The W.T. Preston

A tour of an old world "snag boat"

Authored / Pictures by: Martin Leduc

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In the Altair-Americus Park in Annacortes Washington, USA, stands a beautifully restored stern wheeler; the W.T. Preston. The Preston was owned and operated by the US Army Corp of Engineers. It's main duty was keeping the navigational water of the Puget Sound free of obstructions, or snags.

In 1929 the Seattle District of the Army Corp of Engineers put the Preston to work, collecting debris from Puget Sound, Lake Washington, and tributary rivers. It was named for W.T. Preston, the only civilian to ever hold the title of Seattle District Engineer. 

The Preston measure 163.5 feet long by 34.5 feet wide, it had a crew of 15 and had yearly removal rate of 1,100 cubic yards of debris. It had a gross tonnage of 291 tons, and it's steel hull (replacing its original wooden hull in 1939) displaced 494 tons. It was built by the Lake Union Dry Dock in Seattle, Washington, using many parts, including the main engines, from it's predecessor the Swinomish

After it's retirement in 1981, the Preston, became a National Historic Landmark, and currently sits on land, but near the water, in Anacortes, Washington. It is open to the public between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. Below are pictures of the boat when I went to visit it in the fall 2003. 

The W.T. Preston is well well maintained from all angles. The US Army Corp of Engineer logo is on the stack.
The engine room is all original, the 2 steam engine drive the pitman arms turning the paddle wheel. In the center sits the switchboard, telegraph and engineer's desk. The steam driven generator sits on the port side (yellow guard above). The donkey boiler sit mid-ship just aft of the main boiler.
The main boiler was built by the Commercial Iron Works in Portland, Oregon.
The Galley and the bridge are simple but well designed. The bridge's telegraph and it's sister in the engine room.

Scott Stroh, Curator of the Anacortes Museum explains the rich history and the vessel's restoration on this web page.

Just to the north, in New Wesminster, British Columbia, Canada, sits the Samson V, another snag boat that has been lovingly restored and is open to the public. The Samson V was a snag boat on the mighty Fraser River and was operated by Public Works Canada from 1937 - 1981. Visit their website.