PEND OREILLE COUNTY TRIVIA
By Faith McClenny
Pend Oreille County Historical Society
"Queen of the River"
Sunday morning, at the Newport dock, the air was filled with excited voices mingled with the streamer’s wailing whistle. The Ione Steamer was making ready for the 55-mile excursion trip to Ione. The dock was full of Spokane visitors just embarked from the Great Northern train. They were anticipating a fun filled cruise past virgin forests, sparkling creeks, waterfalls, wild animals, and a handful of homesteads. Their $5.00 fare included the train ride and steamboat cruise.
The Ione was also called the “Floating Palace” and represented real elegance and class when our county was still a wilderness. It had a passenger and sight-seeing decks, staterooms, a carpeted ladies’ parlor, gentlemen’s smoking area, spacious dining room and a complete kitchen set up to feed several hundred people for lunch and dinner. The menu included T-bone steak, mutton, pork chops, veal cutlets, trout, vegetables, and followed by dessert fresh strawberry/huckleberry short cake and ice cream. Meals cost from .50 to .75 cents. The Newport City Band provided musical entertainment.
The steamer was built by the Willamette Iron Works of Portland, Oregon in 1908. She was taken apart and shipped to Newport. The Pend Oreille River Navigation Company’s boat-building crews spent two months rearranging the structure, erecting the upper works and installing the machinery. It had a complete electrical system. Coal was used to fuel the two big engines. The stern-wheeled-steamer was over 130 feet long. She was licensed to carry over 300-500 passengers, mail, and freight. In addition to Sunday Excursions, it was built to transport several thousand workers and freight for construction of the Idaho & Washington Northern Railroad. Total cost of the steamboat was $50,000. As visitors left their ride, the purser handed each one a tourist folder of the scenic views of the Pend Oreille Valley and were invited to return with friends.
The Glory Days of the Steamboats on the Pend Oreille River is a forgotten chapter of our county’s history. There were almost a dozen large steamboats that ran on the river and provided transportation for passengers and freight. The steamboats era lasted from early 1897 until the completion of the Idaho and Washington Northern Railroad in 1910. Stories of the boat building businesses, names of the navigation companies, the cut-throat wheeling and dealing in the freight and passenger trade, and boat accidents have all but faded away.