Heart Stings out and about (OHD Stock Photo)

HEART STRINGS is a tug boat type not usually seen in the waters of Puget Sound; a “log bronc,” also known as “boom boats” or “booming beavers.” She was built in 1956 by L.S. Baier Company of Oregon as a steel hulled log bronc and worked assembling log rafts on the Columbia River for Portland-area mills for many years, and then became a marina support boat until 2004. HEART STRINGS was then inactive for 10 years, until she was purchased by Kevin and Tami Graham in 2014.  The Grahams trailered her to Olympia, which is her present home port.

The boat’s captain is the Graham’s son, 21-year-old Dillon Graham, a knowledgeable tug boat enthusiast who has autism. Dillon has found skippering the tug to be a very important part of his life. His crew consists of his dad, Kevin, as deckhand, who assists as Dillon skillfully pilots the tug, steers and shares her characteristics.    

Dillon’s sense of humor is highlighted during the Olympia Harbor Days Festival (OHD) where he posts on HEART STRINGS’ deck-house a list of nautically oriented puns and jokes that he has written, such as “what do you call a small pirate ship? Answer: a ‘thug boat.’”

Heart Strings family photo.

HEART STRINGS is 16 feet long, mounting a 26-inch screw with double in-line rudders. She has the usual log-bronc feature of a “dog” or row of serrated teeth on her bow to get an effective “bite” into the logs she moves. Unlike many log broncs with their 360 degree “Z-drive” screw shafts, which enables thrust to be directed through 360 degrees, HEART STRINGS has a straight shaft. She displaces 3.5 tons and is powered by a 318 marine gas engine.  She also features a 2-inch water pump to power her hose and nozzle, which, when restored, will power a sea-water cannon.

HEART STRINGS was a 2016 and 2017 OHD participant, not racing, but open for tours throughout the weekends.. “They were very short tours,” Kevin remarked as he stood on the tiny after deck of the small tug.

Heart Strings helping Mini Tug Kathy M (LG Evans Marine Images)

Log bronc operators usually have years of experience as boom men in log ponds, or as tug deckhands. Those boats equipped with “Z drives” have no rudder or reverse gear as the 360 degree drive eliminates the need for those engine control features.  This is not the case with HEART STRINGS’ conventional straight shaft.  Log broncs sort logs according to length and quality, and assemble log rafts.

Log rafts are secured by boom sticks and swifters. A boom stick is 65 feet long with holes at each end through which boom chains are passed.  Most log rafts are six boom sticks long (400 feet).  Several of these rafts are towed by a large tug after they are put together. Swifter are steel cables used to bundle logs into raised or turtle backed log rafts. The log broncs are becoming rare in the United States as restrictions are placed on old-growth timber cutting. Sorting is now often carried out in sorting yards ashore and trucked, rather than towed. Canadians are using log broncs where restrictions are fewer and timber is inaccessible by road.

Olympia Harbor Days hopes to see more of HEART STRINGS at future festivals.  She is an unusual boat with an ownership singular situation.

Captain Dillon Receiving his 2016 Olympia Harbor Days Plaque (OHD Stock Photo)

Sources:  West Coast Work Boats by Archie Satterfield, Sasquatch Books, 1992.  The Olympian, Sept.2, 2016.  Pamphlet “Tug’ing on my Heart Strings,” by the Grahams, HeartStringsTug@outlook.com.   Interview with Kevin and Dillon Graham, 2017. Like Heart Stings on Facebook.

About Les Eldridge:  Les is president of the South Sound Maritime Heritage Association and author of a number of maritime histories, a series of novels on the American Civil War at sea, and a book of humorous verse.  He lectures frequently ashore and afloat, and narrates the OHD races each year.  For more, see EldridgeSeaSaga.com.

Tug of the Month is sponsored by Olympia Harbor Days Tug Boat Races and Festival, an Olympia Kiwanis Club event free to the community.  It takes place every Labor Day weekend on the Olympia waterfront.  It is in its 45th year. For attendance information, see www.HarborDays.com, or on Facebook at OlympiaHarborDays.  Questions to Executive Director Carol Riley at info@harbordays.com.