Essentially maintaining her unique 19th century feeling, Arthur Foss is a well-preserved, operating wooden tugboat with necessary alterations made during her career for continued use in the 20th century.


1. Thirty-Eighth Annual List of Merchant Vessels of the United States (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1906) p. 318.

2. A.C. Hardy, American Ship Types: A Review of the Work, Characteristics, and Construction of Ship Types Peculiar to the Waters of the North American Continent (New York: D. Van Nostrand Co., Inc., 1927) p. 146.

3. Ibid., p. 153.

4. Mary Stiles Kline, "Arthur's Alive and Well at 92," Nor'Westing, November 1981, p. 15.

Statement of Significance

The 1889 tugboat Arthur Foss, ex-Wallowa, owned and maintained by Northwest Seaport, Inc. as an operating preserved historic vessel, is an excellent example of a typical late 19th-early 20th century American tugboat. Well-maintained, retaining her integrity of design and construction and restored in an accurate fashion, Arthur Foss is the only known wooden-hulled 19th century tugboat left afloat and in operating condition in the United States. Built in Portland, Oregon for a seemingly local use, Arthur Foss's career, nonetheless, was associated with trading and events of significance to the nation. Foss towed lumber and grain laden square-rigged ships across the treacherous Columbia River Bar and hence was a key participant in the nationally significant Pacific coast lumber trade and the internationally significant grain trade. Foss played an important role in the transportation of people and goods to Alaska during the Klondike gold rush. Foss served as the set for filming the MGM classic motion picture "Tugboat Annie" (1933), a film that epitomized tugboats and tugboating for a generation of Americans. Foss, while under charter to the United States Navy, was the last vessel to successfully escape Wake Island in January 1942 before Imperial Japanese forces attacked and captured that Pacific outpost. Serving on Puget Sound for the regionally-significant Foss Launch and Tug Co. for much of her 20th century career, Arthur Foss, while of national significance, also is indelibly linked to the important maritime traditions of the Pacific Northwest.

Career of Wallowa and Arthur Foss

The tug Wallowa was built by the Oregon Railway and Navigation Co. at Portland, Oregon in 1889 to replace the company's tug Donald. Wallowa entered into a rough trade, towing a variety of ships, usually square-riggers laden with Oregon grain bound to Europe or schooners filled with Pacific coast lumber bound across the treacherous Columbia River Bar. The Columbia River, which provides access into Oregon's interior to the practicle head of navigation at Portland, is one of the most dangerous rivers to enter on the Pacific coast. Sudden, unpredictable current changes result in breakers and surging seas. The fast-runnning currents shoaling areas, shifting sand bars, and free floating logs and deadheads from mills up river combined with human error and storms to earn the bar the sobriquet of "Graveyard of the Pacific." Wallowa worked on the bar for nine years.

The discovery of gold in Alaska on the Klondike in 1896 resulted in a new gold rush on the Pacific coast. Fortune-seekers flocked from around the nation and from other nations, many congregating at the ports of San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle and then booking regular passage to Alaska. One of the vessels caught up in the Klondike rush was Wallowa. Purchased by the White Star Line of Alaska, Wallowa towed the steamer Yosemite from Puget Sound to St. Michael on the Yukon River, the jumping off point for the Klondike and later towed barges to Alaska. By 1900 Wallowa was advertised as carrying mail between Juneau, Haines, and Skagway for the Pacific Clipper Line, and in 1903 the tug returned from Alaska. [1]

Sold in 1904 to the Puget Sound Mill and Timber Co. of Port Townsend, Washington, Wallowa was re-engined and worked for the next 25 years for the company towing log rafts around Puget Sound and along the Washington coast. Leased and then sold to the Merrill and Ring Logging Co. of Seattle, Wallowa was then sold, in 1929, to the Foss Launch & Tug Co. of Seattle. [2] The purchase of Wallowa, boosted the Foss fleet to 36 tugs and 80 scows (barges) ranging from 100 to 1,200 tons, making it the largest fleet of tugs and scows on the Pacific Coast at that time, with offices in Tacoma, Seattle, and Port Angeles. [3]

A major change of routine for the tug came in 1933 when Metro- Goldwyn-Mayer leased her to film the motion picture "Tugboat Annie." Inspired by the popular serial in the Saturday Evening Post by Norman Reilly Raine, the film starred Marie Dressler with Wallace Beery playing her rival and competitor, Capt. Bullwinkle. The film co-starred Robert Young and Maureen O'Sullivan. Cosmetically "dirtied" to play the role of Annie's tug Narcissus, Wallowa shared center stage with Dressler and Beery. In a climatic scene in which Narcissus rammed a ship, the unfortunate tug actually did so, seriously damaging the bow and incurring an emergency two-day repair by MGM. [4] The release of the film, along with the Raine serial, did much to provide an image of tugboats and tugboating to a generation of Americans.

Following the filming of "Tugboat Annie," the worn-out engines of the vessel were replaced in 1934 and Wallowa was renamed Arthur Foss. Continuing in service for the Foss Co. for the next seven years, Arthur Foss was chartered to the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet, towing barges in the Hawaiian Islands. Foss was 12 hours out of Wake Island, headed for Oahu when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The tug, maintaining radio silence and repainted war-time gray by her crew while still at sea, reached Oahu safely. Foss was the last American vessel to escape safely from Wake prior to the Japanese attack and capturing of the island in January 1942. Arthur Foss continued to operate for the U.S. Navy at Oahu under a bareboat charter until 1947, when she was returned to the Foss Co. and made her way back to Seattle. [5]

From 1947 to 1970 the tug continued to work at her pre-war activities for the Foss Co. The arrival of a new, more powerful tug in 1963 saw the transfer of the name Arthur Foss to the new vessel; Arthur Foss, ex-Wallowa was renamed Theodore Foss. In 1970 the vessel was decommissioned by the Foss Co. and transferred to Save Our Ships, Inc., an organization that became the present day Northwest Seaport, Inc. [6] After a short period of operation by the museum, the historic tug, again rechristened Arthur Foss, was laid up and deteriorated. Restored to operating condition in 1981 by a dedicated group of volunteers, Arthur Foss draws close to the end of her first century in good shape, operating on Puget Sound, ranging north again to Alaska and to British Columbia as a goodwill ambassador for the State of Washington, and keeping the wooden tugboat tradition alive. [7]


1. Mary Stiles Kline, "Arthur's Alive and Well at 92," Nor`Westing, November 1981, pp. 14-15.

2. Ibid., p. 15 and Certificate of Registry, Permanent No. 526, Port of Seattle, May 29, 1917, and Bill of Sale of Registered Vessel, Wallowa, Tacoma, Washington, June 5, 1934, manuscripts on file at Northwest Seaport, Inc., Seattle, Washington.

3. The Marine Digest, September 7, 1929, p. 1.

4. Kline, "Arthur's Alive and Well," p. 16.

5. Ibid., p. 17 and Report of Load Line Inspection No. 949, Port of Honolulu, January 2, 1942.

6. Kline, pp. 19-20; Consolidated Certificate of Enrollment and Yacht License Permanent Certificate No. 02-14, June 10, 1970, manuscript on file at Northwest Seaport, Inc., Seattle.

7. Dick Stokke, "The Arthur Foss Chugs Again," Puget Sound/Enetai August 24-September 6, 1984, p. 14.

Return to Maritime home page

Last Modified: Mon, Jan 31 2002 2:56:48 pm EDT

Privacy & Disclaimer

Parknet logo