MARTHA S
Official Number: 255341 Call Sign: ? Length: 72.4 Beam: 29.9Horsepower: 470 Draft: 7'4"'' Auto Deck Clearance: Open deck
Speed in Knots: about 10 Max Passengers: ? Max Vehicles: 12 City Built: Coulee Dam
Year Built/Re-built: 1948
Name Translation: Named after Martha Shain, then wife of the State Highway Director, Clarance Shain
    Few people realize that the State of Washington has been in the ferry business since 1930.  That was the year the state took over the ferry run from William Lattak, who operated the Keller ferry across the Columbia River.  The state would not take over Puget Sound ferry operations for another twenty years, when the Puget Sound Navigation Company was forced out of business in 1951.
     A ferry has been crossing this stretch of the Columbia since 1890.  Conditions back there were somewhat different: the Columbia was not the flat, mostly placid waters of what is known today as "Lake Roosevelt."  Until the Grand Coulee Dam was built, this stretch of the Columbia ran wild.  Upon completion of the dam, the crossing stretched to 1 1/4 mile, flooding out the old ferry landing.
     The
Martha S was built in 1948 and has been crossing the Columbia near the cities of Wilbur (14 miles to the south) and Republic (53 miles to the north) ever since.  It runs from six in the morning until midnight, and carrys about 60,000 cars across the river a year.
     The little ferry provides a vital link across the river.  When out for maintenance, people have to travel over fifty miles to make the same crossing.
     At over sixty years of age, the
Martha S is at the end of her service life.  Aside from maintenance issues (her hull sprung a small leak in the fall of 2009) parts are no longer being manufactured for her and have to be machined by hand--an expensive process.  Money was  budgeted to replace the vessel with a new one, but due to the state's continuing buget woes the funding was cut.  A million dollars was put into the Martha S to keep safe and running smoothly.
     On November 16th, 2011, WSDOT awarded a contract to build a replacement for the
Martha S to Foss Maritime of Seattle.  Construction began on 28 March 2012.  The ferry, in modules, will be taken to Grand Coulee for final assembly in March 2013, with a maiden voyage set for July of 2013.
      The new vessel, named
Sanpoil, will be a welcome replacement for the Martha S. To read more about the project, check out the DOT's website here:

NEW KELLER FERRY SANPOIL


    Special thanks to Jason Leander for providing the photos of the
Martha S for the website.
At left, the ferry landings on the Keller ferry are mobile to be adjusted to the rising/falling level of the river, which at this point is backed up behind the Grand Coulee dam.Far from the shores of Puget Sound, the state's first ferry crosses the waters of the Columbia River.  Photos courtesy of Jason Leander.
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All hail the Sanpoil...
The model at left shows what the new Keller ferry Sanpoil will look like when complete. A much stouter-looking vessel, the ferry will replace the elderly Martha S. Courtesy of WSDOT.