Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Emmett Hunt Diary - Wednesday October 23, 1889

Nice sunny day.  No work so we paint our hurricane deck and be around and prospect.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Nick Skansi Legacy The End of an Era (Out of the Past by Lee Makovich) Fisherman’s News - July 2004

The Nick Skansi Legacy
The End of an Era
(Out of the Past by Lee Makovich)
Fisherman’s News - July 2004

I would like to take this opportunity to recall some of the adventures, both good and not so good, of a man who probably never caught a fish commercially in his entire life.  That may be true, but this same man carried literally hundreds of thousands of them aboard several of his commercial vessels over the years.  The late Nick Skansi, of Gig Harbor, Washington, was a man who elevated the idea of diversification for his vessels to a new level.  And I have two objectives in writing this story at this specific time.

To begin with, I have always admired the ingenuity and the resolve which was displayed during this man’s tenure in the industry.  Nick Skansi was a pioneer in the fish packing business on Puget Sound and a person who narrowly escaped a fiery death aboard on of his commercial vessels.  That near disastrous event is discussed later in this story.  Additionally, Nick’s grandson, life-long commercial fisherman, Gary Crosby, passed away just a few weeks ago at the young age of 51, just days before his 52nd birthday.  Gary was a great guy and it is a comfort to me to write this story about his grandfather and his family.  A brief account of Gary’s life and his involvement in the commercial fishing industry also appears in this issue of Fishermen’s Nerws (see page 11).

Nick Skansi began buying and packing salmon in the early teens when he purchased the 52’ packer Hioma from her original owner: H. O. Benedict.  Benedict had the trap tender style vessel built at the Kirk and Lake Shipyard at Seattle in 1907.  Nick operated the Him for several years and it is believed that he ran several other tenders in the early years as well.  The Hioma was eventually sold and in 1919, Nick and his brother John went into partnership on a brand new commercial vessel.  She was one of the seven purse seiners built by the Skansie Shipyard at Gig Harbor, Washington, in 1919, and she was named Companion. The trim beauty was the last of the seven classic wooden vessels built at the shipyard that year.

The new vessel’s owners, Nick and John Skansi, were cousins of the shipyard owner Mitchell Skansie.  And the difference in the spelling of those last names is not a typo; there was a slight variation in the last names of the cousins.  The Companion was 62’ in length and she was powered by a 60 H.P. Enterprise gas engine.  The Enterprise was truly a great machine for it’s time.  The Companion was not unlike any of the other purse seiner-style vessels of that era.  She was well designed and well constructed, a trim beauty with pleasing lines and a graceful appearance.  After he launching in 1919, the Companion’s livelihood represented a significant departure from that of her sister seiners in Puget Sound and elsewhere.

Although the Companion was designed and built as a purse seiner, she would never be employed to catch even a single fish.  John and Nick Skansi decided to work the Companion as a freight vessel to begin with, carrying various goods including strawberries, vegetables, live chickens and other commodities.  The Companion traveled from Olalla, Washington, and several other small communities in the lower Puget Sound, to Tacoma or Seattle.  She also carried various supplies and other merchandise to those same communities on her return trips from the ;larger cities.

It is my understanding that the Companion was also occasionally used as a salmon tender during the fall salmon season in the first year or so after her launching.  Carrying berries and vegetables aboard the Companion was primarily a simple and routine undertaking.  No, there wasn’t anything to be too concerned about in pursuing that activity. But carrying chickens aboard a boat could prove rather  interesting at times.  

The late Gerald Crosby, Nick Skansi’s son-in-law, remembered helping out aboard the Companion  when he was a very young man.  “We were hauling a bunch of chickens on the boat from Olalla to Seattle one day when we got into some choppy water,” Crosby recalled.  “Before long, we noticed that all the chickens got seasick and they began staggering around and falling down.  They were behaving like they had a few too many to drink.  It was quite a sight to behold, but as soon as we got in calmer water, they were okay again.”
Gerald Crosby

The freight hauling business was going quite well, but the Skansi’s (sic) were eager to expand their maritime activities.  In the winter of 1921, yet another non-fishing related adventure was taken on by the Companion and her owners when a second cabin was added near the stern of the vessel.  The new cabin provided an additional area of seating, both inside the cabin and on top, and on April 30, 1921, the Companion was issued a license to carry passengers.

