Seattle Gear Works, emergency exit

Some days the soul requests not botanical gardens but industrial grit. Not perfection but broken things.

On those days, a drive down the Duwamish into South Park brings satisfaction like no other local road trip.

Our route extends along barely paved roads. We splash through puddles that are small lakes. We dodge potholes deep enough to drown a cyclist. We drive by mountains of barrels, piles of crates, and idle machinery left to rust by the side of the road. We breathe in the chaos of an unregulated economy.

The Duwamish waterfront is a land of enterprise. It has the vibrancy of a third world city. It is the American dream waking up on a Superfund site and stretching its legs.

Cain Bolt & Gasket front door

And while bolts and gaskets may be a nice change from cultivating the land, the broken pallets whisper that sacrifice isn’t always sufficient for success.

Across the street, another brotherly endeavor is doing quite a bit better.

Back door landscapingEmergency exit landscaping

In the black and white South Park landscape, even a spot of color and taste catches the eye. In the back alleys of S Portland St, we turned away from Cain and were surprised by something beautiful.

Emergency exit landscapingBack door landscaping

The emergency back door with the fantastic landscaping belongs to Seattle Gear Works. A family-owned gear manufacturing and repair company, the Gear Works was founded in 1946 by Ingwald Ramberg. It is currently owned and managed by his two sons Roland and Sterling.

What began as a small garage business has grown into an international enterprise with over $20M in annual revenue and over a hundred employees. Gear Works gears are used in virtually every kind of industrial endeavor on the planet, from wind energy to military machinery. The South Park location facing us is actually one of the largest gear manufacturing facilities in the country.

Tulips

Seattle Gear works, we salute your attention to detail and your taste in landscaping. We’d love to see the inside of your plant.

The complete Flickr set.

Terminal 115 Viewpoint, revisited

Consider the balance between the already seen and the unforeseen.

A place, once visited and photographed, is committed to memory; saved on disk; gently processed for public consumption; and ultimately presented to the internet for the entire planet to view, discuss, perhaps reference. It is caught in amber, stale data already seen and now forever misleading.

Naturally, reality moves on while the virtual stands still. Electrons move fast, but atoms faster still. As the ancients might have said, things change.

Consider Terminal 115 viewpoint, already seen. Its gritty post-war beauty came not from the stagnant river or the military overpass, but from the old fisherman’s shack with its sunken barrels and boarded windows. A surprise, a touch of the handmade in a manufactured world. Unforeseen.

Eight months later, the shack is gone. Taken by the river, or a victim of the messy, unpredictable real world? Perhaps both.

Derelict shack at Terminal 115 is gone

So a second visit converts a place that was, in a way, special into yet another rock pile next to the Duwamish.

Terminal 115 viewpointTerminal 115 viewpoint

To be sure, the 1st Ave S bridge still has its East Berlin chic.  It’s mostly the sniper towers.

First Avenue South Bridge overpass

There are still random things lying on the banks of the Duwamish, particularly at low tide.  The river is a liquid steampunk landfill, and you never know what it’ll decide to wash up.  This time it was somebody’s metal pipe.

First Avenue South Bridge overpass

On closer inspection, more things had changed. As it turns out, the previous occupants of 100 SW Peninsula Pl weren’t a marine diving company, as the previous note might have suggested. Instead, behind the fence was an eponymous outfit called Commercial Fence. They demonstrated their business acumen through an inordinate fondness for razor wire.

Barbed wire

According to a sign onsite, Commercial Fence has now moved to greener pastures on W Marginal Way S. The vacant lot has presumably been purchased by the Port of Seattle. The Port of Seattle, of course, remains its usual charming self.

Our friendly Port of Seattle

Not only that, their first act upon taking over the property was to take down the fisherman’s shack. No doubt the space will be used for something eminently practical.

Alas. Perhaps better to remember the already seen and avoid the location forever more, unless the unforeseen invalidate the memory.

Fisherman’s shack, you’ll be remembered. That is, if we can get ourselves disentangled from the razor wire.

Barbed wire

The complete Flickr set.

Elliott Bay Marina

Heading north from where the Port of Seattle ends at Smith Cove, you find yourself among humans again.  The sound of conversation echoes over the water.  There is laughter, and there are flower beds and the scent of freshly mowed grass.  There are children on leashes and parents holding the hands of pet dogs.  There are ships, and the waves lap ever so softly against the dock.

