Having taken over ferry operations in 1951, Washington State Ferries was not
terribly surprised to find itself in need of new vessels just a few years into
operations. Most of the vessels in the fleet had been built twenty to thirty years prior
and were configured for the smaller, narrower cars of the 20's and 30's. As cars
ballooned to mammoth proportions in the 50's, all the vessels in the fleet saw their
capacities drastically reduced.
The first step to alleviate the problem was to purchase the Olympic and
Rhododendron. The second would be to add new vessels to the fleet.
Appearing in 1954, taking only 11 months from keel laying to entering service, the
Evergreen State became the largest, most modern ferry in the fleet. Immediately,
WSF began replacing the Kalakala as the vessel in the promotional materials
advertising the fleet; she suddenly became dated.
The airy, brightly lighted ferry was placed on the Seattle-Winslow run--setting off a
controversy that rages to this day with the citizens of Bremerton, who were used to
getting all the new ferries up to that point--and became an immediate success.
Passengers used to the Illahee or the much smaller Kehloken found themselves in
the largest passenger cabin on the run at that time.
The ferry was such a success that two more sisters were ordered. Shortly after
construction started on the second vessel, the state announced they were to be
named Vacation State and Washington State--and the howls of protest began.
WSF had started a policy of dropping the Native American/Chinook Jargon names
for the vessels. Upon arrival on Puget Sound, the Governor Harry W Nice and
Governor Herbert R O'Conor were named Olympic and Rhododendron--not Chinook
names, but regional nonetheless. Likewise, the Evergreen State, which is the
Washington's nick-name, also slipped by without too much notice. But the
declaration of the other two names--and such bland ones at that--resulted in
Due to the pressure applied from the major Seattle newspapers and the Puget
Sound Maritime Historical Society (led by former Black Ball publicist, William O.
Thorniley, whose job with Black Ball had been to rename the new arrivals to the
fleet) , the boats were named instead Klahowya and Tillikum.
The Klahowya, completed in 1958, benefited from being second in the class. A few
shortcomings on the Evergreen were ironed out, including a larger passenger cabin
and a smooth texas deck. She was assigned to the Vashon-Southworth-Fauntleroy
route (sending up another complaint from Bremerton) where, remarkably she has
remained until the Evergreen State was "retired" in 2014, at which point the
Klahowya was assigned to the San Juan inter-island route.
The Tillikum arrived in 1959 and took over the Seattle-Winslow run, freeing up the
Evergreen State to work the San Juan Islands and become the goodwill ambassador
to Canada, working the International route. She would remain in the Islands with few
exception until she was put into "stand by" mothball status in 2003.
|The Evergreen State departing Anacortes in 1970. Author's collection.
The Klahowya still under construction but nearly finished in 1958; at
bottom, the Tillikum at Seattle in July, 1959. Author's
The Evergreen State Class
|The Evergreen State Class