Category Archives: Arthur Foss

The Arthur Foss Turns 125

The Arthur Foss at the Historic Ships Wharf on South Lake Union

The Arthur Foss at the Historic Ships Wharf on South Lake Union – (Photo by Joe Mabel)

Foss tugboats are as an iconic part of Puget Sound views as Orcas or Mount Rainier.

The company was founded in 1889 in Tacoma by Andrew and Thea Foss, starting out with a single rowboat painted in the now iconic green and white livery. Eventually, their growing concern expanded to the rest of the Sound, then eventually to the West Coast and Pacific.

(Blog re-posted from Three Sheets Northwest by Scott Wilson on May 21, 2014:  “2014 is a big year for anniversaries in Pacific Northwest maritime history. This summer, we’re doing a series of articles on some of the significant local organizations and vessels celebrating major milestones.”

That same year, the tug Wallowa was built in Portland by the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company to tow sailing ships across the Columbia River Bar. The steam-powered tug was built stout for the task, but she wasn’t at it for long when the Klondike gold rush gave her a more glamorous and profitable role, hauling barges and ships full of prospective prospectors and supplies for the same up the Inside Passage.

Wallowa went up as far as St. Michael on the Yukon in the employ of the White Star Line of Alaska. But the rush was short-lived, and by the time it was done in 1900, Wallowa was relegated to the mail run between Haines, Skagway, and Juneau.

(Celebrate National Maritime Day 3-8pm today with Northwest Seaport 3-8pm in Ballard)

Although the age of sail was fading, and the gold rush lost its luster, the age of timber wasn’t going anywhere, and Wallowa found gainful employment towing logs on Puget Sound. There, she caught the eye of Foss Launch and Tug Company, which bought her in 1929. One of her first jobs with the company was an unusual one: she was leased out to MGM to star as the tugNarcissus in the 1934 film “Tugboat Annie,” a movie thought to be loosely based on the life of Thea Foss herself.

After her star turn, Wallowa went into the yard for a rebuild and to be repowered with a 700hp Washington Iron Works diesel (the engine that remains in her today). When she came out, she had not only a new engine, but a new name: Arthur Foss. With the additional horsepower and reliability of the diesel, Arthur Foss was a fast and in-demand coastal tug up and down the Pacific Coast.

In February 1941, Foss chartered her out to Pacific Naval Airbase Contractors, who put her to work hauling military supplies from Hawaii to the isolated American outpost at Wake Island. The morning of December 8, 1941 (Wake being on the far side of the International Date Line) found her a mere twelve hours out from Wake on a return trip to Pearl Harbor, when news of the surprise Japanese attack was received. Painted in the traditional Foss white and green, and well within scouting distance of one of the primary follow-on targets of the Japanese Navy, the tug and her crew were a big bullseye in a lonely ocean.

The Justine Foss, which was left behind at Wake, was not so lucky. Subject to near-constant air attacks from December 8 on, Justine and her crew were still at the island on December 23 when the Japanese landed. Justine was sunk and most of her crew executed.

Like many workboats during the war years, Arthur Foss spent her time in service of the Navy, renamed Dohasan (after a Kiowa chief) and was assigned to the 14th Naval District in Hawaii, working at hundreds of miscellaneous military towing assignments. In 1946, the war won, she was returned to Foss, and put back to her plodding pre-rebuild work of towing logs around the Pacific Northwest.

In 1968, having set a record for the longest uninterrupted log-towing service in the Straits of Juan de Fuca, Arthur Foss had finally outworn her usefulness and was retired.

Most old wooden tugs of that age were broken up or fell to ignominious fates of fire or rot, butArthur Foss caught a break in that Save Our Ships (SOS) — the organization that would later become Northwest Seaport — had been founded only four years earlier (the year Art turned 75).

Though established specifically to preserve the Wawona, the leaders of SOS quickly saw the historical value of Arthur Foss and when that vessel was offered to them in 1970, they snapped it up as well.

