In honor of our newest exhibit Shipwrecks of the Oregon Coast, I’ll be posting about shipwrecks that didn’t quite make it into the exhibit.
Today’s shipwreck was a twin-screwed steamer named Argo #1. Argo #1 was built in 1898 as a coastal trader for the Alaskan gold rush, along with a river steamer, Argo #2. Argo #1 with Argo #2 in tow sailed north to lay the foundation for Ballard and Murphy’s coveted Monopoly in Alaska. Unfortunately, Argo #2 broke loose en route and foundered off Dixon’s Entrance. After the gold rush slowed, Argo #1 was sold to the Tillamook Steam Navigation Company and shortened her name to Argo. The Argo’s new route was to Portland, Astoria, Tillamook and return.
The Argo soon earned a reputation for comfort, speed, economy and safety… until that fateful day on November 26th, 1909. The Argo left Astoria at 5:15 a.m. and sailed over the Columbia Bar en route for Tillamook Bay. The weather was worsening by the time the Argo got to Tillamook bay at 2:30 p.m. causing extremely seasick passengers. This prompted the captain to order the ship across the bar at a dangerous half tide.
Unexpectedly, the port screw snapped and caused a thrust of the starboard wheel to broach the wooden steamer into the concrete-like north spit with a jarring shock which snapped the vital steam pipe between the boiler and the throttle valve. The surging current caused the vessel to be carried past the mouth of the Tillamook, slamming her into the south spit with a crashing shock more violent than the first.
Within minutes a rescue boat was launched by the Garibaldi Life Station. Loading the Argo’s passengers into the lifeboat progressed with minimum of difficulty; as the surge raised the boat even with the deck of the Argo, men and women quickly jumped in and held on while the receding wave plunged their smaller boat below the moss-covered waterline of the larger ship. As the life-saving crew prepared to kick off, a surge of sea threw their boat against the wale of the larger ship severely damaging it. At that point the 8 men in the rescue boat were ordered to return to the Argo. The lightened but leaky load made an erratic run for the beach; however, the surf caused the lifeboat to spill over and all of the passengers and survival gear poured over into the pounding waves. After much difficulty the spilled lifeboat passengers staggered to shore. Three of the passengers drowned and Captain Farley was pulled from the sea unconscious with serious injuries.
All hope of saving the waterlogged Argo was lost. Two more lifeboats were launched to save the rest of the men on board the Argo. All but two men made off the ship alive on the second attempt. En route to shore, they were met and rescued by the steamer Oshkosh.