Bob Pickrell: A ferry-riding storyteller

Bob Pickrell moved to Alaska before a few years before the ferry system started up. He was one of the passengers on the 50th anniversary voyage of the Malaspina. Photo by 360 North.


Bob Pickrell moved to Ketchikan a few years before the ferry system started up.

But once it began, it became a part of his life, as a writer, newspaperman, timber advocate and political leader.

He remembers what travel was like before the ferries arrived.

“The only mode of transportation into Ketchikan was landing on Annette Island, which is 25 miles away on an Indian reservation, getting into either a Grumman Goose or a PBY, to fly over and land on the water in Ketchikan, which scared the heck out of a lot of people when they saw the water cascading beside their window,” he says.

The Ketchikan resident was interviewed by 360 North TV during the Malaspina’s 50th anniversary sailing.

Pickrell was a leader in Wally Hickel’s 1990 campaign for governor.

He remembers being among those chartering the ferry Columbia so he could bring supporters to the inaugural ball in Juneau.

“We lined up about 200 people in Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg and the boat was ours for four days. We took off with the big band, this was the big jazz band, Glenn Miller-type music, traveling up with us at the inaugural ball.”

Pickrell says it was a comfortable arrangement, until it came time for the formal celebration.

“We moored at the dock and the boat went up and down but the dock didn’t. So just about the time we were supposed to go to the inaugural ball, if you weren’t aboard ship, forget it because you couldn’t get back … by reasons of tide,” he says.

“So, our tuxes and everything remained on board. And we red-rubber-booted to the inaugural ball. And in Alaska nobody cares.”

Pickrell, now 83, ran a monthly regional newspaper with a section called “Ferry Tales.” One of his favorites came from a purser – he can’t remember the ship – watching a passenger behaving oddly.

“It was a particularly hot day and these ships are warm. The purser was watching this guy with a black garbage bag. He was near the doorway and he’d watch this guy run outside and then he’d run back inside. And then a little while later he’d run outside again with this black garbage sack and he’d run back in. (The purser) finally figured out he was filling it up with air, trying to make his stateroom cooler — and that’s a true story,” he says.

Bob Pickrellc is a retired Ketchikan newspaperman, timber advocate and political leader. He spoke with Kelli Burkinshaw of 360 north on board the 50th anniversary sailing of the Malaspina.

Hear more interviews:

John Kanarr: Three decades on the ferry.