Western Trips

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Submarine Museum / USS Pampanito

uss pampanito
USS Pampanito at Fishermans Wharf

There is probably no better tour of a World War Two submarine than the one located at Fishermans Wharf in San Francisco California. The USS Pampanito is a treasure. This particular submarine was very active in the Pacific War and makes for a fun and very informative tour.

When your San Francisco vacation takes you to Fishermans Wharf, which it inevitably does, look for San Francisco Pier 45 which is behind the Musee Mecanique and you'll see the USS Pampanito berthed in front of another historic World War Two ship, the Jeremiah O'Brien. 

Another Western Trips photo article you'll enjoy is the Tall Ship Balclutha at the San Francisco Maritime Museum.

Touring the USS Pampanito

The tour of the submarine Pampanito is a below deck experience. When you enter this floating submarine museum you begin by entering the rear torpedo room your. Your tour then takes you toward the front of the vessel. You'll pass by many small rooms including the kitchen, mess area, radio room, officers quarters, engine room and several others. You will also see a map that outlines the six war patrols.

Your first impression after climbing down into the submarine is a recognition of what it must have been like to serve for extended periods in such close quarters. Submarine duty back then as it is today is cut out for certain types of individuals. Some adapt much better than others. Any duty during wartime can be quite dangerous and when you see how the submariners subsisted, I think while visiting this submarine museum you'll get a good appreciation for the sacrifices made by the crews of the Pampanito.

It goes without saying that the USS Pampanito submarine is a fun visit for the entire family. You'll also get some great pictures during your San Francisco submarine tour. I would highly encourage you to add this very unique World War Two submarine tour to your San Francisco vacation itinerary. The fact that this vessel is permanently located at Fishermans Wharf means that you certainly have many things to explore before and after your tour.

Historically, effective submarines began with the German U-Boats during World War One. They proved to be effective against British shipping and it was from that point on that a lot of effort was made to counter the threat. This marked the start of the development of anti submarine warfare. Consistently through the years, engineers developed better submarines along with better ways to destroy them.

submarine torpedo
World War Two submarine torpedo
The USS Pampanito had a very interesting record in World War Two. The vessel was built in 1943 at the Navy Yards in Portsmouth New Hampshire. The cost of her construction was six million dollars which was quite a lot of money in the early 40's but probably sounds like a rock bottom bargain price for a submarine today. The Pampanito is 311 ft 9 inch in length and her beam is 27 ft 3 in. her typical crew compliment was 70 enlisted men and 10 officers.

Her operating depth is at about 400 feet and her speed is 21 knots on the surface and about 9 knots while submerged.

Her arms include two antiaircraft guns and one main .50 caliber gun. The length of most of her cruises was about 70 days. Research indicates that during the last year of the war, submarines generally used the Mark 18 twenty-one inch torpedo. There were some design flaws and it's record was simply "fair".

By the end of the war, records indicate that the Mark 18 represented about 65 percent of all torpedoes fired by submarines during the entire war. Allied submarines were mostly used against Japanese merchant shipping. The Mark 18 was discontinued in 1950 and replaced by the Mark 14 and Mark 16.

Production of the Mark 18 was 8,500. When you research torpedo development in detail you will notice that their were many problems to get them to operate effectively. There were a lot of reports during the war of failure to explode when hitting the target and of course guidance issues. The torpedo is a bit more complicated of a weapon than what first appears and it's improvement was an ongoing program throughout the war.

The Depth Charge

World War Two Rosie the Riveter poster
The basic tool of anti submarine warfare during World War Two was the "depth charge". The MK-17 depth charge (shown below left)  and sometimes called a "depth bomb" was used primarily from allied aircraft against German and Japanese subs. These air dropped bombs were usually set to explode at shallow depths. The bomb was intended to explode while the enemy sub was crash diving to evade the planes.

Their anti-submarine success was pretty good. Even if a submarine wasn't sunk, the dropping of these devices usually disrupted enemy attack plans and most likely a lot of allied ships were spared. There were also many design variations of this depth charge since it was employed by both ships and aircraft.

The USS Pampanito Goes to War

Between 1944-45 the Pampanito completed six war patrols in the Pacific Theater. After her shakedown cruise in the Atlantic, the USS Pampanito headed directly for Pearl Harbor via the Panama Canal and arrived there in February 1944. Her deployment was during the latter part of the Pacific war.

When you tour the USS Pampanito you will get a good feel of the last few years of the war. This was the period after the Battle of Midway when the U.S. was quite on the offensive in the western Pacific. Her first war patrol took her to Saipan and Guam. She had to return to Pearl Harbor for repairs of damage caused by Japanese depth charges. An interesting thing when you tour the Pampanito today are the separate displays of items such as depth charges, torpedos (shown above right) and torpedo hatches. Your visit to the vessel is more than just a tour of a submarine. It's really a well rounded presentation of World War Two submarine warfare in general.

submarine depth charge
World War Two Depth Charge
The Pampanito's second war patrol took her near the Japanese home islands where she almost was almost hit by torpedos from a Japanese sub. Her third patrol was in the South China Sea where she inadvertently sunk a Japanese troop ship which was transporting British POW's. This was quite common of the Japanese to bring some POW's back to the home islands. The Pampanito picked up over 70 survivors of that sinking. The fourth patrol was off Formosa where she sunk a 1,200 ton Japanese cargo ship. The fifth patrol was in the Gulf of Siam where another cargo vessel was sunk and then back to the Gulf of Siam for her sixth patrol.

After the sixth patrol the USSA Pampanito sailed back to Pearl Harbor then on to San Francisco for an overhaul. She then went back to Pearl Harbor but was called back to San Francisco because of the war's end.


The USS Pampanito was decommissioned at Mare Island next to the North Bay town of Vallejo California in December 1945. It's not far east of Vallejo in the Sacramento River where the Navy stored many old World War Two vessels in what was called the "mothball fleet". The question is...what does a perfectly good submarine do after the war and after being decommissioned? Not a whole lot until 1962 when the Pampanito was assigned as a Naval Reserve Training Ship at Vallejo. Finally in December 1971 the USS Pampanito was officially taken off Navy registration records, almost thirty years after the launching of this historic United States naval ship.

Historic Preservation

submarine propeller
W.W.II submarine propeller
Today, the USS Pampanito is on the National Register of Historic Places and is an official National Historic Landmark.

Just as the ship berthed behind her, the Jeremiah O'Brien, the Pampanito was recognized as being an invaluable asset perfect for historic preservation and for the public to enjoy and learn from. While the Jeremiah O'Brien represents the all important Liberty Ship program, the Pampanito represents the heroic contributions of submariners during war.

Visit the USS Pampanito

The USS Pampanito is now owned and operated by the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association which displays several historic ships. The submarine was transferred to the Maritime Park Association in 1976 and was opened for public tours in 1982. When you visit the Pampanito you'll pass the Maritime National Park which displays several more historic ships like the sidewheeler steamboat Eureka which among other assignments ferried passengers and automobiles over San Francisco Bay during the early 1900's.

