The Hood River County Sun, Hood River, OR, January 16, 1948, page 8

Includes portrait titled: RIVER PILOT - Capt. Charles M. Nelson of Cascade Locks is one of the few surviving steamboat captains of the early days on the Columbia. "Cap" owned the Tahoma, stern-wheeler, and made the Portland-The Dalles run. Now 81 years old, Captain Nelson lives with his wife in their home in Cascade Locks.


     One of the oldest and doughtiest old-timers left in the county is Captain Charles M. Nelson, veteran river boat pilot, who celebrated his 81st birthday on the day after Christmas.
     "Cap" Nelson as he is known from The Dalles to Portland is one of a handful of old river boat pilots still alive - men who pushed their stern-wheelers through the rapids before the days of dams and locks.
     A native of Denmark, "Cap" came up the hard way. He started his career as a stevedore on the Hood River-The Dalles running in 1894. By the turn of the century he owned his own boat and had his master's license. His last license was given him in 1943 and now hangs framed in the parlor of his home in Cascade Locks.
     Before buying his own boat, the "Tahoma," Nelson purchased an interest in the Mid River transportation company and operated the George W. Simonds for a number of years. As river traffic increased and excursions and freight from Portland to the new cities along the Columbia doubled and trebled, he went into business for himself and ran his own boats until after World War I when steamboating went into a decline on the Columbia.
     An early newspaper story on Nelson -- he has a whole scrapbook full of them -- says this: "You'll not find a man who can better adapt himself to circumstance and conditions, whether it is handling a lady down the plank with the graze of the dancing master, or rustling a shoat by the ear and the tail to the staterooms aft, than Charley Nelson of the Tahoma."
     But Cap Nelson got most of his clippings on one episode in a 1916. His sternwheeler was frozen in near Cape Horn across from the Vista House for six full weeks and the Portland papers made as much of his fix as they could of a marooned aircraft today.
     The Tahoma had both a bull and donkey aboard, and the trials they had getting across the ice to feed them made good newspaper copy.
     The twenty passengers aboard were safely taken ashore over the ice. But nobody could do anything about the bull and the donkey. Finally, when taking the hay across the ice became too much of the shore, eight men volunteered to get the beast ashore over the ice.
     When the river finally broke up, the six-week's siege was over and the Tahoma received a fall marina salute when it steamed into Portland. The donkey, which was to have been delivered near Multnomah Falls, couldn't be landed on the first trip up the river, was caught with the crew for six weeks in the ice, and finally delivered on the next trip.
     "Boat Pilots today don't have to worry about the ice," Nelson said in commenting on the story. "The dam can control the ice by raising or lowering the level, which breaks up the ice and clears the channel."
     Another thrill for Captain Nelson was when he was aboard the Weown which shot the rapids at Cascade Locks. He was riding as passenger on another master's boat, but that didn't detract from the thrill of it. "It is a good thing that I don't know they were taking the Weown down the rapids," says Mrs. Nelson, who has waited for him to come home from many a river trip over the years. "I would have been crazy with anxiety."
     The Nelsons have spent most of their home life right in Cascade Locks in the little house they still occupy, but the river has changed a lot since Captain Nelson first stepped aboard a vessel to rustle freight around as a stevedore.
     His main interest now is the annual meeting of the Veteran Steamboatmen's association of the west, which is held in late spring and will be held at Campoeg this year. There, "Cap" will get together with such remaining old-timers as Fred Sherman, Capt. John Brown, and Judge Fred W. Wilson of The Dalles, a purser in the old days, to talk about the days on the river in their youth.

©  Jeffrey L. Elmer