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News / Clark County News

Off Beat: Readers quick to catch mislabeled river photo

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter
Published: March 2, 2015, 12:00am

Talk about a navigational error.

That wasn’t the Columbia River: It was the Willamette that showed up in our recent story-photo package about a longtime Vancouver journalist.

The story recalled the career of Lev Richards, featured in an exhibit in the Confluence office just west of Pearson Air Museum.

A big element was a photograph Richards took from the air when a ship was launched at a local shipyard during World War II. Our photo caption said it was the Kaiser Vancouver Shipyard on the north side of the Columbia River.

Nope.

Several Vancouver folks who were here more than 70 years ago pointed out that the photo showed a different Kaiser industrial complex, the Oregon Shipbuilding Corp. in Portland’s St. Johns area. (A third local Kaiser shipyard site was also in Portland, on Swan Island.)

Dale Ivie said that his whole family was part of the shipbuilding effort, and he got to know the place in the photograph pretty well.

“My granddad worked in that shipyard and I spent a lot of time down there, and fished there,” Ivie said.

Along with his mom and dad and his brother, Ivie lived in the Vanport community that was washed away by a 1948 flood.

“My mom and dad both worked graveyard shift in the Swan Island yard,” he said, and the kids were on their own at night.

“They went to work at 8 p.m. and we were already in bed. When we got up, they were home. We had a neighbor who would come in and check on us,” Ivie said.

Glenn Ekberg said that his dad’s shipyard job wasn’t his first option.

“His story was that he wanted to enlist, but he was diabetic and they rejected him,” Ekberg said. “He was a talented welder, and in the shipyard, they use his welding talents as an instructor.”

Jim Race, another reader who noticed the mistake, also had a shipyard worker in his family. His dad told Race that everybody was concerned about possible sabotage.

“Having your ID on you was crucial,” Race said.

Then, after a launching, “They heard kind of an explosion” and the ship sank … but it wasn’t because of an enemy saboteur.

“Welded steel ships were new on scene then,” Race said. “As the ship settled after the launch, stresses caused the seams to open up, and it sank along the dock.”

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.

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Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter