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The Yukon River Sternwheeler Will H. Isom

by Murray Lundberg


Northern Ships and Shipping


The information on the Will H. Isom that follows is simply a cut-and-paste from my database, compiled from a wide variety of sources, including private journals and the White Pass & Yukon Route corporate records (COR 722) at the Yukon Archives, and newspapers including the Klondike Nugget (KN) and Yukon Sun.
  • U.S.Reg. #81758

  • wooden sternwheeler; 183.8 feet long, with 36.5 foot beam and 5.6 foot hold. Gross tonnage 983, registered as 619 tons. Listed elsewhere as 1,500 and 983 tons. The framework of the hull was built of oak. Equipped with 2 wing rudders, 1 balance rudder and 2 monkey rudders for particularly easy handling (Gaudin).

  • powered by a pair of horizontal, compound condensing, steam engines built by James Reese and Sons of Pittsburgh. The cylinders had 24.5 inch diameter and 104 inch stroke; with six 28-foot long boilers operating at 180 pounds pressure, they produced 880 IHP. The Isom was a particularly powerful boat for towing barges. There were 4 Reese 6 x 16½ inch steam capstans, and an 8-foot long upright donkey boiler was also available for use.

  • 1901, hull and cabin were built to an Ohio River design by Andrew Axton & Sons, of Brownsville, Penn. The boat was probably shipped to Ballard, Washington, where she was assembled for the North American Trading & Transportation Co.; the construction superintendent was Captain E. E. Brown of Beaver, PA. She was "a palatial steamer, with hand-painted panels on state-room doors, gingerbread trimmings on the upper deck" (MacBride). She had first-class accommodation for 64 people, second-class for 126; each room had hot and cold water, and electric lighting was supplied by a Westinghouse plant and dynamo. With 24 hours' fuel, she drew 3.5 feet of water, loaded she drew 5 feet 2 inches (Gaudin).

  • named for NAT&T vice-president W.H. Isom.

  • 1901, travelled from Puget Sound to St. Michael under her own power. Read an article about that trip, published in The Pittsburgh Post on December 15, 1901, here.

  • May 28, 1902, the "flagship of the N.A.T.& T. Co.'s fleet" went on a special 3-hour excursion up the river and back to Dawson, just for women, children, and their escorts (Sun, May 28).

  • 1903, registered in Canada (Affleck). Since she was operating from Dawson to St. Michael, this is highly unlikely.

  • August 10, 1903, Dawson Daily News: "The big N.A.T. & T. packet Isom is expected here late tonight or early tomorrow morning. She reported at Eagle yesterday. She has three barges with an aggregate of 1,800 tons of freight for Dawson. This would be a load for no insignificant ocean steamship."

  • 1903, "the largest and most valuable steamer on the river is said to be a total wreck [from ice] at or near St. Michael" (COR722). Despite initial reports, she was repaired, and operated on the lower river until ca. 1909.

  • 1907, operated by the Northern Navigation Company.

  • 1907, burning coal.

  • 1907, Master was John T. Smith of Read's Landing, Minnesota; he had extensive experience with Eastern steamboats. Captain Smith returned to Alaska in 1908 and 1909, and it is assumed that he remained as Master of the ISOM. The OHIO was used to transport Northern Navigation crews north each of those three years (YA: Donald Fleutsch collection, MSS 104, 80/72).

  • 1907, the first trip left St. Michael on August 18, arrived at Weare on the 26th; left Weare on the 27th, arrived at St.Michael on September 2. The second trip left St.Michael on September 6, with the barge MONTANA and fuel barge ERIE. They arrived at Weare on the 15th, waited 2 days for the JOHN C. BARR to connect, and left on the 17th with the barges HURON and ARIZONA. From the mouth of the river, they had a very hard time due to low water and high winds. The barges were anchored, one of the ISOMÕs anchors was lost when the chain broke, and even an attempt to beach her was unsuccessful. On reaching winter quarters at StephanÕs Pass on the 22nd, she was run into the beach and anchored with deadmen. Passengers were taken to St. Michael on the 24th by the KLONDYKE; the ISOM then recovered the barges, but on returning to winter quarters, "engineers get in a terrible hurry to lay Isom up before she was at her mooring, and without my consent let steam go down which left us helpless to put her in the right place. On account of no steam, hard side wind, and very low tide we are left aground, 37 hours." The crew was finally taken to St. Michael by the KLONDYKE on the 27th. "And so ends the season of 1937, with all its wirries, troubles and difficulties." (Captain Smith; logbook in YA, Fleutsch collection).

  • April 1914, bought by the American Yukon Navigation Company.

  • 1914-1917, on the NAT&TCo. ways at St. Michael (COR722).

  • abandoned at St. Michael.

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