TECH: Benson Raft

Posted: 1st February 2016 by jazzdog in History, Technology
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I lived in Texas most of my life in land locked Austin –although there are some nice lakes. Coming to Seattle and the Pacific coast has exposed me to all sorts of new bits of history and tech unique to area or to life on or by the ocean. Just last week while visiting San Diego I dropped into the Maritime Museum of San Diego, which features ships from a replica 16th century Spanish ship to the ship used in Master and Commander, a yacht from the early 20th century and a navel research submarine. In addition, the museum, housed in a ferry boat, has static displays of maritime history of Southern California. It was among the ship models, newspaper clippings and old photos that I came across something unusual. The Benson Raft.



The raft is a cigar-shaped pile of anywhere between 4 and 8 million board feet of logs cradled together with lumber chains. A Portland, Oregon lumber baron, Simon Benson, used these rafts to move logs from the Columbia River down the coast all the way to San Diego.  The size of a typical raft was immense. 1000 feet long, 55 feet wide with a draft (the bit under the waterline) of 28 feet.  Think about it. A cigar of logs longer than three football fields being pulled by a tug! The photos usually have two or three tripods holding a lantern positioned along the length, I imagine for night visibly to passing ships. And some of the photos show men on the raft with poles while this thing is underway. I suppose they were there to ensure the logs maintained position, but I have a feeling turnover was quite high given the many opportunities to be either crushed, drowned or crushed and drowned simultaneously.

You can read more about the Benson Raft at the Oregon History Project

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