The Companion was truly a versatile vessel now.  In addition to carrying freight and commodities to various Puget Sound communities, she was also employed to transport local passengers as well.  The Companion carried men, women and children from here to there and back again in complete safety.  John and Nick were pleased that everything was going along extremely well.  But on a cold and wintry afternoon in 1925, the fortunes of the Companion and one of her owners encountered a dramatic and disastrous turn of events.

Nick Skansi and one of his crewmen were alone aboard the Companion that day, drifting along near Olalla, Washington, in Colvos Passage.  It is believed that the men may have been waiting on the tide to pull alongside a dock to load a variety of freight aboard the vessel.  As it turned out, it was extremely fortunate that there were just the two men aboard the boat on that particular day.  It was just a few days after Christmas that year; the date was December 30, 1925.  There was an oil stove aboard the Companion which was situated in the small galley below the bow deck.  It was late in the day and it was getting colder aboard the Companion.

Nick decided he would fire up the oil stove and warm things up a bit.  But he had no idea how warm things would get in just a few minutes.  Intending to light the oil stove, Nick went into the nearby engine room and picked up a container which he believed contained kerosene or stove oil.  A little shot of oil injected directly in to the fire box area of the stove would help to get it going very quickly.  A serious problem occurred at this point as Nick mistakenly picked up the wrong container.  It was a monumental mistake.  The container he picked up was not filled with stove oil, rather it held gasoline which was sometimes used for priming the Enterprise engine.

Anyone who has ever used just a few drops of gasoline to help get a fire started while burning leaves or yard debris at home for example can imagine what an impact a can of gasoline being poured into an oil stove might have.  When Nick began to pour the liquid fuel into the stove, it was as if the earth had exploded.  There was a tremendous flash of fire everywhere and Nick was engulfed in flames.  He somehow managed to get up on deck and miraculously, although his clothing was still smoldering, they were no longer on fire.  Unfortunately, however, there was no question that Nick Skansi was seriously hurt.

Pioneer purse seine skipper Egil Peterson was nearby with the purse seiner St. John, probably fishing for “bright dog” salmon in Colvos Passage at that time of the year.  Peterson saw and heard the explosion and he immediately rushed his fishing boat to the aid of the stricken Companion.  The fire aboard the Companion was out of control by this time and there was no opportunity to try and save the burning vessel.  I was told that an anchor connected to a heavy chain attached to the bow of the Companion was tossed overboard to hold her in position off the Olalla shore.

Peterson and his men got Nick and his crewman aboard the St. John and headed the vessel for Point Defiance Park in Tacoma at full-speed.  With the lack of any means of radio communication in those  early days, Peterson felt that the dock at Point Defiance Pavillion at Tacoma was the nearest location to secure medical help for Nick.  Peterson reasoned that there would be ample opportunity to quickly secure an ambulance there to transport Nick to a Tacoma hospital.

It was evening by the time the little St. John arrived at Tacoma.  And an almost unbelievable and terribly serious problem arose when they arrived at the Point Defiance pier.  The men soon learned that getting Nick to a hospital would prove to be an extremely difficult task.  That very same evening, just a short time before the men arrived at the dock; there had been a massive trolley accident in Tacoma with scores of serious injuries and many fatalities.  Every available ambulance or taxi cab, along with practically every other vehicle in Tacoma, was being used to assist in transporting those who were injured in the trolley accident to local hospitals.  It was a state of mass confusion in Tacoma that night and consequently, there was not a single ambulance available for Nick Skansie even though he was in serious condition.

