Monday, November 28, 2016

The Boys and their Willys Woody Wagon

It's 1959 or '60 (it says "60" on the Utah license plate, if you look close), and someone's having fun with their new Willys Wagon!

To see what one looks like in color, check out the photos in this Willys forum thread.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

On the Willey Brook Bridge

Want to see these photos in modern 3D with your smart phone? You can! Jump to the bottom of the article for instructions!

It is 1891, and the Maine Central line through Crawford Notch in the White Mountains of New Hampshire is only sixteen years old. When it was originally built as the Portland and Ogdensburg Railroad, the elevations the route had to climb on its passage from Portland through the Notch to Fabyans, and the harsh terrain it was to be built through, had led many to doubt it could be done in 1875. Our photo is one half of a stereoscope card which has two albumen prints mounted on it.

The Willey Brook Bridge was four hundred feet long, and the deck was a good hundred feet over the tumbling stream below, which descends to the Saco River. In the distance (the view is looking pretty much due north), the railroad curves around the flank of Mt. Willard, and Mt. Willey is back over the photographer's left shoulder. Today, this whole region is part of the very scenic Crawford Notch State Park. Of course, when our photo was taken, Highway 302 was also missing from the river valley!

The locomotive shown, Maine Central No. 101, was still practically brand new in this photo, having been built by the Portland Company only two years earlier. She remained in service (later renumbered No. 126) until becoming obsolete and sent to the scrapper in 1916. At its peak, the Maine Central operated over 100 American-type 4-4-0 locomotives, and while they'd been far outclassed in the first couple decades of the twentieth century, a few lasted until the 1930s. Maine Central itself began operations in 1862, and quickly became the longest railroad in New England. It remained an independent company until 1981, when it was absorbed into the Guilford system. In 2006, Guilford purchased the name and logo rights of the old Pan Am Airways, and is now known as Pan Am Railways. This rail line through the Notch, part of MEC's Mountain Division, was abandoned in 1983, but was picked up and is still operated by the tourist-based Conway Scenic Railroad.

The Victorian house at the north end of the bridge housed, from what I could find, Maine Central workers who maintained this section of the line. Some sources refer to it as the John O'Groats House (as in the village in Northern Scotland), others denote it as the John O. Groats House. None of the sources elaborate on when it was built nor when it was torn down.

The Willey Brook Bridge today, as seen through the lens of Casey Thompson (who graciously gave permission to use the photo here) on October 15, 2013 . Note that this is not your Grandfather's bridge! At some point in the past, it was rebuilt with heavier steel, using a different truss design. The General Motors EMD GP-38 shown here in Conway Senic colors was originally a Maine Central locomotive. The John O'Groats house is, of course, long gone.

The Willey Brook Bridge and Saco River Canyon
 from Google Maps. The site of the John O'Groats 
house is grown over.
The mountain, the brook and thus the bridge are named for the Willey family, who have resided in legend since the 1820s because of a disaster that befell that family. Sam Willey, Jr. and his wife and children ran a small inn along the road that had run through the Notch since 1803. In June of 1826, a summer storm led to a rather large landslide down the side of the mountain behind the Willey's home and inn, the mountain that would later be named after them. The landslide missed their home, but took a lot of the dirt, rocks and trees down to the Saco River. At first, the family was terrified, but then considered that it was not likely that a second slide would occur, and in the off chance that it did, Sam built a cave shelter just below the house that the family could evacuate to if need be.

Over-all, the summer of 1826 brought drought-like conditions to the White Mountains, up until late August. From the 27th to the 28th of August, an intense storm hit the mountains, dumping an unprecidented amount of rain on the area. The Saco River rose 24 feet overnight, and the dry mountains became saturated. A number of home and farms in the Notch were flooded or completely washed away. When the storm was over, friends of the family struggled to reach the site of the inn to see how the Willey family had fared. They found that another massive landslide had come down from the mountain above the house and inn, and the near-by meadows were deep with debris. The house and inn were undamaged, but abandoned, as if either the family had heard the sound of the slide and tried to flee to their shelter, or the opposite took place, they started climbing to escape the Saco flood which appeared that it might rise to where their house sat. Eventually, the bodies of Sam and his wife, two of their children and two of their hired hands were found in the debris field; three of the children's bodies were never found. The irony is that a large rock outcropping above the Willey house had caused the slide to break into two streams, which bypassed the house on each side. Had they sheltered in place, the mountain and brook would likely have had a different name.

