The Olympic Stove

By Linda Powell-McMillan, Western Flyer Foundation Board

The original cooking stove in the 1940 Western Flyer was a 1937 cast iron, diesel oil-burning Olympic stove. The original stove was lost, but thanks to sleuthing by our Western Flyer Project Manager, Chris Chase, a replacement was located on Craigslist. The stove is now temporarily stored in the cabin of the Western Flyer, waiting to be installed.

An exact replica of the 1937 stove was in the basement of a Montgomery Ward Department store in Portland, Oregon, still on its original pallet. The store was having a ‘going out of business’ sale due to the demolition of the building. A Portland friend of the Western Flyer found the stove on Craigslist and alerted our Project Manager of its location and price, $900. Chris bought it, transported the stove to Port Townsend Shipwrights Cooperative, and stored it in the cabin while the Western Flyer was being restored.  

In Susan Shillinglaw’s biography, Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage, she describes the cooks on the Flyer.  Carol was supposed be the ship’s cook, at least that was the crew’s understanding. But she insisted that she was part of the scientific collecting crew, and while sailing, preferred to be on the deck and wheelhouse rather than in the damp and cramped galley. 

“According to (Sparky) Enea, Carol kept telling him that she would make everyone chicken cacciatore, but she never did, managing only one dinner of chicken and dumplings and one dessert, a delicious lemon meringue pie.” Undoubtedly she prepared her contributions on the Olympic stove. And Sparky, who ended up as cook, prepared his famous spaghetti and all the fish the crew caught—on the Olympic.

Usually, a stove of this vintage is found in total disrepair. It is often broken, rusted, and missing many unrecoverable parts. But this Olympic was brand spanking new with the owner’s manual still intact. We’re thrilled that this 1937 classic will be installed in the Western Flyer to not only warm the cabin but also to supply good food to the crew and passengers.

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