Prop Story

The Giant Prop: a Larger than Life History

Steve M. Wyatt

The scale of this historic relic stops people in their tracks as they walk by: It weighs 7 tons and has a diameter of 14 feet.

This giant ship propeller, the Bayfront’s newest landmark, doubles as a calling card for the Pacific Maritime Heritage Center, a maritime museum and event center located at 333 S.E. Bay Blvd., just across the street from Port Dock 5.

To know the history of this prop is to know something about the development of concrete, World War II and Yaquina Bay shipping. The solid steel prop is from the concrete-hulled vessel C.W. Pasley. It was one of 24 vessels built under the wartime emergency program near the end of World War II. The C.W. Pasley was a general cargo vessel, 336 feet long, with a gross tonnage of 4,800. The deck and hull were made entirely of concrete reinforced with steel. Concrete was used as a conservation measure in order to save steel for more vital wartime uses.

International Terminal Dock at McLean Point, 1949

There were 24 such vessels built by McCloskey and Co. of Tampa, Fla., for the United States Maritime Commission, an arm of the federal government. McCloskey and Co. built the identical concrete vessels for an average of $2 million each, more than double the estimated cost. Adjusted for inflation, that is about $27 million in today’s dollars. While these concrete vessels were known to be seaworthy and handled reasonably well, they were quite slow, with an average sea speed of 8.5 knots (9.7 mph). Today’s oceangoing container ships are designed to travel at speeds around 24 knots and are three to four times larger than the McCloskey concrete ships.

The C.W. Pasley was named for Charles William Pasley (1780-1861), a noted British soldier and engineer. He was an advocate of militant British colonialism and inventive military engineer who wrote and published several texts on engineering, construction, architecture and mathematics that became classics of their day. During his stint as a lecturer at the Royal School of Military Engineering, he researched the development of artificial hydraulic cement, an improvement over “Roman cement.” He was ultimately successful.

His namesake concrete hulled vessel was launched on March 21, 1944. The C.W. Pasley was converted into an Army storeship hauling food and provisions in the Southwest Pacific (the waters surrounding the Philippines). In 1945, after war’s end, the C.W. Pasley returned to Seattle.

International Terminal Dock at McLean Point. Note sawmill with wigwam burner on right.

In 1948, the newly formed Yaquina Bay Dock and Dredge Co. took possession of the C.W. Pasley and two other identical concrete vessels built by McCloskey and Co. — the Francois Hennebique and the Joseph Aspdin — for use in constructing a dock at Yaquina Bay. Yaquina Bay Dock and Dredge built the new terminal using two of these ships on land it leased to the Port of Newport at McLean Point upriver from Newport’s Bayfront.

The Francois Hennebique was named after a French stonemason turned very successful engineer who pioneered the use of reinforced concrete for a diversity of structural engineering challenges. His namesake ship was equipped with two large guns (that were never used) and launched and delivered to the Army in 1944 for use as a storeship in the Southwest Pacific. It sailed in the Philippines and to Japan.

In 1946, it was towed to San Francisco. The Joseph Aspdin was named for an English bricklayer who patented the first predecessor to modern “Portland cement.” The Aspdin was launched in 1943. A few months later, it was in operation by a military contractor. While at sea, it safely weathered a major hurricane and saw service as an Army storeship in the South Pacific. In 1947, it returned to the United States. The Joseph Aspdin is remembered as “the ship that committed suicide.” Instead of being sunken to become part of the international terminal at Yaquina Bay, it broke loose of its moorings, left the bay, crossed the bar and went aground, sinking near the north jetty.

In 1948, the Yaquina Bay Dock and Dredge Co. sank the C.W. Pasley and the Francois Hennebique at McLean Point to serve as wharves for cargo handling. The ships were stripped of all salvageable gear; provisions such as dishware, the ship’s wheel, fixtures and compasses were sold at an impromptu store and made their way into the homes of many locals. Since then, some of these items have been donated to the Pacific Maritime Heritage Center.

The Pasley in the process of being demolished at the Newport Terminal. (image courtesy Port of Newport)

The stripped hulls were floated into place and sunk by blasting holes in their sides and bottoms. The holes remained open to allow water to fluctuate with the tides. The area between the hulls and the shore was backfilled with sand from Yaquina Bay. The C.W. Pasley proved problematic from the get-go. It never sat on the bottom of the bay solidly and tipped to one side and slowly cracked. The superstructure of the Francois Hennebique was used by the Yaquina Bay Dock and Dredge Co. as office space.

The first large ocean-going vessel was received at this innovative and hastily constructed dock in December 1949. The terminal was run by private operators from the 1950s through the late 1970s, among them Yaquina Bay Dock and Dredge and Sunset Terminals. In 1982, the Port of Newport purchased McLean Point / International Terminal. In the mid-1990s, fuel oil started leaking out of the C.W. Pasley’s cracked hull, and log exports trickled to a halt when the last log ship called at the Newport Terminal dock in May 1999.

A complete renovation of the terminal began in 2010. As part of the project, the C.W. Pasley was refloated and dismantled and the Francois Hennebique partially dismantled. Much of the Francois Hennebique hull still remains under the terminal and the bow can be seen sticking out of the tarmac. The cement from the hulls was ground up and reused as paving material and the metal rebar recycled. The two ships had a combined scrap metal value of over $900,000. The new terminal opened for business in August 2013.

The propeller of the C.W. Pasley, at the Pacific Maritime Heritage Center on loan from the Port of Newport, is one of the few objects saved from the renovation project. A nine minute YouTube video documenting the prop’s installation can be seen here.