There are probably few people living in Bremerton today that
realize there was once a vessel carrying the name of their city on
Another of early pioneers in auto service on Puget Sound, the
City of Bremerton was one of Black Ball's converted steamers,
and became something of a prototype for the company. A string
of other vessels with familiar names would soon go into the yard
and all have the same work done: sponsoning of the hull, an
expanded, if somewhat boxy superstructure for the passenger
cabin (though often quite plushly fitted out), and, in the early
days of travel, a Barlow steam elevator which would lift cars up
onto docks not yet built to accommodate automobiles.
Launched as the Majestic, in 1901 the vessel was a fairly typical
passenger steamer of the era with nice lines and a single,
soot-belching smokestack. Her time serving her original owners
was short. The fierce competition on Puget Sound led her to
become the property of the increasingly dominant Puget Sound
Painting her long, oblong funnel crimson, the company
renamed her Whatcom in 1904. Under this name she sailed
mainly on the Seattle-Bellingham route until replaced by the
With the automobile becoming the preferred mode of
transportation, the need for multiple stops on the smaller docks
was not needed: people were driving to the bigger ports to be
picked up by waiting steamer, or, as provided, onto ferries. One
by one the routes to more rural areas were dropped.
The Whatcom went into the yard in 1921 to be rebuilt to carry
vehicles. The steamer emerged from the yard with the same
oblong funnel and the same wheelhouse, but all resemblance to
the trim steamer she had been were gone. Now very much a
ferryboat, Black Ball renamed the vessel City of Bremerton.
One piece of equipment acquired for the City of Bremerton was
greeted by some as an insult. The fine old stern wheeler Bailey
Gatzert, retired from the Bremerton route, gave up her melodious
5-chime steam whistle to the City of Bremerton .
CITY OF BREMERTON
Former name: a. Majestic, b. Whatcom. Official Number: 93135 Built: 1901 Length: 169' Beam: 48' Draft: 13' 7"
657 tons, Propulsion: triple expansion engine Converted to auto carrier in 1921. Autos: 60 Passengers: 1500
Above, a colorized photo of the City of Bremerton late in her career. Courtesy of the Captain Raymond W. Hughes collection.
The whistle is from the Bailey Gatzert, which was removed and placed on the City of Bremerton when she was rebuilt as a ferry.
At top in a booklet hailing the arrival of the Chinook (1947) Black Ball paid tribute to its past, including
photos of many of their old steamers. The notation on the Majestic/Whatcom is that "she is probably
remembered as the S.S. City of Bremerton." Below, PSN sponsoned out the Majestic and renamed her
Whatcom. She took over the Seattle-Port Townsend-Victoria route after the loss of the Clallam. Author's
A Glimpse of Seattle
A snap shot taken of Colman Dock in August 1933 shows the
City of Bremerton backing away from the dock. Automobile
travel had become the norm on Puget Sound, and the docks
had all been converted to handle them, so the need for the
elevator on vessels was no longer needed. The City of
Bremerton looks much more like a ferry with the elevator gone.
Serving her namesake route for many years, Black Ball was able to retire her as the newer, more economic diesel powered ferries came on line. With the
Chippewa and the new Kalakala on the route the uneconomical City of Bremerton was no longer needed.
In 1936 she was withdrawn from service and lingered for a time at the Black Ball yard with a flotilla of other discarded steamers--diesel had won the day for
cheap transport on Puget Sound. After being unused for two years, the City of Bremerton was sent to the breakers in 1938. The chime whistle was saved, but
everything else from the City of Bremerton was cut up for scrap.