|S.S. SAN MATEO
Official Number: 222386 Radio Call Letters: WG5465 Built: San Francisco, CA 1922. Length: 230' 4" Beam: 63' 8" Draft: 12'
Auto Deck Clearance: 11' 6" Speed: 13 knots Horsepower: 1,400 Propulsion: triple expansion steam engine Autos: 50 Passengers: 659 Gross
Name Translation: from the Spanish, "Saint Matthew. A city in the Bay area shares the name.
Final Disposition: Scrapping/abandoned on the Fraser River, British Columbia, Canada.
|What Happened to the Windows?
As far back as her time on Lake Union the San Mateo's stained glass clearstory windows had
been removed. To this day, no one seems to know what happened to them--a serious offense
given that the ferry was on the National Register (and still is) and the windows should have been
catelogued and stored. Make sure you give antique stores in Seattle a careful glance--who
knows where the windows will turn up.
|At top, the San Mateo working in San Francisco, courtesy SFMM.
Above, a screen capture from The X Files, showing the wreck of the San Mateo leaning up against
the former B.C. Ferry Queen of Sidney. Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
If you have a recent photo of the San Mateo's hulk and would like to
have it posted here, please email it to me Here.
Built in 1922 for the Six Minute Ferry Company (the length of time it
took to make the crossing across the Carquinez Strait.) While the
ferries were being finished, the company went out of business after a
March 1922 landslide destroyed the Six Minute Ferry north shore
terminal on Morrow Cove.
Picked up by Southern Pacific, the ferry and her sisters, Shasta and
Yosemite worked until the Bay bridges put them out of work. Put up for
sale, Captain Peabody picked up the Shasta and San Mateo. (Along
with the Napa Valley and City of Sacramento. Shasta and San Mateo’s
identical sister went to company in South America; it is unclear why
Captain Peabody passed on the similar sized Calistoga which was also
for sale at the same time, though her deck clearance being two feet
shorter at 9’ 6” might have had something to do with it.)
The San Mateo and Shasta spent most of the years with Black Ball in
layup, only being used as fill-in vessels when traffic was at its peak on
the Sound and extra space was needed. The most use the San Mateo
saw was in 1947 when she was used on the Seattle-Suquamish route
as a running mate to the Illahee. In 1948 she moved to the Kingston-
Edmonds route for three months, then was put back on the reserve
list. From the photos of her hull taken after the state took over in 1951
which can be found in the University of Washington’s Special Collection’
s archive, it’s clear that due the astounding amount of marine growth,
the San Mateo hadn’t been used since 1948.
It was under state ownership that the ferry became a beloved icon on
Puget Sound. People responded to the sound of her steam engines
and whistle, the stained-glass windows of her interior, the mahogany
pew-like benches in her passenger cabin.
Reconditioned along with her sister, the two ferries saw regular service
for the first time since coming up from San Francisco. The San Mateo
was assigned to regular service from late spring to early fall between
1952 and 1954 on the Fauntleroy-Vashon . In 1955 she worked the
Bremerton route from June until September while the Kalakala was
assigned to the Port Angeles-Victoria run. In 1956 she worked as the
"extra" boat on the Kingston-Edmonds route, and then moved back to
Fauntleroy-Vashon- Harper in 1957-58. In 1959 she moved back up to
Edmonds as the "extra ferry", where she remained until her 1969,
alternating between Edmonds and the Seattle-Winslow routes.
It was during the 1950’s that the ferry was seriously considered being
rebuilt as a diesel ferry. She would have been lengthened, her
passenger cabin entirely rebuilt. Had the state gone through with the
work, the ferry would have looked like a larger Steel Electric; ultimately
the plan was abandoned, though the blueprints of the conversion still
When the all steel Kulshan arrived from San Diego the San Mateo was
to be taken out of service as soon as the new ferry was ready. Packed
to her limit, the San Mateo made her final run from Edmonds to
Kingston on Labor Day of 1969.
She remained at Eagle Harbor until 1971, when the Washington Parks
Department bought her to turn her into a museum. She was towed to
Lake Union, and for the next thirty years restoration work was started
on and off.
Briefly in 1977-79 there was talk of reactivating the ferry, as the loss of
the old standby wood-diesels and the delays in getting the Issaquah
Class ferries on the water had WSF completely lacking an "extra"
ferry. (A situation that continues to the present day.) Eventually the
Issaquah came on-line, and there was no need for the San Mateo.
Talks of turning her into a McDonalds fell through, and it looked as if
the San Mateo was destined to be scrapped.
In 1992 she was purchased by a Canadian man and towed up to the
Fraser River. Gary Bereska's plans included a dance studio, museum
and other uses, but sadly he did nothing to the vessel. The San Mateo
pilfered of many of her fittings sat and slipped further and further into
decay. Eventually abandoned, she was left on the Fraser to rot.
Half sunk, and decaying rapidly, scrapping on the San Mateo started in
2012. A large hole was cut into her side to allow for hoses to be
brought in to pump her out and right her, but the ferry is now too silted
in. Demolition of her superstructure started when the Fraser flooded;
most of her upperworks are now gone. The half-destroyed hulk is still in
the same spot, waiting for the job of scrapping her to be finished,
occasionally being used as a movie prop. In 2018, she provided the
backdrop for an episode of The X Files. (Episode 5, Season 11, titled