When islanders drove across the Judd Creek Bridge in the 1980s, the African Queen and bunkhouse barge were fixtures of the Judd Creek estuary. The African Queen is long gone, sold and refurbished, but still cruising Puget Sound as the Arrow No.1. The bunkhouse barge still graces the estuary, sunk and sitting on the bottom and inundated to the second floor at high tides.
The story of the African Queen and the barge on Vashon go back to the Dave Isakson family and their dream of rebuilding the old tug Arrow No.1, which had been renamed African Queen. They planned to use the tug to tow the old logging bunkhouse barge to Alaska. They equipped the barge with typewriters and sewing machines and planned to use it as a floating, mobile classroom to teach young Native Alaskan women to type and sew. It was the stuff that dreams are made of.
The Arrow No.1 began life as a tug, built along the Columbia River in Astoria, Oregon, in 1924 for the Arrow Company. Her sister-ship, Arrow No.2, was still working as a pilot boat out of Astoria into the 1980s. She served for years as a working tug, and then, renamed African Queen, she served as a charter fishing boat out of Westport, Washington, captained by Howard Redding, whose family Redding Beach was named after — another Vashon connection.
The history of the bunkhouse barge is less well documented, and we do not know when it was built, or where it was moored as the logging camps moved around Puget Sound to where the latest logging operation was taking place. As a bunkhouse, it had a larger common room and kitchen on the lower level and bunkrooms on the upper level. This was an ideal arrangement for the planned floating classroom.
When Isakson’s dream began to unravel, Dan Cadman purchased the vessel in 1982 and worked to get it re-caulked, painted and into working condition. This included rebuilding the original enormous Atlas engine, which measured 13 feet long and over 6 feet tall. Cadman then sold it to the current owners who still cruise it on the sound and often take it to classic boat shows.
The Judd Creek estuary is a quiet place, with a few homes dotting the shore, the historic landmarked bridge crossing above, and the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust working to purchase the stream bank and re-establish Judd Creek as a natural habitat. The barge sits forlornly in the Judd Creek mud, providing habitat and evoking wonder from those who catch sight of her as they paddle up the estuary.
— Bruce Haulman is an island historian.