Want to see these photos in modern 3D with your smart phone? You can! All you need is one of the popular cardboard VR viewers - more details can be found on this tutorial page - and to download the version of the card on the right to your phone.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Mystery of the Columbia

12/1/16 - Update - location found! Jump to the bottom for more...

As soon as I saw this photo in a San Diego antique store, my curiosity was piqued. It was a bit pricey, but after some preliminary checking, it seemed to have a bit of mystery to its story, and that made it worth the money. The seller had it labeled as "1890s Ferry", and while the paper it's printed on would certainly support a late 1890s - early 1910s date, it is build more like a typical California-style sternwheel riverboat than an side-wheel ferry (pilot house at only one end, and the raised bow are definitely not ferry features).

The name on the bow, while faded, is clearly Columbia. The signboards on the pilothouse are not readable, even in a high-resolution scan. But other than the clues in the photo, I pretty much came up empty with my resources, so started with some crowdsourcing.

First, a big tip o' the hat in appreciation to Dale Flick, Carl Jones and David Dewey over at's forum for checking their resources for me!

It was Kevin Shawver, a member of the San Francisco Maritime and Coastal History Club group on Facebook who was able to come up with the location, and it's not San Francisco: rather, the photo was taken at the head of the navigation channel of the San Joaquin River in Stockton, California. The railing in the foreground is along El Dorado Street, and the building on the right is the New Line Transportation Company, with "San Francisco" being an advertised destination. Kevin even posted a photo of the similar sternwheeler Captain Weber moored in the same spot (that link may not work if you're not already logged into Facebook).

However...still no one has been able to find any information on the boat itself. Columbia was a very common name...and that, to me, only makes the mystery more intriguing!

Curious about what the location looks like today, I pulled up the scene on Google Maps. Kevin also pointed out that Weber Point and the park adjacent to it was built on land reclaimed around 1950 when the channel was dredged to accommodate larger ships.

Friday, November 25, 2016

FamilyPhotoFriday: The Mystery Love Note

On the surface, today's photo, a tintype probably from the early 1860s, is pretty ordinary, and a bit rough in condition, with the enamel starting to flake from the underline iron base and the front half of the case missing. My brother and his wife, proprietors of one of the top antique malls in Fresno (Vonrad Vintage, in case you're in the area), have sponsored the Archive over the years by providing some unique photos that they come across. So when this cased tintype (and an ambrotype, but that's for a different post) showed up in the mail yesterday, I was delighted.

One of the first things I noticed, though, was that the brass matte and bezel was a bit loose in the fabric-lined wooden case. I became curious and carefully pulled it out, revealing a hidden message written by the man in the photo! And then I became obsessed.

On the back of the tintype itself, he had written his name, John Kehr. On the folded edges of the brass bezel he had scribed, with a pencil, again his name, then on another edge, "to my Cathrine" (or possibly "Catharine" or "Catherine"). But what I found most remarkable was that on the yellow paper that lines the inside of the wooden case shell, John Kehr wrote a note to his beloved. The pencil is very light, and John's handwriting wasn't the best, but I've been able to decifer off of the message save two words:
Any [t---y--? boys?] can
never never tell
how much I love
you and home.
Farewell, oh no
it may not be
my [fires? farm? firm?]

The first thing I did was to send the above natural light image of the note on a trip through Photoshop to optimize the contrast between the faded pencil marks and the yellow paper.

