The Chippewa:  The Steamer that Became a Flagship
Few vessels on Puget Sound led as interesting a life as the well-loved
Chippewa.

Built in 1900 in Toledo, Ohio, she was used as a passenger vessel of the
Arnold Transportation System on the Great Lakes.  She was powered with
twin triple expansion steam engines fed by four oil-fired water tube boilers.

The steamer was purchased by the Puget Sound Navigation Company
(Black Ball Line) in 1907.  Having made her way to the east coast, she left
New Jersey on 18 February 1907.  Sailing around the Strait of Magellen
(there was no Panama Canal at that time) she arrived 80 days later on 8
May 1907, on what had not been exactly a pleasant trip.  Problems had
included loss of power, fire, and a disgruntled crew.   After clean-up and
repainting, the steamer started service on the Seattle-Victoria, British
Columbia run, which she held onto until 1911 when she was replaced by the
Indianapolis, another former Great Lakes steamer.  The Chippewa then took
over the Seattle-Tacoma route until the outbreak of World War I. During the
war years, she was used as a school ship for the merchant marines.  After
the war, the
Chippewa sat unused on Lake Union. Steamers were becoming
extinct on Puget Sound.  Many of the old wooden "Mosquito Fleet"
passenger steamers were being scrapped or converted to carry automobiles.

In 1926 Black Ball invested heavily in the
Chippewa. The steamer underwent
major refurbishment at the Lake Washington Shipyard at Houghton.  Her
bow and  stern  cut off and her interior was extensively modified.

The lower deck was cleared out and could now accommodate 90 cars.   Her
passenger capacity was rated at  2,000.  Relisted as the flag ship of the line,
the  then largest ferry on the West Coast went into service mainly between
Seattle and Bremerton on the "Navy Yard Route."

Proving she was  a versatile vessel, she also sailed between Seattle, Port
Angeles and  Victoria on the "International Circuit Route."  For a number of
years the
Chippewa was used successfully in this configuration.  However,
her triple expansion steam engines, which had been left in place in the 1926
rebuild, were starting to become troublesome.  In 1932 PSN decided to pull
the ailing steam engine out and repower the vessel with a direct drive
Busch-Sulzer diesel.The rebuilding caused a loss of carrying capacity, down
to 75 cars, but a  gain of speed to a respectable 16 knots.

The
Chippewa would emerge from the yard this time with over $200,000.00
(1932 dollars.  Translates to roughly, $3,671,600.00 in 2015.)  in alterations
in addition to her new engine.

Changes to the passenger cabin, which was completely rebuilt included a
glassed-in  main observation deck on the forward part of the vessel. The
cabin was paneled in Philippine  mahogany, with long padded bench seats
padded in red leather.  Her galley, located amidships,  was redesigned and
included a gift shop.  The long square counter was ringed by padded stools,
where passengers could expect to get a full service meal.

Both a   men's smoking room and a ladies lounge were included, adding a
touch of North Atlantic elegance to the Puget Sound ferry
The final rebuilding gave her a more modern look, a completely new
wheelhouse.  The line of square windows  along her car deck were replaced
with portholes.   One stack was removed, replaced with a shorter, more
rounded funnel.

The
Chippewa continued as the flag ship of the fleet.  She remained mainly
on the Seattle-Bremerton run throughout the 1920's and into the 30's,
preceding the
Kalakala in moonlight cruises and live music being broadcast
from her forward observation room.  She was, however, deposed in 1935
from flagship status after the
Kalakala arrived.

While the
Kalakala would later gain a reputation for disliking ferry slips and
barges, the
Chippewa actually logged more accidents as a ferry than the
Kalakala ever did.     It is important to remember, though, that radar wasn't
available until after World War II.   Navigation through fog was done by
reducing speed, keeping a sharp look out, and sounding the ferry's whistle.  
This usually proved to work well so as not to collide with another vessel; it
did not, however, prevent the vessel from going aground more than once.

After WWII, the
Chippewa moved from her usual Bremerton-Seattle route to
the San Juan Islands in the summer.  In 1950, after a summer spent in the
San Juans, the ferry was assigned to the Winslow-Seattle route.  Traffic on
the run had picked up significantly since the opening of the new Agate Pass
Bridge, which connected Bainbridge Island with the mainland.  She stayed
on the run, now under Washington State Ferry management, until 1953.  
She then went to work back up in the San Juans until 1956, at which time
she was assigned back to the Bremerton route.

Her days working for WSF were coming to an end.  The
Chippewa spent the
summers from 1960-63 in the San Juans, often doing the Anacortes-Sidney
B.C. route,  then back on the Bremerton route for the fall season.  She was
placed on "reserve" for 1964, and made her last run on 19 September,
1964.  Subsequent drydocking and inspection revealed 28 unacceptable
faults in her hull and superstructure, to the tune of some $400,000.00 to
repair.  Given her limited clearance, and car capacity (down to 52 of the
1950's sized cars)  WSF decided against retaining the ferry. She was sold in
1965 to Foss Launch and Tug.  After spending three years on Lake Union
unused, she was sold to Donald Clair of Oakland, to be used as a museum
and shopping mall in the Bay area.

Unfortunately the new life for the
Chippewa was not to be.  While undergoing
conversion, the ferry was set on fire on the night of 28 June 1968 while tied
to the Oakland pier.  She was completely gutted.  She was moved to
Stockton, moored at Paradise Point fishing resort.  She was stripped down
to the hull in 1970 to be rebuilt as a replica of the luxury ferryboat
Chrysopolis.  The plans never came through, and the hull was last reported
as half-sunk at Collinsville, California, in the 1970's; another report has her
listed as a stationary sewage treatment plant on the Sacramento River.

Most plausible is that the hull was cut up long ago, but if you have any
specific information regarding what finally happened to the hull, please feel
free to
email me.

CHIPPEWA
Official Number: 127440 Radio Call Number: WA 3651  Built: Toledo, OH, 1900.  Rebuilt: 1928, 1932   Length: 212' 3"  Beam: 52' 7" Draft: 15' 5"    
Auto Deck Clearance: 9' 6" Speed: 15 knots   Horsepower: 2,130 Propulsion: twin triple expansion steam;  Busch-Sulzer diesel, direct drive
Autos: 52 Passengers: 950  Gross Tonnage: 887
Name Translation: Great Lakes Native American tribe
FINAL DISPOSITION: Gutted by arson fire, 28 June, 1968. ~ The Chippewa, working her final years in the San Juan Islands. Author's collection.
The third  photo clearly shows the Chippewa's main flaw--her 9 1/2 foot auto deck clearance.  
From the look of this photo, it seems that the truck was about three or four inches too tall.
Author's collection. Mousing over you'll see the car deck.  Courtesy of PSMHS, MOHAI.  
Williamson photo.  Above, the
Chippewa working for WSF. Below, the mahogany woodwork
in the passenger cabin.
At top, the Chippewa as she looked when arriving on Puget Sound.  She would keep this
look until her first major reconstruction  in 1926.   Author's collection.   Ab
ove, looking
somewhat half-done, the
Chippewa emerged from the  Lake Washington Shipyard in 1926
still powered with her original steam engines, which is very evident in this photo.   Bayless
collection.
Still afloat?

Several sources over the last two decades claim that the hull of the Chippewa
i
s still afloat somewhere in the Delta.  Collinsville, Antioch and several other
locations on the Sacramento River.

Careful searches on Google Earth haven't turned anything up--but that
doesn't mean the hull isn't still around around somewhere.

If it is still with us, the hull would be 115 years old--beating out the old hull of
the
City of Sacramento.