COEUR d’ALENE — It’s now officially been 42 years since the cruise boat known as Mish-an-nock slid into the Spokane River and headed upstream to Lake Coeur d’Alene for the first time.
The two-deck excursion boat was 65 feet long, 33 feet wide, and was powered by twin 125-horsepower Caterpillar engines. It was crafted with 58 tons of steel by well-known tugboat maker Howard J. Dolph, and launched from Dolph Boat Works in Post Falls. Dolph’s brothers, Scott and Rich, helped build it.
The boat got its name from a group of Post Falls Camp Fire Girls. They selected the name — meaning “morning star” — from a book of Kalispel Tribe of Indian names, said Dorothy “Faye” (Dolph) Higbee, of Post Falls.
“I know these things because Howard Dolph was my father, and it was my Camp Fire group that chose the name while sitting around our kitchen table,” said Higbee, 57.
“I watched the Mish-an-nock — affectionately known as “The Mish” in our house — be transformed from a pile of steel plates to a beautiful cruise boat for Lake Coeur d’Alene,” she said. “The Mish-an-nock was special to dad’s heart for this area. His dream of a cruise boat for the lake grew from table drawings to reality in 1968.”
Howard Dolph lived in Post Falls from 1948 to 1977, made tugboats for many timber companies and others, and was an avid gun collector and rock hound, particularly for agates, Higbee said. When he made the Mish-an-nock it had an agate bar, made with agates from his rock-hounding excursions around the western U.S.
He moved to Rufus, Ore., in 1977. He lived there until 2004, when he died at age 90.
Before the Mish-an-nock was launched during the summer of 1968, it had been 30 years since the large passenger steamers on the lake stopped operating.
In 1938, the last two, the old 130-foot Flyer and 90-foot Clipper, were deemed unsafe and were dismantled. The many lake steamers had different uses, including hauling freight, breaking ice, and ferrying passengers on the lake and up the St. Joe River, at the south end of the lake.
Coeur d’Alene’s great steamship history began in 1880. That’s when the 85-foot sternwheeler Amelia Wheaton was built for Fort Sherman and government use.
Today, the cruise boat Mish-an-nock is 107 feet long, 33 feet wide, and is powered by two 165-horsepower Caterpillar diesel engines. At one point, the boat was cut in half and expanded to allow it to carry more passengers. That expansion was completed by Dolph and his son, Charles Richard Dolph.
Now the Mish-an-nock is part of The Coeur d’Alene Resort’s fleet of cruise boats. Both the Resort and the Coeur d’Alene Press are part of Hagadone Corp.
Capt. Carl Fus, director of operations for Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises, said he learned to drive cruise boats on the Mish-an-nock.
He’s been working on the cruise boats in 1988, he said. The Resort has five cruise boats and nine full-time and five part-time boat captains.
“They all have their own personality,” Fus said of the cruise boats. “They’re all fun to drive.”
The boats carry 40,000 passengers in the summer season, and another 40,000 in December during the holiday lights tours. The boats also are used for about 500 private charters each year.
“I think the most important thing has been the growth of the community, growth of the fleet, and the growth of our business,” Fus said.
Before the Mish-an-nock, the 65-passenger Seeweewana and its long-time owner and operator, Capt. John Finney, cruised the lake. And for years the Seeweewana pulled the Dancewana along its side.
The boat that became the Seeweewana was built for Lake Coeur d’Alene in 1926 on Lake Chelan in Washington, then transported by train.
“It was built to run in competition with the steamships” on Coeur d’Alene, said Fred Finney, Capt. Finney’s nephew.
Today, Fred Finney operates a boat building company called Finney Boat Works.
He has made cruise boats such as The Coeur d’Alene, the Spirit of Coeur d’Alene, The Osprey, and Kootenai (all four operated by Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises). He’s built many others, too.
He did a major rebuild of the Mish-an-nock in 1996.
Fred Finney, 54, of Post Falls, said the Seeweewana, which started as a passenger shuttle, was able to make two trips to St. Maries in a day to every one made by a steamer.
The Seeweewana — first called Holly’s Comet — was 63 feet long, 9 feet wide, and had a gas and then later a diesel engine. It had more than 300 horsepower, said Fred Finney.
In 1932, Capt. Finney bought it from H.S. Holly, and it eventually became a cruise boat.
Fred Finney said Capt. Finney “treasured what he did. He loved to entertain people. He was a character. He was usually sitting in the driver’s seat making jokes over the microphone.”
Capt. Finney — who for years delivered mail around the lake — also would describe points of interest to passengers along the way. The captain loved to meet new people.
Fred Finney was 11 years old when he was hired full time by his uncle. The two eventually became business partners with Finney Cruises, he said.
“I was just always drawn to the water,” he said.
The Seeweewana got its new name, like the Mish-an-nock, from Camp Fire Girls. They chose the word Seeweewana, an American Indian word that means “traveling over the water.”
Capt. Finney built the Dancewana in 1947, using surplus military pontoons. Twelve years later, a steel hull and a wood cabin were added. It was 65 feet long and 28 feet wide.
Fred Finney said that part of the hull of the Dancewana was built into the present-day Coeur d’Alene cruise boat.
The Seeweewana was sunk in the late 1980s out in front of The Coeur d’Alene Resort’s boardwalk in about 85 feet of water, he said. Up to that point in time, it was common to sink boats once they had gone beyond their useful life, or were too expensive to maintain.
Some around that time wanted to restore the Seeweewana because of the boat’s historical value to the Coeur d’Alene area. But the cost of restoration was too great, so now scuba divers are the only people who can visit the historic vessel.
Marlene “Marlo” Faulkner, Capt. Finney’s daughter, said, “It’s amazing. When they sank the Seeweewana, thousands of people came out to watch.”
Capt. Finney died in 1986, and was buried at Forest Cemetery in Coeur d’Alene. He was born in Spokane in 1909, and he married his wife, Thelma, in June 1936, in Coeur d’Alene.
The couple, of course, honeymooned aboard the Seeweewana.
“She made it possible for him to be who he was,” Faulkner said. “If it hadn’t been for her, he wouldn’t have been able to do any of the things he went on to do.”
Thelma Finney became the first woman to get a passenger boat pilot’s license on the lake, she said.
“He was an institution here,” Faulkner said. “And it never would have occurred to him to live anywhere else other than” Coeur d’Alene.
The Seeweewana, foreground, and the Dancewana.
Capt. John Finney