The second word of the first line is the hardest, as the paper is stained and the pencil, here, is the lightest. To the naked eye, the first letter looks like a "t", and third or fourth letter has a tail, and is probably a "y". I'm at a loss to find a word that fits the pattern and still makes sense in the message. However, if the t's cross-stroke is just a random mark, another possibility (since in other places, John didn't loop his t's) is that this is a "b", and suddenly "boys" is a possibility.

The last word is also a head scratcher when it comes to fitting the message's context, and I'm open to suggestions!

Sometimes, making an image into a negative can help things look clearer:

So...about the date. Tintypes became popular in the late 1850s and early 1860s for several reasons. Unlike the fragile and expensive daguerreotypes and ambrotypes which they replaced, tintypes were cheap and relatively easy to make, and were fairly durable. Soldiers heading off to fight in the Civil War lined up in droves at local studios to have their photo made, to leave behind with loved ones as a keepsake. Because the earlier types of photos always came in cases, that's the form people expected photos to take when tintypes first came on the scene. However, tintypes were so cheap to make that the cases actually cost more than the photos, so very quickly the fancy cases gave way to paper sleeves...or just hte plain piece of metal. And that suggests John's photo was taken early in the tintype age. Since he was leaving and saying farewell, it's not a stretch to conclude that this was from the 1861-1864 timeframe and this photo, and the love note it contained, were given to Catherine as he left to go fight.

The next step in my quest was to see if I could figure out who John and Catherine were, and where they were from. has quite a few entries (57) for the name "John Kehr", clearly its more common a name than I first thought. If John was around 18-20 at the time, and say the photo was taken in 1862, that puts his date of birth in the early to mid-1840s, and that narrows the list to eight possibilities (of course, that's graves that have been documented and's entirely possible that he's not in that database). Two were priests (and thus presumably not married), two had no spouse listed, and three had spouses other than Catherine.

The eighth one was married to a Catharine. He was John M. Kehr, born June 10, 1839 in Ohio, and married Catharine Hartman. They had a daughter in 1862 and then Catharine died giving birth to a son on March 19, 1863. In 1865, John remarried to a woman named Barbra.

I also tried the opposite approach, and searched for Cathrine/Catherine/Catharine Kehr. Besides the one above, a Catherine showed up also having married a John, but he doesn't have a record in the database. She was born in Ohio on October 14, 1843 in Ohio.

If anyone reading this has a John and Catherine as ancestors, I'd like to hear from you!

Because of its condition, this is one tintype that most serious collectors would likely pass over. And yet to me, as a somewhat romantic historian, its value lies not in the outward appearance, but in the touching message that one soldier going off to war, and quite possibly his death, left for his dear Catherine.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Down on the Farm: A Barn, A Forest and Longjohns

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! 

Everyone has their imagined Paradise, I would think, and this would be awfully close to mine: A homestead upon a forested lake (or is that an inlet from the sea? Some descent sized waves there, just beyond the barn). And yes, I dare say those are someone's longjohns hanging on the clothesline.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Terraplane of 1935

The Terraplane was a automobile brand build and sold by the Hudson Motor Car Company between 1932 and 1938. Our photo today for #MotorMonday is a shiny, new 1935 Terraplane sedan being proudly displayed by its owner. The Terraplane model was intended to be a durable but low-cost consumer offering, but was generally underpowered, so didn't achieve the market popularity Hudson had hoped for. The slogan Hudson used in its marketing was "On the sea that's aquaplaning, in the air that's aeroplaning, but on the land, in the traffic, on the hills, hot diggity dog, THAT'S TERRAPLANING"

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Ferries of San Francisco Bay

With so many towns and cities surrounding the San Francisco Bay, people naturally tended to use the water to get around, and ferry services on the bay sprang up early in the area's history - as early as 1850, by some accounts - and this rich tradition continues still today. The Archive recently acquired (in San Diego, of all places) several photos of ferries operating in the early 1930s. During that era, the boats were primarily side-wheel steamers, a specialized variant of the riverboat. To make operations more efficient, most were double-ended, so that the boats didn't have to turn around.


