San Francisco Bay Ferryboats - Ferry Tales

By Lindsay Campbell

Collected by Joe Thompson

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G Lindsay Campbell's column "Ferry Tales" ran for many years in the San Francisco Call.

Ferry Tales

Ferry Tales

From the San Francisco Call, 22-July-1912.

"Overland" is a general term for a transcontinental train. The "Overland Limited" was the best train from Chicago to San Francisco, with a ferry transfer from Oakland. Sunny Jim Rolph was Mayor of San Francisco from 1912 to 1931.

The "After Deck Squad" has offered a prize for the discovery of the oldest commuter.

The A. D. S. may be found any business afternoon on the boat that leaves the ferry at 5:45 for the Alameda mole. To locate the squad all that is necessary is to stand on the afterdeck until the boat gets under way. It will not be long before you hear a chorus of laughter. Walk right over to the scene of the disturbance and In a voice as nearly natural as the somewhat unusual proceeding will permit, utter one of the squad passwords. There are several of these. Here are a few of them: "Oh George!" "Jack!", "Hello, Van!", "Say, Denny!" Any of these will do.

* * *

"Watch closely the effect. Some member will turn quickly as if stung. Walk right up to him. Present your card with the name and address of the oldest commuter plainly written on the back in your own handwriting. If he says: "What's this?" with a rising inflection on the "what's" you will know that you have found the right party. The name of the winner will be published in this column when the claims of your candidate have been verified.

* * *

Perhaps you never heard of the "After Deck Squad." Its members are all bright and shining lights in the commercial life of the city. As a squad they are a little more conservative than the "Rudder Club," which meets in the morning on the 8 o'clock city bound Key Route, and not as exemplary in their habits (every member of the A. D. S. smokes) as the members of the "Sunshine club," also a Key Route commuteration.

"Commuteration" goes. It has the sanction of a U. C. professor who occasionally helps the sun keep the club bright.

The "Sunshine club" meets on the southeast corner of the upper deck of whatever Key Route boat leaves the Emeryville pier at a few minutes after 8 o'clock every morning. While the "Rudder club" on the deck below hides itself in a cloud of tobacco smoke and frivols away the 15 minutes that span its daily existence in plotting future discomfort for some absent member, the "Sunshiners," on the upper deck, take deep breathing exercises, discuss plans for sleeping porches that will increase the velocity of the night air and scheme for the reformation of the "Rudder club."

* * *

According to the latest official figures 101,593 people travel on the transbay ferries every day. The majority of these are commuters. To a large extent the commuter is an individual of regular habits. The same crowd travels at the same hour every day. Congenial souls naturally gravitate together. Hence the commuter clubs, of which only three have been mentioned, but of which scores exist. Of the others, later on.

* * *

It was a prominent member of the "After Deck Squad" who divided the commuter crowd into four classes or groups, as they might say on the Key Route.

Those that travel regularly between 6 a. m. and 7 a. m., he said, are the workers.

The seven to eighters keep track of the workers' work.

The eight to niners enjoy the fruits of that work, and the from nine to nooners dissipate those fruits in riotous shopping.

This scale works only for west bound travel, but can be applied, inverted, after 3 p. m. to the east bound stream.

* * *

It's fine to be a commuter. You're sure of having in your pocket at least once a month $3 in real cash. If you don't have it you don't commute.

* * *

"What's the matter with San Francisco?" exclaimed a proud resident of "the city that knows how" as he stood at the foot of Market street the other evening with a friend from London who had just got in on a belated overland. The San Franciscan made a gesture with his arm which swept the new built skyline and the street crowded with commuters hurrying ferry ward. The visitor saw only the crowds and noted that they were hastening to the ferry with the apparent intention of taking the boat that had brought him across the bay.

"Yes, by Jove!" And the Britisher peered into the faces of the east bound throng, as if seeking signs of alarm. "They all seem to be leaving. I wonder what is the matter?"

