Having taken over ferry operations in 1951, Washington State Ferries was not terribly surprised to find itself in need of
new vessels just a few years into operations. Most of the vessels in the fleet had been built twenty to thirty years prior
and were configured for the smaller, narrower cars of the 20's and 30's. As cars ballooned to mammoth proportions in
the 50's, all the vessels in the fleet saw their capacities drastically reduced.
The first step to alleviate the problem was to purchase any vessel that might be available to augment the fleet
immediately. Two Baltimore boats were purchased and became the Olympic and Rhododendron. The two vessels
helped, but it was evident they were not going to be enough.
Washington State Ferries started a build program, turning to W.C. Nickum to design new, modern vessels to meet the
demand of the rising traffic crossing Puget Sound. Nickum designed the first vessel, and the yard of Puget Sound Bridge
and Dredging began the task of building the new ferry.
Appearing in 1954, taking only 11 months from keel laying to entering service, the Evergreen State became the largest,
most modern ferry in the fleet. Immediately, WSF began replacing the Kalakala as the vessel in the promotional
materials advertising the fleet; the nearly twenty-year old vessel suddenly became very dated.
The airy, brightly lighted ferry was placed on the Seattle-Winslow run--setting off a controversy that rages to this day with
the citizens of Bremerton, who were used to getting all the new ferries up to that point--and became an immediate
success. Passengers used to the Illahee or the much smaller Kehloken found themselves in the largest passenger
cabin on the run at that time.
The ferry was such a success that two more sisters were ordered. Shortly after construction started on the second
vessel, the state announced they were to be named Vacation State and Washington State--and the howls of protest
WSF had started a policy of dropping the Native American/Chinook Jargon names for the vessels. Upon arrival on Puget
Sound, the Governor Harry W Nice and Governor Herbert R O'Conor were named Olympic and Rhododendron--not
Chinook names, but regional nonetheless. Likewise, the Evergreen State, which is the Washington's nick-name, also
slipped by without too much notice. But the declaration of the other two names--and such bland ones at that--resulted in
Due to the pressure applied from the major Seattle newspapers and the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society (led by
former Black Ball publicist, William O. Thorniley, whose job with Black Ball had been to rename the new arrivals to the
fleet) , the boats were named instead Klahowya and Tillikum.
The Klahowya, completed in 1958, benefited from being second in the class. A few shortcomings on the Evergreen were
ironed out, including a larger passenger cabin and a smooth texas deck. She was assigned to the
Vashon-Southworth-Fauntleroy route (sending up another complaint from Bremerton) where, remarkably she remained
until the Evergreen State was "retired" in 2014, at which point the Klahowya was assigned to the San Juan inter-island
The Tillikum arrived in 1959 and took over the Seattle-Winslow run, freeing up the Evergreen State to work the San Juan
Islands and become the goodwill ambassador to Canada, working the International route. She would remain in the
Islands with few exception until she was put into "stand by" mothball status in 2003.
The Tillikum remained at Winslow until the Super Class arrived in the late 1960's. After that, she was assigned to the
Kingston-Edmonds route working with the Nisqually. Eventually she would be booted from that route as well, spending
time on Hood Canal after the bridge sank and also at Vashon Island with her sister, Klahowya.
|The Evergreen State (now retired) not long after her launch; Klahowya (also now
retired) still under construction but nearly finished in 1958; at bottom, the Tillikum at
Seattle in 1962. Author's collection.