The Southern Pacific's Sacramento had a storied life - three lives, really. She was built for the South Pacific Coast Railroad as the Newark at the W. Collyer shipyard in San Francisco (anyone know if W. Collyer is related to the shipbuilding Collyer Brothers of New York?), and launched on April 18, 1877. The SPC was a narrow guage railroad that connected Santa Cruz with Oakland at Dunbarton Point, a landing where produce hauled on the railroad was transferred to ships; the line's locomotive shops were built at Newark (an enclave surrounded by the city of Fremont), hence the original name of the ferry. When the new ferry arrived in the bay in late 1877, she began connecting service from Dunbarton to San Francisco. With the arrival of sisters Bay City in 1878 and Garden City in 1879, service was shifted to the new ferry terminal at Alameda (at the end of a mole built 1 1/2 mile out into the bay) on March 20, 1878.

Ten years after Newark  entered service, the SPC was purchased by rival Southern Pacific, who merged it into their system and took over the ferry service. In 1903, the ferry was given a much-needed refit, which increased her gross tonnage from 1,783 to 2,197. On December 7, 1908, she was damaged in a collision with sister SP ferry Oakland, but after repairs continued soldiering on. In 1923, she was due another refit, and this time she was almost completely rebuilt, with very little of the old Newark remaining. Re-launched in January 1924, she was re-christened Sacramento. At the time, she was the largest all-passenger ferry on the bay, rated to carry up to 4,000 passengers (with actually seating for 1,900 of them).
According to the handwriting on the back of this small snapshot, the photo was taken on July 5, 1932.
After ferry service on the bay was curtailed to a single vessel in 1939, the Sacramento was the designated spare, running the SF-Oakland route when her newer sisters were down for maintenance. She continued plying the bay's waters through World War II and for almost a decade after, as one of only two remaining ferries. Steam, of course, was an anachronism by the time she suffered a major breakdown on November 28, 1954.

The Sacramento appeared to be destined for the scrapper when, after a year in limbo, she was purchased by Frank Hale and Gordon McRae who had formed the Redondo Beach Pleasure Fishing Corporation. The 78-year-old ferry was acquired for $5,000 and towed to the Sherman Boat Works in Long Beach, then stripped of all her propulsion machinery (except for the actual side-wheels). The main deck walls were also removed, and the ferry was towed to nearby Redondo Beach, where she was regularly moored off-shore and used as a fishing barge. The original plans called for the upper decks to house a nightclub, but this never came to fruition. During the summer months, the barge was open 24 hours a day, and just during the daytime during winter months.

On December 1, 1968, the Sacramento  was moored off of Rocky Point, Palos Verdes when an unusually fierce storm hit the coast. The crew evacuated, and during that night waves swamped the 91-year-old ferry, and she broke apart and sunk. Debris, including the pilot house, washed up along the shoreline. (A detailed article about her life as a fishing barge, including a photo of the pilothouse in the surf, can be found here.)


The Tamalpais was a side-wheel steam ferry built in 1901 and operated by the Northwestern Pacific Railroad. At one point, she held the speed record from San Francisco to Tiburon. She served until bay ferry service was ended at the beginning of 1939, following the opening of the Bay Bridge. What happened to her after that is in dispute. One source says that she was tied up at Antioch for a while and used as a restaurant. Another source (citing Bray Dickerson's book Narrow Gauge to the Redwoods) says that she was sold the the US Navy in 1941 and converted into a floating barracks at Mare Island. But an article in the Sausalito News from November 6, 1947, says that NWP's parent company, Southern Pacific, kept her as a spare until 1943, when she was taken over by the Government (presumably the Navy) and operated as a ferry between military facilities around the bay. After the war, she was towed to the Suisun mud flats, and in 1947 was sold to the Moore Dry Dock Company, who cut the once-proud ferry up for scrap.

