Tug of the Month: History of the Sand Man


The tug Sand Man was built in 1910 at Crawford and Reid Shipyard in Tacoma, Washington, which was one of the premier ship builders among the many yards on Puget Sound. Arthur Weston ordered the tug in 1908 to work for his company, Olympia Sand and Gravel, to provide essential construction materials by barge to Olympia and other South Sound sites from a rich deposit just north of Steilacoom. Sand Man towed these barges exclusively until her duties were expanded in the early 1920s to include towing log rafts and barges heaped with oysters.

Sand Man was first powered by a 50 horsepower Frisco Standard gas fed engine and a powerful 54-inch propeller. When her loads increased in the 1920s, her engine was replaced by a 100 horsepower Fairbanks-Morse marine diesel. Her lines were not those of a conventional tug, with low freeboard aft for ease in line handling and the crew jumping back and forth from tug to log raft. Rather, she resembled a Whitehall pulling boat with graceful lines and higher freeboard aft.  Nonetheless, she successfully towed for most of a century.  

The story is told that Weston lost all his boats except Sand Man in a card game, and, financially distressed, sold her in 1926 to Delta V. Smyth, an Olympia tug fleet owner. Smyth’s seven boats were known as Capital City Towing, and sometimes as the Smyth Tug and Barge Company. His fleet included the 1906 tug Parthia, which is still towing, and was winner of the 2016 Harbor Tug race at Olympia Harbor Days. Smyth also owned the Audrey, which was converted from a freight and passenger Mosquito Fleet steamer to a towboat.

The Smyth family, Delta’s son Wayne and grand daughter Sarah Smyth-McIntosh, are still integral players in the 44-year old Olympia Harbor Days Festival and Tug Races, originated by South Sound Maritime Heritage Association, and now sponsored by Olympia Kiwanis. It is the only such event left on the West Coast.

In 1944, Sand Man was fitted with her present engine, a 100 horsepower six-cylinder Caterpillar diesel. In the 1950s, the need for tugs in South Sound diminished and Smyth sold most of his fleet to Foss. Sand Man was sold to an to an Olympia resident named Fred Chadwick in 1953 who then sold her to Franz Schlottmann in 1964 who operated her until 1985, when he retired himself and the tug.    


In 1987, Bob Powell of Olympia purchased her with the intent of converting the tug into a historic vessel. He and friend Paul Deranleau found her restoration a daunting task, as the tug had deteriorated badly and they formed the Sand Man Foundation and began fundraising efforts. Against all odds, they secured the approval of Thurston County staff, who aided in an application for a Washington State Department of Transportation grant, and in 1999, she received a $300,000 grant to be refurbished.  

Sand Man at Swantown, nearly ready for launch. (Courtesy of www.tugsandman.org.)

Sand Man at Swantown, nearly ready for launch. (Courtesy of www.tugsandman.org.)

She sank twice on her way to Port Townsend for dry-docking, was raised, refitted and spent eight years in attendance at maritime festivals throughout the Pacific Northwest. Since then, she has periodically struggled to keep her engine running consistently, and at present is secured to the dock at Percival Landing, unable to move. She is the official City of Olympia historic vessel, offering free on-board tours in return for docking fees. Her Foundation board and staff are determined to bring her into operation once again — a phoenix-like rise she’s accomplished more than once.

Sand Man painting by Karla

Sand Man painting by Karla Fowler.

Her image appeared as the logo tug for the 1983 Harbor Days Festival and Vintage Tug Races, designed and painted by noted Olympia maritime artist Karla Fowler. Sand Man also remains the logo tug for the South Sound Maritime Heritage Association.


More information can be found at www.tugsandman.org.

Les Eldridge is president of South Sound Maritime Heritage Association, and has written a number of maritime histories and novels of the American Civil War at sea. He lectures frequently ashore and afloat, and narrates the Harbor Days races each year. For more information see EldridgeSeaSaga.com.

, ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply


Skip to toolbar