Marine Operations and Equipment

Page 3

Waiting in the boat yard would be a switch engine and crew, with the engine coupled to three of the specially built boat flats.

A deckhand would then begin to let off hand-brakes while the bargemen would remove the heavy hawsers from around the couplings on the cars. They would remove all but a single "chock" from under the wheels on each cut of cars. The remaining chock was removed by the engine crew after coupling had been made and the automatic air cut into the string, as all pulling and loading was done with air coupled and operating.

The right or starboard side of the barge was usually pulled first. If the cars were all heavy loads, the cut had to be doubled off. With conventional cars a barge load consisted of 13 cars, five to each side and three in the middle. Four 36 or 40-foot cars could be squeezed on the middle or center track if necessary.

As the cars are pulled off the starboard side, the barge and apron would both rise until by the time the last car of that cut rolled off, the barge would be tilted at a sharp angle, known as a "list." Next the port side would be dragged off and then the center

There was no hurrying in pulling or loading a boat. As each cut was shoved into place, bargemen would chock wheels and the air sprung into emergency and the deckhand would set the handbrakes. The drawbars were then wreathed with hawsers.

To keep the barge secured to the tug took a lot of stout rope. A 12-inch hawser served as the tow line. Then there were two 10-inch stern lines, two 8-inch head lines and one 7-inch preventer line. Eight 12x14-inch timbers ten feet long served as buffers between the tug and barge. These would be worn away in ordinary weather and had to be changed regularly about three times a year.

It wasn’t unusual for the crews to cut the barge loose from the tug when a 50-mile gale howled down. When this was necessary, the barge would drift astern and was then dragged by the single tow line.

Three major railroads served Oakland and San Francisco. In addition to the WP, the AT&SF also had to rely on barges to deliver its loads to San Francisco. The Southern Pacific, however, solved the difficulty by investing $1½ million on a bridge at Dumbarton Point.

Dumbarton Bridge was constructed between 1907 and 1910. It was officially opened to traffic on September 12, 1910. The Dumbarton Cutoff, of which the bridge is a key part, saves time in handling the tremendous volume of freight between the San Francisco peninsula and the East Bay area which is the gateway to the San Joaquin Valley, the East and the North.

The total length of the bridge structure, including steel spans and timber approach trestles, is 7842 feet or about a mile and a half. The west approach timber trestle is 5317 feet long, the east one 1005. The steel portion of the bridge, consisting of through steel riveted truss spans, is all double-tracked. It includes a 310-foot swing span (which provides for two 125-foot clear channel openings for navigation) with three stationary 180-foot spans on each end of the swing span.

All of the spans rest on piers of cylindrical steel shells, which enclose Oregon fir piles surrounded by concrete. The swing span pier, or pivot pier, is 40 feet in diameter. Its shell is 71 feet 5 inches in height, encasing 100 foundation piles; the longest of which extends to a distance of 123 feet below the top of railroad ties supporting track rails. The depth of water below the mean low tide at the pivot pier is 51 feet.

The swing span (center bearing) was erected on its protection work in a position at right angles to the line of the tracks. It was erected complete, ready for riveting in 14-days. The six approach spans were floated into position from falsework at Dumbarton Point. The old steamer thoroughfare, which for many years had been used to ferry freight cars across San Francisco Bay, was cut in two and bulkheaded to make two barges used in floating the spans.

Industries located on the Western Pacific in San Francisco were served direct by way of 25 Street. But WP barges also went to Powell Street where the cars were turned over to the California State Belt Railroad, which handled export and import loads. The Santa Fe also used the Powell Street slip, as well as the Alameda slip. The Alameda Belt Line served Alameda industries, but the WP did a healthy business there also.

When the WP was a young, struggling railroad, only two switch engines were worked in Oakland and none in San Francisco. During those days one of the Oakland engines would gather up a few cars destined for the city and after loading them onto the barge, would ease herself onto it and be floated across the Bay. In San Francisco she would proceed to unload herself, plus the cars, do necessary switching there, and after gathering up more loads, repeat the performance.