Captain Egil Peterson was a true hero in everyone’s eyes that evening.  He absolutely would not give up.  He was going to find a way to get Nick Skansi to a local hospital, one way or the other.  Peterson left the dock area and miraculously, it seems, he was able to flag down a speeding taxi cab which was traveling through the area.  Peterson was able to convince the cab driver of the dire situation concerning the injuries that Nick Skansi suffered.

With great difficulty, the men managed to get Nick into the taxi cab and rushed him to a local hospital.  Of course there was utter chaos at all of the hospitals that night because of the trolley wreck.  But Nick’s injuries were nevertheless attended to rather quickly.  Nick suffered multiple burns and even though he was seriously injured, it was determined that with the proper medical attention, he would survive and recover.

Nick’s daughter, the late Bernice Crosby, was a young teen aged girl at the time the accident occurred aboard the Companion.  “When my dad got home from the hospital,” Bernice recalled, “his face was still blackened from his exposure  to the fire.  I remember him saying that because the explosion had occurred on a blustery winter day, he had decided to wear long underwear under his putter clothing.  And that may very well have saved his life.  My dad also wore eye glasses and he felt quite certain that because of the glasses, his eyesight was not harmed in any way.”
Clarence E. Shaw's Racing Roosters - The Roosterettes L-R:  Garnet West, Amy Borgen Riser; Bernice Skansi Crosby (4th girl not identified)

Nick Skansi survived the explosion and fire with no permanent injuries; the same could not be said of the versatile Companion.  Just six years after she was launched, the beautiful little seiner that never caught a fish burned to the waterline that day near Olalla, Washington.  Her charred and twisted remains struggled against the inevitable for a moment or two, I was told, and then she silently slipped beneath the surface and went to the bottom.  The Companion was no more.

With the loss of the Companion, Nick Skansi and his brother John ended their partnership in commercial vessel ownership and Nick continued in the maritime industry on his own.  I believe that it is reasonable to assume that after the near tragedy aboard the Companion, many a lesser man may have well decided to seek another profession which did not involve commercial vessels powered by volatile gasoline engines.  But Nick Skansi was not in any way a man lacking in resolve and determination.  Undaunted by the dreadful experience that he had gone through just a short time earlier, Nick purchased the packer Genius from the Babich family in early 1926.  Yes, the Genius was powered by a gas engine, too, in this case, a 50 h.p. Frisco Standard.  

The Genius was also a Skansie Shipyard built vessel, launch a year later than the Companion in 1920.  Before long, Nick was back in the freight business again, hauling berries, chickens and miscellaneous freight all over the lower Puget Sound.  But he never ventured into the passenger-carrying trade again.  in a short time, Nick curtailed much of the freight hauling activities he was involved in and concentrated his efforts in fish packing and tendering on Puget Sound.  He became involved in buying fish for the Friday Harbor Canning Company during the summer seasons and he also purchased salmon on behalf of several fresh fish markets in Seattle during the fall.

Nick’s association with Friday Harbor Canning Company continued for the remainder of his career.  During the 1930s and for many years before, I doubt there was a fisherman anywhere on Puget Sound who didn’t know who Nick Skansi was.  And his packer Genius was one of the most familiar sights around the San Juan Islands every summer.  The Genius could be seen loading salmon aboard every evening, in Griffin Bay or off Eagle Point at the Salmon Banks.  And Nick would have that old Frisco Standard gas engine banging away below as the Genius traveled to and from the cannery in Friday Harbor.

Nick Skansi passed away in 1939 and his son-in-law, the late Gerald Crosby, took over the operation of the famous packer Genius.  Crosby continued to employ the Genius as a tender for decades until she was eventually converted to a power block purse seiner many years later.  As mentioned earlier, Nick’s Companion was just lost six years after her launching, nearly taking Nick to his grave with her.  But his good old Genius can still be seen at Roche Harbor in the San Juan Islands, still going strong, over 84 years after she slid down the ways and into the calm waters of Gig Harbor Bay.

