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"A Pedigree Partly Indian, Partly Batavian"

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The Politofsky - Philip Van Tassel, Engineer


Philip Van Tassel

Philip Van Tassell, engineer, was born in New York in 1844, and came to San Francisco in 1853 on the steamship America.

He ran for three years between San Francisco and Panama on the steamer Moses Taylor, and, when the Western Union Telegraph Company operated the George S. Wright in connection with their Siberian telegraph scheme, Mr. Van Tassell went with her as chief engineer, remaining in that service eighteen months, and on his return joined the steamship Oregonian, sailing between San Francisco and Panama. A year later he went to Puget Sound and began running as engineer on the steamer Politkofsky, retaining this position for several years, and subsequently joining the steamer North Pacific. On the latter and in the service of the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company he continued for twelve years, and when they retired from Puget Sound entered the employ of the Pacific Navigation Company, with whom he is still engaged.

“The Polly” has been a bonanza for reporters on the Coast, and for years has furnished a great number and variety of news items. The latest effusion in her honor appeared a few months ago in a Tacoma paper and is reproduced: "The Port Blakely Mill Company is the proud owner of a Russian gunboat, which thrashes its way through the salt waters of Puget Sound under the name of Politkofsky. It is a clumsy; snub-nosed old sidewheeler, and does not cut much of a figure in statistics devoted to tonnage, shipping, etc. As a matter of fact, if the Politkofsky should strike a snag and go to the bottom some day, ninety-nine persons out of one hundred would ask, 'What the deuce is the Politkofsky?'

The boat now serves as a tug, but there was a time when it was put to other and more warlike uses. When you look at the boat as it goes wheezing and floundering along with a raft of logs in tow, you would be willing to take an oath that a strong man with a sharp ax could make kindling wood out of it in short order. Long ago, though, if you could have seen the Politkofsky, you would have thought differently.

Thirty years back she was in the service of the Czar of Russia, and carried an armament of four guns. Fierce-looking men in long coats paraded the deck, and at least once a day, before caviar sandwiches and tongue-biting vodka were passed around, the Greek priest prayed for the great Czar, and the crew never once dreamed that the day would come when their gallant little sidewheeler would be used in towing logs for an American sawmill, and carrying prunes, dried apples, flour, beans, pork and other necessities of life to loggers, who probably do not know the White Czar and have no reverence for the great Russian empire.

The Politkofsky passed into the hands of the United States when Alaska was purchased, and later, when stripped of its armament, it became the property of the Port Blakely Mill Company. It isn't much of a gunboat now, you'll admit, but it is doing civilization a better service in towing logs than by destroying commerce and killing men."

-Source: Lewis & Dryden's Marine History of the Pacific Northwest-An Illustrated Review of the Growth and Development of the Maritime Industry, From the Advent of the Earliest Navigators to the Present Time, With Sketches and Portraits of a number of Well Known Marine Men-Edited by Wright Portland, Oregon, The Lewis & Dryden Printing Co., 1895.

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