The Old Boat

It spans 80 feet from bow to stern, though its structure has begun to crumble in recent years. The windows are busted out of it, with sections overgrown with moss. At some point the propellers disappeared, too.

“The whole stern is falling off,” Stephanie LeProwse, the daughter of Thillman “Til” Wallace, said.

In 2016, the Chacon was listed as one of the “Top Most Endangered Historic Properties” according to the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation. Photo credit: Abigail Slater

Wallace, the boat’s last owner during its sailing years, turned the Chacon into his passion project until it eventually deteriorated. Even so, it stands proud on the side of the Old Glenn Highway, its flags and décor as prominent as ever.

In 2016, the Chacon was listed on the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation’s “Ten Most Endangered Historic Properties” list, alongside well-known locations such as the Fourth Avenue Theatre in downtown Anchorage and the Buckner building in Whittier, Alaska.

The Chacon (“shack on”), was completed by the Johnson Brothers and Blanchard in Seattle in 1912, the same year that the Titanic sank. Originally designed for the Fidalgo Island Packing Co., it departed Seattle’s ports and made the trip up to Ketchikan, where it operated as a trap fishing and tender boat over the years. LeProwse says that the name comes from Cape Chacon, Alaska, near Wrangell.

The Chacon operated faithfully for the Fidalgo Island Packing Co., but it also participated in some shining moments of Alaskan history. In 1930, it was featured in the Port Graham Independence Day Parade in Seldovia, Alaska. In 1964, the Chacon assisted with the evacuation of Kodiak after the infamous ’64 earthquake and its devastating aftermath.

The Chacon was built in 1912, and went out of service in 1978. The boat has been dry-docked in Chugiak, and can be seen sitting along the Old Glenn Highway. Photo credit: Abigail Slater

In 1978, the Chacon went out of service, 66 years after its maiden voyage. It transferred between the hands of several men after this, the recreational boat of a half dozen Alaskan families before it became property of Clem Tillion.

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Then, another wave of misfortune; according to LeProwse, the rumor was that it had “hit an iceberg in Yakutat somewhere and was brought to Homer.”

It was here that Wallace, a young aspiring boat collector at the time, discovered the Chacon. It had been beached there for years, with parts of it in grave disrepair. Wallace would go on to collect other boats, including one previously owned by Howard Hughes. But in spite of its lack of prestige, the Chacon was special.

“The reason my father took on the monumental task of salvaging the Chacon was not for the love of boats but for the challenge,” LeProwse, who inherited the boat from Wallace, said. “He lived his life like that. Always looking for a new one.”

In the preface of his book “A Monkey’s Tale,” Wallace writes about his many travels to and from Alaska, including some of the challenges that LeProwse mentioned.

It took many long hours of labor that would eventually get the Chacon back up and running in 1983. During this time, it called Anchorage its home. LeProwse remembers watching her father row out each day in a small boat to the Chacon, which was too big to be anchored near shore.

With the state’s economic crash in the late 80’s, the money dried up and Wallace could no longer maintain the boat. He dry-docked it in Chugiak, where it remains to this day.

Mikhail Siskoff, a board member for the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation, recalls seeing the boat in its current spot often as a kid. He even helped create a Wikipedia page for the boat.

“Thillman Wallace was a local business owner, he owned Klondike Concrete. He had big dreams but not enough time,” Siskoff said.

In the end, the Chacon might never be more than an old memory. As of now, its future remains unclear. It can be seen sitting along the Old Glenn Highway in Chugiak, AK.