La Center (sternwheeler)

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La Center at Timmens Landing circa 1920.jpg
La Center at Timmens Landing, (La Center, Washington, moored by freight warehouse, circa 1920.
Name: La Center
Owner: Brothers & Moe 1912-1916); Arthur C Heston (1916- )
Route: Lewis, Lake, lower Columbia and lower Willamette rivers
In service: 1912
Out of service: 1931
Identification: U.S. #209642
Fate: Abandoned.
General characteristics
Type: inland all-purpose
Length: 65 ft (19.81 m) measured over hull
Beam: 16 ft (4.88 m) exclusive of guards
Draft: 12 in (304.8 mm)
Depth: 3.1 ft (0.94 m) depth of hold
Installed power: originally a gasoline engine, later replaced with twin steam engines, horizontally mounted, cylinder bore 5.5 in (139.7 mm) and stroke of 2.5 ft (0.76 m).
Propulsion: sternwheel
Capacity: 45 tons of freight

La Center was a small stern-wheel steamboat that operated from 1912 to 1931, mostly on the Lewis and Lake rivers in southwest Washington, on a route to and from Portland, Oregon along the lower Columbia and lower Willamette rivers.

La Center was small compared to other sternwheelers of the Columbia River.[1] However despite a number of accidents, including collisions and groundings, La Center earned a reputation as providing dependable transport for the Lewis River country to the Portland market.[1]

La Center was somewhat unusual in that it was originally fitted with a gasoline engine, and then about a year after construction, the gasoline engine was replaced with second-hand steam engines.


La Center was built at La Center, Washington for the Brothers & Moe concern, comprising Uriah Sidney Brothers (1856-1921), E.C. Brothers, and Peter I. Moe.[2][3][4][5]


La Center was 65 ft (19.81 m) long, exclusive of the extension of the main deck over the stern, called the fantail, on which the stern-wheel was mounted.[2] The vessel had a beam of 16 ft (4.88 m) exclusive of the protective timbers along the top outside edge of the hull called guards,[2] The depth of hold was 3.1 ft (0.94 m).[2]

La Center had a draft of 12 in (304.8 mm) when loaded with its maximum capacity of 45 tons of freight.[6]

The overall size of the vessel was 67 gross tons (a measure of volume and not weight) and 64 registered tons.[2]

The official merchant vessel registry number was 209642.[2]


La Center was driven by a sternwheel.[7] La Center was originally powered with gasoline engines.[8] In June 1913, La Center was converted to steam power.[8][9] These were two twin steam engines, horizontally mounted, with cylinder bores of 5.5 in (139.7 mm) and stroke of 2.5 ft (0.76 m).[2]

The gasoline engines from La Center were fitted into the Lewis River Navigation Company’s sternwheeler Wallula (ex Uncle Sam).[8] In turn, the steam engines installed into La Center came also from the Uncle Sam.[9]

The Morning Oregonian described Uncle Sam as having "caused more comment than the arrival of any other river vessel which has come to Portland on account of her peculiar construction, which is not describable in nautical terms."[9] Uncle Sam, which had been built at Corvallis, Oregon, had been granted a special permit to make a trial trip downriver to Portland to be inspected to receive a license to enter into the steamboat business.[10]

However, steamboat inspectors Edwards and Fuller refused to grant Uncle Sam a certificate.[10] The owners of Uncle Sam then reached an agreement with the owners of La Center to trade machinery, with La Center’s gasoline engine going to Uncle Sam, and Uncle Sam’s boiler, engines, and other gear going to La Center.[10]


Timmens Landing (La Center, WA), circa 1919. La Center is larger steamer on right, Etna appears to be the smaller steamer on the left.

La Center made its trial trip in Portland harbor on February 22, 1912, with Captain Brothers in command.[11]

In July 1912, the Lewis River Transportation Company sold its interests in the east fork of the Lewis river, consisting of the small sternwheeler Spellei, a barge, and five acres of land, to Uriah S. Brothers, E.C. Brothers, and Peter Moe, who were at that time operating the newly built La Center from a dock at the foot of Washington Street in Portland, Oregon, to La Center, Washington.[3]

According to another source, Uriah S. and E.C. Brothers, and Peter Moe reached an agreement with the Lewis River Transportation Company, who owned the launch Charm, whereby La Center would carry freight and Charm would carry passengers on the Lewis River route.[6]

The Lewis River was a profitable route before the development of other means of transportation.[12]

Collision with David Campbell

On May 24, 1913, La Center was taken to Joseph Supple’s shipyard on the east side of Portland to have repairs done on its right-side guard and to have its gasoline engines shifted into position, the work being necessary to address the damage to La Center caused by the new fireboat David Campbell, when the Campbell collided with La Center when La Center was docked at the foot of Washington Street.[13]

