Norwegian boat-building in the US
A brief history of Maritime Shipyards and their practical “Ugly Duckling”
Maple Valley, Wash.
My father, Finn Lepsoe, was born in 1896, the second youngest of nine. His father, Kristoffer Lepsoe, was a composer best known for the “De Vognende Toner.” Dad arrived in Seattle in 1924, following Haakon Friele, his very good friend.
The following is an account of the boat-building business they built, from the Alaska Fisherman’s Journal, November 11, 1982:
“The development of the modern twin-screw power scow can be attributed largely to one man, the late Finn Lepsoe, Norwegian born. He went to work for the company that he would eventually come to own, Maritime Boat and Engine Works on Seattle’s West Waterway. After buying out his three partners, he moved the firm to Salmon Bay in 1936 and changed the name to Maritime Shipyards.
“Sitting at his dining room table, Lepsoe drew the plans for what was to become the workhorse of the Alaska coast. By 1936, Red Salmon Canning Co. had five power scows, including the twin-screw Pipit. Powered by twin screws allowed her to turn around in her own length. She could make headway in 8-knot tides, and it took only two men to handle her. Clearly, a breakthrough had been made, and other packers eyeballed the homely girl.
“Until 1928, the scows limited their operations to Bristol Bay. Haakon Friele was Vice President of Naket Packing and President of the A&P stores. He wanted to broaden what the scows could do and used the ‘Buddy’ (Haakon’s oldest son) with her combination of seaworthy design and great deck capacity to serve as a tender, brailing salmon from the fish traps in the southeast. The deeper waters of the south spawned significant design changes by Lepsoe, the most notable being the addition of the shovelnose and the V-bottom. Together, they gave the scows a more boat-like appearance and increased maneuverability, capacity and speed.
“In 1941, Maritime was awarded contracts for 14 power scows for a total of $500,000. The first built under that contract was the ‘Rolfy,’ first of the 86-footers, largest of the pre-war scows. Sponsored by 13-year old Rolf Friele, youngest son of Haakon, it was christened October 26, 1941. Destined for just one season at the Waterfall cannery, the Rolfy was later drafted as a vessel for the Alaska Spruce Log Program on the western shore of Prince of Wales Island. It seems there grew a need for airplane material after December 1941.
“It’s interesting to note that five of the most advanced 86-foot scows were ordered by the Quartermaster of the U.S. Army just prior to Pearl Harbor, and they weren’t talking about their reasons for wanting them. We know now they were concerned about maintaining a supply line to the Aleutians, and their concern was soon justified. During the war, the scow was known as the ‘Ugly Duckling.’”
The shipyard was located next to the old Coast Guard Repair station in Ballard. Dad was ably assisted by Joe Glass, Ky Fox, Leo Barnecutt, and Pete Petrich. Rupert Broome was a sail maker in the loft. Later, Bill Garden built his beautiful motor schooners there. We loved visiting, but I often wondered while roaming around the two-block wooden building, what would happen if there was a fire. Dad sold the firm when he became ill, and thankfully was dead when everything burned down except for the façade. There never was an explanation, but I thought it suspicious that the outside water had been turned off.
After the war, many young Norwegians came to Seattle, among them Gustav Raaum. My father was his sponsor in this country, and Gustav became a good friend of the family. Besides being known as a great ski jumper, he became active in the community, including serving as the Nordic Heritage Museum’s first treasurer.
This article originally appeared in the March 27, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.