Golden State

The Golden State was one of seven Diesel-electric powered ferries purchased by Golden Gate Ferries in the 1920s. The company had got its start in 1920 when local demand for auto ferry service between SF and Sausilito was ignored by the then-dominant Northwest Pacific Ferry company. Golden Gate Ferry Company began operations in 1922 with three ex-Key System steam-powered ferries, and then started buying new Diesel-powered vessels. All of the line's ferries had names that started with Golden.

The wood-hulled Golden State was launched in 1926 at Alameda by the General Engineering & Drydock Company. Three Diesel engines drove generators that powered two electric motors shafted to propellers, making the Golden State and her sisters faster than the older side-wheel ferries. With business booming (keep in mind, the Golden Gate Bridge didn't open until May of 1937), the line opened a second route to Berkeley in 1927, competing directly with the Southern Pacific. SP has a rich tradition of not tolerating competition, and so in 1929 gained control of Golden Gate and its fleet. Now the SP's Southern Pacific-Golden State subsidiary, the Golden fleet continued in service until the two big bridges opened.

Golden State had a lot of life left in her, and in November 1937 headed north to Puget Sound, becoming the Kehloken (Chinook for swan). Operated by Black Ball Ferries, the refitted vessel entered service on January 7, 1938 on the Seattle-Suquamish-Indianola route, and later between Seattle and Winslow. With newer ferries in service, Kehloken made her final revenue trip between Edmonds and Kingston on Labor Day, 1972. After languishing for three years, in 1975 she was purchased for $25,000 and towed to Lake Washington for conversion into a floating restaurant and nightclub. That was a short-lived career, and in September 1979 a fire onboard burned her to the waterline. The remains were taken over by the Department of Natural Resources, cleaned of anything toxic and then deliberately sunk off of Whidbey Island's Possession Point to serve as an artificial reef. She is, today, a popular spot for scuba diving. (Photos of the Kehloken, including the fire, can be seen here. A good dive report can be read here.)

Friday, November 18, 2016

Three Generations

Three generations of an unknown family are shown here. Interestingly, only the little girl and the daughter on the far right are looking at the camera.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Our House - 2

It's #ThrowbackThursday and since it's the 3rd week of the month, we feature our series of home portraits.

The details in this photograph fascinate me. First, of course, is the design of the building. All brick, it has almost a store-front facade on the right side. The house is in disrepair (note the windows above the porch and the repaired cracking between the upper and lower windows on the left) and the yard is a mess.

Standing on the porch are two older women, possibly sisters living together. And in the foreground is a young African-American man, possibly a hired hand who helps the sisters?

Monday, November 14, 2016

MotorMonday: Pan-Gas Filling Station

When automobiles started to appear on American streets, so did businesses needed to fuel them. Today's photo shows a filling station from one of the largest oil companies in America at the time. Sadly, portions of our print were devoured by a hungry rodent at some point, obscuring the view of the pumps.

Pan-Am oil products on display in the window.
In the early teens, automobile sales started to rise and the "horseless carriages" became more than just a curiosity, they became a practicality. They also presented a demand for fuel, and businesses were quick to respond. Initially, all sorts of stores and other businesses installed pumps and sold gasoline. In 1914, though Standard Oil of California took a different approach and sought to streamline the marketing and distribution of gasoline, opening a chain of 34 gasoline stations up and down the west coast. Other chains quicky copied the idea and opened their own "filling stations".

Oil baron Edward L. Doheny had made his fortunes drilling for and finding gushers down in Mexico, and in 1916, incorporated Pan American Petroleum as a parent company for his Mexican interests. The company promoted its gasoline initially as Pan-Gas, and its motor oil products under the Pan-Am name. Later gas stations dropped "Pan-Gas" and settled on Pan American.

