Year Built/Re-built: 1947/90 City Built: Baltimore Official Number:2516446 Call Sign: WB6079 Length: 227' Beam: 62' Draft: 10' Auto Deck Clearance: 13' 5'' Horsepower: 2172 Speed in Knots: 11 Max Vehicles: 48 Max Passengers: 546
Name Translation: State Flower
Final Disposition: Sold to Island Scallops of Qualicum Beach, British Columbia, a branch of Atlantic Capes Fisheries of Cape May, N.J. Floating platform to handle scallops.
The newly refurbished Rhododendron, about to be sent to her first assignment on Hood Canal in 1954. Author's collection.
| As early as 1952 the newly formed Washington State Ferries knew they were in need of additional boats. Preparation was underway for what would become the Evergreen State Class, but in the mean time the State needed ferries as soon as possible.
As luck would have it, two ferries from Chesapeake Bay had just been put out of work. The Governor Herbert R. O’Conor and the Governor Harry Nice were available, and while not huge they were of good size by 1950’s standards and would certainly be welcome additions to the fleet.
Towed through the Panama Canal and up the coast, the ferries were given an overhaul and cleaning. The Nice was renamed Olympic. Painted in the green and white of the new ferry system, her only outward change was to her car deck windows, which had been square but were turned into portholes to match her near sister. She was placed in service at between Lofall and Southpoint on Hood Canal.
A short time later the O’Conor was finished. Renamed Rhododendron, she was sent to replace the Olympic on Hood Canal. For the next eight years she worked the Lofall-Southpoint route, often with the Vashon or Crosline acting as back up boats in the summer months.
Again put out of work by a bridge—this time the Hood Canal Floating bridge—the Rhody was reassigned to work alongside her near sister Olympic on the Mukilteo-Clinton run. The pair along with the Chetzemoka worked Mukilteo-Clinton for many years.
1974 saw a change in the lineup. Olympic Ferries Inc had gone out of business and the ferry system was ordered to take over the route between Port Townsend and Keystone. The Olympic went first, and later the Rhododendron followed. The two ferries worked the route off and on until the early 80’s when the Klickitat became the permanent ferry on the route.
By 1983 both of the Chesapeake Bay ferries were scheduled to be retired. Problems with the Issaquah Class and the rebuilding of the Steel Electrics kept them in service. While never officially retired, the Rhody spent nearly a decade moth balls at Eagle Harbor while Washington State Ferries. The Olympic continued to work, but the Rhody remained moored at Eagle Harbor.
In the early 1990’s, with the Issaquah Class's bugs long worked out and the Steel Electrics all out of the yard and back in service, it was decided that the idled Rhododendron would go in for rebuilding.
As the project got underway, the state soon was regretting their decision. The Rhody was in far worse condition than anyone had anticipated. The entire passenger cabin was full of rotten steel. In the end a completely new cabin had to be made from fresh steel. The unexpected deterioration caused the project to run millions over budget, and canceled plans to similarly refurbish the Olympic.
After some teething problems with her new engines, the Rhododendron went to work on the Point Defiance-Tahlequah route.
| For the nearly the next two decades, the Rhody faithfully served the Point Defiance-Tahlequah run, becoming a favorite of Vashon Islanders. As the years went on, she increasingly became of limited use for the ferry system. A "one compartment" (the ability to stay afloat with only one compartment flooded) ferry, the vessel was only allowed to work on short, inland water routes, such as the Point Defiance-Tahlequah run, which is a mere 1.5 miles long. Unable to work anywhere else, the Rhody is scheduled to be retired as soon as a viable replacement was constructed.
With the construction of the Kwa-di-tabil class ferries, the Rhododendron's retirement date was finally set in concrete. As soon as the Kennewick went into service, the Rhody would be retired.
On 23 January, 2012, the Rhododendron made her last scheduled run between Talequah and Point Defiance, replaced with the Chetzemoka, which is now the permanent replacement ferry for the route, ending 65 years of service.
After one sale fell through the Rhody was sold on 26 February 2013 to $275,000 to Island Scallops of Qualicum Beach, British Columbia, a branch of Atlantic Capes Fisheries of Cape May, N.J. The Rhody's engines will be removed, and she'll be used as a "floating platform" (essentially a barge) to handle scallops.
For ferry fans who had hoped to see the ferry in some form of active service again, it's a disappointing ending.
|The Rhododendron as she appears today. Special thanks to Matt Masuoka for the wonderful photos!|
|She will be missed....
by islander and mainlander alike. A nice write up on the Rhody's last day in service can be found here at the Goodlife Northwest Blog by Candace Brown.
Thanks again to Matt Masuoka for another great photo of the little Rhody.
Click HERE to see a fantastic video of the Rhododendron's last trip, filmed by Marc Pease.
To the Skagit and Kalama