It was nearly time to write another story as John and I were basking in creaky desk chairs, watching the sailboats ply the harbor, waiting for inspiration. I asked John if he had ever seen the “dock go away?” To which, he knitted his brow and asked what I meant. And then John chuckled as he remembered something we were all familiar with. We were very small when it happened as Dad led us up the stairs to the stern of the ferry and told us to hold onto the rail tight, as the rumble of the engine increased and the dock proceeded to pull away, revealing an ever expanding expanse of water between the dock and the ferry. After that, we were always inviting our unknowing friends to the stern to see or argue that the dock was not pulling away.
Old Harlan Rosford drove his creaky old bus for a quarter century hauling people on and off Vashon. Harlan was always scraping the rear end of his bus on the apron as he came off the ferry at a low tide, making an awful noise.
The old docks were creaky and mostly operated by hand cranks. They often failed or mis-operated during extreme low or high tides..The crunch of a rear bumper and exhaust pipe was a steady sound during spring and early summer loading and you could always tell an island car by the rear bumper that was canted 20 degrees off normal..and well…if you had a trailer hitch…the bolt and nut fastening the ball to the steel bumper link was worn to a nub..Never to be removed..
John went on to relate his early ferry experiences, growing up on Bainbridge.
“My Grandfather had a big Chrysler with a trailer that he used to haul moose meat back from Canadian hunting trips. And he hauled a lot of meat.. He had built his own walk-in freezer and cooler on the Green Spot on Murden Cove where I grew up… I can still recall the screech of metal as we turned up the loading apron.. There was always welding going on regarding muffler parts and flimsy rear bumpers.”
“In the summer, we traveled from Bainbridge to our summer place on Marrowstone Island near Port Townsend. It was a tedious trip because neither the Agate Pass nor Hoods Canal bridges were built yet; and the trip could involve as many as five ferries.”
“From Bainbridge to Coleman dock in Seattle we passed by the stinky creosote plant out by the rocks. The smell was terrible and there were floating globs of tar or some awful stuff.. Which we liked when it hardened and floated up on the beach ‘cause we could burn it and it made dense smoke.. as kids we loved the smoke.. our parents did not like this at all and tried to discourage the use of this toxic crap by washing us off with a stiff brush and borax soap which left us red and sore..”
“No matter how close we got to Marrowstone, there was always the last ferry across the narrow channel to Indian Island, across Alcohol passage, which was shallow and full of tide rips… the road down was very steep and a long winding one way abyss… with a sharp bend at the bottom which always made for a ‘crunch’ onto the open flatbed ferry .. This ferry was the ‘Martha’ that later was used on the lake Roosevelt run. I think the first ones were cable ferries.. But I remember snarling diesels.. fighting the current and coming into the landing at odd angles.. A short but steep ramp onto Indian island and a very sharp right turn and you could see the rusty military fence that was supposed to prevent trespassing into government land.”
“Scow bay separated Marrowstone and Indian Islands. We could easily row across or walk on a low tide. Indian island was a military preserve. Between Marrowstone and Indian island… there were a lot of spots where we could sneak through and poach a deer or two.. Not to mention merely spearing crab with a trident fork.. Jeeps patrolled the fence line every so often but we figured the navy guys were mostly staring out to space looking for commies…in actual fact they were profoundly bored at being in a remote spot and judging by the beer bottles we collected and sold back.. they probably could have cared less about us.”
Meanwhile across the sound, at the end of the Vashon dock, there were two hand-cranked winches that lowered and raised either the apron or the slip, and an outhouse, where you could look down the hole and see the green water, the barnacled pilings and seaweed gently waving in the current. Each winch had a dog that kept the winch from dropping either the slip or the apron. At some point, corrosion would cause the “dog” to slip and the handle to spin in a lethal circle as the apron crashed to the deck of the docking ferry.
As the ferry pulled in to the dock, the Captain leaned out of the pilothouse and gave the order: “Lower the bridge and drop the apron.” Then the mate directed the cars to offload. Dad was driving us kids to school in Seattle and the tide was low, making the apron and slip steep. His brand new Oldsmobile Super-88 made a screeching noise as Dad mounted the slip and dropped his muffler to the deck of the ferry.
I heard a story of the “dog” slipping out of the winch as the ferry was backing away from the dock; the apron et al… fell into the bay. No cars were injured in the writing of this story.