Captain Earl was the little brother of the three sons and three daughters born to Gene and Sadie Fowler on Shaw Island. Earl was the last to work his way up to a career on Puget Sound with the three brothers all earning masters certification. After graduating from Shaw Island grade school, he followed his brothers down to the steamboat landing looking for work.
His first job wasn’t quite on the water, it was on pilings over the water. He was 13 years old when he worked at the Shaw Island Cannery on the coast of Harney Channel where the auto ferries would later begin service to Shaw Island in 1930. Earl entered the workforce earning .20 cents per hour
In an oral history interview Earl stated he was 16 when he found his first employment on a boat, that of decking on the locally built tug EDNA.* That position was followed by work on purse seine boats going north to fish, with his childhood chum George Stillman.
|Earl Fowler (R)|
crew on REDWOOD
Scan courtesy of son Doug Fowler
undated & unknown photographer.
It wasn’t until 1932 when he agreed to help fill in for a week for a friend working as a ferry deckhand. That led to a full-time ferry position starting at $51.25/ month. In just eight years he worked his way up to a skipper’s hat. He served as captain on almost every Puget Sound run until 1947 when he came home to the San Juan Islands
Captain Fowler never had any serious accidents, and never a collision. He said, “Of course things happen. The worst was c. 1962 when we lost power going into Friday Harbor. That’s certainly a helpless feeling but there wasn’t a thing I could do. They got it started again just as we hit the deck.”
Earl was part of the legendary trio of skippers who safely guided the CHIPPEWA, VASHON, KLICKITAT, and EVERGREEN STATE, through the narrow passages of the 172 San Juan Islands before the use of radar. His two colleagues were Sigvald Sande and Cecil Wyrich. With only a compass, a clock, and a whistle, they listened for the echo through the dense fog––their safety record was perfect. They were revered by the citizens of the Islands who counted on the masters for a link to the outside world.
|That was a lot of driving Earl!|
This scan courtesy of his son Douglas Fowler.
While living in Anacortes, on Fidalgo Island, Earl accumulated almost 35 years with the ferries, retiring in 1965. He worked relief for a few years and then enjoyed the remaining years with his wife, Alice, whom he loved for over 72 years.
*Do you know of a photo of this long-serving tug EDNA? Shaw Island would like to add one to the archives for the file of D.E. Hoffman built vessels.