If you enjoy exploring old vessels and World War Two ships, you'll absolutely enjoy these displays adjacent to Fishermans Wharf at the San Francisco Maritime Park. It's one of the very finest displays of maritime vessels in the United States.

Today, this classic World War Two submarine also makes a great venue for group sleepovers. Organizations such as the Cub Scouts have taken advantage of this opportunity to spend the night on the Pampanito using it's 48 bunk beds. Small waves churned up by passing cargo ships often give the Pampanito a slight roll so those who spend the night aboard may get an authentic sailing experience. The Pampanito also conducts educational programs for adults and youngsters.
musee mecanique san francisco
Take a real tour back to the times of World War Two by visiting the magnificent floating museum which is the submarine USS Pampanito.

To get to the submarine on Pier 45 in San Francisco, walk straight through the Musee Mecanique (entrance shown at right)  at Fishermans Wharf and turn left on the pier. At that point you will see both the Pampanito and the Jeremiah O'Brien behind her.

Another excellent companion side trip to the Pampanito is the USS Hornet floating museum across the Bay Bridge in Alameda.

(Photos from author's private collection)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Sharps Rifle and Christian Sharps

When vacationing in the western United States there are many interesting old west museums that display artifacts from the era. Each item usually has quite a good story to go along with it and the Sharps Rifle is no exception. Basically, the Sharps Rifle helped control the western plains better than any other firearm of it's time. It also helped the Butterfield Overland Stages keep on schedule.

Museums With Sharps Rifle Collections

Overland Mail stamp, 1958 issue
I know of three good sites to see one of these rifles for yourself. If your travels include a Wyoming vacation I would suggest a stop at the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum at 100 Fort St. in Buffalo Wyoming.

In Texas there is a Sharps Rifle on display at the Fort Stockton Museum in Fort Stockton Texas. The fort is a few blocks east of the downtown area and makes a great stop if your Texas trip takes you on Interstate-10 in west Texas. Fort Stockton is between San Antonio and El Paso.

Also, if your travels take you to Virginia, you may want to stop by the National Firearms Museum at 11250 Waples Mill Rd. in Fairfax Virginia.

Christian Sharps

Most gun enthusiasts would agree that one of the most popular and outstanding rifles on the old American frontier was the Sharps Rifle. This firearm was the idea of Christian Sharps who went on to secure several patents for his designs and mechanisms.

As a youth, Sharps worked for a gunsmith in New Jersey and then had an army apprentice position in the 1830's at the Harpers Ferry Arsenal working as a filer. Sharps learned quite a lot while at Harpers Ferry and studied the early breech-loader Hall Rifle. In fact, Sharps did work for captain John Hall. The Hall Rifle was produced at Harpers Ferry and Sharps naturally learned of the rifle's attributes and deficiencies. The story is that Sharps work with the Hall Rifle is what gave him his design ideas for his own rifle. His new design was very impressive indeed.

The Sharps Rifle on the Frontier
sharps rifle
Sharps Rifle second from top

Just to give you an idea of how the Sharps Rifle was initially accepted on the early frontier, following is an excerpt from a letter sent to the Sharps company by a man named Henry Skillman who was operating a U.S. Mail line between San Antonio Texas and Santa Fe New Mexico via El Paso in the early 1850's.

Skillman was a noted and respected frontiersman and this excerpt was found in the book "Sharps Rifle: The Gun that Shaped American Destiny" authored by Martin Rywell in 1957. "having been a frontierman for fourteen years, I had  occasion to look after a bosom companion to stand by me in case of life or death; and hence I have given some little attention to the subject of firearms, and I think I can tolerably well appreciate their excellence; and in my search for such a comforter, I have found no arm that in all it's attributes begins to compare with the Sharps' arm and for army, navy, caravan or sporting service, it is sure to take and hold the front rank".

Interestingly enough, the Sharps company liked this comment so much they printed Skillman's entire letter in their sales catalog. The Sharps Rifles played a big part in assuring that the mail got through on the San Antonio to El Paso Trail.

Sharps Commercial Endeavors

The commercial endeavors of Christian Sharps is a bit surprising in as much as he began the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company around 1848 and departed due to disagreements with the two principal stock holders in 1853.

Christian Sharps reportedly worked as an engineer in the company that held his name. The company however continued to use the Sharps name and Christian Sharps had royalties from his patents but other than that wasn't involved with the company. He did however return to the rifle manufacturing business with the C Sharps Co. in 1853, had a partnership in the early 1860's and then reverted back in 1866 to the C. Sharps Company. He continued designing firearms into the 1870's and died in Connecticut in 1874.

Sharp rifle kits and reproduction firearms including black powder gun kits are still very popular with some gun collectors today. There are a host of companies offering these gun kits. They include both reproduction rifles and revolvers.

The Sharps Rifle Models

sharps riflesThere were many different models of the Sharps rifle from the 1850's onward and they seemed to be just what was needed on the frontier. Some of the riflles were designed as "slant breechloaders" and others as "straight breechloaders". The differences were the angle of the breech to the barrel.

To begin with, as stated above, the Sharps rifle was a breechloader (like Hall's) as opposed to a muzzleloader. This was a good thing to have in frontier skirmishes with Indians.

The best attributes of the Sharps rifle was both it's high accuracy and long distances as well as it's powerful punch. Henry Skillman had the opportunity to use the earliest Sharps Rifle, in his case the .52 caliber 1851 Carbine, and reported that he was hitting targets during battle with an accuracy of some 300 yards.This was quite effective against attacking Indians who seemed to know the range of pistols and other rifles and set up their attack methods accordingly. When a few braves were being picked off at distances of hundreds of yards, they had to reconsider their attack methods.

The Sharps Rifle of course was used during the Civil War, most notably by the Sharpshooters regiment under the command of  Colonel Hiram Berdan. As it turned out, this was a fairly celebrated regiment within the military and they competed in target shooting events. The Sharps' accuracy was superior to the Colts also being used and they were able to be reloaded much easier. The Union purchased over 9,000 Sharps Rifles during the war. My research indicates that each Sharps Rifle during the war cost about $36 and ones modified by Colonel Berdan cost about $43.

The Sharps Rifle and the Buffalo Hunters

The main firearm contributing to the decimation of the buffalo herds in the western U.S. was the Sharps Sporting Rifle. This arm represented an improvement on the Christian Sharps first patent of 1848 for a single-shot rifle. These Sharps Sport Rifles had a breech block at a right angle to the bore which allowed for the large cartridges required to bring down the buffalo.

 In 1872 the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company introduced the .50-90 caliber Sharps cartridges which were primarily for buffalo hunting. The Sharps 1874 was a very effective buffalo gun firing the .50-90 cartridges. The buffalo is quite a large animal and not easy to bring down so this ammunition was specially designed for this purpose. The designers simply increased the dimensions of the cartridge. This ammunition was so effective in hunting buffalo that the four herds in the west estimated to be about 20 million were moved to almost extinction in only about twenty years.

