Tug became city's first visitor's center

Built in 1915 in Tacoma to serve Alaska’s salmon canneries

The tugboat Shamrock II on her final voyage heads up East Holly Street, May 29, 1956. (Photo by Jack Carver, Whatcom Museum of History & Art)

Jeff Jewell
   Motorists traveling north to Bellingham in the late 1950s were greeted on Samish Way, which was part of Highway 99, by a novel roadside attraction, the tugboat Shamrock II.
   Using an old tug for "attracting the attention of visitors" was the idea of the Chamber of Commerce’s Tourist & Publicity Committee, namely Murray Mason and Wendell Wonderly. The plan was for the boat to serve as an information center where "local girls" could provide tourists with maps and promotional brochures about Bellingham and Whatcom County.
   The wooden Shamrock II was originally a 52-foot cannery tender, built in Tacoma during the winter of 1915-16, for the Northland Trading and Packing Co. She worked out of Petersburg, Alaska, for a few seasons, but was sold and eventually converted to a 48-foot tugboat by Earl Bullock of Blaine.
   Bellingham Tug & Barge Co. bought her in 1926 and she was placed under the charge of Capt. Don Barbeau for harbor work and Puget Sound towing.
   Shamrock II was retired from active service in the summer of 1955 and that winter, stripped of her engine, was beached off the south end of Cornwall Avenue near the Bellingham boom grounds. Approached by the Chamber, Bellingham Tug & Barge (BT&B) agreed to sell the derelict vessel for the grand sum of one dollar.
   On May 23, 1956, the Shamrock II was towed to the Olympic Portland Cement Company’s dock by BT&B’s newest tug, the 46-foot Bellingham Bay. Bill Wood, company manager, manned the helm of the Bellingham Bay, while Barney Stewart served as deck hand. Stewart, who as a young man had worked as the cook aboard the Shamrock II, was the grandson of BT&B’s founder, Barney Jones.

ABOVE: When she was still a working tugboat, the Shamrock II docked at the Bellingham Barge & Tug’s moorage on the Whatcom Creek Waterway, c. 1950. (Photo by Terence Wahl, Whatcom Museum of History & Art #1980.71.31)

BELOW: Gov. Albert Rosellini (left) is welcomed aboard the Shamrock II by Helge Johanson (center), Chamber president, and Ivan Mastin (right), Aug. 9, 1957. (Photo by Jack Carver, Whatcom Museum of History & Art)

    Mogens Krabbe, manager of the cement plant, lent two traveling cranes and a crew of seven men to raise the tug from the bay. Registered as 23 tons, the Shamrock’s time on the beach had left her thoroughly water-logged and she’d put on an additional seven tons. Getting her out of the water proved more difficult than expected and the cranes on the cement plant’s pier had to be "tied to the dock" for fear they’d go over. Loaded on a railroad flat car, the Shamrock II was hauled more than a mile to the cement plant where she could dry out.
   At 5 a.m. on May 29, 1956, the Shamrock II began her final voyage on a trailer truck provided by Bellingham Transfer.
   John Barber, owner of the transfer company, decided he’d better drive the truck himself. Earl Eyler and Ken Holsten, linemen for Puget Power, had the most arduous job. They stood precariously on the Shamrock II’s bow using poles to lift overhead wires while the boat passed underneath. The long descent and climb of Holly Street, from Broadway to Ellis, was particularly slow going. The whole trip, a distance of about tree miles, took a little more than three hours with the Shamrock II arriving at the southeast corner of Samish and Consolidation Avenue at 8:15 a.m.
   It was estimated that the expense of getting the tug from bay to highway would’ve been in the neighborhood of $200,000 had the labor and equipment not been donated.
   Once in position, the Chamber was confident that the Shamrock II would be ready to welcome tourists in three weeks. This forecast was revised to a month, then six weeks.
   Finding volunteers to turn the tug into a tourist center wasn’t easy. Bellingham was enjoying a building boom in 1956 and, with all the construction jobs, skilled trades people were in short supply. There was some progress on the Shamrock when Morse Hardware contributed paint and McBeath Glass donated new windows for the aft cabin’s remodel, but by August it was obvious that the boat wouldn’t be ready by the end of summer.
   Ivan Mastin became chairman of the Chamber’s Publicity & Tourist Committee in 1957 and brought new energy to the project.
   Since opening in 1946, Mastin’s Drive-In was a landmark "outside-eating" restaurant, pioneering car service in Bellingham with "five pretty red-and-silver uniformed curb-hops." The Shamrock II sat just across Consolidation Avenue from Mastin’s Drive-In.
   Several work crews were organized and the Shamrock II enjoyed an exterior overhaul, including all new paint in her historic colors. Decoration Day of 1957 was declared the new target date for having the vessel ready for visitors.
   Meanwhile, a 10-by-20 billboard in five-panels, painted with "recreational scenes," was erected behind the boat and "elevated high enough so that it can be recognized for some distance by travelers coming from the South." An area for parking was graded and graveled.
   The tug’s interior was fitted with racks and tables for the requisite informational materials, but the cabin’s wheel, compass and other equipment were left intact to maintain ambiance.
   Finally in ship-shape, the Shamrock II had her maiden run as the new tourist information center on June 14, 1957.
   Formal dedication, however, was saved for Washington State Governor Albert Rosellini, who arrived to great fanfare on August 9 to christen the land-locked boat with a bottle of Bellingham Bay salt water.
   The Governor described the tug-for-tourists as "unique in the nation, if not the world," and vital to promotion of our region as a "vacation paradise." Bellingham Mayor John Westford and Chamber President Helge Johanson also made welcoming remarks. It was a big day that had been a long time in coming.
   The tugboat was then open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., during the summer months, with a crew of three: Mrs. Mae Monohan, in charge, Barbara Muir, and Barbara Brazas.
   Yet, after all the work, the Shamrock II had a very brief career promoting tourism. With the completion of the initial part of Interstate 5 in 1960, Highway 99’s days as the main north-south connector were numbered. Bellingham’s "unique tourist information center" was increasingly ignored by traffic that raced past only a few hundred feet to the east on the new freeway.
   Given something of a Viking funeral by the Bellingham Fire Department, the obsolete Shamrock II was set afire in a controlled burn on Feb. 13, 1962.



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