This is the Elliott Bay marina.  It is a place of opulence, Manhattan to the South Park marina’s Bronx.  Located beneath the beautiful Magnolia bluffs, it enjoys a fantastic view of Seattle’s downtown.  It’s the high rent district.

And it is in every way perfect.

Seattle through Elliott Bay Marina

From the landlubber’s perspective, a marina is a symmetric jumble of impractical vessels.  From small pleasure boats to larger liveaboards, they lack the blue-collar ethic of the fishing boat, or the single-minded purpose of the cargo ship.  They are entirely optional, an indication of perhaps entirely too much wealth, or perhaps of a set of priorities and lifestyle choices that befuddle and confuse the poor landlubber.

In that light, you would be justified in asking ask why these ships are here.  Who pays the rent, and why?

Elliot Bay Marina

Interesting though these questions might be, this story is not about the luxury tax, the call of the waves, or the jet-setting lifestyle of the modern yacht mariner.

Nor is this story about the attempted poisoning of pesky but adorable otters, which prompted an indulgent but stern rebuke from the marina’s manager. This is a different story entirely.

As it turns out, the story of the Elliott Bay Marina is about fishing rights.

Elliott Bay Marina reflections

Like most stories, it’s but a simplification of a simplification.  The complexities of life evade simple description.  Everything but the bare essence is lost in the telling.

Pier 91 reflections

The story begins with the Treaty of Medicine Creek.  It’s December of 1854 in the remote territory of Washington.

Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens is a former military man, hell-bent on a land grab of historic proportions.  His title includes the honorific "Superintendent of Indian Affairs" and he is clearly living the dream.  When the tribes don’t respond to intimidation, he calls in the military.  When white citizens oppose him, he arrests or discredits them.  He is on a mission to civilize this heathen part of the god-given earth.

At Medicine Creek he gathers the leaders of the Nisqually, the Puyallup and the rest of the tribes of Western Washington.  For the princely sum of $32,500 and some reservation land, over two million acres of land are signed off to the United States government.  With a native population of just 6,000, resistance is futile and they know it.  It’s an offer they simply cannot refuse.

It’s a moment that will leave long scars on their future.  In their minds eye, the shining cities to come have already begun to cast a shadow.  Not theirs anymore, never again.

Seattle from Elliott Bay Marina

As an afterthought, the treaty grants the natives the right to fish.

The right of taking fish, at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations, is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the Territory.

For those of us who buy never-frozen wild salmon from behind the counters of large industrial organic establishments, the dirty business of catching the damn things is forever hidden.  Nevertheless, this is a generous grant indeed.  Perhaps Governor Stevens is after all a humanitarian.

It is worth recalling that in 1854, the Nisqually could throw a rock at water, and a grilled salmon would float to the bank.  Fish and game were effectively limitless at the time, in a way that neither we nor our descendants will ever understand.  The treaty could have granted the natives the right to breathe, and it would have been no more surprising.  The only surprise is that it was included at all.

It’s tempting to imagine an enterprising chief slipping this clause past the white man’s careless lawyers, with another seconding the motion and a third moving to commit.  We’ll never know.  The minutes of the meeting are lost, and the establishment of such rules of order were twenty two years in the future.  All there was at Medicine Creek was the order of the gun.

Elliot Bay Marina

So the Nisqually tribe packs up and leaves for the reservation.  It’s on rocky ground, and there’s no good way to grow food.  It’s also cut off from the river, so there’s no good way to fish.  The long starvation begins.

The next year, chief Leschi goes to Olympia to protest the terms of the treaty.  He claims his signature was forged and he had refused to sign.  The powers that be react violently and Leschi has no choice:  it’s time to think the unthinkable, and rebel against the state of Washington.

One thing leads to another, and we get the Puget Sound war of 1855-1856.  Unsurprisingly, the full force of the US military and local militias are brought to bear, and the revolt is suppressed.  While few actual deaths result from the war, the native uprising is a shock to the settlers.  One might argue that at this point, the natives were lucky they weren’t exterminated.

