Tug of the Month – Heart Strings

Heart Strings hangs with the big tugs at Olympia Harbor Days 2016 (OHD Stock Photo)

The Tug of the Month:  HEART STRINGS

Olympia Harbor Days (OHD) Tug Races and Festival

by Les Eldridge

HEART STRINGS is a tug boat type not usually seen in the waters of Puget

Heart Stings Out and About (OHD Stock Photo)

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, 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 a very important factor in his battle against the effects of autism.  His crew consists of his dad, Kevin, as deckhand.  Kevin has found that Dillon skillfully pilots the tug, steers, and knows her characteristics.  The family’s Christian faith has done much to aid Dillon in his life.  Kevin observes that “Dillon is very social and enjoys talking to people.”  Dillon’s sense of humor is certainly well developed.  When at the Harbor Days festival, he posts on HEART STRINGS’ deck-house a list of outrageous puns and jokes, nautically oriented, that he has written, e.g., “what do you call a small pirate ship?  Answer, a ‘thug boat.’”

Heart Strings on a Harbor Tour (Family Photos)

HEART STRINGS is 16 feet long, mounting a 26” screw, or propeller, 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 enabling thrust to be directed through 360 degrees, HEAR STRINGS has a straight shaft.  She displaces 3.5 tons and is powered by a 318 marine gas engine.  She also features a 2” 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

Heart Strings on Tour – compliments of Olympia Harbor Days

for tours throughout the weekends.. “They were very short tours,” Kevin remarked as he stood on the tiny after deck of the small tug.

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 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 at Olympia Harbor Days Weekend

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.


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.