A buffalo hunter could kill in excess of one hundred buffalo per day. An incredible amount. The effect the Sharps firearm had on the buffalo herd of North America is an entire story in itself. To further point out this rifles effectiveness, there is a story that a buffalo hunter named Billy Dixon during the 1874 second battle of Adobe Walls in the Texas Panhandle brought down a Comanche warrior at a distance of some 1,538 yards. If the story is true it's an incredible distance. That Comanche war party that included the legendary leader Quanah Parker retreated after that shot.

Another two instances of the Sharps Rifle in the history of the old west is that supposedly Sheriff Pat Garrett after the Lincoln County War killed Billy the Kid in 1881 with a single blast from his Sharps Rifle. Also, by 1859 the Butterfield Overland Mail Stage Line had about 200 stations over it's route from St. Louis to San Francisco and each one had a supply of Sharps Rifles and men who knew how to use them.

1898 bison stamp
First Bison stamp issued in 1898
Various models of Sharps fire arms have been used in several motion pictures and television productions. The list of motion pictures include...the original True Grit, True Grit (2010), Quincy Down Under, Jonah Hex, The Wild Bunch (1969), Wyatt Earp, Young Guns. These are only a sample. There were more.

Reproductions of several Sharps models can even be bought today. These include the Sharps 1863 Rifle, the metallic cartridge Sharps 1874 Rifle, and the Sharps-Borchardt Model 187. Today these models are generally used for competition shooting and hunting. Companies making the reproductions include the C Sharps Arms Company and the Shiloh Rifle Manufacturing Company. Both are located in Big Timber Montana.

(Stamp images in public domain. Article and Sharps Rifle photos from Western trips Collection. Article copyright Western Trips)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Classic Car Museum in Endee New Mexico

When you're traveling on Interstate-40 on a New Mexico vacation or you're on Interstate-40 driving between California and points east, there is a gem of a vintage auto museum that you definitely don't want to miss. Actually, it is a bit easy to miss so you want to make a note to yourself to exit Interstate-40 at Endee New Mexico (exit 369). As auto museums go, this is an excellent one. When you arrive you will see a large modern travel center. When you walk inside and go to the rear of the store you will see an amazing 8,500 square foot vintage car museum.

A Fine Classic Car Museum

1959 corvette
1959 Corvette
Endee is located at the New Mexico-Texas border. Look for exit 369 not far east of Tucumcari and just inside the New Mexico border.

There you will find Russel's Travel Center which is on the old Route 66 and three miles west of the Texas border. Russells truck stop car museum is an absolute treasure.

 As most people know, Route 66 was the first long distance automobile highway through America's great southwest. Some of the route followed the old Santa Fe Trail but between Missouri and Santa Fe there were variances. Actually, prior to 1938 Route 66 went through Santa Fe itself but was diverted (only after a lot of political haggling) to the south along what is today much of New Mexico's Interstate-40. When you travel Interstate-40 anywhere in New Mexico and Arizona you will see many exits where the old Route 66 can be picked up for several miles.

1929 ford pickup truck
Vintage Ford Pickup Truck
Enjoy the many classic cars on display at this vintage car museum which bring back memories of travel on old Route 66 before the days of the Interstates.  

Russell's Classic Car Museum might very well be the largest display of classic automobiles anywhere on Route 66. If you find a comparable one on Interstate-40, please let me know. It's 8,500 square foot auto museum displays more than two dozen vintage cars. Included in the display is a a pristine 1929 Model A pickup truck. The old Ford pickup truck was a mainstay in truck history. The museum is decorated with posters and memorabilia from the ’50s, along with large video screens that continually run black-and-white movies from the era.

About one-half of the vehicles on display comprise about half of the personal collection of Travel Center owners Emory and Barbara Russel. You will see a third off the line Ford Thunderbird and a 1959 Corvette with a bit over one mile on the odometer. When you see the 59 vette you might remember the old 50's television series "Route 66". It was that car and that famous highway which lured many young people of the time to hit the highway and take that adventurous drive out west.

The Corvette model came into being after World War Two. This era saw a boom in sports car interest and General Motors built the two-seat Corvette convertible as what was called at the time an "image car". In 1959 Chevrolet sold about 9,700 of these Corvettes and exceeded 10,000 for the 1960 model year. At the time GM was neither making much money or losing much on the Corvette but sales did continue to increase each year after 1960. The first generation of Corvettes spanned the years 1953 to 1962. Beginning in 1963 General Motors built the Corvette Stingray which was the first model with independent rear suspension. Corvette historians will also note that the 1963 model year issued in the Corvette Grand Sport which was a lightweight model. It's my understanding that only five of these cars exist today and all are privately owned. For a vintage car enthusiast it doesn't get too much better than that. There is no charge to visit the museum but customers are invited to make a donation whose proceeds go to a local mission.

You will also want to see our photo gallery and history of vintage cars and trucks on our site AutoMuseumOnline. One of the very rare automobiles pictured on the website is the Tucker Car of which only fifty-seven were ever built. Also on our AutoMuseumOnline site you'll want to see Classic Car News From the Internet.

Also see our Western Trips articles on The Rock and Roll Hits from Clovis New Mexico and some Great Stops Along the old TX and NM Route 66 Segment.

ford thunderbird
Vintage Ford Thunderbird
The Ford Thunderbird, often called the Ford T Bird, built by Ford Motor Company actually went in and out of production over the years but is now back. The car was one of the first smaller personal luxury cars built. The car debuted in 1953 and was Ford's answer to GM's Corvette. The first Ford Thunderbirds went from an idea to a prototype in one year and first was shown during the 1954 Detroit Auto Show.

The difference in marketing the two cars, Corvette and Thunderbird, was Ford's promotion of the car with an emphasis on personal luxury as opposed to GM's emphasis on the Corvette's sportiness. Either way you want to look at these two cars, both were great looking designs and were very popular with the motoring public.
I had a marvelous time visiting the museum and would venture to say there is none better anywhere on Interstate-40 or on the old Route 66 highway. The travel center is quite popular with both truckers and travelers by featuring gas pumps, showers, a TV lounge, a well-stocked grocery store, a full-service restaurant, a sandwich shop, tire store, laundry and a fenced dog run. Add to this the unique 8,500 square foot vintage auto museum and you have a terrific place to take a break from the Interstate. What usually is a short stop to gas up and buy water turns into much more enjoyable visit back into the times of more leisurely road travel.

Be sure to make a note in your trip planner when traveling on New Mexico's Interstate-40. Russell's Travel Center and Classic Car Museum is a great stop for the entire family and it's free. A very interesting addition to your New Mexico vacation planner.

(Photos and article copyright Western Trips)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Roswell UFO Museum

ufo museum in roswell new mexico
UFO Museum Roswell New Mexico
If your travel plans include a New Mexico vacation then you will definitely want to find your way to Roswell New Mexico, the site of the July 1947 Roswell UFO incident.