It is some army, this commuter throng. Fun has been poked at it and urban sympathy wasted upon it. It has been threatened with the loss of its daily bread If it didn't sleep where it worked. It has been denounced for its nerve in criticising conditions where it had no vote and for taking credit for the election of Jim Rolph. in spite of all handicaps, however, its volume grows with every improvement in tranebay transportation. The official census of this daily exodus was published a few weeks ago and the reason why the harbor commissioners found it necessary to replank the bridgeways leading to and from the upper decks of the ferry steamers then became evident.

G. L. C.

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From the San Francisco Call, 23-July-1912.

In 1912 Theodore Roosevelt ran as the Progressive Party presidential candidate against Democrat Woodrow Wilson and Repulican William Howard Taft. TR had run against incumbent Taft for the Republican nomination and lost. "Equal suffrage" referred to getting women the vote. They received the vote in California in 1912, but not nationally until the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920.

Did you ever leave a package on a ferry steamer? Did you ever retrieve It?

It is possible to do both. If you have commuted long you know all about it, but do you know why the ferry companies make it so hard on the absent minded commuter to recover his property?

Bestow that eager look elsewhere. I'm not going to answer my own question. I really want to know.

On both the Key Route and Southern Pacific the depositary for lost property is at the mole on the Alameda side in the very middle of the journey and at a place where no commuter ever has any business except to board a train or boat. And the time for either operation is limited.

Suppose, for instance, you leave a glove on a Key Route train, and let us presume that it finds its way to the lost property office. This office is at the mole and is open only at certain hours. You ask the conductor next morning about your glove and he directs you to the lost property office. When the train reaches the pier you jump off, fight your way out of the stream that is pouring boatward, and inquire for the office. Just as you find it a penetrating voice cries:

"All aboard!"

Away you scoot for your boat. You know where the place is and will get the glove on your way home. Try It.

"Very sorry," you are told, "but the office closes at 5 o'clock and the man in charge has gone."

You try It next morning. This time your geographical knowledge enables you to reach the counter and ask for your glove. The man behind the counter is a deliberate person who, in measured tones, demands a description of the lost property, wants to know when and where you lost it, and just as he starts In the direction of a locker on the opposite side of the office the voice outside says:

"All aboard!"

And you go. Finally you leave home 20 minutes earlier than usual. You get your glove about a half minute after the boat pulls out and spend 20 minutes waiting for the next.

The railroad company doesn't want your poperty, but it accumulates a pile of junk every year just because of the difficulties involved in getting owner and property together again. To a mere commuter it would seem that the ferry depot would be the logical place for these reunions. What do you think about it?

* * * All Marin county is interested in an ingenious young woman who is devoting the time she spends on the ferry boat on her way to and from her city job, to the making of what she confided to a friend is her trousseau. Every woman knows what goes to make up a trousseau and the young woman declares that she is making "everything" on these daily journeys, but it would take an eagle eyed expert to identify which part of the "everything" is in course of production.

Everybody that travels on the same boat knows that the embroidery is elaborate and that the trousseau is going to be a dandy, but that is all? The pretty seamstress carries the particular section of trousseau on which she is working in a blue silk bag, in the side of which is a small round opening not larger than a dollar, and this small circular section is all that prying eyes are permitted to see. It is big enough to sew through, but as effective as frosted glass as a barrier to curiosity.

* * *

The Berkeley man who told this story on the after deck of the 8:20. Key Route steamer the other morning may, if he sees this, have to make an explanation to his wife. The speaker was a well known resident of the college town and his wife was in the forefront of the campaign for equal suffrage. Her husband is active in republican politics.

"My wife registered before the primaries," he confided to about 60 or more friends, acquaintances and fellow commuters. "She comes from Virginia and has always claimed to be a democrat.

"'I registered as a republican.' she told me when I got home last night.

"'Thought you were a democrat?" said I.

"'So I am," said she.

"'But you registered republican? What was the matter? Did you forget what you were?'

