Ferry Boats

Ferry Boats (HM1E85)

Location: San Francisco, CA 94105 San Francisco County
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Country: United States of America
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N 37° 47.884', W 122° 23.778'

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The marker is primarily composted of photographs and illustrations and the captions that accompany them. Photographs or illustrations are sequentially numbered from the top. Photographs may be enlarged by clicking on the maker images.

In the beginning there was Kangaroo, so named because "weather permitting,: the bulky little ferryboat made her twice weekly trips to Oakland in "short hops." From 1850 to 1853, Captain John T. Fouratt fired up her steam engine that turned her propeller all the way from the city to the Oakland estuary. At $1 a person, $3 a horse, $3 a wagon, $3 a cow, $1 a hog, and 50? for a hundred pounds of freight, Kangaroo was considered a bargain, if not much to look at.
Like cable cars and steam beer, ferryboats became a cherished San Francisco tradition. Their passengers - fierce advocates - as well they should be.

Illustration 1
"Ferryboats were close to the foaming heart of the matter - something to love" - Herb Caen, January 5, 1964, San Francisco Chronicle. Drawing by Gordon Grant.

Photograph 2
"During the century of ferryboats, the San Franciscan was very much a part of his watery heritage. Blast of whistle and slap of paddlewheel, sunlight dappling the swells, the breathless excitement of crossing in heavy fog... these were all his for only a few pennies... The bay became your personal world. You knew ?Pegleg Pete,' the one-legged seagull. You applauded ?the Caruso of the Ferries,' the boatman who sang operatic arias while he worked... Ferryboats were filled with the dignity of the era and the excitement of approaching the city on its own terms." - Herb Caen, January 5, 1964, San Francisco Chronicle
When Herb Caen wrote this, Marin ferryboats had been gone from San Francisco Bay for 24 years, it would be 1970 before ferryboats for commuters returned.

Photograph 3
Sausalito II never lost a race, cutting her way through fast tidal currents from the Golden Gate to San Francisco. Naval architect John W. Dickie built her entirely of wood in his Alameda yard in 1894; on her 1896 trial run she left the fast Tiburon far behind. Her vertical 12-foot-tall walking beam engine operated her side paddlewheels with a 1400 horsepower drive. The pilot houses at either end meant she has no need to turn around but could slide right in or out of the Ferry Building slip used by the Northwest Pacific Railroad. Marin passengers from Mill Valley, Fairfax, and San Rafael arrived by train at her Sausalito dock and stepped on board for a 20 to 25-minute ride to the Ferry Building. In 1921 six dollars bought a monthly pass that covered twice-daily rides by train and boat door-to-door.

Photograph 4
Only 27 minutes to cross the bay: never an empty counter seat. Sample menu from Eureka, January 18, 1938, revealed the Great Depression: Roast Beef Jardiniere (40?); Boiled Brisket of Beef with Spanish Sauce (45?); Home-made Corned Beef Hash (30?); Baked Pork and Beans (25?). And if time allowed: Sliced Hawaiian Pineapple (15?); Preserved Figs (10); or Assorted Pies, per cut (10?). You could wash this down with Eastern Beer at 10? or Western Beer at 5?. Thrown in a Free Lunch at a waterfront bar for 10? outlay for beer, and a commuter could eat for a dollar a day.

Photograph 5
San Leandro May 25, 1940, opens the fair... stretched beyond her 3500 capacity on opening day of the second year of San Francisco's Treasure Island Exposition. For one dime (exact change) each way you waited in line for an hour to be sure of a place on the 8 a.m. ferry to the fair. At Treasure Island you marveled at Stackpole's colossal 80-foot Pacifica statue, photographed your friends at Tower of the Sun, and gawked at Sally Rand's Nude Ranch. You arrived on and departed on water. Most east bay ferries had stopped in January 1939, replaced by Red Trains crossing the Bay Bridge. Leased to the Treasure Island Exposition, San Leandro reminded nostalgic passengers of the quality of life they had traded for the Bay Bridge commute.

Photograph 6
It's a sad story, mates, they day my days are numbered
Soon I shall go across the ridge!
But that don't worry me, by fear I'm not encumbered
For we'll all be dead before there'll be a bridge.

Written in 1921, by an anonymous Southern Pacific Ferryboat Captain, veteran of 36 years of bay service.

Right side of the pylon
Where did the ferryboats travel on San Francisco Bay?

Ferryboats went from every major bay port to San Francisco, and in between. The longest ride was 30 miles from the Ferry Building to Vallejo, on the fast moving Monticello Line ferryboats - built like powerful yachts, the Arrow, the Sehome and the General Frisbee made the trip in one hour and 45 minutes. The shortest ride was the Six-Minute Ferry from Morrow Cove in Vallejo to Crockett, across the Carquinez Straits. From Oakland to the Ferry Building took 18 minutes.

Map of San Francisco Bay ferry routes

The handsome map above was put out in 1927 by the Golden Gate Auto Ferries, that left from San Francisco's Hyde Street Pier, with routes to Berkeley, Sausalito, and Sears Point Cut Off, connecting by highway and auto stage to Petaluma, Sonoma, and Santa Rosa. By 1930 Pacific Golden Gate Ferries had 27 automobile ferries carrying boats on seven different routes. Motorcars lined up for blocks to wait their turn for auto ferries, which tried to follow published departures, but actually left when deckhands could not squeeze another car on board.