Traveling to Roswell

Roswell is about a 3 1/2 hour drive and about 200 miles southeast of Albuquerque. The roads getting there are excellent, mostly being Interstates and divided highways.

If you're traveling on Interstate-40 through New Mexico, most people exit at Clines Corners about 50 miles east of Albuquerque and drive south on US Hwy 285. Plenty of excellent Roswell hotels in all price ranges. The general area around Roswell offers many other great historic sites and landmarks, many dating back to the days of Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War in the late 1800's. You may want to add the Fort Sumner historic site to your New Mexico trip planner.

Museum Archives

I found the Roswell UFO Museum in downtown Roswell to be much more than I had anticipated. The official name is the International UFO Museum Research Center and it is every bit what the name implies. This site has a vast collection dedicated to explaining what occurred near Roswell in July of 1947. In addition to pictures of UFO craft and alien photos, it displays all the known facts of the incident including many descriptions from local citizens of the time as to what exactly took place. The goal is to educate the museum's visitors concerning this incident near Roswell and also other UFO sightings and incidents that happened throughout the world.

Whether or not you are a believer in UFOs in general or in the Roswell incident in particular, you will be fascinated by what you will see in this museum and research center. It's collection of materials, pics of UFOs and displays will give you more than enough information to make a determination of your own.

One interesting display at the Roswell museum is a large collection of UFO photographs taken from around the world. Some were determined to be hoaxes and are labeled as such with an explanation of what was really in the photograph. Others have been determined by experts in photography as being authentic. It's quite informative to study the pictures and as I mentioned there are plenty to view. You will most likely not find a better source of information on the subject of the Roswell crash anywhere else in the world.

Roswell New Mexico in the 1940's

jesse marcel roswell crash statement
Jesse Marcel Press Conference
On display are many artifacts of the Roswell incident era that include photos and documents pertaining to the nearby airbase.

Roswell New Mexico at the time of the UFO crash was very much a military town. World War Two had ended and the Cold War had begun. What was to be Roswell Army Airfield was begun in 1941 when the federal government purchased ranch land about three miles south of Roswell.

During World War Two it served as a training facility with over three hundred training aircraft. What some might not realize is that during the war the Roswell area was also housing thousands of German and Italian POW's mostly from the Allied African campaigns. At the end of World War II in 1945 the training mission at Roswell AAF ended.  The base was then designated as a permanent Army Air Force facility and was transferred to 238th Army Air Forces Base Unit.

After the Roswell Crash

The Roswell crash incident reported in early July 1947 could probably be called the most publicized UFO incident in the world. It's probably the most debated incident as well. The main point of contention is what happened immediately after the alleged crash when the information officer at the airfield issued a press release stating that indeed an unidentified flying object crashed on a ranch northwest of Roswell. That release was picked up by both the local and national media. The local radio station in Roswell reported as much. The controversy really started when the army airfield officials quickly put out another release stating that the crashed object was a weather balloon. From about that point on to the present day the incident has been debated, most consistently over the last 30 to 40 years. Did the Roswell crash actually occur?

The Roswell Crash  Debates

roswell ufo newspaper headline
Roswell newspaper headline
After the initial excitement and contradictions of what happened the Roswell incident pretty much faded away until the 1970's. Many of these debates have been the subject of several books since the 70's.

What occurred decades after the reported incident were stories and descriptions of the events told by people who were present.

 In some cases they were stories told by surviving relatives of witnesses. In some cases, internal communications regarding the incident made it's way to the general public. An official copy of the Army press release is not available. The tale however that is accepted by many is that the release was worded similar to the following...

The Press Release

"The many rumors regarding the flying disk became a reality yesterday when the intelligence office of the 509th Bomb Group of the Eight Air Force, Roswell Army Air Field, was fortunate enough to gain possession of a disc through the co-operation of one of the local ranchers and the Sheriff's Office of Chaves county. The flying object landed on a ranch near Roswell sometime last week. Not having phone facilities, the rancher stored the disc until such time as he was able to contact the Sheriff's office, who in turn notified Major Jesse A. Marcel, of the 509th Bomb Group Intelligence office. Action was immediately taken and the disc was picked up at the rancher's home. It was inspected at the Roswell Army Air Field and subsequently loaned by Major Marcel to higher headquarters." 

roswell radio station
Roswell radio station
The above alleged press release states that it was a week since the craft was discovered. Another point often brought up is that during June of 1947 there was much publicity about a civilian pilot who reported seeing UFO's in the sky over the northwest which he stated looked like "flying saucers". The inference is that this sighting may have had something to do with the alleged incident at Roswell.

Believers would say that the sightings by the pilot confirms that there was some type of aerial activity going on at about that time.

Doubters would say that the report by the pilot had people thinking about flying saucers. Whichever it was and I'm not suggesting  either theory, the material and evidence as presented at the International UFO Museum Research Center is an excellent start to investigate the findings on your own. The purpose of this story is to make you aware that there is a very educational and interesting museum and research center in Roswell New Mexico as a depository of information. It's well worth the visit.

Also see our Trips Into History article on the Roswell UFO Festival on the link below...

Roswell UFO Festival and Conference Photos

Witness Testimony

The witness statements well after the incident seem to paint quite a different picture than the official government reports. Statements from Major Jesse Marcel, Sheridan Cavitt and a 1st Lt. Robert Shirkey are among the most interesting for the researcher. Major Marcel was the head intelligence officer at the Roswell Army Airfield.

In 1947 Marcel went along with the story that the material found on the ranch near Roswell was debris from a crashed weather balloon. Then, interviewed by the National Enquirer about 30 years later, Marcel described the material as something with highly unusual physical properties beyond human technology and was "not of this earth," definitely not balloon material of any kind.  Then, as a real shocker, added that the material publicly shown by his superior General Ramey in Fort Worth Texas was a substituted weather balloon swapped for the real debris he had brought the General from Roswell. The UFO researcher would have to ask why someone in the later years of life would make up a story like that. 

sample of roswell ufo beam writing
Sample of I-Bar symbols on UFO
Then there is the story from Sheridan Cavitt.  Cavitt was with the Counter Intelligence Corp and according to Jesse Marcel accompanied him to the crash scene near Roswell.  

There were reports that Cavitt claimed he didn't go to the crash site and then reports that he did but not with Marcel. He described the material found at the site being something he never saw before and could not be bent, dented or ripped apart

First Lt. Robert Shirkey was present when the crates of material were loaded on a military aircraft headed to Fort Worth Texas and General Ramey. Following is an excerpt of Shirkey describing what he saw during the loading operation...

