Marine Operations and Equipment

Page 4

Direct diesel propulsion was through three main 84-inch propellers at the stern with each of the direct reversible engines delivering 700 horsepower providing a speed of 10 knots when loaded.

In barge form the hull with tapered ends fore and aft was of all welded construction, framed longitudinally similar to how a tanker is constructed and divided by eight watertight bulkheads and five of non-watertight design. Contour of the bow was designed to fit existing slips in San Francisco Bay and a propeller was housed within the hull and positioned to give thrust at right angles for quick maneuverability of the vessel. Propulsion for this bow propeller came via right angle gears powered by a 200 horsepower diesel engine mounted within the hull.

Las Plumas control bridge.

Rising 38 feet above the deck was the control bridge and day use crew’s quarters in a single span structure located amidships and over the four-track deck. Fully equipped with telegraph, radios, and radar this bridge afforded excellent visibility for the crew to either end of the car ferry. Steering of the vessel was through hydraulically controlled rudders at the stern. Located within a control room placed approximately in the center of the engine room the engineer viewed the rest of the room through large glass windows. Fuel delivery for the engines was novel in that it would be from tank cars rolled on deck with the contents gravity fed into the ships four 9,630 gallon tanks through strategically placed man holes.

Late in 1956 final financial arrangements for construction of the new $1,300,000.00 self-powered car ferry were approved. Albina Engine and Machine Works of Portland, Oregon being the low bidder received the order for construction using design number 303 WP dated September 25, 1956. Laying of the keel took place on January 15, 1957 with delivery of the ferry scheduled for August 1, 1957. Construction was proceeding right on schedule later in the month with the engine room hull section nearing completion. Work at the ship building plant progressed rapidly and launching of the new ferry was now tentatively scheduled for June 27 with trail runs on San Francisco Bay beginning July 24 and the start of revenue service on August 1. This schedule would prove to be just that, tentative.

Las Plumas christening.

In ceremonies held June 28, 1957 at the ship builders’ facilities in Portland, Oregon Western Pacific’s newest addition to the Marine Division, train car ferry Las Plumas was christened by Mrs. Frederick B. Whitman with a bottle of California champagne. Originally to be named Feather River the name was changed to Las Plumas, meaning “The Feathers” after another craft registered under that name. Witnessed by Western Pacific President Whitman and other WP officers, officials from the Albina Engine and Machinery Works, members of the press, and invited guests the traditional bottle of California champagne shattered against her steel bow. Believed to be the only train ferry to operate in the Pacific Ocean following two days of trials she left a rainy Portland via the Columbia River on July 7th headed for the ocean and San Francisco Bay.

Officially arriving in San Francisco Bay at noon on July 11, 1957 a royal welcome greeted Western Pacific’s new diesel powered train ferry. Under her own power arrival had actually been twelve hours earlier having maintained faster speeds than anticipated with the officers and crew and living in dining and sleeping cars secured to the deck during the trip. Working in the dining car during the voyage cooks James Douglas and Leroy Taylor with waiters Al Green, Lovelder Draper and Pete Bellamy gave progress reports to anxious WP officials over a radiotelephone. Passing under the Golden Gate Bridge at 11:40 pm July 10 the anchor was dropped just off the Marina shore. After weighing anchor and moving just inside the Golden Gate she was greeted the following morning by fireboats spraying water streams, and the “Golden Fleet” of Bay pleasure boats Las Plumas made her official entrance into the bay. Amid whistle blasts from other ships in the harbor, Belt Railroad locomotives and other fanfare she docked at pier 18 right on time by acknowledging the 12 o-clock siren of the Ferry Building with three long whistle blasts of her own.

Aboard Humaconna whose job would soon end, members of the local press including photographers and reporters, were the first to view Las Plumas at San Francisco after going out to greet her. After the ferry had been secured to the pier, inspection and interviews of the crew, WP officials and the railroad cooks and porters that had accompanied her down from Portland followed.