"'Nothing was the matter. I registered as a republican so that I can vote against Roosevelt.'

"'But how about Woodrow Wilson?" I asked her. 'Thought he was your choice for president?"

"'So he is," she said, 'and I'm going to send a dollar to his campaign fund.'"

G. L. C.

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From the San Francisco Call, 24-July-1912.

The colonel was Theodore Roosevelt and the "crime of Chicago" was the Republican convention, where Roosevelt was denied the nomination.

TO the man who travels on the Southern Pacific ferry boats with his ears open it would seen that the railroad officials launched a boomerang when they limited the elasticity of the commutation ticket by marking it with the sex of the purchaser.

The new regulation is regarded as an invasion of the purchaser's right to do as he pleases with his own and as one more sacrifice to be laid on the altar of the high cost of living.

In discussing this latest sex problem the commuters have decided that instead of curtailing its patrons' rights, the railroad company should adopt a more generous policy. As a result of all this discussion a movement has been started, which has for its object the presentation to the railroad, commission of a demand that the bay ferry companies be compelled to issue commutation tickets, at present rates, and good for 30 round trips, irrespective of date.

Now will you call us girls "females?"

* * *

Here is a chance for some budding ornithologist to make the colonel forget the crime of Chicago. Everybody that crosses the bay regularly acquires an interest in the seagulls that follow every boat. Some of the commuter tales of seagull intelligence are calculated to arouse suspicion that the menace of the big stick did not entirely rid the land of the nature faker.

Here is the latest:

The Key Route steamers pass close enough to Yerba Buena to give those on board a fairly intimate view of the parade ground at the naval training station. There every morning the naval apprentices may be seen at drill. It was only a few days ago that a sharp-eyed commuter discovered that the passengers on the steamer were not the only interested spectators. Between the ferry fairway and the parade ground is a sheltered bay in which thousands of seagulls spend the daylight hours. The parade ground is in plain view from the bay. The seagulls, knowing that their only chance to feed is when the meal pennant flies, give their undivided attention between meals to the doings on the parade ground.

The gulls have absorbed the spirit of military precision and can be seen from the ferry steamer every morning going through a drill of their own. When the bugle calls the sailor boys to their drill, the seagulls, enough of them to make several full brigades, draw up 50 feet or so from shore in faultless formation. As the blue-jackets go through their paces so do the seagulls maneuver about the bay.

Of course, the commuter gets but a fleeting glimpse of the performance and everybody on Yerba Buena is too busy drilling to watch the bay, but it would seem that an ornithologist in sympathy with the seagull could get some really interesting field notes in the vicinity of Yerba Buena. If any body will explain this sudden desire for military display on the part of the larus family he will confer a favor on about 80,000 wondering commuters.

* * *

The Sausalito boat was approaching its slip on the Marin shore. The wind was blowing a small gale, but outside, on the forward deck, the seats were all filled with blue but determined fresh air fiends, old and young. From the cabin into the blast stepped three young folks, two pretty girls and a youth. Up the stairway from the lower deck the wind was blowing, like a blast from a 12 inch gun. The youth and one of the girls started down stairs. The other girl, noting the breeze, hesitated and in a shrill voice called to her friends:

"I can never make it in the world. I have the widest skirt!"

When the young folks had first appeared not a fresh air fiend, old or young, cast as much as a glance in their direction. Nobody heeded the struggles of the pair that started down first and even the girl that was left behind wrestled with the wind unnoticed until she explained so definitely why she feared the descent.

Like well drilled troops at the word "Attention!" every masculine fresh air fiend, old and young, jumped to his feet and if anything happened to that young lady on her way downstairs she would not have lacked for witnesses, old and young.

Was it gallantry that prompted that rush, or just ordinary, or as the colonel would put it, sheer, curiosity? Some light on the subject was shed by one highly respected and white haired resident of Marin county who remarked to an elderly neighbor as they both sat down:

"She fooled us!"

G. L. C.

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From the San Francisco Call, 25-July-1912.

