Orville S. McCormick, Steamboat Engineer

By Kathy Newman

Orville McCormick was Minnehaha’s first Engineer. He tended to the fire in her firebox, monitored the water level in her boiler, and oiled her engine from her first run in 1906 until her final run in 1926. The working conditions were cramped, hot, and dirty. The workday was long and demanding. As a third-generation steamboat engineer, Orville was the perfect person for the job. Orville’s father, Lewis Cass McCormick, and his step-grandfather, Silas T. Johnson, both owned and operated steamboats on Lake Minnetonka. Silas T. Johnson offered excursions aboard the Hebe while Lewis offered excursions aboard the Virgie. Both men had extensive experience as steamboat engineers on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers prior to moving to Excelsior, Minnesota sometime between 1882 and 1886. Orville may have started helping out at Dunlap’s Pavilion as a youngster and eventually served as an apprentice engineer, or striker, at the side of either of these two men.

For twenty years Orville would carry out his engineer duties as Minnehaha followed her daily route. Assigned to the Lower Lake, Minnehaha‘s original route took her from Excelsior, to Wayzata, and back. Both Elite and Working-Class people depended upon Minnehaha to get to their respective jobs – the Working-Class to their jobs at the lake’s summer homes and resorts, the affluent to their jobs in the Twin Cities. Interestingly, employers would often board just as employees were getting off. Orville would meet his future bride, Minnie Ljungdahl, as a result of this social dynamic.

Minnie worked at a home in the village of Minnetonka Beach and would take Minnehaha to the Arcola stop every day. The couple was married December 28, 1911 and resided in Excelsior until Orville transferred to the Nicollet Station in 1926, at which time the family moved to Minneapolis. Orville would continue to work for Twin City Rapid Transit until his death on January 31, 1949, at the age of sixty-two.

The rapid changes in transportation technologies seen in the early 1900s would not only render the Minnehaha obsolete, but also those who worked aboard her. Orville’s skills as a steamboat engineer were no longer valued or needed once Minnehaha was scuttled in 1926. Fortunately Orville was able to transfer to a different position within the TCRT. Whether or not this was a welcomed change will never be known, but perhaps the photograph of Minnehaha that hung on the wall of his Minneapolis home was a reminder of happier times.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.