The Francis H. Leggett was an American-flagged steam-powered schooner built in 1903 by Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Virginia, as a timber-hauling ship serving Andrew Benoni Hammond’s timber operations on the United States West Coast.
She served in this capacity for 11 years before she sank off the Columbia Bar on the coast of Oregon. The disaster killed 35 of the 37 passengers aboard and all 25 crewmen. It was the worst maritime accident in the history of Oregon and was attributed to the ship being overloaded with railroad ties.
When it comes to finding interesting wood with lots of provenance this piece of Doug-fir is currently at the top of my list. An ad in the ‘classifieds’ section of the Guild of Oregon Woodworkers newsletter a while back led me to Manzanita, OR and a guy named Tom Anderson. Tom and his wife found themselves owning one of four houses constructed of railroad ties salvaged off the beach in Manzanita by some energetic beachcomber shortly after the Francis H. Leggett came to grief just offshore on September 18, 1914. The details of the wreck are a bit grizzly but you can delve further into it with the links I have provided. Suffice it to say only two souls of the 60 or so aboard the Leggett lived to talk about it. End of story, well not quite. The house, pictured here, didn’t fare much better than the Francis H when in 2016 another gale came ripping down the Oregon coast as they are wont to do and literally tore the roof off the place. Feeling spooky yet?
Rather than set a match to what was left of the place Tom, painstakingly dismantled the structure and offered the 7” x 9” ‘timbers’ to anyone interested. That’s where I came in. In mid-October I wound my way over to Manzanita from the Portland area to find Tom, the timbers and hopefully get a glimpse of the beach where this tale began. The fact that these timbers (RR ties) are 7” x 9” is what prompted me to check them out in the first place. This whole business of tying flies and having the right “furniture” to do it with goes back to 2006 when I built a cabinet to hold all the crap I had collected to pursue my tying. I unabashedly mimicked a cabinet pictured on the back of one of Peter Gathercole’s wonderful books and the damn thing turned out to be 8” deep, 12” high and 18” wide. This is like the perfect rectangle from a mathematical perspective. The cabinet is pictured here;
It’s dimensions are pleasing to eye and it seems comfortable with itself. At any rate, the ties had all the right dimensions for this noble purpose. In addition to carving off 3/8” boards for a tying cabinet I ended up with a variety of pieces suitable for tool caddy’s, spool racks, bobbin holders and the like. The wood itself is quite sound. Resplendent with weather checking, a few worm holes and a faint aroma of saltwater. My only concern is what fate lies in store for the eventual owner/operator of these pieces. The proud ship and the quaint cottage were anything but lucky.
There are many days when I have to remind myself that having and making fly tying accessories is not my primary goal. In fact even the act of tying flies is not the primary goal. The primary goal, which I am sure you have guessed by now is to actually go fishing. Sometimes in this life we get our mixed priorities up all.
So, with a huge potential supply of Douglas-fir timbers, ties, or whatever, neatly stacked-and-stickered over in Manzanita you’ll be seeing more and more very cool tying accessories appearing on the website. Unless of course some unforeseen catastrophe should happen along and forever alter the future we had planned for ourselves.