Illustration of the Sausalito

Northwestern-Pacific Ferryboat Sausalito that rammed and sank the San Rafael in 1901

One foggy November night in 1901, San Raphael was creeping along near Alcatraz, blasting her whistle continuously, when out of the fog the giant ferryboat Sausalito loomed up. Both captains backed furiously, as steel, wood and glass crunched - the bow of the 1766-ton Sausalito rammed the 692-ton San Raphael and punched a hole in her dining salon. Miss Fannie Shooberts, recalled, "I did not think it serious until a crazed deckhand yelled for everyone to go below. Life preservers were placed around us. Mr. Breedly, an excellent swimmer, jumped in the water, calling upon us to do the same. With no hesitation Olive and I followed. I remember trying to make a graceful dive, but I had placed my purse in the bosom of my dress and did not even remove my boa." Injured passenger, James McCue was in the dining salon, "If I had been in the bar where I belonged I wouldn't have lost my ear." From Ferry Tales, November 1978.

Illustration of the Vallejo. Sketch by Phil Frank appears in Old Sausalito Ferryboats

What happened to old ferryboats

The Mare Island Ferry Company built the 414-ton side-wheel Vallejo in 1879 for the short but important run from Mare Island Naval Yard to Vallejo. About one hundred years later Phil Frank sketched her resting on the mud near Waldo Point in Sausalito. Still flying her flags, Vallejo had come to her end as a boat to become an artist's live-in studio on Sausalito's waterfront, as did the auto-ferry Charles Van Damme, and the ferry San Raphel. Artist, writes, boat lovers, and others who did not lead conventional lives, sometimes preferred old wooden things with a history, to newer things that looked alike.

Illustration of the Berkeley

Berkeley, famous for her elaborate interior fittings, would up a floating gift ship in Sausalito from 1960 to 1973, when Jack Lucey drew her in place. Sold to the San Diego Maritime Museum, Berkeley remains a prize; her laminated teak seats, stained glass clerestory windows, and powerful steam driven engine are preserved as a San Diego museum ship and National Register property.

Left side of the pylon

Master Building & Working Drawings

John W. Dickie, Naval Architect, arrived in San Francisco with his brother James in 1871, and brought with them Scotland's long tradition of classic shipbuilding. They began building wooden boats at Hunters Point, and their brother George W. Dickie joined the Risdon Iron Works, later becoming Superintendent of the Union Iron Works in the Potrero to produce steel ships. Most local boatyards were run by the Chief Carpenter who took chalk and drew a sketch on a board, but the Dickie brothers submitted naval architect drawings for their client's approval, working directly from them in their yards. The Dickie brother's drawings and those of the Union Iron Works are part of San Francisco's National Maritime Historic Documents Division of the Library and are shown here with their permission.

Drawing of the Cazadero

Double-ended sidewheeler Cazadero was built in 1903 by John W. Dickie for the North Shore Railroad. 256 feet long, with a vertical walking-beam engine made by Risdon Iron Works, the Cazadero's 26-foot paddle wheels made a speedy 24 revolutions a minute giving her a speed of 14 knots, going from Sausalito to San Francisco in 30 minutes. It was said that Northwestern Pacific Ferryboat captains were fined $10 if caught racing another ferryboat, $20 if they lost the race.

Drawing of the San Pedro

Steel-hulled San Pedro, built in 1911 by Bethlehem Steel Company's Union Yard in San Francisco for the Santa Fe, which leased her to the Key System to operate to Treasure Island, 1939-1940.
"Graybeards generally agree that the best ferry food was on the Key System boats. Since the Key System Ferry from Oakland to San Francisco only took 18 minutes waiters had to be prompt and passengers had to chew quickly. The most popular Key System dish was corned beef hash concocted from a secret recipe and served on genuine china service with a cup of coffee brewed from a special blend. A total of 121, 162 orders were consumed in 1924. Some Key System ferries had electric toasters that could toast 12 slices of bread at once. Commuters considered that to be the culinary and electrical wonder of the age." -Harre W. Demoro, San Francisco Chronicle

Drawing of the Eureka

Eureka was built as Ukiah in 1890, with a three-story-tall walking-beam engine, she measured six inches short of a football field, and became the largest wooden ferryboat afloat in the world. From 1922 to 1941 she carried an average per trip of 2,200 passengers from Sausalito to the Ferry Building in 26 minutes. Clyde Rice, worked his way up from deckhand to second mate, wrote: "The deck-hands cast off the lines. Sea gulls on the pilings winced at the whistle's blast. Great paddle wheels began chopping the water to a froth and out of the slip moved the Eureka, biggest ferry on the bay... Eureka's big engine turned a huge double crank and, by means of this, her paddle wheels. The sound and visual movement of this simple, massive mechanism was a rich knowledge to each man among the commuters. They knew, deep down and bone-satisfying, how and why they got to Fisco." - A Heaven in the Eye, 1984

Eureka is afloat at San Francisco's National Maritime Historical Park.

Embedded around the base
Ferryboat passengers knew by the horns how thick the fog, by the cant of the boat how rough the bay, by the rings on the pitches how old the cream. - Earle Ennis, "Ferry Tales" San Francisco Chronicle, 1935
HM NumberHM1E85
Placed BySan Francisco Art Commission for the Waterfront Transportation Projects
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Thursday, September 18th, 2014 at 12:11am PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)10S E 553148 N 4183582
Decimal Degrees37.79806667, -122.39630000
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 37° 47.884', W 122° 23.778'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds37° 47' 53.04" N, 122° 23' 46.68" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)415, 510, 650, 310
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 5473 San Francisco Bay Trail, San Francisco CA 94105, US
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