"The past actually happened but history is only what someone wrote down." A. Whitney Brown.

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San Juan Archipelago, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 650, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

23 February 2017

❖ KEHLOKEN ❖ The Death of a Friend.

ON 225772
Built 1926, Alameda, CA.
3 Diesel engines coupled to 2 Westinghouse 
electric motors developing 950 HP.
RL 226.8' x 44.0' x 15.9'
Photo by James A. Turner, Seattle,
from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
To The Herald editor, October 1979,

"An old friend of mine died early on the morning of 19 Sept.1979 in a fire. 

      She was 53.
      Probably the majority of people now living on Bainbridge Island and North Kitsap will not recognize her name, but there was a time years ago when she figured prominently in all our lives.
      It was a time when this area was as close to paradise as I ever expect to get. Dirt roads, rolling farmlands and strawberry fields, mile upon mile of forest; houses and people few and far between. It was a time before bridges and super ferries, before developers and zoning ordinances, and this lady was a vital part of it all.
      Oddly enough, I was thinking about her just before I learned of her demise.
      She had already been a professional lady for a dozen years when she migrated here from California in 1938 with three of her sisters.
      When she moved to the Northwest, this lady changed her name to the beautiful Indian word for 'aquatic bird,' KEHLOKEN. She was of course, not a human lady, nor even alive in the strict sense of the word––except to those of us who knew and loved her.
      She was a ferryboat.
      Today's residents would scoff at her if they had met her. She had none of the glamor, the glitter, the garishness of those huge floating restaurants to which we have grown accustomed.
      She was a plain wooden ferryboat, 240-ft long and 50-ft wide.
      She glided through the water at a modest, lady-like 11 knots. Her time on the Seattle-Winslow run, dock to dock, was 40 minutes. Her passenger cabin was furnished with hard, straight-backed wooden benches. Her windows were small, square and usually flecked with white paint. Always there was a strong odor of disinfectant emanating from the men's lavatory, which permeated the entire ferry.
      There was a separate compartment for men, another for women, a third one for card
players and smokers, and a fourth that housed the coffee shop––where the accommodations were not fancy but the food delicious. She didn't even have an open deck for fresh air fiends.

      On the other hand, you could scarcely hear her smooth running Ingersol-Rand Diesel-electric engines even on the car deck. She never vibrated or rattled, even when making the turn into Eagle Harbor. She never had mechanical problems; she absolutely never broke down.
      I can recall one instance when she was out of service for two or three days with a bent tail shaft and another occasion one summer when the tide in Eagle Harbor was too low to permit her to dock at Winslow. Otherwise, she seldom missed a trip, except for regulation maintenance, that was also minimal.
      As a matter of fact, she was the most cost-effective ferryboat in the history of Puget Sound transportation.
      Her record of economy efficiency and reliability will certainly never be surpassed by her monstrous steel replacements. We depended on her and she never let us down.
      It was the KEHLOKEN that inaugurated ferry service from downtown Seattle to Suquamish and Indianola in 1938, but several years later, she arrived on the Bainbridge run and served as our boat for a decade, working alongside a variety of running mates, including her sisters, ELWHA and KLAHANIE, and the familiar SHASTA, CHIPPEWA, BAINBRIDGE and QUINAULT at various times. 
      During her years on the Winslow run, high school boys working aboard her for the summer got permanent jobs as deckhands, became mates and then captains, eventually retiring.
      When the Agate Pass Bridge was opened, bringing 'progress' to Bainbridge and North Kitsap, the tremendous increase in traffic necessitated bringing in larger faster ferries. So the KEHLOKEN moved to Vashon Island, where the commuters there depended on her for another decade.
      After that, she was relegated to the status of a spare boat, but even then, she was almost continually in service, and frequently it was on the Winslow or Kingston runs.
      State ferry officials seem to have regarded the old boats with undisguised derision, preferring to build large, gleaming, new, steel monuments to their bureaucratic tenure to replace the good old ferries (which are always labeled as 'expensive to maintain' or 'overdue for retirement.')
      So, back in 1973, with an overabundance of large, new vessels in the fleet, the KEHLOKEN was put out to pasture, even though she was still in first class condition.
      I bet they would have given their eye teeth this past summer to have had her back to help haul some of these long lines of cars waiting at Edmonds and Port Townsend!
      As I said, I was thinking of the KEHLOKEN only recently. At the time, I was aboard the crippled KALEETAN, and for the first time, I can remember, enjoying a quiet, leisurely voyage across the Sound, instead of the usual noisy, vibrating, ear-splitting Teddy Roosevelt-like charge.
      I was reminded of that the other day, in the summer of 1968, during the period when the newly arrived super ferries were being broken in. There just simply weren't enough super ferries in running condition to maintain the scheduled Winslow service. The KEHLOKEN was tied up at the maintenance yard, awaiting her afternoon rush-hour service at Vashon Island.
      So ferry officials called on Good Old Dependable KEHLOKEN to step into the breach. She did. She cleared the Winslow dock of the waiting, impatient travelers, carried them smoothly across to Seattle (in the usual 40 minutes running time), deposited them and picked up a fresh load, that the broken down KALEETAN had stranded there.
      I had the great pleasure of being onboard that trip back to Winslow. It was my last ride on the KEHLOKEN. 
      But I remarked to someone this morning, as we pulled into Winslow exactly 40 minutes after we left Seattle, "this is almost like being back on the good old KEHLOKEN."
      A few days ago I sat down in front of my television to watch the early news and beheld the KEHLOKEN, my dear old friend, being consumed by flames. I am not at all ashamed to admit that I burst into tears and wept with the same kind of grief I would have felt had I been watching the death of a long time human friend.
      My apologies to Katy Warner for usurping her usual privilege and writing this obituary, but I was afraid this longtime Bainbridge Island personality might be overlooked.
Bon Voyage, KEHLOKEN. Sail on down the line. Alki."
Above letter signed, Bob Whithed, Bainbridge Island. The Bainbridge Herald. October 1979.

1937: The KEHLOKEN (ex-GOLDEN STATE) was one of 6 former San Francisco Bay ferries put out of work by the completion of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges. The GOLDEN STATE was towed north by the Puget Sound Tug and Barge Co.'s COMMISSIONER. 1937-1938: Capt. Walter Clarence Beachum was one of her skippers.
1983: KEHLOKEN was intentionally sunk off the southern tip of Whidbey Island.The artificial reef is popular for diving and one of the richest dives in Puget Sound. Check out this site––The Possession Point Ferry. 


  1. Oh, sweet obit. Wish I had known her.

    1. Thanks for visiting the Log and taking time to leave a message. The ferries become part of our family! All best.


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