Submitted by scott on

Clemens aboard the steamer Flyer. Seattle. August 8
Mark Twain Archive, Elmira College courtesy of Kevin Mac Donnell, Austin, Texas.

Flyer was the first vessel ordered by the Columbia River and Puget Sound Navigation Company, a concern formed by Capt. U.B. Scott and others, which already controlled the fast sternwheeler Telephone on the Columbia River, and on Puget Sound, the then new and fast sternwheeler Bailey Gatzert as well as the express passenger boat Fleetwood.

Flyer was built at the Johnson shipyard in Portland, Oregon of Douglas fir cut in Oregon and prepared for construction by prolonged storage in salt water. Unusual for an express passenger boat, Flyer included a dining room, which eventually contributed to her great popularity.

Flyer was designed to be the fastest propeller-driven vessel in the Pacific Northwest, and was very fine-lined, that is, tall and narrow.

Captain Scott was so proud of his new ship that he rode on her as she was launched into the Willamette River. This proved to be a mistake. Neither boilers nor engines had been installed in Flyer before launch, and without their weight deep in her hull to act as ballast, she simply flopped over in the water, and Captain Scott had to exit by climbing out a window.

After that, another hull was built around her with the hope of making her a little less top heavy, but this was imperfectly sealed, so water sloshed around in between the hulls for the rest of the vessel's operational life. Surprising this did not affect the Flyer's speed, although she did acquire a permanent list to port, or at least the hint of a list.

Once finally completed, the company sent Flyer to Puget Sound and brought Bailey Gatzert around to the Columbia River to run with the Telephone.

Flyer was powered by a triple compound steam engine built by the Philadelphia firm of Neafie and Levy. It was a duplicate of one installed in J.P. Morgan's yacht Corsair. The engine drew national attention at the time it was built. It rose above the passenger deck, and passengers used to look forward to a chance to watch the huge low pressure cylinder, almost five feet across, drive the vessel at high speed. The original steel boiler, built by Willamette Iron and Steel Works, of Portland, Oregon, generated steam at 160 pounds pressure. The boiler was replaced in 1899 with a two-furnace locomotive boiler constructed by Freeman & Sons of Racine, Wisconsin. Flyer was originally a wood burner, consuming 24 cords of wood during every day of operation. Her firebox could hold two cords of wood at once. In 1906, she was converted to oil fuel, and was considered to be fuel-efficient, burning an average of 61 barrels (9.7 m3) of oil on a daily basis. Although her engine was capable of generating 2,000 horsepower (1,500 kW) at 200 pounds steam pressure, at no time was she ever equipped with a boiler that generated more than 150 pounds of steam, thus her engine never could produce more than 1,200 horsepower (890 kW).

Flyer was placed on the run from Seattle to Tacoma. Her first master was Capt. Harry K. Struve (1866-1924), and her first pilot was Capt. Henry Carter (1858-1930). The run was 28 miles (45 km) long one way, and Flyer routinely completed it in less than 90 minutes. This was the beginning of many years of successful timely service, so much so that the Flyer's advertising slogan became "Fly on the Flyer".

The future successful career of the Flyer was almost ended at midnight on June 14, 1892 by fire. This started when Flyer was taking on wood for fuel at the Commercial Dock in Seattle. Suddenly fire broke out. Within five minutes the fire had swept through the vessel. The fireboat Snoqualmie and all available units of the Seattle fire department, under Chief Gardner Kellogg, responded to the fire. They were able to get the fire under control before serious damage was done to the hull or machinery. However, all of the vessel's upper works were destroyed. Flyer was quickly rebuilt and returned to service by the end of the summer of 1892.

She made four round-trips a day from Seattle to Tacoma. In 1900, there appeared on the Sound the Imp one of the fastest steam launches every built to that time. Imp was just 50 feet (15 m) long, but could go 22 knots (41 km/h) with boiler that generated steam at the then extraordinary pressure of 400 pounds. Imp bested Flyer on the Tacoma run by eight minutes before she was shipped to Lake Coeur d'Alene in Idaho.

Flyer ran an average of 344 days a year, and was considered highly reliable by the population. In 1908 it was calculated that Flyer had completed enough trips from Seattle to Tacoma to go around the world 61 times, and had carried over 3,000,000 people, more than the population of New York City at the time, and this without serious injury to any passenger. This does not mean there were not accidents. Over the years, Flyer was involved in a number accidents, collisions and fires, including some serious ones which threatened the lives of those on board her or other vessels: