The Columbia River is a highway for huge amounts of freight. The most frequent outbound cargoes include wheat and other agricultural products from the inland Northwest, logs and lumber, and mining products like coke or potash. Entering the river, ships bring petroleum products, cars, and auto parts, among other cargoes.
The way we move cargo has changed dramatically over time. A hundred years ago, sailing ships often had to wait for favorable tides and winds. To unload their cargoes, the ships tied up at wooden piers where sailors and laborers known as longshoremen, or stevedores, lifted and stowed barrels, boxes, and crates by hand. They shoveled coal, grain, and loose goods aboard the vessels.
Today, huge ships registered around the world ply the Columbia River channel. Some stop at Astoria; many continue to specialized container and vehicle-loading facilities at the upriver ports of Longview, Vancouver, and Portland. Containerization is common: standard-sized containers are loaded with goods, shipped, then transferred directly to trucks or rail cars for distribution. Powerful engines mean no more worries about wind and tide - except when fierce weather hits.