Those with an ear for boat names know the Salvage Chief, the famous old Astoria-based ship-saving tug that started life as a World War II landing transport.

Salvage diver Fred Devine had spent 20 years before the war sizing up what was needed to save ships from destruction on the beaches at the mouth of the Columbia River. He came to believe that if a vessel seaworthy enough to withstand the surf could be anchored seaward of a beached ship and if lines could be run from a winch powerful enough to keep a steady pull on the stranded ship, then the action of the tide plus the pull from the salvage tug might well free the distressed ship. Devine waited throughout the War, saving his money, gathering his thoughts and accumulating equipment. In 1947 he bought a government surplus LSM transport hull, installed six massive winches inside the hull, added a deck and an offset wheel house and his ungainly-looking vessel was born.

It took awhile for the jobs which would make her reputation to come her way, but they came and soon the Chief was doing the work Devine designed her to do: pull vessels much bigger and heavier than herself free of the shove of the surf and clutch of the sand. In her first big job, the 700-ton Salvage Chief freed the 10,000-ton freighter Yorkmar from the beach at Grays Harbor.

Down through the years Peninsulans enjoyed watching the man and his salvage tug finesse some big hulk or other off the beach. One of the best times was in November of 1953.

"Ammunition-Laden Barge On Beach Here," announced the Observer that morning in early winter. "More interest for sight-seers was created here Wednesday morning when an ammunition-laden barge of over 200 feet in length was driven ashore about one mile north of Long Beach city center by a pounding surf, and is now beached high and dry."

The Ostega, packed to the gunwales with 700 tons of ammunition, was being towed from Seattle to the dumping ground up the Columbia River at Umatilla, Ore. Off the Peninsula, the tow line snapped and the barge drifted ashore about opposite the golf course. There she lay, ominously, while "tide waters are playing against her starboard side."

The call went out to Fred Devine who came and looked the situation over.

Next week, the Observer's lead article began, "At near press time Thursday, Fred Devine's tug Salvage Chief was still not chief of the situation in removing the ammunition barge Ostega off Long Beach ... Devine's Salvage Chief came onto the scene at the outer fringe of breakfast Tuesday morning to survey the problem and by Wednesday morning had a line made fast from the Chief to the barge. At high water, around 9:30 a.m. a pull was made and snapped the tow line.

"At first, the Chief attempted firing a line to the barge, and in this attempt very nearly shot the line projectile into one of the Peninsula Golf Course cabins. This method of contacting the barge was given up and on Wednesday a Piper Club plane piloted by F. Merrill Ginn of Astoria, was called and succeeded in dropping a line to the Salvage Chief and then carried the other end of the line to the grounded barge ...

"Considerable sand has built up against the seaward side of the barge. During Wednesday's tugging the barge would swing slightly at both the bow and stern ends, but not sufficiently to become freed."

-Nov. 20, 1953

Locals have always loved an exciting shipwreck and this was proving one of the better ones. Could the Salvage Chief do it? Would the whole place be blown to kingdom come?

The following week's issue reported the answer: "After lying in the breakers off Long Beach from Tuesday of last week until Sunday, Fred Devine and his Salvage Chief tug finally won a 'tug-o-war' between his tug and a beached 204-foot barge Ostega at around 1:10 p.m. Sunday when the barge loaded with 700 tons of U. S. army ammunition yielded to the Chief's power, and slowly gave ground until approximately two hours later she was free of the savage breakers ...

"Hundreds of car horns blared, and five or six hundred voices of spectators lining the beach cheered, as the Chief won its battle against great odds ...

"Mrs. Devine, wife of the Chief's skipper, operated a two-way radio communication from the shore to keep her husband and his crew on the Chief informed as to what was going on at the barge; and one bit of news Mrs. Devine received from the Chief's radio man was that her husband had chewed off all the stems from his various pipes usually kept on board."

As the Chief worked the barge into safety in the Columbia, she had another call: an oil barge had broken loose from its tug, the Sealion, and was drifting around in the mouth of the river. "Devine turned his barge tow over to another tug, and with his Chief went in aid of the Sealion and later saved the oil barge from going aground."

All in a day's work.

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