THE old adage about one half of the world not knowing how the other half gets away with it does not apply to commuters. Settle down in almost any part of any ferry boat going In any direction and before the gentleman from Denmark or thereabouts says: "All ashore," you can get first hand ideas on many points of view on many subjects.

Take etiquette, for instance. From the fact that its rules have been codified, as it were, one might think that etiquette was in the nature of an exact science. A few trips between here and Oakland will perhaps open your eyes to the fact that there is room for original interpretation as to what constitutes manners.

It was on one of the morning boats from Sausallto. She sat on the afterdeck and told a girl friend the story of her life from a date In the past, when, it appeared from the conversation, their paths had separated.

"No, I ain't seen May since I was married. She'n me had a awful fallln' out. You see 'twas this way: May sent me a weddln' present. I'd acknowledged all my engagement presents, but didn't think It would be etiquette to acknowledge weddin' presents till I was married. I had all my acknowledgments written and was goin' to mail them the minute I was married. The day before the weddln' May rings me up.

"'Oh, you ain't dead?' she says, sarcastic, when I answers the 'phone.

"'Why, the idear, May. What's the matter?' says I.

"'Nothin'!' she says with a sneer. But if my present ain't worth acknowledging you'd best send it back.'

"'You mis'rable contemptuous cat." I says. 'If I had you here,' I says, 'I'd scratch your eyes out. Don't you dare to tell, me nothin' about etiquette.

"I slams down the 'phone. I returned her present, but she come to the weddln' all right an' enjoyed her self makin' sneerin' remarks about the furniture. No, May an' I ain't been friends since."


Talking about etiquette leads naturally to the subject of military uniforms, of which there is a rare and ever-changing variety. The ignorance or indifference of civilians to the significance of the different varieties of uniform is a matter of deep and constant chagrin in military circles. It is not soothing to the feelings of a brigadier general, for Instance, to have a pretty girl look at the star on his collar and ask If he belongs to the state or municipal police and to hear the same girl later address the regimental bandmaster as "General."


The most gorgeous of later day uniforms is that worn by the commissioned officers of the army medical corps. The most conspicuous feature of this uniform Is the broad red band around the cap. A surgeon major in a shiny new uniform boarded the Sausalito boat the other afternoon. He was accompanled by a handsome and well-groomed woman. They were returning apparently from a matinee or tea. The major looked very grand and rather enjoyed the mild sensation caused by his appearance on the upper deck.

"What's he?" stage whispered an awe struck stenographer to her companion.

"Salvation Array I guess. They wear red," was the ready and confident reply.

The girl sniffed and transferred her attention to the major's lady.

"My!" said the stenographer, "ain't she got the clothes."


An elderly man boarded the ferry steamer Berkeley the other day with his son. Son was listening to a lecture which concluded:

"You mustn't forget that you're no longer a boy."

A group of Oakland commuters on whose ears the admonition fell took it as the text for their morning argument

"When," asked one of them, "is a man really grown up?"

Many opinions were offered.

"You fellows are all wrong. Age has nothing to do with growing up." The speaker's hair and beard were white as the wake churned by the propellers and everybody listened.

"Remember 'Gene Freeman, the pilot commissioner, who died a few months ago?. I crossed the bay with him one day. He was over 65 then. If years meant anything he should have found a comfortable seat out of the draft and settled there until the boat was safely tied up in its slip. Did he do that? No, sir! Soon after we started he left us. He wanted to see a fellow, he said. He knew nearly everybody on the boat and put in his time hunting up acquaintances who had packages on the seat beside them. 'Gene would sit down, chat for a few minutes and then move on. He was busy all the way over and came back to us just as the boat was going into the slip.

"'Don't be in a hurry,' he said. 'Wait and see the fun.'

"We didn't have to wait long. From all directions came sounds of swearing, and whoever was swearing was likewise picking things from the deck which seemed to be strewn with fruit, crabs, steaks and chops, candy and other wreckage. 'Gene had cut all the strings.