".Standing only three feet from the passing procession, we saw boxes full of aluminum-looking metal pieces being carried to the B-29. Major Marcel came along carrying an open box full of what seemed to be scrap metal. It obviously was not aluminum: it did not shine nor reflect like the aluminum on American military airplanes. And sticking up in one corner of the box being carried by Major Marcel was a small 'I-beam' with hieroglyphic-like markings on the inner flange, in some kind of weird color, not black, not purple, but a close approximation of the two".

In addition to the above, at the Roswell UFO museum you'll see statements made by the local Roswell mortician in 1947 who claimed to get a strange call at the time of the incident inquiring about how to get hold of child sized coffins. You'll also hear a statement from a nurse who claimed to have walked in on a medical examination on ET's at the base hospital. One of the things that I find very compelling are these statements made by credible witnesses. I think that it's this latter year testimony from upstanding current and former citizens that make the story so believable. You will see and read all of this and more at the International UFO Museum Research Center.

roswell ufo sheriffs report
UFO reported to Sheriff Wilcox
Another interesting statement was made by former astronaut Edgar Mitchell in 2008 during a radio interview regarding his opinion of the UFO debate.

Mitchell claimed that the crash at Roswell was real, and that aliens have contacted humans several times. He claims that the government has kept this secret for over 60 years.

 He stated... "I happen to have been privileged enough to be in on the fact that we've been visited on this planet, and the UFO phenomenon is real. After his radio interview, NASA when asked to comment on Mitchell's statement, denied any knowledge of what Mitchell was talking about. This of course just added more speculation to the Roswell UFO crash.

Visiting Roswell

Again, what I think you'll find particularly interesting is the documentation from local witnesses and the time line of communications, mostly from military officials. A trip to the International UFO Museum Research Center is time very well spent and is a good addition to your New Mexico vacation. I would definitely recommend it as part of your next visit to New Mexico and it's a great stop for the entire family.
You might also want to visit the old army airfield three miles south of Roswell. Today it is the Roswell Industrial Air Center Airport and the site is the storage facility for many of American Airlines' retired Airbus A-300 aircraft. Airliner maintenance and refurbishing is also done at the site. When you drive there the first sight you'll see are dozens of commercial jumbo airliners on the tarmac. It's similar in a way to the Mojave California airliner storage airfield. The Roswell Industrial Air Center is home to a plastic manufacturer; Novabus Inc. has a bus factory there; a candy manufacturer and it serves as the Roswell Municipal Airport. The airfield offers a lot of good photo opportunities as well.

(Article and photos copyright Western Trips)

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Best Wineries in Sonoma / Buena Vista Winery

Sonoma and Napa Counties in California's famous wine region are must stops anytime your California vacation takes you to the San Francisco Bay area. Whether it's a day trip or a full California vacation, the wine region of northern California promises to be a great addition to your trip planner. Whether you're on a Sonoma wine tasting tour or visiting the wineries on your own, you'll have a fun and informative time. A Sonoma wine tour is an excellent companion trip to San Francisco.

Wine Makings Long History

The history of wine making in the United States and in particular in Sonoma wine country is a very interesting story. It goes back centuries. Sonoma California is where California's commercial wine industry had it's start.

buena vista wineryWine making in earnest can be traced back to Spain after the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula by the Catholic Kings.

Wine was an essential need for religious rituals and a quantity was made for distribution to travelers and local residents who happened to live near or travel by the monasteries. Throughout many centuries wine had been a part of regular European diets. The fact that it could be sold was a side benefit.

In California, wine making can first be attributed to the Franciscan friars who built the California mission system. The Spanish friars planted the first vineyards in California to produce wine for masses. The vineyards were planted at each mission with vines originating from Mexico. The first mission was built in San Diego in 1769 and the last in Sonoma California in 1823. All along the way, from south to north the friars planted their vineyards which produced what came to be known as the Mission Grape.

Wine fortunately had a lasting presence in California. The Spanish mission system as it was known faded away to a large degree after the Mexican Revolution supplanted the Spaniards from North America. The United States then took official possession of California after the Mexican American War in 1848 and two big events soon occurred that pretty much solidified wine's place in California history. The California Gold Rush in 1849 meant that thousands upon thousands of mining prospectors would flood the region and in 1850 California gained it's statehood. The thousands of people arriving in the gold regions made a ready market for wine sales and most of them had the money to pay for it.

Sonoma's Historic Buena Vista Winery

buena vista winery buildingNot long after the gold rush, the Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma California began it's operations in 1857.

In that year  a man named Count Agoston Haraszthy planted 80,000 vines on 118 acres. One of the European vine cuttings planted on the Buena Vista Winery was the Zinfandel which is considered the most planted grape today in California. This was a time before there was a Napa and Sonoma Valley wine district. This was before Sonoma County was what we now know it to be today, a world famous wine producing area.

Buena Vista's founder, Count Agoston Haraszthy,  was of Hungarian heritage. Count Agoston also had quite an active life prior to his founding of Buena Vista Winery. Although he long had a special interest in growing grapes, the Count had been Sheriff of San Diego California,  had founded a town in Wisconsin and was a member of the Hungarian Royal Guard. A Royal Guard is many times a ceremonial group of individuals who work closely with the king and provide security. They essentially are mostly noblemen.

Count Haraszthy became well acquainted with the Mission Grape which flourished throughout California. The Mission Grape came to California from Europe via Mexico. He first planted vines from Europe near San Diego but was not satisfied with the quality. He came to believe that the San Diego climate wasn't ideal for what he wanted. This took the Count on a journey to San Francisco where he purchased land near the San Francisco mission for his plantings. Again, the weather caused him concern and he soon decided that the area was way too foggy. He tried again near present day San Mateo, just south of San Francisco, and this too proved too foggy.

buena vista winery barrelIn the meantime, Haraszthy started a business, with a few Hungarian partners, supplying the new San Francisco Mint.

The business was called the Eureka Gold and Silver Refinery which began in 1854 about the same time as the Mint. Things didn't go too well with the new business. The Count was indicted for the embezzlement of $151,550 in gold. The investigation lasted quite a long time and fortunately for Haraszthy the federal charges were eventually dropped in 1861.

While the investigation was proceeding the Count had opened up the Buena Vista Winery. It should be noted that all during the time of the refinery business and the ensuing investigation, the Count had kept on collecting and studying the various grape varieties from Europe.

How the Count Settled on Sonoma

How did Count Haraszthy find his Sonoma location?

During the federal embezzlement investigation the Count had relocated north to Sonoma where he bought a small vineyard just a short distance northeast of the town. This would become the site of where tourists today visit the Buena Vista Winery. Haraszthy dug tunnels into the mountainsides and constructed stone cellars. These were California's first stone wine cellars. The Count added additional land over time and eventually ended up with about 5,000 acres. His land included both mountains and valleys and he was known to be a strong proponent of hillside vineyards without the normal irrigation of a valley. You will see plenty of these hillside vineyards today as you drive through Sonoma County.

The Counts Prominence 

 buena vista winery grounds
Count Agoston became an authority within the California wine growing industry. He authored a treatise regarding practical advice on growing grapes. His writings were eventually  recognized as the first treatise on wine making published in California.

