This old photograph of the Bailey Gatzert belonged to my great-grandmother, Ella Rosetta Shawver Gess. Grandma died, Mothers Day 1963 at the age of 94. She was born in Kansas and at a very young age, travelled with her parents by way of wagon train to Boise, Idaho. If you'd like to view a photograph of Grandma, please click here.

The Steamship Bailey Gatzert - In The Greatest Race of All!

Imagine the excitement ... harnessing steam power, attaching it to a boat and moving against the current at five to ten miles an hour. With endless possibilities, the great American frontier was just beginning to embark on it’s full maritime potential. During the Civil War, steamboats were used to carry much needed commodities to the forts and military troops for as far away as Montana. It was near the turn of the century that they became the fastest and most efficient means of transport between major U.S. Ports. With a flair for grandiose style; fancy ladies, gentlemen, and gamblers were attracted by the comfort and the safety, of which overland travel was not duly noted. The perils, however, of early day river travel could be just as unforgiving, as that which plotted havoc on it’s banks. Many lives were lost at the hands of the unskilled pilot. Boiler explosions, fires and snags, rocked many a napping cradle from it’s treetop to the steep.

So may the fate of the Bailey Gatzert have been nearly so cruel. Launched in Seattle in the year of 1890, it was claimed by its owner to be the fastest ship on the water, and would challenge any boat that dismissed its claim or got in its way. Thus it was, on that eventful day in history that the current title holder, the mighty “Greyhound,” accepted the Gatzerts challenge ... only to be stripped of its prestigious title and to limp shamefully away. This did not sit well with Capt. Jim Troup, of the T.J. Potter, who was the brother of the captain of the sadly defeated, “Greyhound.” A “grudge match” was, indeed, soon in the works and much anticipation was felt by all. The shores were lined with spectators as the two sternwheelers were neck-and neck at the halfway point. All was “a buzz” with the excitement at hand, when a horrifying explosion shook the Bailey Gatzert’s deck. Passengers, fearing that a boiler had exploded were soon to learn that the pressure had blown a nozzle out of the smokestack and into Puget Sound. None- the-less, crippled by malfunction, the Bailey Gatzert limped gallantly into port ... far behind it’s rival, the T.J. Potter.

Many years would come to pass before the Bailey Gatzert would once again find fame. This time, not for its speed ... not for its endurance, but rather for it's brave historical efforts and it's stunning design. A mere five ships were chosen, based on historical significance as well as their visual appeal. On August 22, 1996, Deputy Postmaster General Michael S. Coughlin, dedicated five new stamps in a ceremony at the Orlando Convention Center. The Bailey Gatzert, was among those graceful few.

The other four ships selected were as follows; The Robt. E. Lee, The Far West, The Sylvan Dell, and the Rebecca Everingham. You will note; nowhere do you see listed, "The T.J. Potter." And so it was, that the "Bailey Gatzert," won the greatest race of all!

For more information on the Bailey Gatzert and other N.W. shipping ventures please click here to read,
"Ubiquitous Captain Scott"
by Kenneth S. Hulme


Click here to visit Ken and Sharon's Wharf @ The Steamboat Press, here you'll find access to short stories, bios, and lots of other riverboat facts and fun.



*Links To Other Steamship Websites:

The Oregon Maritime Center and Museum
More On The Bailey Gatzert
Cascade Locks
The Riverboat Nenana
The Eastland Disaster of 1915
Interlake Steamship History
NARA Photo Archives @ USNSM
United States Incoming Steamship Mail 1847-1875
River Traffic, Provided by The Ohio Co. Public Library
Riverboats Had Long Glorious Journey
Daniel French Papers
Steamboats On The Rio Grande
The Aucocisco Kid
Riverboats, Steamboats, Sternwheelers, and Sidewheelers

©1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved


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