Rebuilding the freight ferry slip in 1960.

Uneconomical to maintain, in need of extensive repairs, and unable to raise or lower the apron sufficiently during high and low tides to allow loading and unloading of Las Plumas the old wooden gallows at WP’s 25th street ramp was totally rebuilt beginning February 29, 1960. After removing the old structure eight new 80 foot long pre-stressed concrete piles were driven between the old wooden pilings to support the concrete platforms which would support the new gallows frame and 110 ton counterweights rest. The latest type electric operating mechanism for raising and lowering the apron, a new gallows frame and second-hand trusses to support the new timber deck were all built of steel. Measuring 101 feet in length and 24 feet wide three tracks crossed over the 220-ton apron with the gallows frame rising 32½ feet above the platforms at the outer end.

Designed by WP’s engineering department the frame and hoist assembly were manufactured by Moore Dry Dock Co. who also made the necessary modifications to the trusses supporting the deck with installation work completed by Kelly Bros. a sub-contractor. With the exception of driving the piles all other work was performed by WP crews with the $250,000.00 job completed on March 11. Concurrent with the remodeling of the ramp WP installed 45 new pre-stressed concrete ties for test purposes. Measuring 8’ 6” in length the width varied to a maximum of 12” across the bottom. Tar was coated on the ends of the ties in an effort to prevent the ends of the pre-stressed steel strands from rusting. Spacing of the concrete ties varied up to a maximum of 30” center to center. Three different types of rail fastening devices were installed on different ties, a machine bolt inserted through the tie from the bottom, a lag screw in a wooden plug inset, and the last with a standard type threaded concrete insert. In order to provide proper cant to the rail when mounted the ties had a built in cant of 1:40 from each end towards the center. This location was chosen as a suitable test site due to the heavy and frequent loads as well as proximity to the offices of the WP engineers.

Railroad run passenger ferry service came to an end on July 28, 1958. An unfamiliar silence fell over the bay as the whistles of the passenger ferries fell silent. No longer would the squat old ferries, paddlewheel or propeller driven, transport passengers across the bay on regular 20 minute schedules. Ending an era which peaked in 1930 with over 40 million riders traveling on more than forty ferries Southern Pacific ceased its ferry operations citing high costs and maintenance combined with a lack of use by commuters. With the California Zephyr departing from Southern Pacific’s Oakland Pier passengers had used the ferries as a means of crossing the bay from San Francisco to Oakland. Western Pacific would now make use of up to four Greyhound buses for the 25-minute trip from the city. Western Pacific’s use of passenger carrying ferryboats had ended in 1933 with the sale of the Feather River to Southern Pacific.

Artists drawing of Las Plumas.

Seeking to replace the two steam powered tugs Humaconna and Hercules as well as the three barges currently in use on San Francisco Bay a five year study as to feasibility was begun by the railroad. With the current marine equipment nearing the end of its physical life extensive and costly repairs would be required to keep the marine equipment in operation. Studies by the firm of Pillsbury & Martignoni indicated a single large self-propelled ferry could assume and maintain current and future operational needs when the research project was completed in December 1955. The new vessel, to be named the Feather River gained Board of Director approval in early 1956. Designed by San Francisco naval architect L. C. Norgaard cost of construction was estimated at $1,060,000.00.

Under AFE 71-56 the specifications were: Length Over-all 375’0”; Length Between Perpendiculars 370’0”; Breadth Moulded 59’0”; Depth Moulded, (B.L. to Main Deck) 16’0”; Car Capacity (70 ton cars) 27; Fuel Capacity gal 42,000;
Fresh water capacity – gal 1,500; Total Brake Horsepower 2,100; Draft, Light 6’6”; Draft, Loaded 10’6”; Displacement – light 1,500 tons; Displacement – loaded 3,560 tons.

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