On her 100th anniversary, the Arthur Foss was declared a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service (which also makes this year the 25th anniversary of that designation). Today, she is the oldest known wooden-hulled tug still afloat and in operating condition in the United States today.

Although her old Washington Iron Works diesel still turns over intermittently, Arthur is a museum ship now, moored more or less permanently at the Historic Ships Wharf on South Lake Union. Northwest Seaport offers a popular Tugboat Storytime series aboard, bringing children and parents aboard to listen to stories and sing chanteys, and allows just about anyone to spend the night aboard as a part of their Tugboat Sleepovers program.

Recently, the organization received a grant from King County’s 4Culture program to complete the revitalization of the tug’s onboard systems. Provided that Northwest Seaport can match the grant amount, they’ll receive $25,000 to put into her … keeping her in shape to weather the next 125 years.

About Scott Wilson

Scott Wilson lives aboard his Freedom 36 with his doting wife Mandy. He works as a consultant in the information technology industry and occasionally scribbles out an article for Three Sheets Northwest. From time to time, he even goes sailing.

Tugboat Documentary Premier and Tugboat Annie Plaque Re-unveiled

View new Arthur Foss documentary to learn more about its iconic American story.

View, soon, the new Arthur Foss documentary to engage in this iconic American story.

Vaun Raymond Filmmaker Seattle Art Institute

This trailer of the new film Arthur Foss: Iconic Tugboat of the Northwest, provides a taste of the exciting documentary about the 125-year old museum ship.  Full documentary will be released soon.  In collaboration with the Art Institute of Seattle’s Summer Studio Class-2013, Northwest Seaport co-produced this film.

On March 6, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park(PDF) hosted the film’s world premiere, and Watch the Sky musicians, Northwest Seaport chantey singers and representatives from Maritime Folknet entertained the crowd with  music and chanteys, such as “A Hundred Years Ago” (written by Bob Kotta and Mariide Tune). While AIS-student and film director, Victor M. Ramos III, was unavailable, filmmaker and Art Institute of Seattle instructor, Vaun Raymond, introduced the AIS-student documentary and also shared a “the-making-of” film regarding the 2013 class efforts.

Anna Franklin with Memory Book of Captain Franklin webFilm goers enjoyed listing to stories from Franklin family members whose father and siblings captained and crewed aboard Arthur Foss.  Save Our Ships and Northwest Seaport founder, Kay Bullitt spoke briefly about the founding of this organization.  Chuck Fowler, co-author of “Tugboats of Puget Sound” shared with attendees some historical perspective of Arthur Foss and contributions to the Pacific Northwest maritime economy.

Plaque 1 Dedicated to Tugboat Annie 1940 Pioneer Spirit of Puget Sound webNearly 75 year-ago tug Arthur Foss seemed to have starred in another Hollywood sensation event, Northwest Seaport now believes.  On Oct 18, 1940 Tugboat Annie Sails Again actors Ronald Reagan and Marjorie Rambeau with Henry Foss of the Foss Launch and Tug Company presented the City of Tacoma at the city’s Roxy theater (now  Pantages Theater)  with a bronze plaque which includes the words, “Dedicated to Tugboat Annie – 1940 – Pioneer Spirit of Puget Sound.” (pictured).  

Northwest Seaport and Foss Waterway Seaport Crew 2 Foss Waterway Seaport curator, Joseph M. Govednik tracked it down the commemorative plaque at the Broadway Center For the Performing Arts, who kindly loaned it for transport and display at the March 6 event.

NPS ArrowheadThe plaque was unveiled, and the audience seemed to “gasp,” one observer shared.  Viewing the plaque for the first time, Northwest Seaport Nautical Archaeologist, Nathaniel Howe, shared his belief that the plaque’s central-placed tug with “Narcissus” inscribed on its bow was in fact Northwest Seaport’s Arthur Foss tug. 

