November 10, 2016   Joe Cline

Hewitt Jackson helming the “Valiant” with Mr. Sherman of the Dirigo Compass Factory sitting next to him, 1938.

From the December 2003 issue of 48° North by Hewitt R. Jackson

It was my good fortune to find a pleasant and well-located place on Meydenbauer Bay, close to downtown Bellevue. The old ferry dock and a substantial wharf were right in my front yard, and the winter quarters for the American Pacific Whaling fleet were just a lot away to the north. The protected and secluded inner bay was a favored destination for yachtsmen and other maritime wanderers. With a fine boat to work on and opportunities for sailing, settling down would not be difficult.

Now, having established a shop and having met an occasional payroll, I was part of the community. A variety of interesting and challenging work migrated in the shop door and everything seemed to progress in an orderly and profitable way. Most of the first year, 1938, seemed normal enough, but conditions began to change in a disturbing way.

One did not have to look far. Boeing was building bombers for Britain. The “draft” was instituted and the first of the boys were called up, and Mr. Sherman, up on the hill above me, was manufacturing compasses and binnacles for the Royal Navy. I was finding copper, brass and other select material in short supply. Governmentally imposed “priorities” meant that only manufacturers in “essential” work could readily get materials. My shop had problems and with supplies unavailable and labor scarce it was time to consider another change, and events in a warring world precipitated it promptly.

It was simple enough – I just went up the hill to the compass factory. Mr. Sherman and I discussed it thoroughly, considered the fact that enlistment in both the Coast Guard and Marines had been denied, decided that a permanent position would be in order since I had the skills and abilities that were sorely needed. In addition to this there would be work to be done on the Valiant and that I would skipper the yawl for occasions and charters as they came up. It seems that a permanent berth in one of the most interesting and vital of the maritime industries, well established, and above all else, small enough to have the charm and attractiveness of a transitional craft shop.

At the time Bellevue was essentially rural and agricultural. Industry was most conspicuously represented by the American Pacific Whaling fleet, which wintered there, but provided little in the way of local employment. The Dirigo Compass factory was tucked away in the woods above the bay, but very few residents were aware of its existence. Dirigo, in Latin meaning “I Guide” or “I Direct”, is the trade name of the Dirigo Compass Company, which has been established in the Seattle, Washington area continuously since 1907.  Except for the school district, it was about the largest employer in town.

The first floating bridge was under construction and attack – the Seattle Times pontifically proclaiming that it would sink in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. The Strawberry Festival was the highlight of the summer season and everyone in the village was involved. It was reported that some 15,000 had come by ferry or had driven around the Lake.

We did not appreciate how good the situation was and worked diligently for growth and progress. We never expected what was going to descend upon us.