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The Yukon River Sternwheeler Oil City

by Murray Lundberg


Northern Ships and Shipping


The information on the Oil City that follows is simply a cut-and-paste from my database, compiled from a wide variety of sources, primarily government records at the Yukon Archives, and newspapers.
  • U.S. Registry #155318

  • wooden sternwheeler; 176.1 feet long, with 35.4 foot beam and 5.9 foot hold. Gross tonnage 718.68, registered as 409.06 tons. An article in The Daily Ledger (Tacoma) on May 16, 1898 said her beam was 26 feet and hold 4.8 feet.

  • powered by a pair of horizontal high-pressure engines built in 1898 by Moran Brothers; the cylinders had 20 inch diameter and 84 inch stroke, producing 26.6 NHP (Affleck).

  • 1898, built at Seattle by the Moran Brothers Shipyard, Robert Moran, Master Carpenter.

  • May 8, 1898: "Light For the Gold Land. Standard O11 Company Buys Steamer to Ply on the Yukon With Illuminants.
    &nbs;   Seattle, May 7. - Unless the well-laid plans of one of the most gigantic corporations in the land miscarry, the towns and mining communities lining the mighty Yukon from its mouth to its source will have an abundance of light during the long dark nights of the winter of 1898-99. Local representatives of the Standard Oil Company today announced that that concern has purchased one of the largest of the many Yukon River steamers now being built by the Morans.
    &nbs;   The vessel, known as the Oil City, is to be delivered at St. Michael by the opening of navigation. Meanwhile the company expects to transport and store at St. Michael 200,000 gallons of oil, which will be taken up the river to Dawson and intermediate points on the river boats.
    &nbs;   Oil has ever been an expensive article in the Klondike as shown from the fact that there was little to be had, and candles sold nearly all last winter at Dawson and the mines for $1.25 a pound." (The Daily Ledger, Tacoma)

  • May 8, 1898: "The river steamer which is to handle the big oil shipment on the Yukon was launched yesterday on the tide flats. It will be known as the Oil City, and is one of the finest boats yet built for use on the Mississippi of Alaska. The Moran Company will shortly launch a big barge to be known as the Petrolia, which will be towed by the Oil City. The company has contracted to deliver the boats at St. Michael in time for the opening of navigation." (part of a much longer article in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

  • May 26, 1898, cleared Customs at Port Townsend, enroute to St. Michael (Affleck).

  • A lengthy article about the voyage north was published in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer on August 14, 1898.

  • August 5, 1898, the Oil City sailed from St. Michael, headed for Dawson. On the 16th she was reported to be 10 miles below Nulato.

  • September 9, 1898, arrived at Dawson for the first time, with "a few passengers," a barge and 400 tons of freight (MacBride). Included were 4,80 cases of coal oil and 3,000 boxes of candles. The Moran boats D.R. CAMPBELL and SEATTLE No. 2 arrived just ahead of her (KN, Sept. 10).

  • October 4, 1898, the Oil City is at St. Michael, in command of Capt. Drown (possibly Brown). The captain's wife was on the steamer Laurada when she was wrecked on St. George Island on September 28th.

  • 1898-1899, wintered at Russian Mission.

  • October 1898, while on a hunting outing, Capt. Bayse and his Chinese cook Lin Que entered a cave where they found 3 bears and drawings from an unknown civilization. A lengthy story was published the following year by The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.). Read the story here.

  • 1899 season, in command of Captain DeWitt C. Bayse.

  • 1899, pilot is B. A. Smith; he and his wife spent the winter of 1898-99 on the HERMAN at Whitefish Island (KN, June 17)

  • June 17, 1899: "Oil City In. The steamer Oil City, D. C. Bayse, master, arrived at 8 o'clock a. m., Friday, fifteen days out from Russian mission, where she wintered, having left St. Michael on October 9, 1898, the last boat out for Dawson. At Fort Yukon forty or more men were found who came in on the Edmonton route and had been out eighteen months. Their tale of hardships and woe was fearful to hear. The Oil City brings 250 tons of oil and candles for the Standard Oil Co. Her appearance is fine. She is now, with her improvements, the fastest of the Moran fleet." (KN)

  • July 31, 1900, the Oil City is reported to be on her way up from St. Michael, while many boats remain idle there. (DDN, July 31)