During the event, the 2014 Arthur Foss Tugboat Campaign was launched, with a donation from Fremont Boat Company.  Additionally, the grandchildren of Thea and Andrew Foss made a significant contribution to the production and distribution efforts of the documentary.  Please watch for Campaign Cards and contribute to help keep Arthur Foss alive for the next generation.

Arthur Foss Documentary World Premiere 3.6.2014 Bruce Sherman photo web
Nearly 70 Attendees at World Premiere at Klondike web Kay Bullitt founder of Save our Ships and Northwest Seaport web

Future USCG Academy Cadet becomes Seaport Member

Megan Rice stands aboard LV83 and in front of a Registered National Historic Place plaque, which states: "Under the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act of October 16, 1966, this property possesses exceptional value in commemorating or illustrating American history."

Megan Rice stands aboard LV83 and in front of a Registered National Historic Place plaque, which states: “Under the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act of October 16, 1966, this property possesses exceptional value in commemorating or illustrating American history.”

Member Spotlight and Guest Blog:
Megan Rice became a Northwest Seaport member before she even stepped aboard the Lightship No. 83 “Swiftsure.”  Seaport staff welcomed her aboard both the lightship and tug Arthur Foss last week to discuss membership and ways to become involved with Northwest Seaport as a young adult.  During the discussion, she agreed to share her story and goal of serving the country as a naval engineering officer and designer of the Coast Guard cutter fleet.  She also writes, “I only wish I’d found out about NWS a lot sooner.”

Washington State can be proud that she will represent the State and her community at the United States Coast Guard Academy with the graduating class of 2018.

“Hello, I’m Megan Rice and I’m 21 years old.  My interest in engineering, the maritime industry, the U.S. military, and the Coast Guard inspired me to attend the United States Coast Guard Academy, where, as a cadet, I’ll get closer to my goal of serving my country as a naval engineering officer and designer of the Coast Guard cutter fleet.

Megan Rice holds her USCGA acceptance letter with images of USCG Barque Eagle.

Megan Rice holds her USCGA acceptance letter with images of USCG Barque Eagle.

Since my early fascination with the Titanic, I’ve immersed myself in studying ships and the art of integrating many complex systems into one functional, buoyant vessel. This passion has led me to pursue a career in naval architecture and marine engineering.

After diligently contacting over 25 local shipyards and engineering firms without any contacts in the maritime world, I became employed at Jensen Maritime Consultants. At this prominent NA&ME firm, I work in both Continue reading


Shipwright Brian Johnson driving a new beam section under the wheelhouse.

Shipwright Brian Johnson driving a new beam section under the wheelhouse.

Keeping any wooden boat watertight against the rain is an essential and ongoing task. This is particularly true for the historic tugboat Arthur Foss. “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” is a multi-year Northwest Seaport preservation project of the vessel’s decks funded by 4Culture, the cultural services agency for King County.

Brian Johnson working on tug deck June 2013

Laying up a batten to fair up the curve along the edge of the boatdeck.

Even when Arthur Foss was new, it took maintenance by the whole crew to keep the decks and deckhouse watertight. At 124 years old, rot damage from rainwater leaks has made it necessary to replace planks and timbers. Seattle’s wet climate is harsh on the Douglas fir decks and house. While the cold freshwater of Lake Union is beneficial for the boat’s lower hull, rainwater and air on the upperworks feeds rot fungi. It is very important to stop rainwater leaks before rot spreads. Rot damage to important structural timbers and high-traffic areas requires extensive repair. This was the case with the starboard edge of the boat deck.


Brian Johnson Jeanette Hayman and Saxon Bisbee working on tug

Brian Johnson, volunteer nautical archaeologist Jeanette Hayman and nautical archaeologist-in-residence participant Saxon Bisbee tacking down the last piece of canvas on the boat deck.