In essence, his well received report was the first which detailed European wine making processes as they apply to the California region. The Count also was a supporter of wine making throughout the state, not just in Sonoma and Napa.

 In many ways, Count Agoston Haraszthy could be called the Father of California wine making. In the year 1864, Harper's Magazine (sometimes referred to as Harper's Weekly) wrote a story proclaiming the Count's Buena Vista Winery as being the largest in the world. Quite an endorsement from a popular publication of it's day and even now over 150 years later this Sonoma winery remains one of the most popular for tourists.

 Historically, it's interesting to note that when the Count first arrived in Sonoma he became acquainted with ex-General Mariano Vallejo. Vallejo was the former head of the northern Mexican troops who earlier barracked in Sonoma. Vallejo was already a small vintner thanks to his earlier association with the friars from Mission San Francisco Solano.

Visit Sonoma County California

buena vista winery sonomaYou'll find several good Sonoma wine country tours available. Sonoma wine tours are offered for a variety of itineraries. Some tours last longer than others.

The first thing I'd advise if you're heading out alone is get a good map showing where each winery is located. These are readily available at the Sonoma Chamber of Commerce.

There are a a large number of wineries in Sonoma County and you'll need more than a day if you want to visit all. This is another good reason why a trip to the Sonoma wineries makes a perfect weekend or three day trip. Your Sonoma wine country tour will also include great drives on scenic country roads and more than enough photo opportunities.

Another good stop on your trip to Sonoma California and the Buena Vista Winery is the villa constructed by Count Haraszthy in 1857 upon his relocation to the area. The site is a California Historical Landmark and is a reconstruction of the villa built by the Count. It's located on Castle Road about 3 miles noutheast of Sonoma, near the winery. Of special note is that the villa was the site of California's first vintage celebration in October 1864. General Vallejo and his wife were special guests at this historic event.

The Wine Industry Over the Years

The American wine making industry was very prosperous except for one event. That event was the questionable prohibition law passed in 1920.

There were a variety of reasons why this law came about and the proponents were active for years, but for the California wine industry, the Volstead Act in 1920 was a disaster. The law permitted some limited home wine making which shot up the price of grapes and additionally there was a shortage of railroad refrigerator cars. The only alternative left for the growers was to replant for juice varieties of grapes.

russian river sonoma county
Sonoma County's Russian River at Pacific Coast
The number of organizations demanding repeal of the law grew with each passing year. In 1932 Franklin Roosevelt ran for President promising to repeal federal Prohibition laws. By 1932 it was estimated that three quarters of American voters, and about forty-six states, favored repeal of the law. After the repeal of the Volstead Act there was a huge surplus of lower quality grapes that had been planted during the 13 year prohibition period. This lasted until the early 1970's after which quality vines became the norm in the Sonoma and Napa region.

A tour of the Sonoma wine country is a great trip I've had the opportunity to take several times. I hope you too have a chance to enjoy this scenic and historic part of northern California that ushered in the commercial wine making industry.

(Article and photos copyright Western Trips)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sonoma Mission / Mission San Francisco Solano

sonoma mission
A California wine country vacation or weekend trip isn't complete without a visit to the Sonoma Mission. The Sonoma Mission and the town of Sonoma is a perfect addition to your trip planner. The Sonoma Mission is one of the most historic sites to see in California's beautiful Sonoma County. 

The Mission Sonoma is located in the heart of Sonoma California, between the cities of napa and Santa Rosa off State Hwy 12. The town of Sonoma is also in the heart of the beautiful Sonoma Valley wine country which this area north of San Francisco Bay is so noted for. It's also adjacent to the popular Napa Valley wine country. The old Spanish mission and the entire town of Sonoma is part of the Sonoma State Historic Park. Parts of Sonoma State Historic Park include the Mission San Francisco Solano, the Blue Wing Inn, Sonoma Barracks, the Toscano Hotel, the Servants Quarters Vallejo's Home. Visitors typically walk through the streets surrounding Sonoma's historic central plaza. Adding the Sonoma State Historic park to your tour of the local wineries make for a perfect Sonoma wine country vacation or weekend getaway.

The two most significant facts about the mission is that it was completed after the Mexican Revolution which drove the Spaniards from Alto California. The second is that it was the very last of the twenty-one California missions built. The first was founded in San Diego by Father Junipero Serra and the last was the Mission Sonoma. The Spaniards constructed missions in California for a few reasons. One was to help colonize the region and convert the Natives to Christianity. The missions also helped Spain lay claim to the area which had both British and Russian settlements to the north in present day Oregon and Washington states. The Russians actually had settlements as far south as Fort Ross on the Pacific coast just north of the San Francisco Bay area. Many historians note that the Russian and British presence to the north is probably the reason that the mission building didn't go any further north than Sonoma. The mission building effort just about stopped after the Mexican Revolution and Spain's exit from North America however the Sonoma Mission which officially was named Mission San Francisco Solano was actually built by the Mexicans. There is also information that the Mexicans did attempt to build a twenty-second mission in Santa Rosa just to the northwest of Sonoma but the plans were scrapped.

sonoma mission bell
Mission San Francisco Solano Bell
During the years the Mission was active, General Mariano Vallejo lived in Sonoma. His purpose there was essentially to monitor Russian activity in the Fort Ross area. In fact, General Vallejo helped build the town of Sonoma and was stationed there during Mexico's rule of Alta California. Mexico's rule of the area was fairly short lived since they ceded Alta California at the end of the Mexican American War in 1848. 

The mission was basically in ruins by the year 1839. Through the years the mission was used for many purposes including as a blacksmith's shop and a barn. By 1846 the town was even taken over by white settlers as part of the historic Bear Flag Revolt. Many white settlers had migrated to the region over the years and what happened in California with the Bear Flag Revolt is not too unlike what occurred in Texas with the revolution against the Mexicans. Most historians point out that it probably was the success of the Texans over the Mexicans that sowed the seeds of what would eventually happen in California.

blue wing hotel in sonomaThe Blue Wing Inn and sometimes referred to as the Blue Wing Hotel pictured left is located directly across the street from the mission and just around the corner from the plaza. The adobe structure was built by General Vallejo in 1849 to help accommodate the many visitors to the area. It's believed that the Blue Wing was the very first hotel built north of San Francisco and that it's considered today to be the oldest adobe structure visible to the public north of San Francisco Bay.

