- Associated Press - Saturday, August 22, 2015

COOS BAY, Ore. (AP) - Knutson Towboat celebrated its 100th anniversary last Saturday.

The company was founded in 1915 by Norwegian immigrant Louis Knutson, who followed the growing Northwest timber industry to Coos Bay in 1908. He bought a milk boat, the Koos, and put it to work towing log rafts, transporting goods and ferrying people around the busy waterfront.

Although log rafts are a thing of the past, Knutson’s descendants remain at the company’s helm, employing 180 people in their ship-handling, logging, trucking, machine shop and marine construction businesses.

Louis’ grandson, John Knutson, is the company’s president, and John’s son Bryan is CEO and manages the company’s logging business. Son-in-law Dax Davidson manages Koos Trucking, and other family members also work in the company.

John Knutson delegated the task of talking to a reporter to senior port captain John Ericson, who has been with the company practically as long as Knutson himself.

Ericson, who manages the company’s on-water operations, has been with Knutson Towboat for 40 years. His father, Carl Ericson, worked there for 38 years, his brother Rick was a machinist there for 30 years, his son worked there and his daughter painted the boats.

Ericson attributed the company’s long-term success to good planning.

“They were able to diversify and see that things were going to change,” he said. “They took on new parts of their business.

“The combination of looking into the future and good employees helped with the longevity.”

Louis Knutson’s early years were so successful that by 1924, he was able to commission a new wooden tug, the Koos #2. It remained in service as one of the bay’s last wooden tugs until 1987, when the company presented it to the city of Coos Bay for exhibit on the Coos Bay Boardwalk, where it remains today.

The opening of the McCullough Bridge in 1936 ended the ferry business, but Louis Knutson soon found a new opportunity when World War II created a demand for rafts of spruce logs and shipbuilding timber. Louis’ sons, Harold and Lloyd, joined the company after the war. By 1963, Knutson Towboat had acquired its own log yard in Millington and was assembling rafts of Port Orford cedar for shipment to Japan. In 1979, the company got the job of rafting logs to the Weyerhaeuser mill in North Bend, where the Mill Casino-Hotel is now. Construction of the Koos King in 1983 enabled the company to berth large lumber boats.

John Ericson said the company had 13 boats in Coos Bay during those years. “It was a lot of moving of logs, and always some construction project going on,” he said. “At 7 a.m., everyone had something to do.”

When environmental concerns did away with log rafts in the 1990s, the company created Koos Transportation, run by Knutson’s son-in-law Dax Davidson, to remain in the log-transport business. Today, Koos Transportation has 100 trucks operating from its Millington and Springfield facilities.

The company also has a logging division comprising Millicoma Logging and Tioga Logging.

Knutson Towboat became Coos Bay’s only ship-assist provider in 2012, when state legislation prohibited the Coos Bay Pilots Association from offering both pilotage and ship assist. Knutson’s tugs now maneuver five to eight ships a month. The company also provides ship assist and pilotage in Eureka, Calif. and pilotage in Grays Harbor, Wash.

Other enterprises include marine construction, Knutson Machine Shop and Front Street Auto Body and Paint. The company’s newest project is K2 Exports, a joint venture with the Coquille Indian Tribe for shipping logs from local suppliers to Asia.

In addition to throwing a party Saturday for employees and other invited guests, Knutson Towboat marked its 100th anniversary by renaming one of its tugs, the Kameahu, the Centennial.

But Ericson will still maintain his office in the Centennial’s galley, running his part of the company as he nudges log ships and chip carriers into place, his yellow Labrador retriever Buck by his side.

“There’s always something different every day,” he said of the company’s work.

“I don’t see why it couldn’t just go on into the future.”


Information from: The World, https://www.theworldlink.com

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