Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sternwheelers on the Columbia

The second book I published is Gambling on an Angel. It's a book about a saloon owner and a woman who wears a temperance ribbon. The idea for the book actually didn't take root from either one of those characters. The idea came about when I was researching travel in the 1870's in Oregon and discovered the Oregon Steam Navigation Company and the fact Sternwheelers carried passengers up the Columbia River from Portland to Wallula and on up into the Washington territory as far as the boats could go up the Columbia.
To catch a ride up the Columbia River, passengers had to get up early. The boats heading up river from Portland loaded all night. Lines of drays would be strung out along Front Street for blocks waiting their turn to drive out on the big two-level company dock at Ash Street. At 4:30 in the morning the passengers would begin to arrive, and a little before 5:00 am the last freight would be stowed and the pilot climbed into the pilot house.

As the vessel was loaded the wheel turned lazily, but as the boat prepared to head upriver black smoke rolled from the tall stack. Late passengers would rush up the landing stage, and the lines were cast off. The big wheel shoved through the water, pushing the prow of the boat away from the dock and a column of steam shot from the tall escape pipe. White foam bubbled around the long white vessel as it turned into the current.

The trip up river took two days. during this trip twice the passengers and cargo had to be unloaded and hauled by either wagons or a short track train around first the Cascade Rapids and then Celilo Falls. The boats were luxurious for the times, with men's and ladies salons, a fine eating restaurant, gambling rooms, cabins, and other amenities. 

My hero and heroine meet on the trip up river when the hero saves the heroine and her younger sister from some thugs at one of the stops. 

Excerpt for Gambling on an Angel
A large, ruffian snaked his arm out from behind a pile of freight, grabbing a woman around the waist. A wide-eyed girl, with the woman, clutched a tattered carpetbag as the man’s accomplice stepped into the melee.
The scene on the loading dock below didn’t set well with Bas Slocum. He wasn’t a do-gooder, but damn, he couldn’t let this pass without doing something.
He glanced at his high-priced shipment of glasses and whiskey being unloaded and hauled around the first portage on his two-day trip up the Columbia River.
“Boys, handle those boxes like your first born is sleeping inside,” he shouted at the laborers before heading at a brisk trot down the wood planking.
As Bas moved between the piles of freight on the dock, he saw the smaller man snatch the girl around the waist. Bas quickened his steps, his heart pounding. Nothing ate at him more than men taking advantage of helpless women.
The dock was empty. Passengers from the Carrie Ladd were farther up the embankment boarding the small train of coaches and flat freight cars. The short trek around the rough water to a sternwheeler farther up the river was all a part of traveling the Columbia.
“Damn, gal, all I want is a little kiss.” The man growled as the woman’s small fists beat uselessly on his chest. Laughing, he dipped his head.
“Turn your liquor drenched breath on someone else,” she said, pushing his face away with the heel of her hand.
Bas stretched his long legs as far and fast as they would go.
The sun beat down and no air movement between the piles of goods was stifling. He wiped a sleeve across his forehead with one arm while his other hand rested on the pistol strapped to his right hip.
 The large man held the woman’s petite face with one hand while the other arm anchored her slender middle. The girl swung her head back and forth as she tried to stomp on the toes of the skinny man retaining her.
“Blast, you little bugger,” the man cursed when the girl’s heel met its target. He raised a hand to hit her.
“No!” The woman’s voice pierced the air as Bas lunged for the man and the girl. He grasped the raised hand, wrenching it behind the skinny man’s back and pointed his gun at the larger man.
“Let the lady go.” Bas kept his gaze and his gun pointed at the larger man clutching the woman. The raspy, pitiful sounds of the girl, now clinging to the woman’s waist, set Bas’s anger up a notch. What did these men think to gain by harming these females? You could easily see they had nothing of value.
“Let the lady go and you walk away.” Bas kept the gun trained on the man detaining the woman.
“We’re just having a little fun.” The man smiled, showing tobacco-stained teeth.
“She doesn’t appear to be having fun.” Bas allowed his gaze to drift to the woman’s face. He cleared his throat as a wave of gut wrenching recognition sliced through him. He’d never met her before, but the intelligence and disillusion staring back at him from translucent green eyes was something he recognized. The angry eyes of the slight woman reflected his feelings on life.
He clicked the hammer back on the pistol.
“She ain’t worth getting shot over.” The larger man raised his hands and stepped away from the woman and girl.
Bas shoved the skinny man in his grasp forward.
The woman hugged the girl and stepped beside Bas. “You should be ashamed of yourselves,” she admonished, shaking a finger at the two men. “See the kind of trouble drinking the Devil’s brew can get you into.”
The prim set of her chin and the pure white ribbon that dangled from a button on her dress made Bas groan. A Sister of the Temperance Movement
He turned his attention back to the men. How could someone so pretty be connected with something he called an enemy? He didn’t want to think about what she would have to say should she discover he owned a saloon.
“I don’t want to see either of you near these women for the rest of the trip. No tellin’ if I’ll be able to control my trigger finger.” He pointed the gun just above their heads and let loose two bullets over the water. The men scrambled away as the shots echoed along the riverbank. Deck hands and the passengers boarding the train turned to stare.
Bas shrugged his shoulders and slipped the gun back in the holster slung low on his hip. He turned his attention to the woman on the dock, hugging the girl to her bosom. She stared at him with distrust and a smattering of curiosity.
Wisps of dark brown hair had come loose from the severely knotted bun on the back of her head. The tendrils clung to her perspiration-sheened face. Heightened color on her cheeks enhanced her bronze complexion. His gaze moved lower enjoying the sights. The white temperance ribbon contrasted with the dark dress she wore—reminding him of her dedication to her cause.  


Caroline Clemmons said...

Good post, Paty. I wonder if the passengers who had booked cabins could board the night before launch so they didn't have to get up so early.

Paty Jager said...

Hi Caroline, From what I researched(long ago) the people with cabins weren't allowed on any earlier unless they were allowed by the captain(his guests).

mesadallas said...

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest on Puget Sound and often saw the relics of old steamboats sitting olong the many rivers, outlets, and lakes that connect with the sound.

I bought your book,Paty. I love reading westerns set in the PacicNorthwest.

Paty Jager said...

Mesadallas, Thanks! Enjoy!

Ellen O’Connell said...

What an eye opener. I always thought of paddle wheelers as on the Mississippi (Mark Twain) and never gave much thought to other rivers large enough. Things were both less and more advanced in the good old days, weren't they?

Alison E. Bruce said...

It's good to know that the Mississippi doesn't have the corner on paddle-wheel boats.

Jacquie Rogers said...

We just visited the Marine Museum at Astoria a couple weeks ago! Great post, Paty. :) Love those old sternwheelers.

Paty Jager said...

Ellen, That's what I thought, too, until my research uncovered this information. And there were even a couple smaller versions on the Willamette and Snake Rivers. I need to see how they managed to get the boats over to the Snake and what their exact range was up and down that river. That could make for another interesting book.

Alison, Thanks for commenting.

Jacquie, That's a museum I need to go visit. I've only been to Astoria once and it was a quick trip.

Meg said...

Wow, didn't know steamboats were that far out west. What a gorgeous cover, too!

Paty Jager said...

Meg, Yep, they were. Thanks! I like that cover too.