Regular 24-hour service using Las Plumas began at 7:30 am on July 29, 1957 with three seven-person crews: Captain, Mate, three Deckhands, Chief Engineer or assistant, and Oiler working on an 8-hour shift rotation. A Watchman was also assigned to each crew to protect during periods the vessel was not operating. Steam tug Hercules would remain in standby service with barge 3 until September 1961. She was sold to Thomas & Brown Shipbuilders, Inc. when maintenance strictly for standby service becoming too excessive. Barges 1 & 2 had been sold in June and September of 1957 and the Humaconna had departed under her own power on July 9, 1958 after sale to the East Bay Dredging Co.

In an October 23, 1957 letter to Captain O. J. Williams of the British Columbia Coast Steamship Service, Canadian Pacific Railway Company, Vice President Harry C. Munson had the following to convey concerning the Las Plumas.

Las Plumas engineroom.

Main propulsion is provided by three direct reversible Enterprise model DMG-38 diesel engines each rated 700 brake horsepower at 300 revolutions per minute direct connected to three 84” screws, giving a mean speed of 12 knots. Also the bow is fitted with a Murray & Tregurth “Harbormaster” propulsion unit driven by a 220 brake horsepower GMC 6-110 diesel engine. The screw of this unit can be swung in a 360-degree arc for controlling the bow. It is started, stopped and controlled from the pilothouse.

Rated capacity is 27 cars carried on 4 tracks. Service capacity has proven to be about 22 or 23 cars “as they run” although we have loaded as many as 32 tank cars which, of course are shorter than normal.

As in 1939, with the sinking of the Virgil G. Bogue, fog would again play a part in an accident involving WP’s navy. A thick persistent fog hovered at ground level over much of California on December 7, 1962. In the Bay Area, the fog caused a minor ship collision at 3:44 a.m. Involved in the Estuary collision were the 9,981-ton Matson C-4 cargo ship S.S. Hawaiian with 56 persons aboard and Western Pacific's car ferry Las Plumas, a 2,225-ton craft. The Matson ship sustained little damage, but the ferry, only five years old and costing $1.3 million had a 25-foot buckle on the starboard side and limped into its berth at Oakland. No injuries were reported on either vessel.

The Hawaiian was carrying sugar from the islands to near-by Crockett but anchored at Oakland as a precautionary measure. A Western Pacific spokesman estimated damage to the ferry at $35,000, which was taken to Todd Shipyards for repairs.

Working on or near the boat operations could prove to have its dangers but also had its rewards. Operations had been progressing smoothly on the night of January 12, 1956 for the crew of Hamaconna. Loading at the WP Mole in Oakland was progressing smoothly on the barge being handled by the tug about 10:40 pm when Switch Foreman M. W. Haynie slipped and fell into the bay while descending a ladder on the north side of the slip to the deck of the barge. Hearing Haynie fall into the water bargeman John O’Halloran, who had hired on in September 1955 jumped into the water fully clothed to assist his fellow railroad employee until a line could be lowered by other members of the crew. The drop to the water was 15 feet or more and both men could have been crushed between the barge and side of the slip as the barge rose and fell with the wave action. Both men were pulled to safety with Haynie suffering minor bruises, cuts, and a badly sprained shoulder. O’Halloran received a letter of commendation from Superintendent G. W. Curtis and a check from the Switchman’s Union of North America to cover repair of his water damaged watch.

Praises also came to the marine division from the U. S. Navy in 1959. In a letter to I. M. Ferguson, assistant to the president of WP, Rear Admiral R. J. Arnold, Supply Corps, USN, Commanding Officer, Naval Supply Center, Oakland conveyed the following. “During the period 16 through 20 March, LCDR Bobby C. Brogoitti, USN, and LT (S) Ian R. U. Fraser, Royal Canadian Navy, students at the Freight Transportation School located at the Naval Supply Center, were provided on-the-job training with your company. They have reported that every aspect of the visit was handled in an excellent manner and that the training was both educational and enjoyable. They were very enthusiastic about the visit and the courtesy and friendliness, which were, accorded them. The only complaint has been that the length of time was far to short. I would like to express my warm thanks to all Western Pacific personnel who assisted in this period of observation and to you and Mr. M. M. Christy in particular for making this important phase of their training successful.”

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