WILLAPA
Official Number: 226344 Radio Call Numbers: WB4495 Built as FRESNO, Oakland, CA, 1927  Length: 256' Beam: 65'  Draft: 12'9"  Auto Deck Clearance: 12'
Propulsion: Diesel, Busch-Sulzer, 2,800.  Speed: 15 knots.  Autos: 90 Passengers: 1,500
Name translation: from the extinct Willapa tribe from Southwestern Washington.  Meaning unknown.
FINAL DISPOSITION: Upperworks scrapped November 2009; hull scrapped between 2012-14.

The upper deck of the Willapa, circa the 1950's.  Courtesy Brandon Moser.
Launched as the Fresno in 1927, the Willapa started life as a
San Francisco Bay ferry  for the Southern Pacific Railroad
system.

After plying San Francisco waters for over ten years, the new
bridges over the Bay  effectively ended ferry service across
San Francisco Bay.  The Puget Sound Navigation Company,  
looking to upgrade its fleet in the 1940's, purchased all six of
the Steel Electric ferries from Southern Pacific to bolster their
fleet and improve service. Starting in August of 1940, the
ferries began traveling northward in twos.

Traffic on the "Navy Yard Route" had picked up dramatically.  
With WWII about to start, the run would soon be crowded with
workers at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Like her near
sister
Enetai, the Willapa was extensively rebuilt. One  
wheelhouse removed. One rudder was welded into place, and
the propeller removed. Her New London diesel-electric
engines were removed and were replaced with one
direct-drive Busch-Sulzer diesel, which gave both the
Willapa
and
Enetai a speed of about 15 knots.
At top,the Fresno sails under the bridge that will soon put her out of work. Middle photo: the redesigned
passenger cabin included a ladies lounge.  Above, the
Willapa in the 1950's.  Author's collection.
With the transfer to Washington State Ferries, the Willapa
changed little in appearance. Like the others in the Steel
Electric Class (which technically neither the
Willapa or Enetai
belonged to any more, having had their power plants
changed) the large windows on the car deck were welded in
and replaced by open, round portholes.

The conversion to a single-ended ferry by Black Ball was to
spell the end of the ferry's service on Puget Sound.
Initially,single-ended ferries were faster, and even with the
turn around time, could still cover the travel time quicker than
the slower double-ended boats. By the 1960's, that was no
longer true, and in addition, the aging Busch-Sulzer diesels
were expensive to run and maintain.

With the addition of the (then) gigantic Super Class ferries,
the state was able to  retire some of the more inefficient
vessels. As soon as the
Hyak arrived, the Kalakala and
Willapa were retired. The Hyak could make ten trips to the
Willapa's five.

The
Willapa was sold to a group of San Francisco investors
and returned to the Bay area under her old name of
Fresno
Unfortunately, little was done to her.

The
Fresno after years of  neglect finally  sank at her berth  
and remained submerged in about 30 feet of water, mid-way
up the car deck windows for six months. A salvage company
was hired to raise the vessel, patching her hull with concrete.
Her hull, according to the Coast Guard report, resembles a
slice of Swiss cheese. Constant pumping is maintained to
keep her afloat.

Efforts to sell the ferry on Ebay in  2006 failed.  There were no
takers.

In October of 2006 her owner stated that if something wasn't
done soon, the Fresno would be sold for scrap. In December
the ferry caused a bit of   stir when she showed up moored
unexpectedly in Port Costa.  Her new owner, D.D. Parker of
Parker Oceanic had a dispute with the tug operator towing her
from Mare Island, and the captain of the tug tied up the boat.  
The dispute was later settled and the
Fresno was towed away.
And then there was
one...



The remains of the Fresno aground
off Spud Island on the San Joaquin
River.  The hull has since been
broken up, leaving only the
Santa
Rosa
as the sole survivor of the Steel
Electric class.

Photo courtesy of Robert Mann.

The Willapa's interior was expanded and the passenger cabin lengthened to the ends of the promenade deck. The wooden benches were removed, replaced
by plushy padded, longer bench seats similar to those on the
Kalakala.The two sisters would lack any artistic touches though; both were intended to haul
people. Their passenger carrying capacity increased from around 800 to nearly 1500.

The
Willapa became a "Bremerton boat," not leaving the route for 25 years. During her quarter century on the run, her companions were the silvery Kalakala,
the distinguished former Great Lakes steamer
Chippewa and her sister Enetai. During the war years, two other ferries joined the route, the steamers Malahat
and
City of Sacramento.
The Fresno ended up in Stockton for a time, but ended up grounded off of Spud Island on the San Joaquin River and listed "For Sale."

No buyers were forthcoming, so in fall of 2009 a contract was awarded to Enterprise Marine Company Inc. to recycle the ferries.

The scrapping of the Willapa began in November of 2009, leaving only the hull.  After the hull had been there for a time, both Parker Marine and the
scrapping firm were sued for the final removal, as both hulls were parked illegally.  The
Willapa's hull was finally broken up, but as of the middle of 2014, the
hull of the
San Leandro remains at Spud Island.