Proposed sale

On October 5, 1913, a steamboat line matching the description of La Center was offered for sale through T.W. Nordby, with an address at the Couch Building in Portland.[14] According to this advertisement, the line had one steamer, two warehouses, five acres of ground, and earned $500 per month net of expenses.[14] The asking price was $7,000.[14]

Collision with Shaver

On the night of Friday, October 24, 1913, La Center collided with the sternwheeler Shaver on the Willamette River off St. Johns.[15] La Center was running under the command of Captain Peter I. Moe.[15][16][17] Shaver was being operated by Captain Berry.[15]

Shaver, at 368 gross tons was a much larger vessel than La Center.[18] According to a report in the Morning Oregonian, damages to shipments of prunes. beef, hogs and "general stuff" being carried on board La Center exceeded $1,000.[15]

The initial news report of the accident was that it was caused by a confusion of whistle signals.[19] Shaver had departed Portland soon after 11:00 p.m. headed downstream.[19] La Center was coming upstream from the Lewis River.[19] The towboat Alarm was coming upriver at the same time as La Center, with a log raft.[19]

Shaver gave two whistle signals to Alarm, which Captain Brothers, on La Center, interpreted as being intended for La Center.[19] Captain Brothers changed course, crossing Shaver’s bow, which crashed into the side of La Center, running through the guard timbers and about four feet into La Center’s hull.[19]

La Center was beached near the St. Johns Shipbuilding Company.[19] No one was injured in the collision.[19]

On Monday, October 27, 1913, La Center was hauled out of the river at St. Johns for repairs.[15] Captain Berry of Shaver had by then filed a report of the incident with U.S. steamboat inspectors Edwards and Fuller.[15]

Bootlegging allegations

On November 7, 1914, Capt. Peter I. Moe, of La Center, was required to appear before customs officials in Portland, Oregon to explain allegations against him that bootlegging activity was being conducted in the town of La Center from a building on the waterfront.[17]

Although this was before national Prohibition in the United States, the town of La Center had recently voted go "dry", that is, to outlaw liquor sales within the city limits.[17] Moe, believing the report was directed at him, denied the allegations.[17]

Moe was quoted in the Morning Oregonian as having said:

I have been told by the City Attorney and Marshal that they know nothing about any confiscation or collection of evidence. I want to say that the report is false. There has not been any liquor carried on the steamer La Center since the town of La Center went ‘dry’.

Ice problems 1914

On December 19, 1914, La Center was reported to be frozen up on the Lewis River.[20] The Lewis and Lake rivers were frozen over, and navigation from Portland to points on these rivers was suspended.[20]

On January 25, 1915, ice in the Columbia river prevented La Center from making its usual trip to Portland.[21]

Excursion operations in 1915

On May 12, 1915, the La Center baseball team chartered La Center to go to St. Helens to pay a game against the St. Helens team.[22] St. Helens won, 11-0.[22]

Later that year, the Portland Motorboat Club, and their associated boats, were scheduled to take a three day trip starting Saturday, July 3, 1915 from Portland down the Willamette and Columbia rivers to Paradise Point on the east fork of the Lewis River.[23] La Center was chartered to carry excursionists who could not get a place on one of the motor boats.[23]

Ice problems in 1916

Ice impeded La Center again in January 1916.[24] The steamer was unable to reach the east fork of the Lewis River, because of heavy ice in both the Columbia and the Lewis Rivers.[24]

Freight for the town of La Center was being brought to Ridgefield, Washington by rail, and then carried overland by teams, wagons, and sleds.[24] The steamer La Center could not go back on the run until the weather improved.[24] This was reported to have been the first time in about four years that winter weather had tied up navigation on the Lewis River.[24]

Sale to Arthur C. Heston

In early April 1916, Uriah S. and E.C. Brothers sold their interest in La Center to Arthur C. Heston (1880-1929), who had been running the steamer before the sale.[25][26] The steamer was then described as "a small packet plying daily between La Center and other Lewis River points and Portland.[25]

Low water 1916

In the fall of 1916, the water in the Lewis and Lake rivers fell so low that boats risked grounding on sandbars, and log raft traffic was impeded.[27] Rains in early November raised the river levels so that La Center could run again on its usual route on the east fork.[27] La Center was also operating at the same time between Portland and Ridgefield, Washington on the Lake River, handling the freight work of the steamer Mimare which was then under reconstruction.[27]

