Friday, March 26, 2010

Darsie Beck's Childhood Memories of Vashon Island

New Betty MacDonald Fan Club Honour Member Darsie Beck gave us the permission to share a special gift with you, his childhood memories of Vashon Island. It's so beautifully written. Thanks A Million, dear Darsie for this very special Betty MacDonald Birthday gift!

Wolfgang Hampel, author of the Betty MacDonald Biography and winner of the first Betty MacDonald Memorial Award told us that he was a great fan of Darsie Beck's artwork. Wolfgang Hampel interviewed Darsie Beck and we hope to publish the interview during this year.

Childhood memories of Vashon Island 1943-53

Copyright by Darsie Beck

I've always been fascinated by the ferry boats that serve the island and Olympic Peninsula communities of Puget Sound. I feel particularly fortunate to have spent my first ten years and the last thirty years here on Vashon Island and the in between years living in water front homes near the Fauntleroy ferry dock and on the north end of Mercer Island near the old ferry landing that once served that island community.

I have many fond memories of the ferry boats but one in particular remains as clear to me today as when it occurred many years ago.

At the time I was born, my parents lived with my grandparents in a small house on Judkins street just east of 23rd, a few blocks south of the Lake Washington floating bridge tunnels. This area, at the time, was the northern most end of what was called, "Garlic Gulch", the original Italian community in Seattle. With a new baby in the house things got pretty crowded and before long my parents moved to Vashon Island where they purchased their first home on the bluff above Dolphin Point on the north end of the island. My mother's sister Betty MacDonald, her husband Don and her two daughters Anne and Joan had moved to the island a couple years before prompting my parents to follow their lead to this island community.

In the 1940's as now, we reached the island by ferry boat. I can't tell you what that first ferry ride was like in the fall of 1943 or which boat we rode on but I do know, the boats were privately operated by Puget Sound Navigation (PSN), doing business as the Black Ball Line.
Black Ball provided service between Vashon Island, Harper (on the Olympic Peninsula) and Fauntleroy (West Seattle). During the 1940's the wooden ferries Vashon and Kehloken and the steel electric Quinault saw regular service on this run. The Quinault carried 100 cars compared to the 45 car capacity of the smaller wooden ferries and was considered a super ferry at the time. Most of the ferries flying the Black Ball burgee were former San Francisco Bay boats purchased by PSN after the completion of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges.

In early 1948, a proposed rate increase by PSN resulted in Vashon Island suspending its service contract with Black Ball. Undeterred by Vashon's action, Black Ball continued service between Harper and Fauntleroy and to Vashon on an "as needed only" basis. With the help of sympathetic state and local government agencies Vashon began developing its own ferry service utilizing former Lake Washington and Tacoma boats out of service since the opening of the Lake Washington floating bridge and the Tacoma Narrows bridge. The Lincoln, Washington, City of Tacoma and Crosline became the backbone of the new fleet.

My first ferry boat recollection is from the summer of 1948. I was five years old, my mother was pregnant with my sister, and we were sitting in the family car on the Vashon ferry dock on a very foggy July morning waiting for the boat to Fauntleroy to take my mother to the hospital.
The fog had created a stillness over the dock broken every few minutes by the sounding of fog horns and the occasional car driving on and off the wood planked ferry dock. Soon I heard the sound of an approaching ferry, its engines reversing, its prop wash splashing noisily between the pilings, the shrill screech of the ferries wood side rails rubbing against creosote dolphins and apron wing walls as the boat nudged itself into the slip. Chains clattered as deck hands removed car barriers in preparation of off loading. I don't remember which of the old ferries landed at the Vashon dock that foggy morning but I do remember, once our car was loaded onto the boat, sitting on the car deck, looking out the port into the fog when suddenly out of the mist a large ferry appeared. Its propellers furiously reversing, deck hands and passengers on both boats bracing for an impending collision. My eyes grew big and my body grew tense as the huge ferry cleared the fog revealing her black hull, white superstructure and the black ball painted near the top of her red stack. It was the Quinault, Puget Sound's first super ferry heading directly for our boat. The prop wash of the huge ferry was buffeting the side of our boat, causing it to rock back and forth in its slip. The Quinault was now within a car's length of our boat when its forward motion finally came to rest and her reversing action began to move the boat out of harms way. As stealthy as she had appeared, she now disappeared back into the fog sending a collective and audible sigh of relief through passengers and crew of both boats.

The Quinualt, now considered a medium sized boat compared to today's super ferries, still ply's the waters of Puget Sound and still holds a place in my childhood memories as the most enormous boat ever seen by a five year old.

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Darsie Beck Artist and writer of Your Essential Nature - A Practical Guide to Greater Creativity and Spiritual Harmony - nephew of authors Betty MacDonald and Mary Bard - Honour Member of Betty MacDonald Society and Fan Club

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