Marine Operations and Equipment

Page 5

Captain Harry B. Lampman's life was the ships he skippered. He never really retired. On July 13, 1961 he took his own life at the age of 71 within sight of the last of the ferryboats he once commanded. The ferry had once been called the "Edward T. Jeffery” and carried 2,200 passengers across the Bay when Lampman captained it for the Western Pacific Railroad Co. The boat was later sold to Southern Pacific, renamed the "Feather River" and later "Sierra Nevada." It made its last trip on the Richmond-San Rafael run in 1956 and was taken to drydock. Its windows were now shattered and its paint chipped.

Lampman was also one of the captains’ of the ferry Las Plumas, the only remaining San Francisco ferryboat which still hauled railroad freight cars between Oakland, Alameda and San Francisco when he retired after 32 years with WP in 1959.

Co-workers at WP said Lampman was one of the best known captains on the West Coast of North America. He held masters licenses for everything from tugboats to ferryboats. Records showed he had been the master of ships as early as 1913. He had been involved in rescues and saved lives many times, records showed. He was captain of the Virgil G. Bogue which was rammed and sunk in the Estuary in 1939. Lampman saved the crew. He was also a hero of the 1933 Key System Pier fire in Oakland when he brought a boat into the burning dock to save workers.

He had captained various ships and boats in San Francisco Bay, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Canada and was considered one of the best navigators of Puget Sound waters who ever lived, company officials said. The railroad gave him a special medal for his services. He was a Navy officer in World War I and in World War II was a civilian head of merchant shipping in Australian waters.

Sammy Whitten and his brother, Rickey, who had gone to the foot of Grand Street for a swim told how the Captain smiled at them — and then hanged himself. They saw Captain Lampman, who often went there to renew his memories as one of the last—and perhaps the greatest—of the ferryboat captains by looking at the rusting hulk of the "Sierra Nevada."

"He spent hours there," Sammy recalled in telling of seeing him on previous occasions. Sammy went in swimming. Rickey saw the man go around the fence to a small ledge out of sight of the main parking lot. He saw the man stand on the ledge over the water with a rope attached to an overhead board at right angles to the fence. The old salt faced the ship he had loved. Rickey said, "he smiled at me” . . . and I walked away. Then Sammy yelled at me. Sammy took up the story: "I was swimming and looked around and saw the man jump. I yelled to Rickey to go to the dog pound and get help. A man has hanged himself.”

"Rickey ran over and I swam ashore and started getting dressed . . . Police came in about five minutes."

Police Inspector Ken Kennedy credited the boys with quick thinking in realizing they could find help at the pound where Poundmaster Lee Irwin notified police. The boys' mother, Mrs. James H. Whitten, said "Sammy came home white as a sheet.”

Police and firemen rushed to the scene but Captain Lampman was pronounced dead in the parking lot of the Grand Street Boat Ramp on the Estuary next to the Moore Drydock where the last of the ferryboats sat decaying.

Married three times, he was survived by his wife, two brothers, five children and 14 grandchildren. Lampman's wife of less than a year, Mrs. Alvida M. Lampman could give no reason, except, "He hasn't been the same lately." He left no note to explain why he did this.

Commencing in May, 1970, due to the decision by Santa Fe (half owner, with WP, of the Alameda Belt Line) not to repair the aprons and pilings at the Alameda Berth, Southern Pacific began providing "substitute-bridge service" for WP between Alameda and Oakland. This eventually led to Las Plumas crew reductions effective in the Fall of 1971, from 3 to 2, with seven day service being maintained as follows: The crews on alternate weeks worked 12-12-12/12-12-12-8, which was the equivalent to 40 hours a week. All regular assigned WP employees worked the first 12 hours at straight-time, but "extra" or relief men from the hiring halls were paid time-and-one-half after 8 hours.

Las Plumas loaded with cars.

Piloting Las Plumas on the morning of June 20, 1977 Captain Leo J. Leoni was making the usual run from Oakland Pier to the 25th Street yard when he and First Mate Edgar Pederson noticed something out of the ordinary in the choppy bay waters, a tiny fleck, apparently alive, bobbed in the middle of the bay. The captain immediately began to turn the boat toward the object. What the crew found was a dog that appeared to be swimming to Oakland and about the closest thing around was the Bay Bridge, a mile to the north.

Lowering a lifeboat over the side Pederson and another deck hand made their way towards the dog. Unfortunately the dog upon seeing the ferryboat up close turned and began swimming away around the bow of the boat. Turning the lifeboat around the dog was met on the opposite side of the ferry and hauled into the lifeboat shivering, wet, and tired. Once back safely on Las Plumas the dog was wrapped in a warm blanket for the remainder of the trip to the yard. Having no identification tags the 2-year old underweight female German Shepherd was taken to the SPCA by Pederson who then called the newspapers with the story.

After the story in the San Francisco Chronicle on June 21st offers poured in to adopt the charming dog now known as “Esther Williams” because of her swim. Demand was so high a drawing was held with Madelyn Samarzes winning the raffle and the dog. ‘Esther” quickly adapted to her new home.

Captain Leoni died on December 2, 1995 of pneumonia in Auburn, California at age 86. He was born in San Francisco's North Beach into a Italian family who owned a small opera company, and in his youth, Mr. Leoni sang tenor in the productions. He left home and lied about his age to enlist in the Army Air Corps and later served in the Coast Guard and the merchant marine. During World War II, he was in the Navy. He was a ship's master and held a commercial airplane pilot's license, and in his spare time sang operatic arias, played tennis and wrote fiction. He had lived in the Marin County town of Bolinas for many years and moved to Auburn in the Mother Lode after his retirement.

Las Plumas continued in service of WP plying the waters of the bay until December 31, 1978. With Las Plumas out-of-service yard engine reductions at both Oakland and San Francisco were put in place. Beginning on November 8, 1978 Southern Pacific provided "substitute-bridge service" between Fremont or Oakland and San Francisco. This "bridging" by the SP across the Dumbarton Bridge cost the WP $30-$35,000 monthly. Las Plumas remained at the 25th Street ferry slip for two years, but was moved to WP’s Oakland yard slip due to vandalism. A new owner was eventually found in Sea-Link Marine Services Ltd., New Westminster, British Colombia.

Las Plumas was converted into an unpowered barge by her new owners to be used in an integrated tug and barge service between Vancouver and Vancouver Island, British Colombia the work being done at Vito’s Shipyard in the Fraser River. Gone would be the high center mounted bridge, the deck tracks were rearranged and eventually removed completely, the bow was narrowed to match the width of the rail apron and a 1500 brake horsepower Niigata drive installed with two directional thrusters which are controlled from the wheelhouse of the tug, additional sponsoning was made to the bow and stern increasing the deck superstructure, and a 60 foot deep push notch, within which the "ARCTIC TAGLU" fits, was constructed at the stern of the barge, allowing the tug and the barge to operate as a unit. Two hydraulic connections position the tug in the notch, and a system of blocks, wires, and winches secures the tug to arrest any relative swing between the two vessels. She was placed in service in July 1989 as Link 100.

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