Washed inland by flood

On December 19, 1917, it was reported that La Center had been carried ashore during a flood and grounded at Lamb’s Landing, about three miles south of Woodland, Washington.[1] The location of the grounding was a pasture between the east and the north forks of the Lewis River.[28] La Center was still ashore on January 5, 1918.[28] The boat was located high and dry 300 feet from the river after the flood receded.[29]

By January 17, 1918, La Center had been placed back in the river, by having been jacked up and skids being placed under the hull.[29]

Return to Lewis River Transportation Company

In December 1918, La Center, then operating under Capt. Arthur C. Heston, was returned to the control of the Lewis River Transportation Company, of which Heston was secretary.[30]

The company was then operating from the Ash Street dock in Portland.[30] La Center was then carrying only freight.[30]

Lewis River Transportation Company was owned and run by members of the Weir family, including, originally, Capt. William G. Weir (1834-1902), his son, Cassius "Cash" Weir (c1860-1942), and Cash’s son, Earl Weir.[12]

The Weirs owned a number of boats that operated on the Lewis River.[12][31][32][33]

Capsized in wind storm

On December 1, 1921, La Center capsized in a wind storm, drowning most of a herd of cattle that were then being transported by the steamer.[34]

La Center had been proceeding from Kelso, Washington to the Portland stockyards with 40 head of cattle on board, when the steamer capsized downstream from Columbia City, Oregon, near Deer Island[34] Of the herd, all but file head were drowned.[34] the sternwheeler Metlako rescued the crew of La Center.[34]

On Wednesday December 14, 1921, La Center was returned to service, having been raised the week before without much difficulty.[35] La Center was then running on a tri-weekly route between La Center, Ridgefield, and Portland and way points on the Lewis, Lake, Columbia and Willamette rivers.[35]

Operation by W.H. Hembree

In 1925, La Center was operated by W.H. Hembree.[2]


La Center was abandoned in 1931.[2][36][7]