Meanwhile, chief Leschi is on the run and Governor Stevens is having paranoid fits. He suspects some settlers of helping Leschi, and he goes to the length of declaring martial law in Pierce County. Eventually he catches up with Leschi and tries him in various kangaroo court until it sticks. His half-brother and co-conspirator Quiemuth comes forward to try to save his brother, and he’s murdered in Steven’s own office while in custody of the state. Leschi’s conviction takes him to the gallows, and he’s hanged for murder he probably wasn’t present to commit.

Olympic Mountains sunset

By 1880, the Nisqually tribe has shrunk to 700 people, down from over 2,000 at the beginning of the century.  Their access to the salmon runs has became illegal banditry.  The state government is of the white extractive industries, for the white extractive industries.  Rivers are haphazardly closed, and various forms of fishing are banned, conveniently those used by the natives.

Meanwhile, civilization grows.  Rivers are dammed, forests are logged, and industrial-scale fishing is making a dent in limitless but fragile resources.  The salmon runs dwindle, and of course native poaching is blamed.

Two subsequent court cases illustrate the themes of the time.

In 1905, a federal court decides the US vs. Winans case in favor of the natives, reaffirming the rights of the Yakama tribe to fish in local rivers.  However, it allows the state of Washington to reasonably regulate this fishing in the interests of conversation.  The State of Washington, never one to miss a trick, makes a river of lemonade and interprets the ruling as carte blanche to continue to enforce its laws regarding licenses, fishing methodology restrictions, and river closures.

In 1916, in the State vs. Towessnute case, State Supreme Court Justice Bausman effectively reverses Winans, writing the following words for the record:

The premise of Indian sovereignty we reject. The treaty is not to be interpreted in that light. At no time did our ancestors in getting title to this continent ever regard the aborigines as other than mere occupants, and incompetent occupants, of the soil. Any title that could be had from them was always disdained… Only that title was esteemed which came from white men… The Indian was a child, and dangerous child of nature, to be both protected and restrained. In his nomadic life, he was to be left , as long as civilization did not demand his region. When it did demand that region, he was to be allotted a more confined area with permanent subsistence… These arrangements were but the announcement of our benevolence which, notwithstanding our frequent frailties, has been continuously displayed. Neither Rome nor sagacious Britain ever dealt more liberally with their subject races than we with these savage tribes, whom it permitted to squander vast areas of fertile land before our eyes.

Two other state court cases that year went along the same lines.  Presumably demoralized, none of the tribes appeal to the US Supreme Court.  Native fishermen continue to ply their trade, but are increasingly subject to the whims of local law enforcement.  Most traditional means of fish harvesting are now illegal, including spearing and gaffing.

In effect, life and tradition itself is now illegal.

Seattle through Elliott Bay Marina

By the 1960s, native access to the salmon runs has become a civil rights issue, and a cause célèbre of Marlon Brando and others.  Civil disobedience is in the air, as is violence.  The state continues to enforce its laws.  In September 1970, Tacoma police arrest and beat 59 protestors on the Puyallup river, using tear gas, clubs and live ammunition to restore law and order.  Finally, the feds step in.  That same month, the US government files United States vs. Washington.

The honorable George Boldt presides.  He’s a conservative Eisenhower appointee in his late sixties, and a sports fisherman himself.  The smart money shorts the natives.

The case lasts three and a half years.  Boldt listens.  He hears state officials and tribal elders.  He reads the treaty.  Signed in haste and under duress, it’s the only thing that can protect the natives now.  Boldt consults his copy of the 1828 Webster’s American Dictionary.  He writes 203 pages worth of decision.

Flags at Elliott Bay Marina

The Boldt decision is a miracle or infamous, depending on your point of view.  It gives the tribes 50% of the harvestable salmon from their traditional waters, because that’s what that in common with would have meant in 1854.  In an instant, the natives are no longer bandits and thieves, but co-managers of the salmon industry.

Attorney General Slade Gorton appeals all the way up to the US Supreme Court, but to no avail.  His family’s fish stick fortune is no conflict of interest, and he later spends his golden years in the company of an even greater band of thieves, the US Senate.  Washington’s tribes and its fishing industry reach an uneasy equilibrium, which lasts to this day.

But what of our fair marina?

