Strange times, odd scenes

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This 1850 photograph, taken a year after the peak of the California Gold Rush, shows just some of the hundreds of ships from countries all over the world that had been abandoned in and around San Francisco Bay as passengers and crews alike joined the rush. The photo shows part of the not very large Yerba Buena Cove; more than 800 ships lay derelict in that cove alone. In the several years following this photo, the cove was entirely reclaimed with landfill and it’s where a good portion of downtown San Francisco is now around the foot of Market Street. The wood from many of these ships was recycled to make buildings and furniture, but some sank in place, got buried during the reclamation, and are still occasionally found today underneath new construction.


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As with most gold and silver rushes, relatively few individuals made a lot of money finding the shiny stuff. Because of the extreme tonnages of earth and water movement required after the brief initial somewhat easy pickings, large commercial enterprises took over most of the effort and profit within months, often hiring solo prospectors – almost all of them rank amateurs, remember – who were finding little or no gold and quickly becoming desperate. They weren’t paid well, which made it difficult if not impossible to save up for passage back home. A decade after the California Gold Rush, even Mark Twain tried and failed miserably at the Comstock (silver) Lode in Virginia City, Nevada, later documenting the mortification in his fantastic 600-page travelogue of the West, Roughing It (links to a sample from the book). The great majority of individuals who did make a bundle were the shrewd women and men who supplied hotel and boarding house rooms, hot meals, prospecting tools, and camping gear to the pipe dreamers – at prices commensurate with the times.

“How much is this hyar pickaxe?”
“Depends – how much you got?”

I think it’s almost a certainty that the value of all those ships in San Francisco Bay far exceeded the total riches found by their crews. One can only imagine their thousands of stories of lives changed forever.

New digs

We moved our offices into a new building a couple towns away this week, and I ended up with a substantially larger office – “All the more to decorate” thought I, rubbing my hands. A gallery of my new digs is below. I haven’t decided yet how to fill out one wall, but the other walls are pretty much as I want them. I still see trees and greenery out my window (two windows, actually), thank goodness, and there are wild turkeys at the new place, too.

In the process, I finally got around to having my William Phillips “Clipper at the Gate” limited print framed at this little shop, and it came out pretty spiffy, with the frame and matting matched to the bluish silver of the aircraft, the deep blue of the water, and the red of the Golden Gate Bridge (actually called International orange) and the wing stripes. The aircraft is the Boeing B-314 flying boat, in this case the Pan American Airways California Clipper, NC-18602, which made regular runs between San Francisco and Hawaii – a nineteen-hour leg – before continuing to farther destinations.

Only twelve B-314s were produced by Boeing, all for Pan Am, but it was – and still is – considered the acme of flying boat technology. The initial six had a range of 3,500 miles with fuel capacity of 4,200 gallons and the second group of six could travel 5,200 miles with 5,400 gallons, both variants far exceeding the range of other aircraft of the day. Travel on the clippers was strictly deluxe, with ticket prices comparable to Concorde’s and meals catered by top-notch hotels.

The B-314 model on my desk, in the same 1:200 scale as the B-17 and B-747, is also of NC-18602. The “Fly to South Sea Isles” poster is a high quality limited edition reproduction of a 1930s Pan Am poster that was made about twenty years ago [some weeks after writing this, I found my Hansa Editions print was actually produced thirty years ago]. An original copy of the 1938 George Lawler poster – not the original painting, just a poster – recently sold for US$20,000 at auction, where the listing read:

One of the most iconic and desirable of all the early Pan Am flying boat posters, this image of the Boeing 314 Flying Clipper landing in a tropical lagoon captured, and continues to capture, the imagination of travelers. The location shown on the poster is an imaginary composite of several renowned bays throughout the South Pacific. It has been speculated that the view is Tahiti, Pago Pago and/or Diamond Head, however, the physical characteristics depicted do not coincide with the actual geography of any of these islands. Lawler most likely worked from photographs to derive a fantasy collage of a location infused with realistic details from various islands. It is rare to find this poster with text. We have found only two other examples at auction.

Edited to add: After I included this auction description, I did some research because the mountains in the poster seemed awfully familiar to me, and I now think Lawler had a specific place in mind when he designed that poster. The details here:

The tail end of the gallery shows in detail some of the photos and items on display. I had 16×20 prints made of the three high resolution Apollo photographs – done beautifully by Shutterfly and Snapfish, I’ll add. Of the three drawings of mine on the wall, just one, the woman holding a newborn Bengal kitten, is my original pencil drawing – the other two are from high resolution scans I made before presenting the original drawings to their subjects.

Click on any image to enter the gallery, and from there you can view a 1920-wide version of any photo by clicking this at the lower right (you may need to scroll down to see it):


“Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.”

I just ordered this 2007 book, which I didn’t know about until today:


It’s out-of-print and no longer available at the Golden Gate Bridge store, but I found a “like new” copy on AbeBooks and it’s still available from some on Amazon.

The book builds off of the original Report of the Chief Engineer, 1937, by Joseph B. Strauss (which is no longer sold), and relates the many technical, political, and financial challenges encountered in the late 1940s through the turn of the 21st century. Chronicling the many successful actions taken to maintain the Bridge’s ability to serve as a transportation link well into the future, the book provides insights into the most crucial engineering and design challenges met since the Bridge opened 70 years ago. This is a historical record of the leading role the structure has played in the investigation of long span suspension bridge behavior, in the development of modern design theories, in the application of modern bridge maintenance methods, and in the development of innovative traffic management methodologies. The Bridge has been the scene of many firsts, which are detailed in this volume. Stellar examples of this include the first-ever total replacement of the vertical suspender ropes on a suspension bridge undertaken in the 1970s, and the successful replacement of the entire Bridge roadway in the 1980s.

I have a slice of one of the original vertical roadway suspension cables mentioned above.


I’m sure this book will be a fascinating companion to the first volume, published in 1937 some months after the bridge opened. I have an ex-library copy of the original book and it’s quite a read, with dozens of photographs of all phases of construction and several fold-out engineering drawings.

Joseph Strauss's introductory letter from the first volume published in 1937

Joseph Strauss’s introductory letter from the first volume published in 1937

Just this year, the Internet Archive scanned the 1937 volume and you can get it here. Unfortunately, it seems a lot of the fold-out plates such as the one below were missing from their copy. The only thing missing from mine – it was roughly torn out – is the fold-out colour painting that appears in their PDF at the front of the book.


I took these photos of my favourite bridge in the world in 2002. I produced the panorama just now from three crusty old Kodak DC-280 photos – a paltry 2 megapixels each – with the beautifully free and high-quality Hugin. It finds all the matching points and you hardly have to lift a finger. You can click on these to view a larger size.

DCP_1229 - DCP_1231

I use this one for my phone’s home screen wallpaper:


Just several weeks ago, something was done about the one unfortunate characteristic of the bridge: Now, finally, a suicide barrier is to be constructed.