  • May 21, 1904: "Oil City Has Cargo. Thousand Tons Coming via St. Michael. Boat in New Hands. Charles Adams Takes Over John D. Rockefeller's Flagship of the Yukon.
    &nbs;   The steamer Oil City, formerly owned by the Standard Oil company and used in conveying oil from St. Michael to Dawson has been bought by Charles Adams, former owner of the steamer Lavelle Young. The Oil City is at Andreafski. She is being put into condition there by Mr. Adams and crew to ply between St. Michael, Dawson and Fairbanks this season.
    &nbs;   Mr. Adams has obtained a contract with Dawson merchants to deliver 1,000 tons of freight this summer. The freight was to leave Seattle for St. Michael. The Oil City also will make a number of side trips (o Fairbanks.
    &nbs;   The Oil City is one of the Moran fleet, built in Seattle by the Moran brothers for use on the Yukon during the rush days. When used in the oil trade she became saturated with oil, but as she has been out of service since 1899, the oil likely has evaporated.
    &nbs;   Captain Bill Moore, who was in charge of the Lightning until several days ago, will be on the Oil City. He will leave here on the next steamer for the lower river." (DDN)

  • August 12, 1904: "Very Raw Game. A late Dawson paper says:'Passengers aboard the steamer Oil City, which is here from St, Michael, tell of a plot on the part of Midas creek stampeders to seize the British steamer Research at Nulato. The scheme was for the stampeders to board the steamer as ordinary passengers, then to seize it, throw the captain in chains and run it up the Koynkuk to the new gold fields. It is intimated that the officers of the vessel are in on the play, which is in reality a ruse to evade the American coastwise shipping laws. The outcome of the plan is not known.'"

  • October 19, 1904: "Dawson, Oct. 10 - The steamers Tanana and Lavelle Young arrived Saturday evening from the Tanana country with 15 passengers from Fairbanks. They report the Monarch and Tyrrell stuck on the Yukon flats, the J. P. Light stuck 50 miles below Chena in the Tanana river and the Oil City stuck 12 miles below Circle." (The Douglas Island News)

  • August 9, 1906: the Oil City is reported to be at St. Michael. On August 14th she was due at Kaltag, and on the 16th she was due at Gibbon. (Fairbanks Daily Times)

  • August 21, 1906: Judge J. Lindlay Green, commissioner of the Rampart district for the past 3 years, came up on the Oil City as far as Chena. (Fairbanks Daily Times)

  • August 31, 1906: the Oil City is reported to be below Kaltag on the way to St. Michael.

  • October 5, 1906: "Good Work of Capt. Depew. Steamer Is One of the Longest in the Tanana or Yukon Carrying Trade Which Makes the Feat of Bringing Her to Chena Remarkable.
    &nbs;   Rivermen will have to take their hats off to Captaln Depew, of the steamer Oil City. For the last few weeks, or since the cold weather set in and the river has been low, there has been a constant wail from the frelght companies about the water being so low that the vessels hardly got wet. Slough and bars were referred to as being obstacles to navigation and skippers on light draught boats declared the Tanana river and a heavy dew offered about the same possibilities for navigation.
    &nbs;   Wednesday afternoon Captain Depew of the Oil City pulled into Chena with a barge. He had shoved two of them up to Fifteenmile slough. Then he found it necessary on account of the sharp turns to leave one and finish with the other.
    &nbs;   When it is remembered that the Oil City is one of the Moran fleet, they being the longest boats in the carrying trade on the river, some idea of what a good shallow-water stunt this is can be fully realized. When the Oil City comes into Chena with the other barge she has made good for this season." (Fairbanks Daily Times)

  • sold to the Northern Navigation Company (MacBride).

  • 1911, one of the mouths of the Salchaket slough along the Tanana River is being called Oil City slough. (Fairbanks Daily Times, May 11)

  • September 1908, photo by Nowell of her on the beach at St. Michael, in Cohen, p.60.

  • 1914, bought by the American Yukon Navigation Company. Seems to have never been used by her new owner; she was listed as being on the water at Holy Cross over the winter of 1914-1915, and was abandoned at Holy Cross.

  • "One spring, after a bad breakup, James Walker, trader at Holy Cross, wired the A.Y.N. office re OIL CITY: "Your steamer is where my store was." (MacBride)
Sternwheeler Oil City at Dawson, ca. 1899
Sternwheeler Oil City at Dawson City, ca. 1899. Yukon Archives #4037.