Elliot Bay Marina

As it turns out, the Elliott Bay marina was built in the accustomed fishing grounds of the Muckleshoot and Suquamish tribes.  When the initial development plans became public, the tribes sued.  Using Boldt as precedent, a US District Court granted a quick preliminary injunction against the marina’s development.

Furious settlement activities followed, and an agreement was reached that allowed the marina’s development to proceed while compensating for the lost fishing.  A percentage of the marina’s gross revenues are now paid directly to the tribes, which by my rough calculations might amount to over a quarter million dollars every year – a bit more than what the court document say was coming in from fishing.  This arrangement will last for 99 years, and everyone seems happy about it, including the salmon.

The marina itself opened in 1991, and it’s reasonably environmentally friendly as marinas go. It doesn’t use creosote pilings, and its rock breakwater channels allow kelp to grow and juvenile salmon to migrate.  If salmon runs are threatened in this area and all around the Puget Sound, it’s probably not because of this marina.  While it may be because of countless shoreline developments just like it, you can’t blame the knife for the thousand cuts.

And if a century later the tribes will be down one more natural resource, well, that’s not a problem for the present.  Maybe investing the money will pay off more than the fishing ever did.

One last detail:  every time a yacht pulls into the Elliott Bay marina, there’s a line item in its mooring charges named the "Indian Surcharge" – called out explicitly out of pique, out of honesty, or perhaps out of legal requirement.  It’s a living tribute to a vivid history that would otherwise have gone completely unnoticed by this storyteller.

Olympic Mountains sunset

The complete Flickr set.

Elliott Bay Park

There are many ways to get to Elliott Bay Park.  My favorite is the Helix Pedestrian Bridge.

Helix Pedestrian Bridge

Helix Pedestrian Bridge

On the other side of the bridge lies Amgen’s Research and Technology Center, next to pleasant Puget Sound vistas.

Amgen amino acid polePuget Sound sunset

Built by Amgen after its acquisition of local Seattle biotech darling Immunex, the Helix Bridge provides safe passage over a highly active train line.

Helix Pedestrian Bridge

Seattle downtown train tracks

The train line is a commercial artery into the heart of Elliott Bay Park:  the massive grain terminal operated by Louis Dreyfus Corp.

Pier 86 Grain Terminal

Located on the Port of Seattle’s Pier 86, the terminal was built in 1970 to efficiently move grain from incoming trains to outgoing ships.  The terminal boasts 68 massive silos, each 130 feet high.

If Terminal 18 is a perpetual motion machine, Pier 86 is a robotized line dance.

Pier 86 grain terminal and trains

BNSF and Union Pacific trains run day and night through this corridor, loaded with soybeans and corn from the American heartland – the Dakotas, Minnesota, Montana and Nebraska.  Some token wheat from Washington and Oregon also passes through Pier 86.

Pier 86 Grain elevator

Most of the grain leaving Seattle will be used as feed for livestock in the far East, with Taiwan, China and Japan as primary destinations.  Central and South America also receive some portion of the grain.

Pier 86 Grain elevator

All told, over 6 million tons of grain move through Pier 86 every year.

Mass Glory loads up on grain

While most of the grain is buffered in the terminal’s 4 million bushels of storage capacity, some is transferred directly from train to ship.  This is apparently preferable, as it allows the grain to be loaded onto the ship in somewhat better condition.  It’s a rough life being a cereal.

Pier 86 grain terminal

The terminal is able to load 3,000 tons of grain per hour into a giant cargo ship.  It is also able to unload trucks at a rate of 250 tons per hour.  This throughput is only possible thanks to the facility being completely automated, with sophisticated mechanical devices and electronic controls.  Who needs humans when you have such infrastructure?

Helix Pedestrian Bridge over train tracks

During the day, the grain terminal is a spectacular sight.  At night, the facility expands and fills all other senses.

Pier 86 grain terminal

Freed from ambient noise, trains click and clack with wild abandon, advancing one car at a time to feed the grain elevator’s endless hunger.  Electric conveyor belts drone and hum.  The enormous ship sloshes and clanks.  In the distance, the city looks on proudly.

Seattle from Pier 86

Grain dust rises from the ships as seeds roll into the ship’s hold. The smell is pervasive and intoxicating. It is earth and sunlight, the deep smell of the harvest, the taste of late summer. It is carbohydrate and omega-6, the deep imbalance of our bodies. It is, above all, commodity.