Another historic structure a few doors west of Mission Sonoma and facing the Sonoma plaza is the wide balconied two story adobe structure that housed Mexican troops. This site is referred to as the Sonoma Barracks which are pictured below right. The troops were under the command of General Vallejo and arrived in Sonoma in 1834. General Vallejo at the time was commandant at the Presidio of San Francisco and was given orders to move his troops up to Sonoma. From that year until 1846, Sonoma was the home of the Frontera del Norte. General Vallejo made his headquarters there. Research indicates that General Vallejo himself commanded many of the more than 100 Mexican Army expeditions originating from Sonoma to subdue the local Indians who had offered up resistance to Mexican rule.
sonoma barracks
sonoma barracks in sonoma california
Sonoma Barracks

Another must see historic site also directly facing Sonoma plaza is the Toscano Hotel. The structure was built in 1851 which was one year after California achieved statehood. The building represents the oldest commercial wood frame structure in Sonoma. In its early years, the building similar to others served many different purposes including warehouse, general store, and lending library. An Italian immigrant by the name of Settimo Ciucci and his partner began renting the building in 1886. They converted the structure to a working mans hotel and named it the Toscano. There were a great number of Italian immigrants who had moved to the area to work the basalt quarry behind the hotel. Interestingly, the basalt blocks from the Sonoma quarry were used to pave the streets of San Francisco.  For the Sonoma tourist the hotel is open for exploration and you can view the inside that's filled with period furniture. 
plaque at Toscano hotel in sonoma

Touring the Sonoma wine country is one of California's most popular vacation pastimes. It's a combination of enjoying the scenery, visiting the wineries and viewing some of the oldest historic landmarks in the entire state. 

Another very popular stop is the Jack London State Historic Park which is just northwest of the town of Sonoma. The Jack London State Park comprises 40 acres of what was once the large estate of the writer Jack London.This is one of the most popular parks in northern California. (Photos are from author's private collection.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fort Sill Oklahoma

Old infantry barracks, Ft. Sill
An Oklahoma vacation or simple road trip offers many historic sites to see and a western adventure for the whole family. Oklahoma's history includes the Native Americans, the cowboys and the oil barons. Whether it's a day trip, a weekend getaway or an extended vacation, Oklahoma is a treasure for all history buffs. Oklahoma's historic sites are everywhere throughout the state. One of those sites dating back to the days of the Indian Wars on the southern plains is Fort Sill.

Fort Sill Oklahoma is one of the most unique army installations in the United States. One very significant historical fact is that Ft. Sill was the first posting of a 2nd Lieutenant Henry O. Flipper, pictured below right, who was the first former slave to graduate from West Point. Flipper was assigned to the Buffalo Soldiers in 1877 while they were stationed in Oklahoma. Another fact is that Fort Sill military base is the only fort still in operation today that was built during the southern plains Indian Wars. Fort Sill history therefore is quite extensive and interesting.

The site of Ft Sill OK was decided upon in January of 1869 by General Philip Sheridan. The General was leading a campaign against the Comanches, southern Cheyennes, Kiowas and in some instances Apaches who were targeting white settlers in the area of western Oklahoma and Texas. The fort was established only one year after the Washita River Battle where George Armstrong Custer had destroyed the village of Black Kettle, killing he and his wife in the process.

Cadet Henry O. Flipper
The Comanche unrest was going on for quite a long time. It was a significant part of the plains wars and had been going on as far back as to the early settlement days of Texas in the 1830's and 1840's and actually prior to that involving the Spaniards and Mexicans. Like every other Indian conflict, the cause was the rapid western advancement of white settlements. Army forts as a rule were established along the western line of settlement and history of army action during this time was usually along that line. In the case of Fort Sill, it was built within Indian Territory. This was the area of Oklahoma where reservations were established. The army's goal was to resettle the Native Americans within these reservations and away from the white settlers. Because of Fort Sill's location it was quite active during the latter part of the 1800's. The camp was first named Camp Witchita and later took the name of Sheridan's West Point friend Brigadier General Joshua W. Sill, photo shown below left.

Brig. Gen.Joshua Sill
Fort Sill found itself in the spotlight during the 1874 Red River War. A Comanche named Quanah Parker was one of the most successful of the warrior leaders. Quanah Parker is pictured below left in later years dressed in European attire. Parker was actually a half breed Comanche who was the son of a female white captive (Cynthia Ann Parker)  taken during a raid in central Texas in 1836. Most of her family was killed during the raid. Just prior to the Red River War Quanah Parker was leading a war party for a second assault at Adobe Walls located in the Texas Panhandle. The raid wasn't successful mostly because buffalo hunters were present with their very long range Sharps bison rifles. The story is that Quanah Parker had his horse shot out from under him at an amazing range of 500 yards. This was enough for the warriors to call off the attack. This attack on Adobe Walls caused Washington to reverse their prior peace initiatives and essentially ignited the Red River War. It should be noted that by the winter of 1873-1874, the Plains Indians were in a lot of trouble. They were having a difficult time even surviving. The reduction of the buffalo herds with the help of the Sharps buffalo rifle decreased the size of the herds to unbelievably low numbers. At the same time the buffalo hunters were decimating the herd and white settlement to the west increased. The Indians were really between a rock and a hard place.

Indian Territory 1885 (Oklahoma) Courtesy National Archives
As a result of the Adobe Walls affair, General Sheridan sent five army columns to the Texas Panhandle. A Red River battle was imminent. Three of the five columns sent were under the command of Colonel Ranald MacKenzie who would go down in history as being one of the most effective army Indian fighters in the southern plains. At one time MacKenzie was commander of Fort Concho just outside San Angelo Texas. Another column in this expedition was commanded by Colonel Nelson Miles who also went on to be a key figure in the surrender of Geronimo during the Apache War in what is now southern Arizona. There were more than twenty battle encounters during the campaign with the army being highly aggressive. The cavalry wanted to engage the Indians as many times as it took to win. It was purely an offensive operation and Fort Sill troops took a major part in this campaign.

Quanah Parker
The campaign worked for several reasons. One big reason was that the Indians were in no position to engage in a full scale battle. Their supplies were very low or non-existent. They were tired of the running and in most cases fled rather than fought when chased by the cavalry. It was obvious that Sheridan's troops were better armed than the enemy. Sheridan's full scale assault plan was probably his best option. It was believed that he too recognized that the Comanches and Cheyennes didn't have the resources to fight effectively and his massive show of force would conclude things relatively quickly.

Today, Fort Sill army base is an active military installation where the field artillery is joined by the air defense artillery and electronic warfare branches to create the Fires Center of Excellence. The Fort Sill Fires Center of Excellence trains, develops and educated soldiers and leaders.

Fort Sill is a 21st century modern base which has evolved considerably since General Philip Sheridan first chose this location for his base of operations during the southern plains Red River War. The Fort Sill National Historic Landmark Museum, opened in 1935, is truly a glimpse into the past. It also presents a lot of information about Fort Sill field artillery history. The museum serves both the general public and the military with all aspects of Fort Sill's historic past. The museum is a depository of artifacts, photographs and documents pertaining to Fort Sill's colorful past. More information can be found on the museum's website.

Admission is free and open to the public. Forty-six of the original Fort Sill structures are still in use and in excellent condition. Fort Sill is located in southwest Oklahoma, Comanche county, and next to the city of Lawton. It is about 90 miles southwest of Oklahoma City and about 60 miles north of Witchita Falls Texas just west of Interstate-44.

