Mike Skalley, Billing Manager

Mike Skalley grew up in Seattle, the son of a former U.S. Army Transport ship captain and timber broker who regaled his boy with sea stories, had him tag along on tugboat rides when he was inspecting logs on the Olympic Peninsula, and occasionally brought him down to Foss headquarters on Ewing Street.

“I would climb aboard the tugs, take pictures and learn about them, and after that I just stayed interested,” Skalley said recently. “We lived on the water, and I grew up hearing about the water and ships, and watching the tugboats from our front porch. My dad had a business relationship with Foss, and as soon as he took me down to Ewing Street, that was it.”

Skalley landed his first job with Foss in 1969 when he was a senior in high school as a part time dispatcher at $2 an hour. On May 17, Skalley will mark his 45th anniversary with the company, making him one of its most tenured employees.

“When I cut myself, I bleed green,” Skalley joked recently.

Since 2009, Skalley has been the company’s billing manager, but he spent most of his career in dispatch, a department now referred to as Customer Service. Within that department, he was tankbarge manager for six years until 1984 when he was promoted to dispatch manager. As department manager, he also managed scheduling and logistics for the company’s log barge operations.

While he has held corporate positions with major responsibilities, Skalley is perhaps best known as the company historian. With the blessing of then-company Chairman Sid Campbell, Skalley researched and wrote a book on the history of the company and its 144 tugs, “Foss – Ninety Years of Towboating,” in the late 1970s. The book was updated in 1986, and Skalley’s research formed the basis for a new book published last year in observance of the 125th anniversary.

“I’ve always liked the old tugs – the new tugs do a wonderful job, but being a historian, the old boats are where my love lies,” he said. “I just wanted to learn about them, looking through the company archives in Seattle and Tacoma and looking through old magazines at the library for anything to do with tugboats.

“I thought I ought to document the old boats before the source material was gone, and that was the start of the book.”

As part of his research, Skalley communicated by mail and in person with people and companies all over the United States and overseas that had purchased former Foss tugs.

“I just kept going, and added the newer boats too,” he said, “and it was before computers, so everything was hand written. A whole room at the house was nothing but files.”

After 45 years, the 64-year-old Skalley must be looking forward to retirement, right?

“I have no intention of retiring,” he declared, but noted that he did plan to surrender his management duties and go to 32 hours a week in late June. “Someone asked me if I would go 50 years. I haven’t ruled it out, as long as I’m healthy and still love the work.”

By Bruce Sherman