RHODODENDRON
Year Built/Re-built: 1947/90 City Built: Baltimore Official, as Governor Herbert R. O'Conor
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.
 Currently for sale.
The Rhododendron at Keystone in 1979.   Author's collection.
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.
The Rhododendron as she appeared in the years before retirement.  Special thanks to Matt Masuoka for the wonderful photos!
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, in June of 1974 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.
She is 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.
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.
Top, the Rhody and Olympic working at Columbia Beach.
Above, the
Rhody in mothballs in the early 1990's.  Brandon Moser photo.