It’s hard to believe in 2016 that there was a time not so long ago when wooden, concrete or steel bridges were uncommon features across Oregon rivers. In fact, only short-span covered wooden bridges were a part of the Oregon landscape in the late 1800s as more than 500 ferries carried people, wagons and agriculture across the state’s many rivers.
"Almost every pioneer community, especially in the Willamette Valley, was connected to their neighbors by roads crossing at least one river on a ferry. Ferries were a fact of Oregon life in the 19th and early 20th centuries,” said Bob Waldron, board member of the Oregon Maritime Museum.
Today, only a handful of active ferries remain in service including the Canby Ferry, Wheatland Ferry near Salem and the Wahkiakum Ferry at Westport, Oregon. Perhaps that’s why we’ve such a love affair with these remnants of an earlier, simple bygone era.
But for folks who remember ferry travel as an every day event across the mighty Columbia River near Astoria, there’s great reason to celebrate and perhaps shout it out from the Astoria rooftops, “The Tourist Has Come Home.”
The old ferry has done a lot in its near-century of life but it's made it’s way back to Astoria after half a century, even restored and reinstated to the place it first called home.
When you’re a tourist, you usually travel new territory but not Tourist No. 2!
Tourist No. 2 has returned to Astoria, where she was born!
Photos from Grant's Getaways: The Tourist Has Come Home
Dulcye Taylor is part of a group of Astorians who brought Tourist No. 2 back home and she said holding on to history is “important to locals.”
“We are the oldest settlement west of the Rockies and we are proud of distinctions like that. Some people think we’re crazy to bring the Tourist home, but we’re willing to accept that!”
Tourist No. 2 was a part of a ferry fleet built by Captain S.F. "Fritz" Elving in the 1920s. Elving, who started with the Tourist No. 1 in 1921, following up with the Tourist No. 2 three years later, and the Tourist No. 3 shortly after to keep up with demand.
She served passengers and traffic on the nine-mile round-trip between Astoria and Megler, Washington. More notable – she was a decorated mine laying vessel during World War II and protected the mouth of the Columbia River
The Astoria-Megler Bridge opened in 1966, making the entire ferry service obsolete, scattering Elving's ferries throughout the world. Today, Tourist No. 2 is the last one remaining, looking to find its last port of call right where it began on the Lower Columbia River.
From her old growth fir construction to original brass hardware, Tourist No. 2 remains something wonderful to behold. Her new skipper is Capt Bruce Faling, and he said she handles like a dream. He was most impressed with her ease of handling and smooth ride.
“She’s very smooth riding but that’s no surprise – she was built right here to handle the mighty Columbia River’s ever changing character. Plus, things can change in a heartbeat out here with wind, rain and severe weather - but so far, so good.”
This day’s short five-mile transit from Tongue Point to the Astoria waterfront offered her small crew and a handful of lucky passengers an exciting ride and the chance to drink in Oregon history.
“I think there’s a number of people who have an emotional tie to this ferry,” said Taylor – a member of the Astoria Ferry Group. “It’s like they become the small children that rode this ferry when they were 6 to 10 years old.”
“I remember as a kid, riding across to Megler,” added Waldron. “Mom and dad loved to dig clams on Long Beach and the ferry was part of the trip. It was the way you got around and it continues to be a touchstone for Oregon history buffs. This is about as good as it gets.”
Tourist No. 2 has come home and will be here for you to step aboard the next few days before she heads back to Tongue Point for the winter.