|For more than a century, excellence of service on the
Willamette, Columbia and Snake Rivers has given Bernert Barge Lines
a reputation for ability, integrity and innovation—qualities
that continue to abound as the company pushes into the future.
Joseph Bernert was born in 1847 on a farm near a river in Northern
Germany. At age 19, he came to America to work on the great Mississippi
River in New Orleans. The hot, humid climate changed his mind, and
he traveled to California and then northward into Oregon, working
odd jobs along the way.
arriving in the Willamette Valley, Joseph discovered Walnut Eddy,
located near present-day Hebb Park, below the Canby Ferry. He established
himself by anchoring a string of logs reaching into the channel
to catch fallen timbers that farmers rolled downstream after clearing
land. Joseph trimmed them into logs and bound several logs into
rafts to float downriver for sale to Moehnke's lumber mill, just
upstream from Willamette Falls. At first, he rode the rafts themselves,
using a sweep as a guide. Later, he built an 18-foot, two-man rowboat
with a blunt bow that he used to direct the raft down river, then
hauled the boat onto a passing steamer to return upstream. The rowboats,
however, were not very durable and had to be replaced every three
to five years.
As the need for service increased, rafts were brought downriver
from as far upstream as Eugene, and any stream along the Willamette
deep enough to float logs. The timber industry was booming in the
Northwest, and logs were needed for many industries, from construction
to furniture to paper. Rivers formed the major highways for transporting
logs from one place to another.
Around 1900, cars started appearing in the region. Joseph figured
that if a car could run on a gasoline engine, then why not a boat?
In 1907, he built the "Vanda," complete with a 4-1/2 horsepower
engine. Three years later, the "Flora" boasted a 19 horsepower
this time, Joseph's three sons were old enough to be viable business
partners. Carl was born in 1891, Albert in 1894, and Joe in 1896.
At age 6, the boys started following their dad and learning to work
on the river. By age 16, Albert had purchased the "Vanda"
from his dad.
In January 1912, tragedy struck. Joseph had just collected some
money in Oregon City to purchase some logs. As he headed out of
the Canemah boat basin in high river waters, he experienced difficulties.
Although he had been hugging the shoreline, he was not close enough
to land. The raging current eventually swept him and his boat over
the falls, and his body was never found.
A New Chapter
Joseph's widow and children survived on the food from their farm
and work carried on by Joseph's sons. When World War I arrived,
Carl and Joe enlisted, but Albert stayed home to support the family.
He continued to build up the business, buying the "Wauna"
in 1917, the "Ramona" in 1920, and several other boats
as time went on. When Carl and Joe returned home, they work for
Albert and others until they could establish their own companies.
Carl sold his own company to Knapton Towboat Co. and retired in
1946, then later died in 1948. Joe Bernert died in 1956, and his
sons carried on his business as Joe Bernert Towing. His son Tom
still runs the company today in Wilsonville, Oregon.
company reached its peak on the Willamette in 1955, when he had
23 boats busy towing log rafts up to a mile in length. As more restrictions
were made on river use, mills started closing down or switching
methods, forcing Albert to make some radical changes to his business.
He bought Shephard Towing Company, operated six of his boats on
the Klamath River for five years, and built two log booms (one of
which lasted until 1997). In 1968, he established barging services
on the Columbia River, putting his son Bob in charge.
Albert's company, Albert Bernert, Inc., officially became Bernert
Barge Lines, Inc. in 1981. Albert remained involved with the company
until his death at age 89. His son Bob and daughter-in-law Kathryn
continued the tradition of service and ingenuity until their retirement
in 2000. Today, the company is run by Bob's family: son Ken, company
president; daughter Sue, who manages the office in The Dalles, Oregon;
daughter Lori, Oregon City office manager and secretary/treasurer;
son-in-law Mike Henry, marketing manager; daughter-in-law Diane,
personnel director; nephew Jerry Grossnickle, company attorney;
and all their skillful and dedicated employees, who are like family.