Camera safely around my neck, I follow Adolf Steffen’s, (a director of the SS Sicamouse Heritage Park board) directions to the letter as I carefully clamber down a ladder into the pitch-black boiler room of the SS Naramata. Immediately engulfed by the smell of what I suppose is old engine oil, it’s easy to paint a picture of men stoking the massive boiler with coal, sweating in the heat with the sound of the pistons pumping madly away in the adjoining engine room.
Launched in 1914, the Naramata is the last surviving steam tug in the interior of British Columbia. Along with the coastal steam tug, Master, based at Vancouver, they are the only tugs of the steam era, not rebuilt to diesel power, surviving in the province. That makes this vessel and my not-open-to-the-public tour pretty special .
“Wouldn’t she look great out there in the lake,” says Adolf. Once the Naramata was brought back to Penticton (1991) to rest beside the SS Sicamous, it was discovered that her hull was paper thin in places and leaking. The tug was pulled onto the beach and backfilled with sand to prevent her from sinking. Even grounded, she is still shipping in some water when the lake is full at this time of the year and it’s not doing this centenarian any favours.
Adolf says about $75,000 is needed to pay a Vancouver company to “pick her up so a cradle can be built under her to fix the hull, sandblast, paint and push her back into the lake.”
Appropriately named after my village, a prosperous fruit-growing community back in the day, her main purpose was the transportation of fruit from the many packing houses along Okanagan Lake to the railway at Okanagan Landing and on to Kelowna. The ship could haul two fully loaded steel barges moving the equivalent of a 16-20 car train filled with Okanagan fruit at an average speed of seven miles an hour. A carload was 840 boxes of apples and even the early wooden barges could carry eight freight cars.
A couple more shots before we headed back topside and into the light.
“If we don’t get at this restoration project soon in another 10 to 15 years she will be a rust bucket and disintegrate,” Adolf says. Once she is restored and back on the lake where she belongs a pier will be constructed to connect the Naramata to Canadian National Tug no. 6 to offer visitors the opportunity to see the SS Sicamous, the Naramata and the CN tug. This second part of the restoration project puts the total tab at about $150,000.
Canadian National Tug no. 6 is a diesel-powered tugboat launched in 1948 to transfer railway barges between Penticton and Kelowna. A pier attaching it to the Naramata is in the restoration plans.
Topside and back into the light, the Naramata’s green and buff yellow paint is accented with simple but elegant brass details like the door handles leading to the various cabins giving this workaday vessel some class.
The Naramata’s hull and boat works were prefabricated in Port Arthur Ontario in 1913 with as many as 150 men working on her. She cost $40,000 and was shipped to Okanagan Landing for assembly and launched April 20th, 1914.
The deckhouse of the Naramata includes a small mess where a full-time cook worked in the blasting heat which was likely more welcome in the winter. Assistant manager of the SS Sicamous Heritage Park, Jessie Dunlop shared the reminiscences of a former crew member Abe, who stopped by for a tour a few years ago. Abe says the food was always fresh and delicious and a typical breakfast consisted of hash browns, bacon, eggs, pancakes and toast.
Crew member Abe also talked of how the cook brooked no nonsense on board and would threaten to pick up a troublemaker, clothes and all and toss him overboard.
The captain’s cabin is behind the pilot house on the top deck. The horsehair mattress is a long way from a comfy a memory foam.
When the Naramata began her service, she was the most modern tug on the southern lakes and rivers. Adolf also pointed out the Naramata’s double steel hull which made it capable of breaking ice on the lake. It’s been many years since the lake has iced up but it did frequently in the early 1900s. The SS Naramata would push through the ice to make a channel for the passenger steamers, including the SS Sicamous.
“The Naramata played a big part in the history of opening up the west here,” says Adolf. “Moving the fruit from the orchardists to market in the barges and onto the rails brought prosperity to the area. In the scheme of things, the $150,000 we need in total to fix her up and get her back in the water is not a lot to pay for preserving this important part of our history.”
So far $25,000 has been raised and the campaign to raise the remainder will launch soon. If all goes well everyone will soon be able see her and to paint their own pictures of what life was like on the SS Naramata during its hard working life on the lake.