A skipper and crew of up to 14 lived and worked on the W.T. Preston. River maintenance skills were cultivated and passed to the next generation. A diligent fireman could earn a license and work up to engineer. Deckhands were promoted to mate and eventually to captain - if the post became available. In 97 years of operations, Puget Sound's snagboats had only 7 captains.
Except for the firemen, who ran the boilers around the clock, the crew kept regular hours. When men weren't clearing snags, they washed decks, painted, cleaned boilers or sharpened tools. Work was usually done by 4:30, and evenings were spent aboard or in town.
Norman Hamburg, who began as a cabin boy on the Swinomish and retired as captain of the Preston in 1969, said snagboats often worked odd hours to help out a neighbor, perhaps lifting a tug and cleaning a fouled propeller or plucking a farmer's cow out of the river and placing it back on the bank.
W.T. Preston Snagboat
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operated steam-powered sternwheeler "snagboats" in rivers from Blaine to Olympia, to keep the region's tributaries clear of navigational hazards. The W.T. Preston was the last of the sternwheelers.
[Photo captions read]
Left: Cook Fritz Rydberg prepares a meal on the diesel-powered stove in the W.T. Preston's galley.
Above left: Captain George Murch relaxes in his quarters. Most of the crew's quarters had room for little more than bunk beds.
Above center: Four crewmen pose on the bow of the Preston while visitors look around.
Above right: Captain Norman Hamburg at the pilot wheel.
Right: Crewman Stan Nelson splices rope.
Photos courtesy of the Anacortes Museum
[For more information visit] http://museum.cityofanacortes.org