When Felix Grundy Iman walked out west with an ox in 1854 he didn’t have a clear idea where he was going. He wasn’t the sort of risk-taker to head to California for gold, and the country was already flooded with miners who testified to bad experiences in that rush. Once his parents had died of cholera, Felix had scoured work opportunities as a mechanic in northern Illinois, but the $8 a day didn’t seem to him like the best that he’d be able to do. He knew a little about boats, having worked at building skiffs in Monroe County along the Mississippi. He had some mechanical skills, and knew how to farm.
Heading toward the ocean out of the Rockies, Felix had been impressed with the spectacular scenery at the “Gorge” of the Columbia River as it made it’s way from upland desert down through chains of falls to flat water and the Pacific Ocean. This was a tough area for settlers to navigate though since there were no good trails, and converting wagons to floating barges and sending them over the rocks was a risky thing to do. But this place stuck in Felix’s mind.
He made it to Portland and the industrializing Oregon City before taking up the challenge of heading back to the gorge to assess whether or not something could be done there in the way of ship building to bring settlers on through.