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Readers help solve mystery surrounding Tacoma’s old submarine

The U.S.S. Cabezon, seen here in June 1964, once was moored along the Tacoma waterfront. Would a permanent submarine display add to the Tacoma tourist scene?
The U.S.S. Cabezon, seen here in June 1964, once was moored along the Tacoma waterfront. Would a permanent submarine display add to the Tacoma tourist scene?

The readers came through, big time.

Last week, we put out an appeal for information about a cryptic reference in an old pocket atlas about one of Tacoma’s “attractions,” a World War II-era submarine named the Cabezon. The sub is long gone, seemingly along with most details about where it was and whether it was available for viewing.

Gone, but not forgotten by our readers, many of whom not only remembered the Cabezon but either trained on it or toured it. The Cabezon was … well, here, let a reader tell the story:

“I was a reservist on the Cabezon from July 1965 until about July 1968. She was moored at the Tacoma Reserve Center on Hylebos Waterway and left sometime around 1969-70.”

Remembers another: “There were two naval vessels stationed at the Navy’s dock there at Hylebos Waterway directly north of the Hylebos drawbridge. These were both used for training of Reserves for their yearly two weeks of training (after their mandatory two years of active duty). One was the submarine USS Cabezon.”

And, yes, it was open on occasion for public tours.

Several of you remember visiting the Cabezon as Cub Scouts:

“I toured the Cabezon with my Cub Scout troop in the 1960s. We went down the ladder at one end of the ship, walked its length, and came up on the opposite end. I remember we were not allowed to take pictures or go up into the conning tower. ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’ was still a current TV show, which is probably what prompted the tour in the first place and led one of my fellow scouts to ask the guide, ‘Where is the admiral’s cabin?’ The ship was not attacked by any monsters during the tour. I remember when I got home I tried to make a miniature model of the control room out of cardboard.”

It doesn’t appear that the Cabezon did any dives while in Tacoma, although one reader remembers hearing stories from his father about it being taken out on surface excursions, perhaps as far as the hydroplane races at Seafair.

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You even had information on the ship that remained in Tacoma after the Cabezon departed — the USS Orleck, a destroyer.

“Many Tacoma reservists served aboard her,” a reader recalled, adding that the ship is now a museum in Louisiana.

Which gets us back to the original reason for embarking on this cruise through local maritime history — the idea of having some sort of vessel, military, commercial or private, for people to see, walk on and experience up close, as one more component in a distinct portfolio of assets to bring tourists and their money to town.

Readers had plenty of nominations of what to bring to town.

“Mine sweepers,” suggested one. “Half of them used in World War II were made in Tacoma.”

Wrote another: “I always found it disappointing that the fireboat on Ruston Way isn’t open to walk through. Add a fireboat and a tug. The important thing is that people need to get inside and see the gauges, wheels and guns or whatever.”

Readers appreciated the opportunity to reminisce about seeing or serving on the Cabezon.

“It was a long time ago but still dear to my heart,” one said.

But having been around long enough to learn a few things, readers also dashed some of the loftier dreams with realism.

While there are boats out there that would work, there also are huge expenses involved in moving and restoring a vessel. Vintage transportation equipment left outside doesn’t do well, which is why the Museum of Flight and the Northwest Railway Museum have added facilities to put more of their collections under cover. Maritime pieces left in the water are under attack from the elements above and below.

Then there’s the cost of dealing with people.

“It would require security and staff for vandalism and just plain knuckleheads that would want to engage with the boat,” a reader said.

Sad to say, he’s right.

It’s always fun to spend other people’s money, and should any of us happen to win one of those bloated lottery prizes, we can happily make it so. Until then, though, we can daydream and consider some more cost-attainable ways to add to the inventory of Tacoma’s tourism attractions.

Thank you, readers, for your contributions of information and reminisces, and now it’s back to business.

Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at