Conversations with Morey Skaret
This is the eighth in a series of articles on longtime Fauntleroy resident Morey Skaret, who will be ninety-seven years old in August. After moving to West Seattle from the Canadian prairie as a ten-year-old lad in 1923, Morey quickly fell in love with Puget Sound and its salt water, which provided a lifelong backdrop for his remarkable life.
Like nearly every American of that era, Morey Skaret was hit hard by the economic punches of the Great Depression. In 1933, after graduating from West Seattle High School—where he attended a proffered extra year, due to the scarcity of jobs for young people—Morey decided to go footloose. By becoming hobos, millions of young men eased the financial strain on their families—even if it meant riding gritty rails, courting constant danger and enduring all the other hardships of life ‘on the bum.’
But Morey was lucky: not only did he survive six months ‘on the bum’; he had a job waiting for him when he returned home from his wanderings.
“I went to high school with the same class as a young lady called—I forget her name—Billie Waterman,” he recalls from his home overlooking Fauntleroy Cove. “When I graduated from high school, Billie said, ‘You gotta job, Morey?’ ‘No,’ I says, ‘Nowhere. Can’t get a job anywhere. There’s no jobs. Charlie Shellfisher and I are goin’ on the bum.’
“She said, ‘Oh, well, huh.’ So, she went to her father after Charlie and I got back from doing hoboing. She kinda liked me, and I kinda liked her. Billie—she was a very vivacious little thing. Not nearly as pretty as Elsie. Not nearly. Not nearly.”
“Hah, hah, hah,” chuckles Elsie Freelander, Morey’s longtime friend, from her listening post on the sofa. “Leave that part out.”
But I can’t resist leaving it in, so inspiring are Morey and Elsie as glowing examples of how true beauty transcends the barrage and mirage of years.
“When I came back from the bum with Charlie Shellfisher,” Morey continues, “well, I was here for a while, and then I went into the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). But in the interim, about two years or maybe three years, I towboated.
“She (Billie Waterman) got her dad—his name was Clifford Waterman, and he had a tugboat company—Waterman Tug & Barge.” And she got me a job on there. I got a dollar a day, room and board. And I worked like hell. Boy, you’d get one of the jobs when the fleet was in. We pulled up, a barge, alongside one battleship and they dumped their garbage over, into our barge.
“The barge had high sides on it, like this,” Morey says, holding up his steady hand. “When it was full, we were supposed to tow it up to the Strait of de Fuca. But Waterman, he said, ‘Oh, don’t go that far, Morest. Don’t go that far. When you get up there, off of Point No Point’—there’s deep water there, fourteen hundred feet—he says, ‘just shovel it off, in the dead of night.’
“Waterman was working with not too much capital,” Morey says, “and he had to cut corners. So we’d shovel it all off up there.”
But this was just the start of Morey’s towboating adventures. “We’d come down the Sound here,” he recalls, waving toward the west side of Vashon Island. “If the tide was running in, we’d go into West Pass over there, Colvos Passage. It’s narrow and goes about two knots faster, and you could pick up time that way. Anyway, I went down there and got some logs in Olympia. I think it was eight sections—that’s a pretty big tow. That’s about a whole block long. A tow of logs in the water—with boom sticks around it, holdin’ it. You’d tow it.
“On Blake Island,” Morey continues, “was one old guy from the Skid Road. He was on the ball, as far as seamanship—come from Norway—he rowed over in an old dinghy that was thrown away by the fishermen, a skiff. He rebuilt it down there in Hooverville. And he had to stand up with it and row it like that, big long oars. He kept lookin’ for a place to squat—they called ’em squatters. He went around to the south end of Blake Island, where there’s a nice little cove. Something like Fauntleroy Cove—a little smaller, half as big.
“Now there’s a creek coming down, off of Blake. It runs to the south. And he’d been a bootlegger. Somewhere. He learned how to make bootleg whiskey. So he got some trees, working for a guy that had a little orchard over at the little town of Colby, another mile across. And he planted them right by that creek. Then he built a shack out of driftwood. Nobody bothered him, he was a squatter.
“And he made alky, a pretty potent drink. It’s more than is allowable, ’cause it’s so damn strong, and you get drunk on half the amount—if your intention is to get drunk. Old Man Waterman, we used to take those logs, we’d go in through Yukon Harbor and go in behind the lower point of Blake. There’s a mill in there called Colby Mill. That’s where we were supposed to take the logs.
“Old Man Waterman, he knew that we were going. Rudy Arness and I were going to go down and pick up these logs and tow ’em back to the Colby Mill. He knew that. He knew the bootlegger was there. He said, ‘When you go by the south end of Blake Island, get me a gallon of that alky.’ Waterman drank, rather heavily.
“So, we came by there, and we had a skiff on the boat. So I told Rudy, ‘Now, I’ll take the tow in.’ You got this big tow behind you, and if it goes on the beach you might lose half of ’em. They spill out. You gotta keep ’em out in deep water.
“So I said, ‘I’ll take a big long turn into Yukon Harbor.’ And I made a big circle. Rudy got off and rowed ashore to the bootlegger. And he had the money. Three dollars for a gallon. He went in, the bootlegger was there. Paid him. Gave Rudy the gallon jug. And I’m still makin’ the circle. He’s got the skiff. I came back, it was dark. And here was Rudy, he had the gallon there, and he was in that little skiff. And he was rowin’, waitin’ for me.
“And of course he could hear me, and maybe see my lights. So here I come, came up alongside, reached out and got a line on my boat. Got Rudy aboard and put that gallon jug of alky down in the kitchen, in the galley—little galley about four by eight.
“And we went in and got the logs tied up at the Colby Mill. And the guy signed for it, he counted the number of sections, and looked to see if all the logs were there—because sometimes the towboat operators would steal a couple logs, and sell it on the side, to make a little extra money.
“Anyway, we poured off one full quart—we had a quart jug. Alky’s clear, like gin. And we poured the rest full of water. Then we corked it up again and shook it a little bit. And when we got back to Waterman, he says, ‘Hey, boys.’ He called us boys—well, we were kind of boys, I guess. He said, ‘Did you get my alky?’
“And Rudy said, ‘Oh, yes sir, Mr. Waterman.’ He demanded to be treated with respect. And to be called ‘Captain.’ Hell, he was never captain of a rowboat. But he was a damn good tugboat skipper. Anyway, Waterman, he says, ‘You know, boys, I’m glad you got that for me. Thank you.’ He said, ‘Best damn alky I’ve ever tasted.’
Next week: Whistle while you work
In case you missed any in this series here are some links to previous installments: