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by Jim Proehl

Fixed Dimensions

Images with fixed dimensions
  1. Steamer Fifield with Lighthouse in Background

    Photo 20064
  2. Steamer Fifield and Tug

    Photo 28448
  3. Fifield Beached

    Photo 28908
  4. Fifield Beached

    Photo 59711
  5. Fifield Beached

    Photo 59712
  6. Donkey Engine Pulling the Wreck

    Photo 30438
  7. Fifield Beached

    Photo 30440
  8. Fifield Bashed by Ocean

    Photo 30441
  9. Fifield Wreckage

    Photo 30443

The 1916 Wreck of the Steamer Fifield on Bandon's Bar

Semi-Weekly Bandon Recorder, Nov. 21, 1913 advertisement
“The twin screw steam schooner Fifield was wrecked off the Bandon bar at the mouth of the Coquille River at 7:20 this morning, the odd day of the leap year, February 29,” reported The Bandon Recorder for February 29, 1916. This year marks the 100th anniversary, or 25th anniversary, to those literal about counting leap days, of the wreck of the Fifield. The Bandon Historical Society Museum is observing the 100-year anniversary with a special exhibit. The ship was unlucky from the start. The original keel of the Fifield was laid in the Bandon shipyards of J H Price, but a fire in 1907 destroyed the shipyard and the ship when she was nearly completed. The second version, 173 feet long, 39 wide and 12 feet in depth, was launched from the Kruse and Banks shipyards in North Bend in 1908. Owned by the Fife-Wilson Lumber Company, the Fifield made scheduled runs between Bandon and San Francisco, carrying rough-cut lumber and passengers. The eight-year-old Fifield was returning from San Francisco in miserable February weather. She arrived the night before she went aground and was waiting outside the bar for the tide to rise. The steam schooner Brooklyn was also lying off the mouth of the Coquille. The Brooklyn crossed the bar about 6:15 am and the Fifield followed 15 minutes later. “When she got in the course of the current from the north, she was not far enough over and her stern was born steadily down on the rocks of the jetty. The current lifted her off and pushed her to the south and then the breakers sent the doomed boat back on the rocks,” reported The Recorder. The boat drifted, foundered in the surf and came to rest just south of the south jetty. “In the mean time, her four sharp blasts of appeal for help had roused more than one Bandonite and there was a general rush for the Beach,” reported The Recorder. Among those responding were the local Coast Guard crew and the Port of Bandon’s tug, the Klihyam. “One by one the passengers were carried over in the breeches buoy and the antics of some of the passengers aloft over the seething water was one of the diversions of the proceeding for the spectators who had gathered in numbers along the beach walk and on the sand. “The only man injured in the wreck was W. M Kay of this city, an elderly gentleman of 64 who was among the spectators. An over balanced log rolled on his leg breaking that member while he was seeking for a vantage place from which to see the sights,” reported The Recorder. The Fifield’s cargo on this return trip from San Francisco was “30 or 40 tons of hay.” Four passengers and 22 crewmembers were aboard.

“The prospects are good for a speedy attempt to get the wrecked Fifield off the beach and back on the run again,” reported The Recorder a week after the wreck. The article summarized plans to rescue the boat. The article also reported, “There has been no attempt at looting.” A few months earlier, extensive looting followed the wreck of the Santa Clara off Coos Bay, a circumstance that made coastal residents uneasy especially because 14 people died in the wreck. The Fifield was closely guarded. The newspaper reported the progress of the work to repair and refloat the ship over the next several weeks. Two donkey engines, one from Moore Mill and another from the Seeley and Anderson logging camp, were moved onto the beach. “Looking on, the Fifield seemed like some huge leviathan of the deep, and how helpless it did look on land.” The next week’s paper reported the ship had been moved 60 feet higher onto the beach. Crews filled the holds with empty oil drums, emptied her fuel tanks and cleaned the sand out of her holds. The Iaqua, a salvage schooner sent up from San Francisco, dropped an anchor offshore, ran a cable to the Fifield, and pulled. The Fifield moved approximately 100 feet when a violent storm came up, making it necessary for the Iaqua to drop her two lines and head for deeper water. “Breakers Smash Fifield to Bits” was the Recorder headline on April 25. “The steam schooner Fifield, which was wrecked on the submerged end of the south jetty at the mouth of the river February 29, has gone to the ‘boneyard’ on the beach where she drifted after striking the rocks despite attempts that have been made to float her. “During the high tide about 5 o’clock Monday morning the Fifield gave up the ghost and fell to pieces, splitting apart from stem to stern and casting her engines into the surf. Today she is the most completely wrecked vessel that has ever been seen along the coast here,” reported The Recorder. Beachcombers picked over the bones of the Fifield for decades.

The Bandon Historical Society Museum reopened in February after using the month of January to rebuild and refurbish exhibits, including a rebuilt exhibit on the Fifield wreck. Located at the corner of Highway 101 and Fillmore Avenue, the museum is open 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, Monday through Saturday.