History – Thomas Family

William W. Thomas Jr. by Lynne Sterling

It was the biggest shark anyone remembered being caught. His grandfather William H. Thomas hooked it right offshore at the end of the Toandos Peninsula in Coyle. “That six gill shark drug him clear over to Brinnon in front of the rendering station and when it was landed it measured 17 feet,” Bill recalls.

In the days of the early 1930’s and 1940’s it was subsistence living in the Coyle and many earned a part of their living by running ‘long lines’ to catch dogfish, a species of shark, for their livers. The fish were delivered to the rendering plant in Brinnon where the fish livers were rendered down for the oil to produce vitamin A, which was highly sought after worldwide. A lot of us kids ran the ‘long lines’ and we would get 25 cents a pound catching them off Harry Eaton’s dock. Then the market dropped off when synthetic vitamin A was developed.

Having been born in Spokane where his father was a teacher, as a kid Bill Jr. remembers spending his summers with his family on his grandfather’s place in the Coyle. His grandfather William H. Thomas had visited the area in 1917 and purchased his 20 acres around 1927. His uncles moved out here in 1940.

Most every family then supported themselves by working in the fishing industry and farming. There was no power and you lived by what you could create yourself. Traveling to the Coyle was mainly by boat and Bill remembers his father telling him the road to Coyle established around 1927 was very primitive. ” It was dirt and kinda went around big trees and the ruts were so deep you didn’t have to steer.” The road went up to the Center Valley Store where you could purchase foodstuffs and it also ran down into Quilcene. There was an access road cut down to the South Point Road where you could catch the ferry.

The other way was to row to Seabeck for what you needed, however most food was home grown and fish and shellfish was readily available. In one event Bill tells, a killer whale had run aground and in the process of roping it, Bill’s grandfather broke his arm and his father, then just a kid, had to row him to Seabeck where he was transferred to Seattle in order to set his arm. He lost the whale.

Still the family did not live in the Coyle full time. It wasn’t until 1979 that Bill Jr. and his wife and 3 daughters moved permanently to the small cabin he and his father had built when he was child.

Shortly after they moved over in February 1979, the Hood Canal Bridge, which had been built in 1961, went down in a storm and he had to commute by barge to Lynnwood where he worked as a firefighter. Over the years Bill has built and expanded his home from the logs on the family homestead.