Pier 86 grain terminal with flour cloud

The flour settles on the bay.  Algae blooms and metabolizes in the shallows, chaining together an entire ecosystem of micro-organisms, fish, and seagulls.  The breadbasket of the world also creates local food chains.

Pier 86 grain terminal

A nearby fishing pier invites the adventuresome, the foolhardy and the merely hungry to taste the results.

Pier 86 fishing pier

While probably not the world’s most unhealthy fish, Elliott Bay’s catch is surely somewhere high on the leaderboards.  This is why catch and release was invented.

The world's best liars

Nearby, the Amgen facility works until late into the light, glowing with science and artificial light.  Biotechnology meets corn.  Reason sleeps and spawns monsters.

Amgen facilities

Elliott Bay Park continues down to Pier 90 and 91, where moorage is provided for commercial workboats and fishing vessels.

Pier 90 lights

This is as far as the Port of Seattle reaches.  It is the end of the port, the northernmost tentacle of the monster.

Farther east, Smith Cove becomes the Elliott Bay Marina, an oasis of liveaboards and recreational vessels.  Children play on the piers and well-tended lawns.  Once again, the humans are unmistakably in control.

Pier 90 lights

The complete Flickr set.

Jack Perry Memorial Shoreline

As night falls you find yourself somewhere along Alaskan Way, near the hulking ghost of the viaduct, writhing along an endless coil of street-level train lines.

A sign calls out to you and you head west through a landscape of parking lots, chain link fences, and buildings designed for bureaucracy. The road ends at a small rocky patch of waterfront at the mouth of the Duwamish East Waterway. It’s the Port of Seattle’s gift to you, a nicely wrapped box of required public shoreline access.

In front of you is Terminal 18, the largest container processing facility this side of Los Angeles. The sprawling scale of the operation evades comprehension.

Jack Perry Memorial Viewpoint

The terminal glows under a canopy of incandescent light. The sky resonates with infrared, but you only see pitch black. The crane stoops like a giant to gather containers. The work of a thousand men, performed in a fraction of a second. What is human here? What is machine?

In the distance you see a homeless man shuffle through bushes. You hear voices mutter on the wind. You consider the risk and realize it belongs to another world. What is human?

You hear the water splash against rotting piers, as the terminal dulls the air with bass and snare drum repartee. Containers rise, swing, and fall, transferring endlessly from ships to shore, shore to ships. The source code of the global economy, actions repeated as instructions, caught in the infinite loop of commerce. Empty or full, copied and pasted, repeat business. German ships with Chinese goods unloading on American shores.

Jack Perry Memorial Viewpoint

You are in someone’s favorite park, a small viewpoint born of unspeakable tragedy and the fortuitous availability of a hundred-and-twenty feet of unpaved shoreline. You are paying tribute to the life of Jack Perry, beloved son and father, someone just like you, someone not even the internet could identify.

The viewpoint is something small, less than promised, an inadequate tribute to a better man. It is also a window into something far greater than photography, than any still image. It is a honeypot for eyes that cannot close. It is an industrial elephant and your camera is blind.

This cannot last, you think. As the night deepens you will eventually tear yourself away and sleep, while the terminal remains standing. It will hum and snarl through the days and nights, a colossal perpetual motion machine bent on forever, until someone finds a way to disconnect it, or until the Earth itself breaks under its feet.

The complete Flickr set.

Terminal 115 Viewpoint

Just north of the barrel pyramids, nestled between W Marginal Way S and the Duwamish, lies a park owned by the Port of Seattle.

You reach it by finding an address on the Port of Seattle’s website, scouring the area for something non-existent, pausing to curse, then using aerial photography to determine the actual location.

For a moment, you wish you hadn’t found it.

Barbed wire around Industrial Fencing Inc.

The viewpoint is located next to a facility whose owners are clearly not fond of visitors.  Depending on which part of the internet you believe, this is either part of the Terminal 115 complex or it belongs to an angry group of divers for hire.

Either way, you wisely decide to stay on the legal side of the fence.

Barbed wire around Industrial Fencing Inc.

Electric lines cross the Duwamish in front of you, taking advantage of what is effectively the most narrow point in the river at this stage in its controlled meandering.

