How Cheap Is Cheap?
Portland is not the most expensive city, but $5.00 doesn’t go as far as it used to. It will buy you some tasty fare at one of the city’s many food carts, a decaf soy mocha at Stumptown Coffee (including tip), a bean and cheese burrito at Laughing Planet or a day pass on the city’s bus and light rail system. To compare, admission to the nearby Chinese Garden is $8.50 for an adult, and admission to the Portland Art Museum is $12.00. So $5.00 is a great bargain.
The Best $5 You’ll Ever Spend
Portland is appropriately named. It sits at the nexus of the Columbia and Willamette rivers and has a rich maritime history. (Yes, I said maritime. The city of Portland is also divided into 5 quadrants. Go figure.) The steamer Portland is the last operating steam-powered sternwheel tug boat in the United States, and the current home of the Oregon Maritime Museum.
The Portland worked in the harbor for 30 years before being replaced by younger, newer boats. The steam tug was put in storage and sat quietly rotting until folks at the Oregon Maritime Museum decided she needed to be restored. A team of dedicated volunteers gave the Portland an overhaul and continues restoration work and maintenance.
The main floor houses select artifacts from the Oregon Maritime Museum including ship models, maps, memorabilia and artifacts. The children’s area has things that clang and whistle (including a fog horn!). There is a library upstairs by the wheelhouse. But the main attraction is the Portland herself – well worth the $5 admission. The volunteer docents are warm, friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. They lead tours of the boat, regale you with stories, and patiently answer questions. By the end of the tour they feel like distant relatives you met for the first time at a family reunion.
The engine room contains the boiler and (you guessed it) two one-cylinder steam engines that turn the sternwheel.
The Portland is moored in the Willamette River next to Waterfront Park between the Burnside and Morrison Bridges. It is off Naito Parkway and easily accessible on foot via a ramp. As you walk in, you are serenaded with lusty sea shanties over the loudspeaker (to hear an excellent and educational example, click here. Scroll down to “From Out The Winds of Yesterday.” I recommend you listen to it while you read the rest of this post).
I entered through the gift shop and joined a tour in progress lead by Phil, a new volunteer docent. It was his second tour ever, and he did an amazing job. I was in good company – a gentleman who has worked on boats on the Hudson River for 40 years and his friendly wife. We walked through the museum exclaiming over maps and models and vintage diving gear.
We went down to the engine room and were met by the smell of paint and diesel oil. The engines are large and magnificent.
Phil brought me up to the wheelhouse (I had missed this part of the tour). I loved it. I was so excited I forgot all about the library. I will return to brush up on my maritime knowledge.
I can imagine The Portland paddling up and down the river blowing her horn.
Now You Do It
Here are some tips for enjoying your time on the Portland to the fullest:
Take the docent tour. Ask lots of questions.
Watch the video of the Portland going up to Astoria. It has great footage of the steam tug traveling under Portland’s raised bridges. You can imagine the Portland helping ships navigate the narrow openings.
Talk to the volunteers working on the boat. They love it and know all about it.
Go in the library! (I forgot to do this while I was there because I was excited about the wheelhouse. I want to go back specifically to hang out in the library. When you go, please tell me how it is.)
Blow the fog horn.
Ring the bell.
Read the Japanese declaration of surrender from WWII (in English or Japanese).
If You’d Like to Splurge
Walk three blocks to Voodoo Doughnut for a Portland Cream (filled with Bavarian cream and covered in chocolate frosting) or an Oh Captain My Captain (covered in vanilla frosting and Captain Crunch). Yum.
Now that you’re in a maritime mood, enter to win a trip to Aruba in our Travel like a Pirate contest.
All photos courtesy Brie Milgrom