Beginning in late May 2013, two nautical archaeologists and a professional shipwright began removing the badly deteriorated wood from the edge of the boat deck on Arthur Foss. This involved removing the rails, coverboards, canvas, plywood, and tar paper layers for access to the actual deck planks. Several planks along the edge had to be replaced. Then the new planks are fitted and fastened. New plywood and canvas are then put on and the railing re-fitted. This repaired area will last at least another 100 years if properly maintained.

All work performed on the Arthur Foss has direct public benefit to all visitors at Lake Union Park. The tug occupies a prominent position on the Historic Ships Wharf, with her bow facing towards a row of shaded benches often occupied by visitors. During restoration, staff, volunteers, shipwrights and nautical archaeologists engage the public and address their questions. Often, a visitor will find themselves with a tool in their hand to help in the restoration project.

New boat deck cover boards are down June 24, 2013

New boat deck cover boards are down June 24, 2013

If you are interested in contributing to the restoration, or for more information, please use contact form to express your interest.


Pinhole Photography Onboard Arthur Foss

Guest Blogger, Jana Uyeda May 2, 2013,

Jana Uyeda Arthur Foss wheelOn April 28, 2013 some pinhole friends and I got together to celebrate Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day, a global event that continues to grow year over year. I can personally attest to the surprising growth of pinhole photography in my corner of the world in Seattle.

This year, there were six of us and most had at least 2 or more pinhole cameras. It’s funny how each camera has it’s unique quirks so that one pinhole camera is not enough. Great to see other photographers picking up the pinhole camera and embracing its aesthetics.

For WPPD 2013 we headed for Lake Union Park and the Northwest Seaport Maritime Heritage Center, and we climbed on board the Arthur Foss.  She’s a wooden-hulled tugboat famous for appearing in the 1933 MGM movie Tugboat Annie. What made the trip even more special was a Seaport volunteer guide on the vessel who was an avid pinhole photographer! I was greeted with, “Hello, I like your pinhole camera!” as I approached the tugboat.

Jana Uyeda Arthur Foss galleyThe boat was still covered in white tarp but I was allowed to walk freely through the cabins, the sleeping quarters, the deck and the galley with my tripod and pinhole cameras. Here are some 4×5′s from the trip. Enjoy! —

View more of Jana’s pinhole photos of Arthur Foss at her site.


Spring Break on a Tug

Nathan Miller Tug EngineHow did you spend your Spring Break…if you had one?

Nathan Miller, a high school student in the Ballard Maritime Academy at Ballard High School in Seattle and ubber Seaport volunteer choose to fix things while staying aboard Northwest Seaport’s historic tugboat Arthur Foss during the Seaport’s Alternative Spring Break Program. Below, Nathan highlights his stay and the “fix” he made to the tug’s diesel stove, which draws diesel fuel from the same tanks as the engine.  From his own keyboard:

Nathan Miller Tug Stove“During my recent stay on Arthur Foss, my biggest accomplishment was to make the galley stove work. There is much work yet to do, but my efforts during spring break have made it possible to boil water on the stove without bringing the Seattle environmentalists down on us.

The stove “didn’t work” because the fan motor did not run. It is a 120 Volt DC motor which had to be run off the DC generator. We seldom ran it, since the generator would drain the fuel tank before the stove even grew warm. The burner would function properly, being nothing but flaming pool of Diesel, but absent the forced draft it would smoke terribly.  This situation led Adrian Lipp (tug engineer) to forbid the use of the stove without the fan. But the oil stove is one of the most fuel-efficient heaters in existence, and I was determined to have it working for my stay.

Those who have been with the ship longer will remember the days when the galley refrigerator was not serving as a light bulb repository. Hoping to restore it, I stumbled across its former power source: A much-coveted rectifier. Nobody seemed to know that we had this rectifier, despite universal fear of the sketchy-looking box in the engine room with the pegboard cover.

