Tales from the Ferries

Tales of Vashon

Dow Beardsley had gone to sleep reading his newspaper on the car deck of the San Mateo, the last of the steam driven ferries.  All three of us kids were on the 4:40 boat coming home.  Unlike today, there were few Vashon kids communting to school in the 1950’s and most often we had to bum a ride home in the afternoon.  Molly gently tapped on Mr. Beardsley’s car window, “Could we get a ride home with you?” Molly asked.

In those days, everyone knew everyone on Vashon, or so it seemed and if you were on the ferry and were looking for a ride to town or home, it was common practice to search the car deck for friends or neighbors.  The Beardsley’s lived on the ridge above what Dad called “Run-Down Ranch,” because he could never keep up with all the work it took to keep a peach and Olympic berry farm going, while he commuted to work in Seattle.

Dow woke with a start and rolled down his window; “I can only take two of you,” he said.  “The third is going to have to walk.”  My jaw dropped as it was 7 miles from the ferry dock to home and I was the oldest.  “Just kidding, he said, “Hop in.”  Mom and Dad had frequent canasta games with the Beardsley’s, mostly at Beardsley’s where they had a “watchdog” flock of grey geese that would run and fly to announce the presence of someone coming up the driveway.  Us kids were afraid to get out of the car as the geese would chase and bite us, just because they could.  If we hid in the back seat, the geese soon lost interest and they would go back to munching on the grass or chasing flies.  Only then could we get out of Dad’s car to go and play in the barn, while the older people played cards.

To get to school on time, I would go out to the garage early and start our 1949 Oldsmobile with the “Whirl-a-Way” gear to warm it up for the run to the 7:30 ferry.  Dad raced the car down Cove road to Cedarhurst, going “lickety-split” and could cover the 7 miles to the ferry in 10 minutes and do it repeatedly.  In the “S” curves above the Heights, Dad would drive both sides of the road at 50 miles per hour in order to make the ferry.  If we said something about his driving, he would say; “Oh, I’m just straightening out the curves.”  If we were late, and we could see that the purser was lowering the gate, Dad would honk his horn like mad and they would hold the ferry up, until we were safely on board.

One school day, we were later than usual and Dad was honking like “mad” when the purser started lowering the gate.  I jumped out of the back seat of the still moving car and started running for the gate.

Fr. Weisenberg S.J. was the principal at Seattle Prep and if you were late for school or kicked out of class, he took you down to the boiler room, where it was quiet and tell you to grab your ankles while he gave you three spats with his “holy” three foot paddle.  If they were really good spats, Father would lift your heels right up off the floor.

I ducked under the gate just as the ferry was leaving and with the crew yelling at me to stop; I ran down the slip and jumped to the steel ferry deck some 5 feet below.  I was late for school anyhow.

We were headed for Lapush when we took the Keystone ferry in a very rough storm.  Dad was driving us to the little Indian village on the coast to witness the fury of the Pacific Ocean.  We had to time the waves to go to the upper deck as they were crashing over the bow of the little ferry; Dad called a “cracker box,” and we were parked right in front.  There were steel poles about fifteen feet apart in the cabin upstairs and you had to grab a-hold of one as the cracker box ferry pitched and rolled.  Being the youngest of three children, Mikey wasn’t fast enough to get to the second pole and was rudely thrown against the bench by the window.   He had to crawl on the deck to reach the next pole.  The ferry rode to the top of the next wave and in that hesitation before it dived into the trough, we raced to the hand rail at the top of the stairs and drunkenly walked down to the car deck.

John relates another story relating to that difficult route from port townsend to Keystone Harbor.

One time in winter his grandfather had filled his giant black Chrysler ‘8’ with family and hauled a trailer back from thanksgiving on Marrowstone. The weather was blowing hard and on top of that, the ferry was one where, in order to reverse… The engine had to be stopped at top dead center and then restarted.  Anyone who has ridden the Virginia V is familiar with this process , which occasionally goes awry..

And ‘awry’ it did… With bad tides, that sharp dogleg into Keystone and a big wind.
The result was a tremendous ‘thud’ against the pilings and the dock plus the crashing of cars against each other.

Somehow it all got sorted out but it was only years later that John understood what happened along with the name of the lever that, when properly engaged.. Reversed the engine.

He forgot the name, but it might have been a Swedish name.. Maybe the ‘Johnson’ bar?
They don’t make them like that anymore.  When John and i are out in our little crabber and want to reverse…We just yell at each other until it happens..

We don’t need no … ‘stinkin. Levers’!

Sean@vashonloop.com