Gary Crosby’s passing marks the end of an era in the commercial fishing industry for Nick Skansi’s family.  Nick prospered in every adventure he became involved in.  From transporting passengers and chickens to packing salmon.  Nick Skansi was a true surviver.  He proved that on December 30, 1925, when he endured a fiery explosion aboard his trusty Companion.  Nick, Gerald and Gary are all gone now, but their imprint on the fishing industry will long be remembered.  They were each a part of the Nick Skansi legacy and the end of an era.


© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Emmett Hunt Diary - Wednesday October 16, 1889

Just as fine.  Arose somewhat late and ....down to the works to find the Harry Lynn just ahead of us with our scow so pull on to town and tear down the port engine for repairs - a broken stud.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Emmett Hunt Diary - Wednesday October 9, 1889

Rainy and blustery.  Came to town and in doing so broke another ???, then sent it to shops and with the other engine took scow to sandpit for wood and returned leaving it.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Floyd Elias Brewer (1899-1984) Margreth Victoria Brewer (1899-1994)

Floyd Elias Brewer (1899-1984)
Margreth Victoria Brewer (1899-1994)

Art is like an octopus, It has many arms reaching in all directions, and every arm is important and necessary for the cultural development of any community.”

That statement started an article entitled “Fine Art and Architecture” written by Floyd and Margreth Brewer in 1972.

But who were they?  If you lived in Gig Harbor in 1960 you probably were aware of them.  Or if you were an elementary school or middle school student, although your memory may be foggy you definitely knew them.  But for those of us who didn’t live here then, or were in school here either, let’s get to know them now.

Floyd was born in Coin, Iowa to Elias “Life” Brewer and Goldie L. Showers Brewer.  His father died in 1902 when he was 3, and he and his mother moved to Lincoln, Iowa to live with her brother.  At age 15, he moved to Northboro where he lived alone according to the Iowa State Census 1915.  His mother also lived in Northboro and worked as a clerk.  Three years later, in August 1918 he enlisted for WWI in the US Army as a Corporal and served until May 1919. 

For the next ten years he sold magazines, worked in groceries but always playing around with art.  He decided to become serious about art in 1930 and moved to Minneapolis where he attended the Minneapolis School Art, St. Paul School Art, where he studied with Cameron Booth (1892-1980).  He later traveled to Europe and studied with Hans Hoffmann (1880-1966), Fernand Leger (1881-1955) and Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), and also to Mexico studying with Diego Rivera (1886-1957).
iPhone picture of one of Floyd's painting recognizing the name cultures in the USA
Despite a long, active career as a painter, he also became interested in tapestry.  He was able to see many possibilities of design and color reproduced in a contemporary vein through tapestry.  

He and Margreth met while living in Minneapolis.  They had both attended an art show, and Margreth at first thought Floyd was a guard at the show.  Margreth was not at that time involved in the art world, but instead was a serious musician, specializing on the piano.  They continued to live in Minneapolis throughout the ‘50s until moving to Gig Harbor, Washington.

At the suggestion of Byron Knapp while the couple were visiting in Seattle they came to see Gig Harbor.  Like some many people they fell in love with the area.  They purchased property on the south side of Pioneer Street (7512 Pioneer Street) where they built their house designed by Floyd.  You would recognize the house easily when driving west towards SR16.  It is a two story, very rectangular structure set back from the street with a second story studio balcony extending over a first floor porch.  On the lower portion of the balcony is a very large peace symbol which is wired so that, should the homeowner wish, it can be turned on.

An article in The Peninsula Gateway written I believe in 1983 gives us an idea of their life in Gig Harbor.  This article was written before his death in July 1984.  It addressed the Children’s Art Exhibit held annually in their home from 1966 until 1974 when his health started to fail.  In fact, this entire blog is the result of one of those students who participated in one of the annual exhibits, and suggested a blog.  This former student recalled “He reminded me of a beatnik, with a goatee and a beret.”  Sounds like a perfect description of a 1960s artist, don’t you think?

The children’s art work was selected at five elementary schools by about 50 teachers hung by two Peninsula High School students and in 1975 one Goodman student in Brewer’s studio and open for viewing May, June and July during those years.  Harold Best, a Peninsula School District superintendent wrote a letter of appreciation citing the Brewers active part in fostering creative art and art appreciation among the young people in the community.