"And most people would have taken 'Gene for a regular adult."

G. L. C.

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From the San Francisco Call, 26-July-1912.

The tall man has confused a "tornado" (a type of windstorm) with a "teredo." (Shipworm which bores holes in wooden ships and pilings.) To "Fletcherize" means to chew something thoroughly.

ONE advantage of living across the bay is that the trip to and from the city gives the commuter an opportunity, twice a day, to discuss his troubles. Under ordinary circumstances the man who talks about his troubles is to be avoided. On the ferries, however, it is different, as the trouble weighted commuter's fellow traveler is also, frequently, his fellow sufferer, and the discussion of a common grief is always a joyful pastime. At present, on the Marin ferries the prize peck of trouble is to be found wherever two or more residents of Belvedere are gathered.


Belvedere has many grievances, some of which the state railroad commission has been asked to adjust. It takes time, however, for a commission to act, meanwhile Belvedere seeks comfort in conversation. That is, the men folk do. The women are making an independent fight for their rights and privileges. One of Belvedere's grievances is the refusal of the Northwestern Pacific company to carry passengers from Belvedere to Tiburon on the little steamer that runs between Sausalito and Tiburon via Belvedere. There is always room on the boat and the Belvederean who has to go to Tiburon is willing to pay for the ride, as it saves him a mile and a half walk over a dusty road.

But the railroad company says: "Your money is no good. This boat is reserved for through business." The other day, however, a Belvedere matron bound for Tiburon jumped aboard the boat. She was invited to step ashore. She was going to Tiburon. The boat carried no passengers to Tiburon and if you please, madam, I'll have to ask you to go ashore. Madam did not please and she rode to Tiburon.

Belvedere was Illuminated that night and the women think that they have really broken the ice. For proof of this they point to the experience a few days later of Miss Leslie Page. Miss Page, bound for the city, reached the boat landing at Belvedere just in time to see the boat pull out. She said nothing, but the look of disappointment that shadowed her face changed to one of pleased amazement when the captain of the boat sang out: "All right Miss, I'll come back for you."


Harry Gordan was telling a crowd of commuters on the steamer Oakland about how many different kinds of insurance, he could write.

"A man can insure against anything nowadays," he said emphatically, "against rain, drought, fire, death, hurricanes, tornadoes, cyclones --"

"Excuse me, sir," a tall man with bushy eyebrows interrupted him, "but did I understand you to say that you could Insure against tornadoes?"

"Sure thing," replied Gordan. "Something you want to insure?"

"Yes, there is." The tall man led Gordan to one side.

"I've just built a wharf over in Alameda and I'd like to insure that if you're quite certain about the tornadoes."

Now Gordan is enthusiastic hut honest, and he hastened to protest that there were no tornadoes in California.

The man looked at him with withering scorn.

"No tornadoes? T'hell they ain't. Wish't you could have seen the holes they bored in the last wharf I built.


Alameda, by the way, claims the three best trained commuters in the world. Joe Thompson Is spreading their fame among the ferry farers of Marin county. They are brothers. They live at home with mother and sister. The boys are famous on the 7 a. m. boat for their smart appearance. Before retiring at night they arrange, in order, the raiment to be worn the following day.

They sleep until 15 minutes before train time when mother rings a bell. It is five minutes walk to the depot, and the way there lies across a meadow. Five minutes before train time they appear in the hall ready for the city.

As each appears mother or sister hands him a cup of coffee and two slices of toast, and with these in hand the three brothers start for the depot. On the far side ef the meadow is a fence where, if the train is not in sight, they linger a moment or two and fletcherize. They leave the cups and saucers on the fence, and sister, at her leisure, retrieves them.


No, girls! The shining object at the top of the high tower on Alcatraz is not a rapid fire gun for the assassination of escaping military prisoners. It is merely the lens of the revolving lantern whose light at night wigwags out through the Golden gate a welcome to the homeward bound mariner.

G. L. C.

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