The last weekend of June, Rich went to Portland to oversee the initial set-up for the Fort Vancouver Fireworks Show, which is shot from two barges in the Columbia River, opposite historical Fort Vancouver. While Rich and a crew of 20 volunteers set up mortars and piled up sand in nearly 100-degree weather, I spent the weekend, running errands, sewing, hanging pictures, and trying to stay cool in more temperate Seattle. Happily, Rich and his team only had to suffer for five hours before they could jump in their cars and head home… or in Rich’s case to his motel room…
… and clean clothes that were slightly hairy from the cats who helped pack his suitcase.
The following Thursday, July 3rd, the weather was much more reasonable. Rich’s team, which consisted of men, women, and five 18-year old boys and a 19-year old girl, zipped through loading, wiring and tin-foiling the show by early afternoon. Meanwhile, I worked from home then jumped on a bus in Kirkland to downtown Seattle. From there, I boarded the Amtrak Cascade for a 3.5 hour trip to Portland. It was a splendid trip in a comfy, leather seat next to the window so I could see the Puget Sound, downtown Seattle, Tacoma, and many other cities along they way
As we crossed the Columbia River, the dividing line between Oregon and Washington, I thought, "I’m so over Portland," but the truth is that I love Portland. It’s the perfect place to live with a great downtown, beautiful scenery, and just large enough without being overwhelming.
The next morning, I dropped Rich off at Swan Island where the fireworks barges were tied up. Northeast of downtown Portland, Swan Island hosted Portland’s first airport, dedicated by Charles Lindbergh in 1927, and was later used for naval shipbuilding during World War II. It’s now a major corporate center and hub for distribution, warehousing and manufacturing activities.
I spent most of the day with my mother who lives in Sherwood (south of Portland) then changed my clothes and joined Rich and his team on the two barges going to Fort Vancouver. Next to his barges were three other barges, intended for the Blues Festival in downtown Portland and Oaks Park, a little further south.
It took nearly two and a half hours for the tugboat to push the barges down the Willamette River onto the Columbia, opposite the Fort. Rich and six of his volunteers stayed on the barges while everyone else piled on the tug boat. I climbed to the topmost part of the tug for the best view. You can see the tug in the picture below. It’s white and very tall and skinny. there are three decks on which you can stand.
At 10:10 p.m. the show started with a loud boom and continued for 31 minutes, concluding with hundreds of shells in the last minute.
After several volunteers put out several small fires on cardboard boxes and logs, the tug turned around and headed back to Swan Island. As soon as the tug starts back, everyone starts to disassemble the show… picking up the firing blocks, hundreds of feet of wire, dozens of trash bags of foil, cardboard, bits of shells, and other riff-raff, pilling up the "cake" boxes, and raking the barges. Whatever isn’t raked and picked up can blow into the water.
At first, the task seems daunting, but with 20 people working at a ferocious pace, the show is somewhat taken apart by the time we returned to Swan Island, around midnight.
The next day, Saturday, the racks of mortars, empty boxes, bags of trash, firing blocks, and other "stuff" from the five barges were lifted off the barges using a crane and either loaded into trucks or placed in a large dumpster. By 3:00, Rich was done and we headed back to Seattle!
One interesting thing that I learned was that after the Exxon Valdez accident, all vessels carrying oil or gas must be double-hauled. It’s less expensive to build double-hauled barges than ships. Many of these barges are built by Gunderson Marine in Portland builds many of these barges… one of which was "parked" next to the firework barges.
The top is a labyrinth of pipes, valves, lines, and wires. These barges are filled with gas, oil and lubricants; large, sea-going tugboats are then used to push them to Hawaii and other destinations.
The pictures don’t do justice to the size of one of these barges!