Today’s post will be about the Oshkosh. The Oshkosh was an 89-foot, 123-ton coastwise cargo ship built in 1909 at the Kruse and Banks Shipyard in North Bend. Unfortunately, this ship would not see even two years of service before meeting its peril.
On that fateful day of February 13, 1911, the Oshkosh found itself amid an 80-mile an hour gale. For over 24 hours the Captain and his crew battled the storm. The men had not hot food or even a cup of coffee in all those hours and were bone tired. One of the first large waves had smashed a lifeboat into the deckhouse and ripped apart the galley, stove, and destroyed all the water-casks. While wave after wave crashed ripping the ship apart, all the men fought for the ship and their lives. Meanwhile, a single engineer named George May was below decks sweating over the 200 hp gasoline engine to keep up enough revolutions to give the ship headway in the wind.
Without warning, a white-sheeted comber bore down and swept the deck clean of wreckage, pilothouse and men. May suddenly found himself in a roller-coaster of an engine room the lifted high into the air, then suddenly turned and slammed him into the bulkhead with a blow. A table fell on top of May, and everything in the engine room scattered everywhere. After all the ruckus, May painfully climbed out from under the table and realized he was on the ceiling. The ship had turned turtle.
The engines gave one final roar, threshing the propeller in a frenzy against the cold air above. Then, with a gurgling sigh, the twin engines stopped. For the next four hours, May clutched for a firm hold while the ocean relentlessly tore away portions of the ship. Just as May was about the give up hope, the wind died down and the ship slowed to a gentle sway. The storm had passed.
George May thought he saw a small gleam of light. He looked harder, down and to the front, he saw the light again coming in through the companionway. He felt the ship bump as it stranded close enough to shore. May had an urge to crawl through the narrow passage, but a jolt from the current prevented him from escape. Hours passed along with a dozen bone-jarring crashes in a swift succession, a huge lift and one final decent and the ordeal was finally over.
The battered Oshkosh lay on the Clatsop sands. George stepped from under the ship without even bending his head to be greeted by amazed lifesaving men. He was the only one of the crew that made it.