It might sound odd but the Winlock W. Miller and the 101 were sisters. They died together, on the same day, at Almota.
In early 1971, University of Washington head rowing coach Dick Erickson provided the newly formed Cougar Crew with two used Husky shells on a long-term loan. The Miller and the 101 didn’t row on the Snake River until December 4 that year. Just 37 days later, they were gone.
The second week of January 1972, winds on campus reached 75 mph. Gusts of 150 mph were recorded at Pasco. The recently built Almota shellhouse was designed to sustain winds of 100 mph.
When it collapsed, the Miller, the 101, Cougar Crew head coach Bob Orr’s Pocock single, and two of 20 oars were crushed. With the bows sectioned and returned to the Huskies, souvenirs collected, and the remains burned outside the ruins of the shellhouse, memories of Cougar Crew’s first two shells drifted quietly into history.
Erickson graciously provided three more shells. Two met similar fates as the Miller and the 101. Within a month, the Red Baron collided with the Lower Granite Bridge and was lost. It took a year for the Snake to kill the second. The hull of the Loyal Shoudy was breached in severe weather above the Lower Granite. The shell foundered and broke up on April 5, 1973, or what Cougar Crew members began referring to as Black Thursday within a week of the event.
Only the Tyee was returned to the Huskies intact.
For 50 years, a 23-foot remnant of one of the wrecked shells sat patiently in the Minnich family garage. The late Bob Minnich, a founding member of Cougar Crew, had salvaged the remains of the shell’s the first four seats, or the bow four, minus the prow, from the collapsed shellhouse, transporting them to Puyallup atop his parents’ VW van.
In December 2021, four years after his death, his brother made the remnant’s existence known to Dave Arnold (’88 Hist.), a former WSU rower and author of a history book on Cougar Crew. Pull Hard! was published in 2021 by WSU Press.
Arnold contacted me, and we initiated a plan to transport the artifact back to Pullman and place it on display. From a practical perspective, that was achieved in summer 2022 when Cougar Crew head coach Peter Brevick hoisted the remnant to the ceiling of the Cougar Crew Ergometer Room.
Technically, however, one important detail remained undone.
The Miller and the 101 are essentially indistinguishable, even though they were built 10 years apart. In fact, the true identity of the remnant is unknown. We’ve been calling the remnant the 101 since early physical evidence suggested the fragment wasn’t the Miller.
Initially, we thought that the mass spectrum of wood samples from the remnant could be used to determine the true identity. A tree accumulates elements from its environment and incorporates them into the wood. Soil composition is variable and given the 10-year age difference, it seems a reasonable working hypothesis that the wood in each hull would feature different elemental abundances. A mass spectrometer can sort these out and provide a “signature” for a given wood sample. As it turns out, the resins in the spar varnish of the hull are the most useful candidates for the type of mass spectrum analysis planned.
It took some time, but the bow of the 101 was located at the UW. So now we have a known, an unknown, and a laboratory willing to run the samples.
A product of nuclear fission, radioactive cesium (Cs-137) essentially did not exist in the natural environment prior to the Trinity test conducted by the Manhattan Project in 1945. Because the Miller was built before Trinity and the 101 after, there may be some chance that some component of the remnant can be used to identify the hull via Gamma rays emitted by the Beta decay of Cs-137. This is probably naive; it is certainly a long shot. We are consulting with experts and await their opinion. For now, we wait.
The exact identity of the remnant, however, is not the vital, missing detail upon which the completion of this project rests. That will be determined.
The missing detail was a rite.
The UW, historically at least, has embraced the tradition of the US Navy in having a woman conduct the formal rite of christening and serve as the symbolic mother of the newly christened vessel. Regardless of the remnant’s true identity, this rite would have been first conducted for the shell at the ASUW Shell House.
We held a christening ceremony at WSU Pullman in March, completing the resurrection of the remnant. Current and founding-era members will recognize this shell as part of our history and an anchor point for all that has come to be in Cougar Crew. The shell’s raw, physical presence traces back through 50 years of effort, grit, determination, and sheer force of will to the very beginning of WSU rowing.
Quite a crew (Washington State Magazine, Winter 2019)
Good as gold – The story of Paul Enquist ’77 and his Olympic achievement in 1984
Video: 50 years of Cougar Crew
PULL HARD! Finding Grit and Purpose on Cougar Crew, 1970–2020 by David Arnold (WSU Press)