GalleyFollowing this discovery, it was a simple matter to connect the leads from the stove fan into the fuse holders for a test run. Yet, when connected to the “120” VDC circuit, the fan did not run. It took extensive shuffling of the leads and a complete dismantling of the fan motor before I realized that our Harbor Freight voltmeter was doubling the voltage readout. Sure enough, when connected to a “240” VDC circuit, the fan started right up and ran perfectly. Problem solved.

Once again, bacon may be cooked on the oil stove in a comfortably warm galley, with not a wisp of smoke from the stack.”

NOTE: If you know a young person interested in fixing things…have them contact Northwest Seaport.  Alternative Summer Break program opportunities are currently being discussed.  The Seaport also wishes to thank Nathan and his family for all they do for the Seaport and Historic Ships Wharf programs.


New Northwest Seaport / CWB “Boatwright / Shipwright-in-Residence” a Success

Christine Jacobson working aboard the Arthur FossThe first session of the new Northwest Seaport/Center for Wooden Boats “Boatwright/Shipwright-In-Residence” program has concluded, and both organizations are planning on how to keep the innovative program going.  The joint program was kicked off in the fall of 2012 with Allen Fletcher and Christine Jacobsen, both recent grads of the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building in Port Hadlock, coming to spend a 10-week residency at both organizations.

(Read about Jacobson’s experience aboard Arthur Foss below)

In exchange for a cabin, or berth on a historic tugboat and a small stipend, both budding boat builders got to work on the historic collections of Northwest Seaport and The Center for Wooden Boats. “This had all the components of our ideal program; living and working aboard our ships, pairing youth with experience, restoration through teaching, and close collaboration with our partner organizations,” said Nathaniel Howe, Nautical Archaeologist & Vessel Manager, Northwest Seaport. “It was great exactly what we were going for.”

“The goal was to give new graduates that first on the job experience,” said Kyle Hunter, CWB’s Boatshop Manager. “If we can help those new grads gain experience and benefit from their fresh perspective from school, we both win.”

At Lake Union Park, Jacobson lived on the historic tug Arthur Foss, while working on a wide range of projects.  Here’s her summary of her time as Boatwright-in-Residence with Northwest Seaport (For more about her time as Shipwright in Residence at The Center for Wooden Boats, check out the CWB Blog). 

ABOARD ARTHUR FOSS BY CHRISTINE JACOBSON — When people ask me how I got to a particular place I always respond with, “a long series of poor decisions” and thus I am taking part in the Northwest Seaport and Center for Wooden Boat’s Shipwright in Residence program. I certainly would not call my decision to take part in this program a poor one, even if some of the ones leading up to it weren’t stellar (note to self, always have an escape plan…). The program is ten weeks long with seven weeks spent working at the Center for Wooden Boats and three working on Northwest Seaport’s historic tugboat Arthur Foss.

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Wooden Boat Dan Interview with Nathaniel Howe

Nathaniel Howe aboard tug Arthur Foss. Photo: Wooden Boat DanNathaniel Howe is Vessel Manager and Nautical Archeologist with Northwest Seaport. Reposted blog by Wooden Boat Dan, January 2013Play Podcast in new window and get the full scoop. (Dec 7, 2012 45 minute interview begins at 11:15)

Nat grew up in Seattle and as a young kid was building boat models out of milk cartons, wood, and assorted other materials he could scrounge up.  His parents and grandparents owned (and still own) anAllied Seawind 30’ which the family used to explore the Inside Passage around Vancouver Island and the San Juan Islands.   When Nate was 10 years old he discovered the 1897 three masted 165′ schooner Wawona on Lake Union in Seattle.  He fell in love with her and at age 11 built  a 5’ model of Wawona.  He also built a radio controlled model of the Arthur Foss tug after discovering that historic vessel in Seattle.

Nat attended Beloit College in WI to get his undergraduate degree in Museology.   During Continue reading