Altona was built in 1890, at Portland, Oregon. She was a sternwheeler driven by twin-single single cylinder horizontally mounted steam engines. She was built for the Graham steamboat line, formally called the Oregon City Transportation Company, but also known as the “Yellow Stack Line”. All the steamers of the line had names that ended in -ona: Latona, Ramona, Altona, Leona, Pomona, Oregona, and Grahamona.
Altona ran the Willamette River as far as Corvallis, Oregon. In 1899 the vessel was rebuilt at Portland by David Stephenson and enlarged from 201 to 329 tons and from 120 ft (36.58 m) to 123 ft (37.49 m) On December 23, 1902, Altona was involved in a collision with the steamer Modoc, which occurred as follows according to the report of the Steamboat Inspection Service:
December 23.—At 7.30 a. m., about 2 miles (3.2 km) south of Portland, Willamette River, Oregon, during a heavy fog, the steamers Modoc and Altona collided, breaking both cylinder timbers on the port side, also fantail, wheelhouse, and wheel of the steamer Altona. No damage to steamer Modoc. No loss of lite or damage to cargo. Estimated damage to steamer Altona. $500.