PUGET SOUND's ENERGETIC FERRYBOATSOPERATOR
by Robert C. Leithead for The Sea Chest, September 1978.
Membership journal of the Puget Sound Maritime.
Photographs from S.P.H.S.©"Captain Harry William Crosby was a man of many talents. Tugboat man, steamboat man, Alaska cannery man, salvage expert, property owner, investor, capitalist, his restless spirit always was challenged to turn a profit. Not one to sit back and wait for events to develop, his entry into the exploding auto ferry business on Puget Sound in the early 1920s directed the course of many routes that exist to this day.
Even in 1922, American motorists had no easy way to get over to Victoria and Vancouver Island with their cars. It was either the SOL DUC across the Strait of Juan de Fuca or the Canadian Pacific from Seattle or Nanaimo, a dubious choice in either case. A few small cars could be accommodated, but often could be loaded aboard only by lowering the top, removing the windshield and, in extreme cases, letting air out of the tires in order to squeeze through the side port of the vessel.
Crosby proposed a realistic approach. Why not operate out of Anacortes [Fidalgo Island, WA.] through the scenic San Juan Islands to Sidney, just 18 miles north of Victoria? He enlisted Anacortes and Victoria businessmen for support and publicity. Meanwhile, shopping about Puget Sound ports, he came upon the unsuccessful former kelp harvester HARVESTER KING, only four years old and laid up in Everett due to financial difficulties. Never one to overspend, for $12,000 he was able to secure the 96-ft long craft, essentially a power scow with square bow and stern. A minimum of alteration took place. When ready, the main deck forward was left entirely open except for a four-foot high bulwark on each side to close in the auto area––a space which could handle 9 or 10 cars in three lanes. Cars were loaded and unloaded over the bow only, necessitating backing off at the end of the run. A cabin enclosed the 100 H.P. Fairbanks-Morse "CO" engine, which was placed well aft and closed off the stern. Above this on the second deck was the passenger cabin and forward was a raised wheelhouse. To completely identify this strange craft, on the outside of each bulwark 3-ft high letters proclaimed: "VICTORIA, ANACORTES FERRY." The sign extended about 3/4 the length of the vessel.
422 G.t. 408 N. t.
144.3' x 39.5' x 5.7'
Data from Merchant Vessels of the US 1935.
Click image to enlarge.
Original photo by James A. Turner from
the Saltwater People Historical Society©
|CITY OF ANGELES (ex-CITY OF LONG BEACH)|
Original photo date stamped 8 July 1923
Click to enlarge this great image.
Saltwater People Historical Society©
A vast improvement over the previous summer, this 125-ft twin screw steamer could carry 40 cars on two decks, using an elevator to raise and lower cars to and from the upper deck. Not a 'drive-through' ferry, turntables were provided on both decks to speed the handling of cars. Captain Louis Van Bogaert took the CITY OF ANGELES up from Seattle and stayed with the vessel as the PSN rep. An excursion was made out of Anacortes on May 8 and two days later, the steam ferry took up her regular schedule of one daily round trip. Stops were made each way on the three-hour crossing at Orcas and Roche Harbor.
|M.V. MOUNT VERNON (ex-ROBERT BRIDGES)|
Capt. Ole Tangeraas
In Harney Channel, bypassing the flag stop of
Shaw Island Landing, Harney Channel, 1923.
from the archives of the Saltwater People Log©
|M.V. MOUNT VERNON|
Obstruction Pass, Orcas Island, WA.
A few years later when Capt. Oldow and 3 crew had her
on a run to Chuckanut, Bellingham, WA.
Photo from the archives of the
Saltwater People Historical Society©
This craft had been a dismal failure on the West Seattle run due to a completely unreliable semi-diesel engine and was secured at a very low price. A $38,000 rebuilding job at Ballard Marine Railway altered her into a 28-car, 400-passenger auto ferry. Originally a double-ender, she now became a single-ender with a new 200 H.P. Fairbanks-Morse semi-diesel engine driving a propeller at one end only. The auto deck was rebuilt with Australian hardwood, which could serve as a dance floor as well.
A double daily round trip schedule was set up similar to the previous year. Patronage increased by leaps and bounds. Altogether, the two ferries had carried 5,200 cars and over 19,800 passengers for the year. During the summer a rate war developed between the Crosby ferries and three small passenger boats operating between Anacortes and the Islands. The ALVERENE (W.H. Kasch Nav. Co,) the SAN JUAN II (San Juan Transport. Co,) and the SPEEDER (Speed Service Transport Co.) were all charging higher fares at the start of the season and had to cut their rates to match Crosby's. At this point Puget Sound Nav. Co decided to buy the run, including the MOUNT VERNON, and carry on the rate war themselves. And so Harry Crosby retired from auto ferrying that fall.
He was not idle long. We next hear of him at Tacoma, where he had purchased the little 66-ft ferry ELK to start a new run between Old Town, Tacoma, and the head of the bay at Gig Harbor on 2 May 1924. ELK had been built in 1921 from what had been laid down like a fishing boat at the Skansie Shipyard in Gig Hbr. She could carry 10-12 cars and had been operating on the Point Defiance-Gig Hbr route under lease from Pierce County. Later, still owned by Skansie, she had inaugurated the Steilacoom-Anderson Island-Long Branch run until replaced by the new CITY OF STEILACOOM in the spring of 1924.
|STEILACOOM FERRY LANDING|
original photo from the Saltwater People Log©
That winter, Capt. Crosby came up with a daring plan. He envisioned a really short crossing to the Olympic Peninsula: Alki Point to Manchester. He joined with Roy Crosby again and with others to incorporate as the Crosby Direct Line Ferries, capitalized at $175,000. Ferry slips were built at Alki and Manchester and a 65-car ferry was ordered from Marine Const. Co on the Duwamish R.
Anticipating heavy patronage ELK was lengthened 38-ft and repowered with a 150-H.P. Fairbanks-Morse 'CO' engine. She received a new name, AIRLINE, and made her inaugural run for 'Crosby Direct Line Ferries' 12 April with the usual attendance of commercial club members. The auto capacity had been doubled by the lengthening and was such a popular new service that Crosby secured the 18-car ferry GLORIA of Tacoma to help out with the cars on weekends. Built as the passenger steamer FLORENCE K, she had been converted into an auto ferry two years before. Still powered by a steam engine, Crosby renamed her BEELINE.
There was so much competition on the Navy Yard Route and strong protests by Kitsap County Transportation Co and Crosby to the State Department of Public Works. Finally the Navy Yard Route's parent company, Puget Sound Nav. Co consolidated with Crosby Direct Line Ferries early in 1926. PSN continued to operate until the Alki slip was washed out in Jan. 1936. It was not rebuilt and thereafter the Manchester ferry ran directly to downtown Seattle. Crosby Direct Line Ferries meanwhile had been disincorporated in 1928.
This ended Captain Crosby's participation with ferries in Puget Sound. In a span of only four years, he bought four vessels, chartered two, built one, and stirred up two rate wars.
| ferry route in the San Juan Archipelago|
Photo by Webber
Click to enlarge
from the archives of the Saltwater People Historical Society©