The surprise pre-Thanksgiving yanking of the last two of the old "Steel Electric" boats in the Washington ferry system – the Klickitat and the Illahee – might mean the end for some venerable old friends. The aging ferries have deteriorating hulls. Earlier this fall, the two others in the fleet, the Nisqually and the Quinault – were pulled from service due to corrosion bad enough that the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, critical of the ferry system's slowness to replace the vessels, dubbed the ferries "Washington state's Titanic". The ferries were built in the late 1920s and early 1930s for use in the San Francisco Bay Area. Ten years later, they were moved to Puget Sound and renamed. They have been in almost constant service since. They have been particularly valuable on the Port Townsend-Keystone ferry route because the newer, beefier ferries aren't small or nimble enough for that run, which connects the Olympic Peninsula with Whidbey Island. Since there are no other ferries that can handle it, service there has been suspended. There is some hope for the boats. Experts seem to think the Nisqually is beyond repair but the other three could be refitted with new hulls, says an expert hired by the state. That could be cheaper than ordering new boats, but some are skeptical and believe they could wind up being expensive money pits. It is hard for locals who use the ferries regularly not to develop sentimental attachments. The Klickitat was a regular on the San Juan Islands run when I was a kid, with the Nisqually filling in sometimes. I loved the Klickitat because it had an outdoor deck and you could make a circuit around the entire boat, unlike the other two San Juan mainstays of that era, the Vashon and the Evergreen State. Its deck has continued to serve that purpose for passengers who want salt air and exercise: A couple of years ago on the Keystone run, I ran into (almost literally) former Seattle Police chief Norm Stamper while he was doing laps around the Klickitat. These ferries often meet sad ends once retired. The unique Kalakala needs restoration and should be a permanent fixture on Seattle's waterfront. Instead, it's a kind of wandering white elephant. The old Vashon, the last wood-hulled boat in the system, wound up a beached wreck up in Alaska. The Vashon was the pokey, chugging, sloooow member of the San Juans fleet memorable in my youth for its wonderful on-board diner, where cooks served made-to-order hash-house breakfasts and hot butterhorns to early morning passengers. I hope the retrofit option is workable for the Steel Electrics. Failing that, let's hope any new boats ordered up are crafted with some real character – something better than the kind of plastic and naugahyde look that has been all to prevalent in recent decades.