Clover Park Vocational Technical Institute’s educational television station came to visit the studio, known as Floymar Studio, and filmed Floyd discussing his paintings and tapestries.  The television station used the resulting film in teaching art throughout the state to some 25,000 students in 200 elementary schools.  (Floymar is made up from both Floyd and Margreth’s names because they were in all respects, a team.)

Floyd and Margreth also wrote an illustrated book “Art is for You”; I only found one copy in my search and it is an “in library” use only at Tacoma Public Library Main Branch, Northwest Room.  I would have loved to be able to share it with you.
iPhone picture of photocopied Picture of book
But he also wrote a column every two weeks or so in the Tacoma News Tribune Sunday papers for more than five years.  Before coming to Gig Harbor when he was still living in St. Paul he also wrot occasional articles for publications there.  One such article was his “Sketches from Mexico” in the Globe Magazine.

Many, though not all, of his tapestries were liturgical: some for a church in Minneapolis, Augustana Lutheran Church in Denver, Colorado and closer to home, Peninsula Lutheran Church in Gig Harbor.  In 1962 some were shown during liturgical week art exhibit at the Century 21 World’s Fair in Seattle, 1962.  Another, “All People Asking God for Peace” hung in Gig Harbor City Hall.  Brewer’s “Seamount” tapestry hung in Dr. Bill and Gretchen Wilbert’s Gig Harbor Vision Center on Uddenberg Lane.  
iPhone picture of Seamount (believe that is Margreth Brewer)
In the collection of materials on the Brewers at the Tacoma Public Library Northwest Room there is a very moving letter from a woman in Ethiopia.  She was working with with local weavers making hand loomed fabric and ornamental borders.  The women did not have looms but instead set up a few poles to hold the 2-harness rigging and bamboo reed and the weaving falls into their lap.  As a result they are restricted to doing only 10-12 inches at a time to avoid tightness in the weave itself.  Her husband, a builder, was supervising the construction of a Youth Hostel for the Lutheran World Federation.  It is only natural that she was asking the Brewers for help in obtaining more harnesses for the weavers, as well perhaps of markets for their finished fabrics.

Brewer has been referred to as a cosmic artist.  As he himself stated “I don’t believe you should just go out and copy something—like the liberal arts colleges teach you.”  His philosophy is that the artist’s work must be a part of the soul. This philosophy is evident in his study of Jeremiah; a piece of dark brown driftwood approximately 65 inches long, 8 inches wide and 3 inches thick.  The piece of driftwood was found one rainy day when the Brewers were driving south from Long Beach along the Washington coast to Canby Beach where the Columbia River empties into the Pacific Ocean.  They stopped the car and were walking along the shore looking for driftwood or rocks.  That’s when Floyd spotted this particular piece.  Severely weather beaten but having the characteristics of the human body.  “Immediately it reminded me of Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet, and how it could be used in a collage-painting.”

The project took him a year to complete and the end result is a work about 70 inches high and 24 inches wide with the driftwood figure a little to the left and above center — putting an important object exactly in the center makes the design to static.

Lest you are thinking Floyd was just an average artist perhaps I should include a few of the museums where his work has been exhibited:  Mexico City; New York; Chicago; Kansas City, MO; Topeka, KS; Minneapolis; St. Paul, MN; Davenport, IA; and elsewhere.  He is listed in the Who’s Who of American Art and in Iowa Artists of the First Hundred Years.  


  • Tacoma Public Library Northwest Room
  • The Peninsula Gateway
  • Tacoma News Tribune
  • Harbor History Museum
© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Emmett Hunt Diary - Wednesday, October 2, 1889

Pretty good day.  Towed a small boom of piles across the bay for Geiger and got my accounts into the office - no more.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Emmett Hunt Diary - Wednesday, September 25, 1889

Same as yesterday.  Slept in A.M. and in P.M. got wood and water for McNeils and towed a scow of bricks to Tacoma.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.