by Kirby Lindsay
This column originally appeared on 28 July 1999 in The Seattle Press.
In ‘You Are First,’ Francis S. Kinney wrote, “It was at dawn… in July, 1943, when allied forces began to land on Sicily. That same night the weather turned ugly and a vicious surf built up, pounding the beaches, capsizing and wrecking landing craft, threatening to cut off Allied troops without food, ammunition, reinforcements, or supplies. Then through the darkness, like an answer to a prayer, came a strange fleet of unique amphibious craft. They were the secret DUKW’s, the ‘trucks that go to sea.’ … For sixty crucial hours through that pounding, crashing surf they brought ashore nearly 90 percent of all cargo, directly from the transports, over the treacherous sand, and on the beach roads to the front lines.”
And now these DUKW’s, or ‘Ducks’, drive onto the shores of Fremont bringing fun and frivolity – and history – to dozens of passengers.
Take A Tour By Land & Sea
Ride The Ducks tours began in 1998 when Tom Ismon, a North Seattle native and entrepreneur, decided, “I had retired and was bored, and wanted to do something fun.” Now Ismon and his business partner, Brian Tracy, former host of Evening Magazine, show people around town and the Center of the Universe.
Actual, licensed Sea Captains drive the Ducks on the obligatory pass by Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square – as well as doing a hilarious skit at Safeco Field, which still has my nephew, Kurt, talking. With the non-Fremont part of the tour over, the Ducks are ready to go on to Lake Union, literally.
The Duck enters the water at the only public boat launch on the lake. Buddy, a dog that spends his day’s partially submerged in Lake Union, guards the dock and barks frantically as the Duck slides smoothly into the water. A surprisingly lengthy tour of the lake shows an unusual side of Seattle to visitors. My first Duck tour was taken with my friend from Mexico, Alfredo Mendoza, and he became fascinated with the ferry Kalakala as we viewed it from the Duck.
When the Duck climbs out of Lake Union, Wacky Quackers are handed out. These yellow plastic duckbills make a distinctive noise as the huge, bus-like vehicle waddles along the streets of Fremont. My niece, Amina, took the tour with me, my second time, because she wanted her own Wacky Quacker. (I wouldn’t share mine.)
Even in Fremont, though, there is a “Quack Free Zone”. In the residential area around the Fremont Troll passengers are asked not to quack so as not to disturb neighbors. Quackers are specifically distributed in the Center of the Universe although Tom was “afraid we were going to be too annoying for Fremont.” Is there such a thing?
Take A ‘Duck’ And See…
Tom and Brian continually consider their impact on the area. Brian explained they are “about having fun AND building relationships within the community.” Tom works with many area groups arranging tours, including an exciting project to develop a specifically historic tour for school children next year.
“We are here forever,” Brian explained. This isn’t a whimsical lark. The owners are investing a lot of money and energy in the Ducks. Besides getting all the permits, insurance and safety equipment necessary to assure their future, the vehicles are checked out by the Coast Guard who have said the Ride The Ducks vehicles are the safest in the country. Tom and Brian require the DUKW’s to receive a maintenance check every day. Behind the fun, there is a serious business being built here.
That could be said about many Fremont businesses. In fact, Ride The Ducks has quickly found a place in this neighborhood. Their motto, “We have no spectators on board, only participants.” coincidentally echoes that of the Fremont Arts Council Solstice Parade. When the Duck goes by Westlake Center, ‘Disco Duck’ is played, sung by Donald, of course, over speakers and participants are encouraged to wave and quack at pedestrians on the streets. What could be more Fremont than to make a public spectacle of yourself?
If you are interested in taking a playful spin on the Duck, you can call 441-DUCK or go to the ticket booth near the Seattle Center. Remember to tell them you want to go to Fremont!
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- by Kirby Lindsay, June 6, 2012
©2012 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.