Pacific Northwest | November 16, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineNovember 16, 2003seattletimes.com home
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CONTENTS
COVER STORY
PLANT LIFE
TASTE
NORTHWEST LIVING
NOW & THEN
LETTERS
PREVIOUS ISSUES OF PACIFIC NW


WRITTEN BY PAUL DORPAT  Dining Out 2003

The Colman Crunch
Photo
COURTESY OF DORIS CLEMENTS
The Spanish-style Colman Dock with its landmark clock tower was only four years old when the steel-hulled Alameda cut through its outer end. Overhauled with a new tower in 1908, the pier was next renovated in the mid-'30s as a terminus for the Kalakala, "the world's first streamlined ferry." The contemporary Colman Dock, below, dates from 1961.

 
 Photo
COURTESY OF ROBERT MONROE
Scott Morris, who sometimes helps crew the Virginia V, the last of Puget Sound's "Mosquito Fleet," recently reminded me that the reason so many ports of call around the Sound were called "landings" is because bringing an unwieldy steamer alongside them was a kind of "controlled crash."

Here is evidence of an uncontrolled crash at Colman Dock on April 25, 1912. The culprit was not the steamer but human communication aboard the Alameda, the Alaska Steamship Company's ocean-going liner. As the Alameda rested about 250 yards off the pier head, Capt. John (Dynamite) O'Brien gave a "full astern" order that was relayed to Second Assistant Robert Bunton at the throttle. Bunton understood the order as "full ahead," and quickly jerked the Alameda into action.

The iron-hulled ship crunched through the end of Colman Dock at an angle, dropping its tower into the bay and exposing the passenger waiting room beneath the dock's dome. Slowed but not stalled, the ship continued slicing, sinking the stern-wheel steamer Telegraph berthed on the opposite side of the pier. The Alameda might have gone on up the waterfront, but for the quick thinking of O'Brien. The captain shouted for the anchors to be dropped, and after 125 fathoms of chain were out, the starboard anchor caught. The next pier north — the Grant Trunk Pacific Dock, then the largest wooden pier on the coast — was saved, only to burn two years later.

No one was killed in the Alameda crash, and the hardy liner was merely inconvenienced, continuing its scheduled run to Alaska only a few hours late.

Paul Dorpat's and Genevieve McCoy's award-winning illustrated Washington State history, "Building Washington," is available for $50 from Tartu Publications, P.O. Box 85208, Seattle, WA 98145; 206-547-7678.

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