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Monday, March 15, 2010

The riverboat A.J. Goddard

The AJ Goddard
In the summer of 2009, underwater archaeologists found a time capsule of the Klondike Gold Rush: a sunken Yukon River stern-wheeler so well-preserved that researchers can document the last minutes of the five-man crew as well as their life aboard the primitive cargo-hauler.
When divers reached the sunken ship in about thirty feet of water in Lake Lebarge, the door of the steam boiler was open, and slightly charred wood found inside suggested the crew was trying to build up a head of steam, perhaps to break loose from an ice jam as the ship sank in a storm. An ax remained on the deck after one crew member hefted it to chop the rope used to tow a barge, a sign of their frantic attempts to escape the ice floe.
The Goddard was not alone but it was the first of perhaps as many as 300 steamboats in the Yukon in the heyday of river transport. Few remain today and none ply the river anymore. But in 1898, river was the only way to get from the coast to the Klondike in a hurry. And there was money to be made especially if you were first in line and first in Dawson. Thus it was that a mechanical engineer from Iowa sailed into the history books by being the first to navigate a steamboat from Lake Bennett to Dawson City.
AJ Goddard and his wife packed parts for two steamboats over the White pass during the winter of 1897-98 when gold crazed souls headed for the goldfields near Dawson.
The iron sternwheeler named the AJ Goddard and her sister ship the F.H. Kilbourne were built in San Francisco in 1897 and shipped in pieces to Skagway, hauled inland and assembled at the tent city at Lake Bennett. The boat christened the AJ Goddard was forty feet long, about one quarter the length of the SS Klondike and weighed in at 15 tons - about the size of fifteen one-ton pickups.
The AJ Goddard left Lake Bennett on May 29, 1898, ran Miles Canyon and the notorious Whitehorse rapids and arrived in Dawson on June 21. Passengers on the boat included the famed Oatley singing sisters. Actually another so-called steamboat named the Bellingham beat the Goddard into Dawson by ten days, but it was - according to many - too small to be called a real steamboat. Engineer, AJ Goddard’s feat was recognized by the rough and tumble crowd in Skagway who realized he had done something special and held a civic parade in his honour.
Goddard's determination paid off as he established the first steamboat link between the gold fields and the Pacific coast.
For three years, the A.J. Goddard served as a ferry for stampeders on their way to Dawson City. The craft was self-sufficient and it had its own repair shop, a blacksmith's forge, and a workbench. She operated on the river until October 1901 when she was wrecked in a storm on Lake Lebarge with the loss of the Captain, Charles McDonald, cook Fay Ransome, and fireman John Thompson. They were buried nearby by the North-West Mounted Police after their bodies washed ashore in 1902.
As the vessel sank two other men, the engineer Stockfedt and crewman Snyder hung onto the pilothouse. They were spotted by a trapper camping nearby who came to their rescue.
Today, the AJ Goddard rests peacefully on the bottom of Lake Lebarge. The boat is largely intact. A piece of land on the Northeast side of the Lake is called Goddard Point.

1 comment:

  1. Great story about a special time in history! Thanks!

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