  1. ^ a b c "Portland Boat is Grounded — Steamer La Center Reported in Trouble Near Woodland, Wash". Morning Oregonian (Dateline: Woodland, Wash., Dec. 19 (Special)). 57 (17, 809). Portland, OR. December 20, 1917. p.4, col.3.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Affleck, Edward L. (2000). "Columbia River Waterways — List of Vessels". A Century of Paddlewheelers in the Pacific Northwest, the Yukon, and Alaska. Vancouver, BC: Alexander Nicholls Press. p. 17. ISBN 0-920034-08-X.
  3. ^ a b "Marine Notes". Sunday Oregonian. 31 (27). Portland, OR. July 7, 1912. sec.2, p.8, col.2.
  4. ^ "Kicks by Horse Fatal — Uriah Brothers, Clarke County Pioneer, Dies of Injuries". Morning Oregonian. 60 (18, 972). Portland, OR. September 10, 1921. p.5, cols.1–2.
  5. ^ Bollinger, Scott (May 18, 2009). "Uriah Sidney Brothers". Find a Grave. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
  6. ^ a b Newell, Gordon R., ed. (1966). "Maritime Events of 191IUe". H.W. McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle, WA: Superior Pub. Co. pp. 206–207. LCCN 66025424.
  7. ^ a b Mills, Randall V. (1947). "Appendix A: Steamers of the Columbia River System". Sternwheelers up Columbia -- A Century of Steamboating in the Oregon Country. Lincoln NE: University of Nebraska. p. 196. ISBN 0-8032-5874-7. LCCN 77007161.
  8. ^ a b c "Marine Notes". Morning Oregonian. 55 (17, 028). Portland, OR. June 22, 1915. p.13, cols.2–3.
  9. ^ a b c "Marine Notes". Morning Oregonian. 53 (16, 401). Portland, OR. June 19, 1913. p.18, col.3.
  10. ^ a b c "Vessels Trade Machinery". Morning Oregonian (mistakenly describing La Center as La Camas). 53 (16, 387). Portland, OR. June 3, 1913. p.16, col.1.
  11. ^ "Marine Notes". Morning Oregonian. 52 (15, 990). Portland, OR. February 23, 1912. p.21, col.5.
  12. ^ a b c Timmen, Fritz (1973). Blow for the Landing -- A Hundred Years of Steam Navigation on the Waters of the West. Caldwell, ID: Caxton Printers. pp. 106–107. ISBN 0-87004-221-1. LCCN 73150815.
  13. ^ "Marine Notes". Sunday Oregonian. 32 (6). Portland, OR. May 25, 1913. p.6, col.3.
  14. ^ a b c "Business Opportunities … Steamboat Line". Sunday Oregonian (classified ad). 32 (40). Portland, OR. October 5, 1913. p.15, col.5.
  15. ^ a b c d e f "Marine Notes". Morning Oregonian. 53 (16, 513). Portland, OR. October 28, 1913. p.12, cols.5–6.
  16. ^ "Marine Notes". Morning Oregonian. 53 (16, 526). Portland, OR. November 12, 1913. p.14, col.3.
  17. ^ a b c d "Captain To Explain Tale — Reports of Bootlegging Hotly Denied by La Center Skipper". Morning Oregonian. 54 (16, 834). Portland, OR. November 7, 1914. p.10, col.4.
  18. ^ Affleck, Edward L. (2000). "Columbia River Waterways — List of Vessels". A Century of Paddlewheelers in the Pacific Northwest, the Yukon, and Alaska. Vancouver, BC: Alexander Nicholls Press. p. 25. ISBN 0-920034-08-X.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h "Riverboats in Collision — Shaver Cuts Through Guard and Into Hull of La Center". Sunday Oregonian. 32 (43). Portland, OR. October 26, 1913. sec.2, p.33.
  20. ^ a b "Floating Ice Cakes Big — Steamer Bear Plows Way Through to Berth — Steamboatmen Say If Ice Becomes More Troubleson River Fleet May Use Slough to St. Helens". Morning Oregonian. 54 (16, 870). Portland, OR. December 19, 1914. p.12, col.4.
  21. ^ "Ice Ties Up Boats". Morning Oregonian. 54 (16, 902). Portland, OR. January 26, 1915. p.16, col.2.
  22. ^ a b "St. Helens Defeats La Center". Morning Oregonian (Dateline: La Center, Wash, May 12 (Special)). 55 (16, 994). Portland, OR. May 13, 1915. p.12, col.2.
  23. ^ a b "Cruise To Be Saturday — Motorboat Club Is to Make Three-Day Trip — Launches and Special Steamer Will Carry Excursionists to Camping Grounds on Lewis River". Sunday Oregonian. 34 (26). Portland, OR. June 27, 1915. p.4, col.3.
  24. ^ a b c d e "Lewis River Steamer Stopped". Morning Oregonian (Dateline: Ridgefield, Wash., Jan. 18 (Special)). 55 (17, 210). Portland, OR. January 19, 1916. p.18, col.1.
  25. ^ a b "Steamer La Center Sold". Sunday Oregonian (Dateline: Ridgefield Wash., April 1 (Special)). 35 (14). Portland, OR. April 2, 1916. p.18, col.1.
  26. ^ "Arthur C. Heston". Find a Grave. March 2, 2011. Retrieved June 29, 2017.
  27. ^ a b c "Lewis Navigation Improves —Steamer Now Plies From Portland as Far as La Center". Morning Oregonian (Dateline: Ridgefield, Wash., Nov. 10 (Special)). 56 (17, 464). Portland, OR. November 11, 1916. p.16, col.5.
  28. ^ a b "Sarah Dixon Stays Ashore — Fleet of Six Steamers and Crews Fail to Move Steamer". Morning Oregonian. 57 (17, 823). Portland, OR. January 5, 1918. p.16, col.4.
  29. ^ a b "After being high and dry in a meadow 300 feet from the river bank …". Lynden Tribune (wire service report). 10 (31). Lynden, WA: S.H. Lewis. January 17, 1918. p.2, col.3.
  30. ^ a b c "Lewis River Service to Expand". Morning Oregonian. 58 (18, 108). Portland, OR. December 6, 1918. p.19, col.2.
  31. ^ Bolliger, Scott (May 20, 2009). "William G. Weir". Find a Grave. Retrieved June 29, 2017.
  32. ^ Newell, Gordon R., ed. (1966). "Maritime Events of 1942". H.W. McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle, WA: Superior Pub. Co. p. 513. LCCN 66025424.
  33. ^ "Aged Boat Captain Dies". Sunday Oregonian. Portland, OR. August 23, 1942. p.19, col.3.
  34. ^ a b c d "Gale Sinks Two Vessels — Thirty Five Head of Cattle Are Drowned Near Columbia City". Morning Oregonian (Dateline: Columbia City, Or., Dec. 2 (Special)). 60 (19, 044). Portland, OR. December 3, 1921. p.1, col.2.
  35. ^ a b "Capsized Craft is Raised — Steamer La Center Again Operating on Its Regular Run". Morning Oregonian (Dateline: Ridgefield, Wash., Dec 16 (Special)). 60 (19, 056). Portland, OR. December 17, 1921. p.20, col.5.
  36. ^ Newell, Gordon R., ed. (1966). "Maritime Events of 1931". H.W. McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle, WA: Superior Pub. Co. p. 413. LCCN 66025424.


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