Cascade Lock’s own Tom Cramblett, one of the captains of the sternwheeler Columbia Gorge, got his start as a deckhand on the 100-passenger Sightseer some 30 years ago. One of the captains of that craft was the late legendary Essen Smith of Stevenson, who Cramblett remembers fondly. “He was known to be pretty tough, but I really enjoyed him and I learned a lot working with Essen. He ran a tight ship. He knew the river, and not just in the channel. Remember, he worked on the river before there was a dam so he knew where the pilings were, the rocks, and he understood the currents and the winds, at high water and low water. He was a true river-man.”
Early on Cramblett knew he needed to become somewhat of an expert on local history. Passengers from around the world wanted to know about the gorge, its history and its people. “Fortunately, there is a lot of written material,” he said. “When the Hudson Bay managers sent people out here, they encouraged them to write about what they saw. They also sent artists to record what was here, and most of that stuff has been preserved. And of course we have the journals of Lewis and Clark and their crew.”
Cramblett said that when he’s out on the river he especially enjoys pinpointing specific spots that were written about 200 years ago. “With Lewis and Clark, for example,” he said, “I can look at their drawings and where the old river flowed and pick out exactly where they are referring to. That’s a real ‘wow’ moment for my guests.” He said his narrative on board the Columbia Gorge is ever evolving and he’s constantly on the lookout for more “wow” facts.
As to his new gig as mayor of Cascade Locks, he said, “It seemed that the way things were operating, nobody wanted to deal with the financial issues. They didn’t want to hold the administration accountable for some bad decisions. That needs to change. We need to be realistic and stay within our means. That’s why I decided to get involved.”
To catch more of Cramblett’s story, readers are encouraged to attend the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum’s annual fundraiser auction and dinner at the museum March 9. Tickets are available at the museum at 509-427-8211 or at the Skamania County Chamber of Commerce in Stevenson, 509-427-8911.