Hughes Ice Cream may be a clue as to the photo's location:
The only references I could find were to a company
by that name based in Lexington, KY.
Doheny expanded his empire into Central America, and by 1921, Pan American was the largest petroleum company in the United States. In 1922, however, Doheny and Pan American became embroiled in the Teapot Dome scandal, wherein Interior Secretary Albert Fall was accused of taking bribes from oil barons in exchange for granting leases outside of the competitive bidding process. Fall went to prison and the debacle was considered the most sensational political scandal until it was overshadowed by Waterdate a half-century later. Eventually, Doheny was cleared of all wrongdoing.

Over the next several decades, Doheny continued to build his empire, buying and selling properties, often dealing with Standard Oil of Indiana. Eventually, in 1954, Pan American and Standard of Indiana decided to merge and formed Amoco.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Lighthouse in the Middle of the Willamette

Update: Want to see these photos in modern 3D with your smart phone? You can! Jump to the bottom of the article for instructions!

When you think of lighthouses, lonely outposts marking a rocky ocean shore are what usually come to mind. But this one was different: it sat in the mouth of Oregon's Willamette River, where it empties into the Columbia.

Our photo is one half of a stereoview showing the Willamette Lightstation, which once sat off of what today is called Kelley Point.

The Willamette River hosted a lot of commercial traffic in the mid- to late-1800s, and captains continually complained about the need for better navigational aids. By the early 1890s, the river was marked by a series of buoys and small lights. But the confluence of the river, and the presence of a low island there that would often flood, called for a better marker. Thus a full lighthouse was proposed, and funding was secured in 1894, with the facility going into service in 1895. A red light was mounted to one of the first floor railings, and it would flash every four seconds, and a fog bell would ring every ten seconds.

The house was designed by lighthouse architect Carl W. Leick, whose motto was "Build 'em stout, make 'em last"; Other than the annoying sound of the bell all night, it must have been a delightful place to live. It was an octagonal building mounted high on pilings with the building painted white and the metal roof was red. The second floor featured four graceful gabled windows, each facing a point on the compass. On the roof was a fenced Widow's Walk.

 It continued in service until 1935 when it was replaced by an automated light built on a dike extending out from the shore, eliminating the need for an in-residence keeper. The house itself was sold and sometime in the 1940s was craned to a lower set of pilings on Kelley Point where it served as an office for the Portland Mercantile Exchange, to track the comings and goings of merchant vessels. The exchange later build a more modern office and abandoned the old house, which then burned down in 1950.

Kelly Point from Google Maps. The tiny vertical line going up from the point is the dike to the current automated light.

The Willamette Lightstation also shows up in a few other places on the internet:


Want to see these photos in modern 3D with your smart phone? You can! All you need is one of the popular cardboard VR viewers - more details can be found on this tutorial page - and to download the version of the card on the right. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

FamilyPhotoFriday: A Tenting Reunion

This is a tough one to figure out. The immediate subject appears to be a family reunion, with three or four generations present. Nothing terribly unusual about that as a subject for a late 1800s photograph.

It's the venue that has me puzzled. They appear to be staying in tents, and the expressions of the people at the far right, looking on, are of concern or aprehension. On the back is a photographer's stamp, "Martin, Photographer. Ottawa, Kansas."

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Little (School) House on the Prairie

The next time your kids complain about the school they have to go to - and how they have to get there - show them this photo from the early 1900s:

I have absolutely no information on where this photo was taken. Maybe that's a good thing, in a way, because it makes the wondering about the scene and about the lives of these children even more intriguing.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Road Trip: Two Families and a Studebaker

I'm having a hard time deciding whether this series of photos depicts two families on a vacation trip, or moving in search of a better situation. They have an awful lot of stuff loaded on to their Studebaker, which appears to be a 1918 model.

So how are the families related? Two sisters? Two brothers (assuming the photographer is the other husband)?
Think about it: eight people (four of them restless children) crammed in that automobile!
That looks like a mattress tied on to the side of the car with all the other luggage, as they complete a river crossing on
board a cable ferry, or punt. A horse and buggy wait behind them.
It's too bad that the license plate is obscured by the would have been interesting to be able to see the
state and possibly year on it.