Comanche County Oklahoma
Fort Sill is a 'closed' post. In order to gain access you must show a valid photo Identification Card (ID). If you are driving into Fort Sill you must show proof of your current driver's license, state vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. You must register your vehicle on post as soon as possible after you sign in. The registration form is provided to you at the Welcome Center during in processing

(Photos and images are in the public domain)

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Passenger Ferry / Ferries of San Francisco Bay

A San Francisco vacation or weekend trip is always fun and you just may want to add the San Francisco Maritime Historical Park to your trip planner. It's one of the best San Francisco places to visit. The photo at right is a historic west coast schooner moored at the maritime park.

The Era of the Steam Ferry

schooner in San Francisco
Tall Ship Balclutha at SF Maritime Hist. Park
There was a time in San Francisco's history before bridges. When many people today think of San Francisco they think of cable cars and of course the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge.

There was a time however that San Francisco ferries were the talk of the town. Steamboats were the big mode of transportation. Some people still remember a time when residents could walk down to the waterfront and board an overnight steamer to Sacramento.

The first steam ferries on San Francisco Bay carried teams and wagons. After that of course emerged the automobiles and the first steam boat built specifically for that purpose was the Melrose. The vessel was launched in 1909 with a lower deck intended for automobiles, and the upper deck reserved for passengers.The first of such boats ran the Creek Route which was the route going between San Francisco and Oakland. The Oakland ferry dock was located at where Jack London Square is now. Starting in 1922 the Golden Gate Ferry Company ran a route for cars and passengers between the Hyde Street pier in San Francisco and Sausalito in Marin County.

Exploring Historic Vessels

hyde street pier at fishermans wharf
San Francisco Maritime Nat. Historical Park
Today, we're fortunate to have a great place to visit at San Francisco's Fishermans Wharf. It's a place to see both steamboats and old sailing vessels from an earlier era.

The San Francisco National Maritime Historical Park is a very unique site and would be a good addition to your San Francisco vacation or weekend trip.

Aside from being located in what is perhaps one of the most picturesque part of the United States, the park consists of a fleet of historic vessels, a visitor center, a very interesting maritime museum as well as a library/research facility. The park is located nearby where Hyde Street ends at Fishermans Wharf. The cable car and electric streetcars make it very easy to get to.

The Ferry Eureka

Steamboat Eureka in San Francisco
One such early vessel permanently docked at the park is the sidewheeler "Eureka"  pictured at left .
Like many old steamboats it has a rich history. The Eureka was built in Tiburon in Marin County in 1890. The vessel was first named the "Ukiah" to showcase the San Francisco and North Pacific Railway's recent extension into the City of Ukiah on California's north Pacific coast.

The first route for the boat was between San Francisco and Tiburon. It's interesting to note that the Eureka was built with a double-end design. This means that cars and people could embark or disembark from either end of the vessel.

When you look at the Eureka, the front and back of the steamboat are identical. This new design may have been one of the most revolutionary of the time and certainly made the vessel more versatile. The vessel which was then name the Ukiah carried troops and rail cars filled with munitions in aiding the World War One effort. Her war service however came with a price. Carrying the extremely heavy rail cars stressed her hull and she had to be extensively repaired at government expense. During this era the Ukiah was the largest double ended designed vessel in the world. She could carry 2,300 passengers and about 120 cars.

After the war, the Eureka had a completely different job. From 1922 and 1941 she was on the San Francisco to Sausalito commuter run. Because of the Eureka's sheer size she was scheduled on the heavier "rush hour" runs between the city and Sausalito.

steamer eureka
Entrance to Eureka Ferry exhibit
These crowded trips averaged 2,200 passengers. The Sausalito ferry is one of the busiest routes. As you will see when you tour the vessel there were many comfortable amenities for the passengers including a magazine stand and a restaurant that served full meals. This was the heyday of steamboat commuting on San Francisco Bay.  

When the Golden Gate Bridge was completed during the Great Depression year of 1937, the entire system of commuting changed. The steamboat ferries felt the effect fast and runs were cut back to conform to lesser passenger demand and eventually by 1942 the Northwest Pacific pulled out of ferry operations entirely. The Eureka however stayed in service in other ways. Again, because of her large size and double end design she was used in the 1950's as a Southern Pacific Railroad connection between it's Oakland terminus and San Francisco. Today, the historic steamer Eureka is on display near San Francisco's Fishermans Wharf and is a terrific stop for the entire family.

Ferries on the Puget Sound

Steamboat paddle wheel
It's interesting to compare the old steamboat fleet on San Francisco Bay with the old "Mosquito Fleet" that operated during much the same time on Puget Sound in Washington State.

The similarities when they both began was simply an expanse of water with people basically residing on all sides. The ferry boats provided a much needed service in light of the lack of bridges.The difference with Puget Sound was that many of the ferry routes were much longer in length with some stretching to British Columbia.

In Puget Sound there were also some tragic shipwrecks that involved both steam boiler explosions and collisions. In comparison to Puget Sound, San Francisco Bay was a relatively safe body of water. Research indicates that perhaps the worst accident in the Bay involved the ferry "Peralta" in 1928. When she was approaching the Oakland docks many onboard noticed that the bow was unusually low. One reason for this is that many passengers crowded to the front of the boat to be first off. All of a sudden water five feet deep rushed onto the lower deck. About thirty passengers were washed away into the very cold bay water and as a result five of them later died.

Steamboat Disasters

On a historical perspective, probably the worst accident involving a steam ferry boat operating in a harbor area was the fire aboard the SS Slocum in New York on June 15, 1904. The vessel was on a charter run carrying members of a Lutheran church to a picnic site. There were 1,300 on board and over 1,000 died.

During the subsequent investigation it was learned that several safety precautions were violated. The most serious being that the hoses aboard the vessel were rotted and ineffective and that fire safety drills had not been conducted. Most passengers were women and children and as was the norm in this era most could not swim. The Slocum disaster was so high profile that plays and books were written about the vessel.

The worst steamboat disaster in American history occurred when the steamboat Sultana exploded and sank on the Mississippi River just north of Memphis Tennessee in 1865. The vessel was transporting thousands of returning Union Civil War soldiers, many of whom were recently released POW's. It was estimated that about 1,800 or more perished.

the steamboat general slocum
SS General Slocum
San Francisco Bay is a very interesting body of water and the paddle wheel steamboat was a big part of it's history. During the Gold Rush era there were a myriad number of vessels entering her waters and it's believed that coastline is a graveyard for shipwrecks from even centuries past. During the Gold Rush there were many vessels literally abandoned by their crews while anchored. Some crews were much more interested in trying their luck in the Sierra Nevada foothills rather than at sea.

The vessels on display at the San Francisco Maritime Historical Park offer excellent  photo opportunities and a low cost addition to your San Francisco vacation itinerary.

(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos from author's private collection. SS Gen. Slocum image from the, public domain)