Stewart Weston knew things were going to be nuts Friday morning as soon as he turned off Pacific Avenue onto 140th Street South.
It was only 6 a.m. — two hours before the sale of salvaged Kalakala parts was supposed to begin — but the street in front of the Rhine Demolition yard in Parkland was already jammed.
“There were already 30 or 40 cars out there,” said Weston, a demolition worker enlisted to help with the sale. “We actually had people running to get in here. It was overwhelming.”
Hundreds of people from throughout the Puget Sound area converged on the Rhine yard to buy pieces of the Kalakala. The old art-deco ferry was dismantled in a Tacoma dry dock in January after years of unsuccessful attempts to renovate it.
Most of the wreckage went straight to Schnitzer Steel as bulk salvage, but Rhine pulled several tons of choice bits for souvenirs.
The sale was supposed to last two days, but Rhine president Joel Simmonds shut it down shortly before noon Friday.
“We’re sold out,” Simmons said at 11:45 a.m. “We thought there might be a little bit left for tomorrow, but there’s really nothing left.”
Many of the souvenir seekers said they came hoping to get their hands on one of the Kalakala’s distinctive circular windows. But the few of those available were snapped up almost immediately — at prices around $1,500.
Instead, they bought two-ton pistons, doors, railings, hatch covers and hundreds of smaller unidentifiable pieces of twisted metal selling for upwards of $50 each. All sales came with a “certificate of authenticity,” guaranteeing the item had been salvaged from the Kalakala.
The buying was so intense that one man showed up at the cash-out table with a baseball-bat size piece of steel that turned out to be a hinge-pin from one of Rhine’s excavators.
“I wish I knew what it is,” the man said. “It was in with all the engine parts.”
Mike Lano Sr., the Rhine employee who managed the Kalakala’s demolition and recognized the piece, snatched it away.
“I was wondering where that went,” he said. “People are supposed to stay behind the red ribbons. That’s what they’re there for.”
Like many buyers, Jakob Lunden said he was sentimental about the boat because of personal connections.
“I guess this is kind of my roots,” he said. “The Kalakala was what took my family into Bremerton when they first moved there from Pennsylvania in 1961.”
Lunden drove from his home in Seattle hoping to score a round window, but they were all gone by the time he arrived. Instead, he left with a heavy, unidentified piece of steel and a paint-encrusted electrical junction box.
He said he wasn’t giving up on getting a window.
“I’ll have to get on eBay or Craigslist and pay three times as much,” he said.
Steve Bond, from Lake Forest Park, said his father worked as a wiper in the Kalakala’s engine room just after World War II and was badly burned in an explosion on the boat.
He remembered riding on the Kalakala himself when he was 6 years old and, because of his father’s history, was able to visit the wheelhouse.
“It was quite an experience for a 6-year-old, as you can imagine,” Bond said. “I’d just like to have something, a memento to hang on the wall.”
Bond bought a 2-by-3-inch segment of brass window trim for $25.
Simmonds, Rhine’s president, said that in addition to the items on sale Friday, he presold a few choice parts of the old ferry to people who will put them on public display.
He said the owner of Salty’s restaurant at Alki Beach in West Seattle bought the wheelhouse. The city of Kirkland, where the Kalakala was outfitted as a ferry, bought the captain’s quarters and much of the ornate railing.
The Foss Waterway Seaport in Tacoma bought a piston and some windows, he said, and the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle bought “a couple of porthole windows.”
Simmonds said he expects his company will end up making nearly as much money on the souvenirs as it did on the 1,100 tons of bulk salvage it sold to Schnitzer Steel.
Neither turned out to be that profitable, he said, because of the labor involved to separate the souvenirs from the wreckage and a temporarily depressed metals market.
“We’ll come out OK,” he said, “but we’re not going to be just rolling in dough because of it.”