Giving up the ghost (ship)

“Having an elephant by the tail” is how Thillman Wallace described his ambitious attempt to save a massive 100-year-old wooden fishing boat 40 years ago. The rest, unfortunately, is history. 

Chacon, a 72’ wood hulled fishing boat was built in 1912 as a cannery tender for the Fidalgo Island Packing Co. Designed by the famous naval architect Leslie “Ted” Geary, known for building competitive sailing boats and pleasure yachts for early 20th century tycoons and celebrities like John Barrymore; Chacon is utilitarian yet elegant, featuring Geary’s signature fantail design. 

Wallace spotted the half-sunken Chacon sometime in the early 80’s while on a fishing charter in Kachemak Bay and decided to salvage it. He purchased it from the son of former state legislator and legendary fisherman, Clem Tillion, re-floated it and had it towed back to Anchorage where he accomplished the fantastic feat of removing the hulking structure from the water and trucking it all the way to it’s current and likely final resting place along the Old Glenn Highway in Chugiak. 

Chacon after restabilization effort – Mikhail Siskoff

For the past 40 years, Chacon has sat on the roadside collecting moss while gradually succumbing to the elements and vandals. Her massive brass propeller was stolen by scrappers decades ago along with anything of value in the wheelhouse or below deck. Wallace passed away in 2015.

The only thing worse than having an elephant by the tail is inheriting the elephant. I recently spoke with Wallace’s daughter, Stephanie LeProwse about the ultimate fate of Chacon as the ship’s end appears more imminent every day. I pulled over for a quick look last September and I could see right away that the stern section is badly deteriorated to the point of being a safety hazard. LeProwse says that unless someone comes through with a restoration effort, she’ll likely have to have the vessel dismantled and removed for disposal. Despite the incredible recent effort on her part to replace the support cribbing to restabilize it as well as removing most of the plants that had taken over the deck. A full restoration is a project too massive to take on alone. This could be an amazing opportunity for an organization interested in maritime preservation or someone looking for old wood, personally, I’m hoping for the former. 

What could be done with something like the Chacon?

In her active years, Chacon would frequently call on the Port of Anchorage and the Whitney-Fidalgo Cannery on Ship Creek, yes, Anchorage once had a cannery! Perhaps the vessel could be relocated once-again as a historic landmark to represent that part of Anchorage History but the advanced state of deterioration makes that an unlikely scenario.

Restoration doesn’t seem to be in the cards for Chacon and so we prepare to say goodbye to a relic of the past, a roadside curiosity, local landmark and likely one of the last remaining examples of an in-tact cannery boat –  A dream unfulfilled and unfortunate symbol of the persistence of time.

Chacon is on private property, and while the owners don’t seem to mind people pulling over for a photo or two, we strongly urge you not to touch the boat or even get too close. 

Mikhail is a board member of the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation and wrote the original Wikipedia article about Chacon through original research and interviews.

2 thoughts on “Giving up the ghost (ship)

  1. I have letters(32) written from fishtrap piledriver all around cook inlet in 46, Dad mentioned the “Chacon” several times and perhaps sent mail to Pt. Graham from the traps during the run. He had some dental work done at Graham. The Bluff Pt. Trap was their biggest that year. I’m doing book on letters and want a good photo of Chacon perhpas unloading trap

    1. Hi Rolf, that’s really interesting. I wrote the Wikipedia article on Chacon and would love to expand on it with any additional information you might have. I don’t know of any such images but you could check with MOHAI in Seattle, they can license images for your book. Just be sure to reference the correct Chacon (1912) using Hull ID number (on the wiki page) as there were two tenders named Chacon operating at the same time in Alaska.

Comments are closed.