Barbed wire and towerPower tower

This is also where the First Avenue South Bridge crosses the river.  Yet another drawbridge in a city of drawbridges, this one was built in the mid-1950s and has undergone several moments of reconstruction.  At one point in time, it had the honor of having the highest accident rate in the state.

First Avenue South Bridge overpass

So this is Terminal 115 Viewpoint.  Unfortunately, you can’t really see much of Terminal 115, so you can’t reflect on the ways in which the cargo cult has gained acolytes in this day and age.  There’s a river and a bridge.  The river is here because we couldn’t really move it, and the bridge is here because we needed a workaround for the river.

Barbed wire around Industrial Fencing Inc.First Avenue South Bridge overpass

So you walk down the Duwamish shoreline next to the barbed wire and look out across the river. Sunshine makes the day beautiful, and the toxic water is almost inviting. The bridge architecture is not unlike that of prison guard towers you’ve seen in movies, and the aesthetic is gritty and industrial. If Seattle were Berlin, this would have to be part of its Wall.

First Avenue South Bridge overpass

It’s not a place that invites you in. Instead, it begrudgingly admits its status as a viewpoint, unhappily tolerating your presence while wondering why you’re here.  This park is under martial law.

First Avenue South Bridge overpassFirst Avenue South Bridge overpass

The park’s mood changes from hostility to sadness when you see the derelict shack by the river.

Derelict shack at Terminal 115

The weathered boards and sunken floats conjure up images of your grandfather’s Seattle.  A time when men were men, fish didn’t glow in the dark, and nobody needed a “toxic shellfish” sign in Vietnamese to know when them thar mussels weren’t in their prime.

Derelict shack at Terminal 115

The mind’s eye imagines trees growing by the banks of a river, shadowing an old man living in a fishing hut.  The mind’s eye sees salmon navigating unconstrained waters to die in their very own spawning grounds, a cycle of continuous change kept in motion by everlasting stasis.  The minds eye see the cycle broken by a tribe with a different plan in mind, powered by the stored energy of millions of solar cycles.

Sinking barrels

The mind’s eye also sees a more prosaic reality:  a storage shed poorly built allowed to weather the rains and fall into ruin at its own pace, protected by wire from trespassers and adorned by every season’s supply of fresh invasive weeds.

Derelict shack at Terminal 115Derelict shack at Terminal 115

Terminal 115 Viewpoint offers little else to the mere human.

A dusty shoreline littered with plastic garbage.  A bench where the lost, incautious or homeless might rest.  The fulfillment of a rash promise made by industry – to provide the unwashed masses with token ways to dodge the container ships and reach the river’s edge.  A group of sad-looking trees.

And in the distance, the ghost of the Duwamish.

Ghost of the Duwamish

The complete Flickr set.

Barrels on West Marginal Way S

These are barrels.  You see them by the side of the road, as you drive up West Marginal Way S towards the 509 interchange.

West Marginal Way oil barrels

You pull the car over and take a closer look.  It is indeed a pyramid of barrels, protected by chain link and barbed wire.  A mountain of barrels reaching up to the clouds.  They shine in the sun like the golden relics of a forgotten civilization of barrel-based pyramid builders.

West Marginal Way oil barrels

Next to the mountain, another mountain.  This one is made of rainbow colors, ultraviolet red to cobalt blue.

West Marginal Way oil barrels

You wonder what obscure purpose these monuments might serve.  You wonder if every so often somebody requires a colorful barrel and, like a modern day Prometheus, ascends the mountain to steal one from under the watchful eye of the very gods of hydrocarbon containment.

West Marginal Way oil barrels

You wonder who the first pyramid builder was, and why he gave us this Stonehenge of barrels. You wonder whether the edifice is now complete, or whether every so often newly emptied containers are added to the top. Very carefully, of course, so as to avoid disturbing the very foundations of the world. No worse end can you imagine than to die in a barrel avalanche.

You wonder whether the pyramids will endure.  You envision rains falling unopposed for ten thousand years, as invasive blackberry fights the rust, the cockroaches, and the very fading of the sun to claim the soul and minerals of the barrel mountain.

West Marginal Way oil barrels

You wonder if perhaps it might not be storage, but art.

West Marginal Way oil barrels

The complete Flickr set.