BUILT/REBUILT: 1927/1958/1986, Moore Drydock Co., Oakland, CA/Commercial Ship Repair, Winslow, WA/Seattle, WA
PREVIOUS/LATER NAMES: a. Lake Tahoe, b. Illahee
OFFICIAL NUMBER: 226588 CALL SIGN: WXT9366
L/B/D: 256 x 74 x 13 GROSS/NET TONS:1364/931 PASSENGERS/AUTOS: 616/59 cars (2007 figures)
PROPULSION: Diesel Electric HP: 2896 SPEED: 12 knots
NAME TRANSLATION: Chinook for “land, place, location; ground, earth, dirt”
FINAL DISPOSITION: Scrapped in Ensenada, MX, 2011.
The Illahee as seen in a Clark's Ferry Concessions post card.
Southern Pacific Railroad built the M/V Lake Tahoe in 1927 as part of a
trio that included sisters Stockton and Fresno. Then some of the
largest, most modern ferries, they would work just 13 years on San
Francisco Bay before the new bridges became the primary mode of
transport into the city.
1940 saw the Lake Tahoe making the last crossing on San Francisco
Bay for the Southern Pacific Fleet. Shortly afterward the vessels were all
offered for sale. Captain Alexander Peabody's Puget Sound Navigation
Company (Black Ball Line) bought all six Steel Electric vessels for use on
After being readied for the trip north, the Lake Tahoe and Redwood
Empire started north on August 9, 1940. The Lake Tahoe ended up in
trouble off the coast north of Eureka, California. High winds and heavy
seas battered the boat. Her crew was taken off and the Lake Tahoe, with
pumps left running, was left on her own for the next 36 hours. She
managed to stay afloat and was picked up by her tug and towed to
Eureka for repairs. She arrived off Cape Flattery on 20 August 1940,
two days behind the Redwood Empire.
Renamed Illahee, she first went to work on the Seattle-Bremerton run.
After the Willapa and Enetai were ready for service on that route, the
Illahee was moved over to the Suquamish-Indianola-Seattle run in June
of 1941. In addition to this run, overnight she would make a trip carrying
trucks to and from Port Townsend six nights a week.
The astonishing 22-hour schedule was worked by the Illahee all through
the war years!
After the State of Washington took over ferry operations in 1951, the
Illahee was assigned to the Seattle-Winslow route. She was joined by
the Evergreen State on the route in 1954.
Like the others in the class the Illahee was rebuilt in 1958-59. In addition
to having the car deck timbers replaced with steel plating, the boats were
sponsoned out eight feet, and the deck level was raised two and a half
Returning to service on the Winslow-Seattle run, the Illahee was joined
by the Tillikum after the Evergreen State was shifted up to the San Juan
Islands. The two ferries held onto their routes until the Super Class
ferries arrived in 1967-68. After then the Illahee moved around, working
on the Edmonds-Kingston and Mukilteo-Columbia Beach (Clinton) routes.
In 1977 the ferry's white band on her smokestack was painted gold in
recognition of 50 years of service. Not long after, another assessment
on the class was done to determine if there could be some years
squeezed out of the aging vessels. It was decided that, as long as the
ferries could keep their "Grandfathered" status with the Coast Guard, the
vessels could be rebuilt for another 20 years of service. The vessels
hadn't met safety standards in place since the 1950's.
After the Klickitat was rebuilt in 1982 the plans for the others in the class
being rebuilt were shelved due to financial woes at the ferry system. By
this time, however, the vessels were becoming increasingly deteriorated.
The cabins were full of dry rot and the hulls were springing leaks. The
Coast Guard ordered the three remaining Steel Electrics off the water
until hull repairs could be made. Throughout most of 1984 the Illahee,
Quinault and Nisqually took their turn getting emergency repairs to the
The Illahee was finally rebuilt in 1986 and returned to the same routes
she had been working—Edmonds-Kingston, Mukilteo-Clinton, Port
Townsend-Keystone. She remained primarily as the second boat at Port
Townsend-Keystone until the late 1990's when the Coast Guard
requested that she be moved off the route and assigned to calmer
waters. At that time, she displaced the Nisqually as the inter-island boat
in the San Juans.
Cracks were discovered in the hull of the Klickitat in the spring of 2007,
and even after repairs were made, concern about the corroded condition
of the hulls of the Steel Electrics grew.
When it was discovered that a crack in a stern tube of the Illahee had
allowed gallons of water to flow into the hull until it had been patched, the
Coast Guard ordered and inspection of all the stern tubes of the class.
Original equipment, the cast iron stern tubes had completely
deteriorated. The Illahee had new stern tubes built and returned to
service in the fall of 2007 while similar work was being done on the
All four Steel Electrics were pulled from service by WSF on 20 November
2007 for additional repairs. On 13 December, it became official that the
Illahee and the rest of the Steel Electrics were retired. Work was
stopped and the vessel was made ready for mothballing.
After nearly two years in limbo, the Illahee and the other Steel Electrics
were sold on June 19, 2009 Eco Planet Recycling, Inc. of Chula Vista,
California. The Illahee's long career ended in August 2009 when she left
Eagle Harbor for the last time and was towed to Mexico for scrapping.
Nearly two years later, and after a year of being half sunk, demolition
FINALLY began on the half-sunk hulk in April of 2011. The Klickitat was
apparently cut up first, followed by the Quinault. The Nisqually, which
was afloat and intact as of February 2011, was cut up later that year.
The most difficult job—scrapping the sunken Illahee—was left for last. By
2012 the ferry had been completely dismantled.
|At top, the Lake Tahoe. Photo# 2 the Illahee in Black Ball livery in a colorized postcard photo.
Author's collection. Photo #3, the passenger cabin after remodeling. #4, the Illahee working her
last job in the San Juans in 2006. Author's photo. Bottom, the Illahee in Ensenada. Photo
courtesy of Shawn Dake.