History of Tacoma Ferry by DCS Films
Milwaukee Terminal No.6
M.T. No. 6
Originally called the Tacoma, she was built as a side-wheel steamer with the purpose of transporting entire trains across the Columbia River. Contracted with the Northern Pacific Railway Company, the Harlan and Hollingsworth Company of Wilmington Delaware built what was called the “Iron Steam Transfer Boat” for the price of $400,000. The mighty Tacoma was built in Delaware but disassembled, boxed and shipped off to Oregon. The Train Ferry was then delivered in 57,179 pieces and reassembled in the summer of 1883 at Smith Bros. and Watson in Portland Oregon, taking the mark as the second largest ferry in the world.
In September 1883 the Tacoma began her 24 year service carrying trains across the Columbia River.
The Tacoma was approximately 334 feet long; she had two 500 horsepower steam engines powering two 29 foot paddle wheels on port and starboard. The Tacoma routinely made trips from Kalama Washington to Hunters Point and Goble Oregon. With not much more to do in a small town in the late 1800’s, residents of Kalama would rush down and gather at the depot platform to watch the switch engines arrive and load onto the Tacoma. A very well known switch engine of the time was the Old 97.
Routinely pulling coaches, and trains, the 97 was a mainstay for the exceptional Tacoma. When pulling coaches and trains off the Tacoma and up the steep grade at Kalama, most engines had to make 2 runs at it, but Old 97 with its small drive wheels, could handle twice the number of coaches as the other engines.
Later the Old 97 would derail on September 27, 1903, killing 11 people.
The more frequent runs took a toll on the aging Tacoma. With her loads increased, there was concern for the stability of the boat. From 1903 through 1905 the Tacoma would begin thorough examinations. Putting the huge vessel in dry dock wasn’t an option, so divers descended below the vessel to examine the hull. Although the Tacoma’s hull was free of corrosion as reported in the 5 page inspection report dated October 7, 1903, her longitudinal stiffness was under close observation. Repairs were estimated at $29,703.66 and highly recommended.
On October 20, 1903, Robert Harrison billed Captain Gore $20 for examining the structure from the water line to the keel, further stating in his report that the bottom was in good condition. The Tacoma wasn’t giving up just yet.
In a telegram dated February 28, 1904 from W.C. Albee, were instructions for improvements. New boilers were to be installed, the next morning in fact, along with four steel deck beams under each coal bunker, and in May the same year, an order was placed for 100,000 feet of deck planking to replace the decks. There were also plans to give the aging ferry a new coat of paint to brighten her up and make her more conspicuous on a dark night. These upgrades were scheduled to be finished August 1905, but cost overruns, weather delays, and unexpected repairs pushed them to the end of the year.
In 1908, after being in service for 24 years, the Tacoma’s service was no longer required. The railroad bridge across the Columbia River was completed, and she made her last run on December 25th of the same year.
In 1909 she was reappointed transporting rock to build the North Jetty at the mouth of the Columbia River. Cars carrying rock (quarried near Tenino) were shipped by rail to a ferry slip at what is now known as Longview. There the rock was loaded aboard the Tacoma and shipped down river. Milwaukee Railroad purchased the Tacoma in 1917 and towed her to her new home, the Puget Sound. She was then dismantled to the hull (except for one pilot house), renamed Barge No. 6 and used to transport railroad cars across the Sound. (It is believed the name MT no. 6 stands for “Milwaukee Terminal Number 6”).
At around 11:00 pm on December 31, 1949, just before the New Year, the Milwaukee Barge No. 6 was struck by the 6,000 ton C2-S-E1 freighter Fairland on her way to the Nettleton Mill.
The Fairland was trying to avoid a tow of logs, but managed to strike the No. 6 instead. The night was blanketed by snow and fog, the Milwaukee Barge No. 6 was in tow by Captain Pete Kittleson of Kent aboard the tug Milwaukee, as it entered into Elliot Bay bound for the Milwaukee dock from Port Townsend. The barge had aboard her 3 crew; Harlem House, Ray Laigh, and Keith Brents all of which got off safely. She was rumored to have been carrying 19 sealed railcars, of these six broke loose and floated to shore. The Foss tug Sandra Foss rushed out for assistance, picked up the crew, but the former Tacoma wouldn’t be saved. She was sent to the bottom in 20 minutes and now lies in Elliot Bay, presumably, in over 579 feet of water.
Later the 6 rail-cars were recovered by another rail-barge, using cranes from the Foss Company who had the salvage contract.