Vashon Island has a long history of ferry pride

Washington Sate Ferries has a 5 percent biodiesel target, but only if it’s not too pricey.

Washington Sate Ferries has a 5 percent biodiesel target, but only if it’s not too pricey (see cartoon).

Other budget morsels: We’re building a fourth 144-car ferry, but WSF still needs funding to keep an Evergreen State boat around to replace the pint-sized Hiyu as a standby boat.

WSF’s replacing its Wave2Go ticketing, which is a not-so-good adaptation of an amusement park system.

Plans to convert an Issaquah ferry to LNG continue.

Hyak’s hybridization is being dropped as it cost way too much.

WSF is supposed to consolidate or get out of high-priced Seattle office space.

Projects to move the Mukilteo terminal and to keep Colman Dock from falling into Elliott Bay continue.

Finally, while coughing up 11.9 cents per gallon for a new gas tax, ferry riders will also be swallowing annual 2.5 percent fare increases. Huh?

Starts with “V,” which rhymes with “T”

In the 1930s and ’40s, Vashon islanders had a penchant for tangling with Captain Peabody’s Black Ball line, which had monopolized cross-sound ferry service. Two islander eruptions stand out: one in the ’30s to keep Peabody’s boats on the island, and one in the ’40s to keep his boats off.

The crusty captain also didn’t get along with his unions. After strikes in 1934, 1935 and 1937, by 1939 Vashon islanders had enough with being cut off from the mainland, a particular problem during berry-harvest time. With the labor negotiations headed for yet another failure, the islanders gathered in the Sportsman Club to plot a strategy. (Beer may have been involved.) Why not take over the boats before a strike ties them up?

On Aug. 2 that year, about 200 islanders, many armed with sticks, stormed the ferries Vashon and Elwah to keep them from leaving on their last run. When the canny constable Shattuck arrived, the islanders saw the wisdom of surrendering the sticks. The ferries got underway, but with the islanders still on board.

On docking, the crew fled and the islanders remained camped out. A 95-car convoy descended on Olympia, “marked in such a manner that announced to the world the purpose of their errand.”  While a nimble Governor Martin scampered off to inspect the drought’s effects on the UW’s lawn, his secretary and the federal mediator adroitly calmed the crowd and averted the strike.

Islanders soon focused on the war effort while Capt. Peabody happily prospered by hauling war workers to the Bremerton shipyard. After WWII, the shipyard downsized and Peabody upped fares by 30 percent. The islanders responded by pulling down the white flag and dangling an effigy of the captain from the ferry landing.

After more strikes, and a nine-day shutdown by the capricious captain, the islanders cobbled together their own ferry district. The district’s boat was described as an “over-sized cracker-box with a motor. You are fore and aft practically at the same time, and a grapefruit dropped overboard might make her rock.”

To reclaim his rights to island service and to quash the upstart service, Peabody needed to land a boat on the island. On May 15, 1948, he sent the Illahee to the Vashon dock. George McCormick, who owned the island’s hardware store, opened the doors “so that those who were not armed could grab ax handles, hoes, pickaxes, billiard cues and whatever other blunt instrument they could find.”

This time, plied with doughnuts and coffee, Vashon’s vigilantes fended off two landing attempts and the vanquished Illahee skulked back to Seattle.

Vashon’s ferry district ran for three years, which was time enough for the captain’s Black Ball to be taken over by the state and become today’s WSF.

“V” also means victory.

— Contact FerryFare columnist Walt Elliott at