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Memories of the Richmond-San Rafael Ferry Company : oral history transcript / 1992 online

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University of California Berkeley



Regional Oral History Office University of California

The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California



ON THE WATERFRONT:
AN ORAL HISTORY OF RICHMOND, CALIFORNIA



M. M. SNODGRASS
MEMORIES OF THE RICHMOND-SAN RAFAEL FERRY COMPANY



An Interview Conducted by
Judith K. Dunning
in 1985



Copyright 1992 by The Regents of the University of California




M.M. "TUBBY" SNODGRASS
1986



Photograph by Judith K. Dunning



This manuscript is available for research purposes.
Requests for permission to quote for publication should
be addressed to the Regional Oral History Office,
486 Library, University of California, Berkeley 94720,
and should include identification of the specific
passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages,
and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited
as follows:

M. M. Snodgrass, "Memories of the Richmond-
San Rafael Ferry Company," an oral history
conducted in 1985 by Judith K. Dunning,
Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft
Library, University of California, ^Berkeley,
1992.



Copy no.



Cataloging Information

SNODGRASS, M. M. (b. 1911) Ferry employee

Memories of the Richmond-San Rafael Ferry. 1992, 75 pp.

Blackfoot, Idaho; to Richmond, California, 1923; Richmond-San
Rafael Ferry Co., 1924-1956: description of ferry, fees and
schedules, crews, accidents, labor disputes, WWII impact;
ferrying prisoners to San Quentin; loss of downtown Richmond,
1950S-1960.

Introduction by Jim Quay, Director, California Council for the
Humanities.

Interviewed 1985 by Judith K. Dunning for the Richmond
Community History Series. Regional Oral History Office, The
Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.



Acknowl edgmen t s



The Regional Oral History Office, on behalf of future
researchers, wishes to thank the following organizations whose
contributions made possible this project, "On the Waterfront:
An Oral History of Richmond, California."



The CALIFORNIA COUNCIL FOR THE HUMANITIES, a state division of
the National Endowment For The Humanities



Matching Funds

Chevron USA

Crowley Maritime Corporation

Moore Dry Dock Foundation

Mechanics Bank

Marco F. Hellman Fund

Kaiser Healthplan, Inc.

Bechtel Power Corporation

Friends of The Bancroft Library



The completion of the oral history volumes and their
distribution to participating Bay Area public libraries was
funded through a grant by the U.S. Department of Education under
the provision of the Library Services and Construction Act
administered in California by the State Librarian. The work
was done in cooperation with the Richmond Public Library.



INTRODUCTION by Jim Quay



It is a great pleasure to introduce "On the Waterfront" to
you. I myself was introduced to the project in September 1983,
shortly after becoming executive director of the California
Council for the Humanities. Both the Council and its mission of
bringing the humanities to out-of-school adults were relatively
new to me when Judith Dunning came to my office to talk about her
proposal. Ms. Dunning wanted to document an important period in
the life of the Richmond, California waterfront, but she didn't
want to write a study for scholars. Instead, she proposed to
interview most of the oldest surviving waterfront figures,
collect historic photographs of the port and its workers, and to
create from these an exhibit for the public. Would the Council
be interested in supporting such a project? ,-

Happily, the two dozen scholars and citizens who sat on the
Council then were interested and, convinced of the project's
importance, voted to fund Ms. Dunning 's proposal in early 1984.
Six years later, I now know what I couldn't have known then:
that "On the Waterfront" had all the features of a typical public
humanities project: a powerful subject, caring scholars, a
resourceful and dedicated project director, and uncertain
funding.

You can appreciate why even the best public humanities
project and "On the Waterfront" is one of the best doesn't
easily attract funding. In a state focused relentlessly on the
future, the next quarterly statement, the next development, the
value of such a project doesn't show up in a cost-benefit
analysis. Who would care about the lives of Calif ornians past?
Who would care about a waterfront whose boomtime is passed?

The answer is: thousands of people, as Judith's project
proved. First and foremost, Judith, who didn't just study
Richmond, but moved to and lived in Richmond. Like so many
project directors, she gave time and life to this project far
beyond the amount budgeted. In the language of accounting this
is called "in-kind contribution"; in the language of life it's
called devotion. Those of us privileged to know Judith know that
the project both exhausted her and enriched her, and she has won
the admiration of those who supported her and the affection of
those she has interviewed and worked with.



After Judith came a handful of interested scholars historian
Chuck Wollenberg, folklorist Archie Green, and oral historian
Willa Baum who gave their time and expertise to the project.
Next, a handful of people at organizations like CCH, Chevron and
Mechanics Bank, who thought enough of the idea to fund it.
Finally, eventually, came the thousands of visitors to Richmond
Festival by the Bay during 1985-87 and saw the photographs and
read the excerpts from interviews and realized that they too
cared about these people. And now, you, the reader of these
interviews, have an opportunity to care.

In its fifteen years of supporting efforts to bring the
humanities to the out-of-school public in California, the Council
has seen two great themes emerge in the projects it funds:
community and diversity. "On the Waterfront" embodies both. I
think such projects are compelling to us because in our busy
lives, we often encounter diversity more as a threat than as a
blessing, and community more as an absence that a presence.

"On the Waterfront" gives us all a chance to experience the
blessings of diversity. The life details that emerge from these
pictures and voices make us appreciate how much the people of the
Richmond waterfront are unlike us, how much attitudes, economies,
and working conditions have changed. Yet because the portraits
are so personal and intimate, we can also recognize the ways in
which they are like us, in their struggles, their uncertainties,
their pride, and their fates. What seemed like difference
becomes part of a greater sense of who "we" are.

In the lives of waterfront people, we can also glimpse how a
community grew and waned. Busy with our own lives, we often
neglect the activities that knit communities together. Judith
Dunning 's project allows us to see what we are losing and how
communities are created and destroyed. And so, "On the
Waterfront" fulfills the oldest promise of the humanities: that
in learning about others, we learn about ourselves. For the gift
of these twenty-six lives, we can thank Judith Dunning.

Jim Quay

Executive Director

California Council for the Humanities

March 2, 1990

San Francisco, California



PREFACE



*



ORIGIN OF THE PROJECT



"On the Waterfront: An Oral History of Richmond,
California," began in 1985. Interviews were conducted
with twenty-six. Bay Area residents including early Richmond
families, World War II Kaiser Shipyard workers, cannery
workers, fishermen, and whalers.

I was first attracted to this shoreline industrial town
located sixteen miles northeast of San Francisco in 1982
while enrolled in a documentary photography class. For ten
weeks I concentrated on the Richmond waterfront, often
accompanying the crew of the freighter Komoku on its
nightly run from Richmond to C & H Sugar in Crockett. It
was then that I began to hear colorful stories of
Richmond's waterfront and the City's World War II days.

The question which captivated me in 1982 and still does
is what happened to Richmond when World War II transformed
this quiet working class town into a 2 4 -hour-day industrial
giant? With the entry of the Kaiser Shipyard, the number
of employed industrial workers skyrocketed from 4,000 to
100,000. An unprecedented number of women entered the work
force. The shipyards set speed and production records
producing one-fifth of the nation's Liberty ships. By 1945
Richmond's shipyards had launched 727 ships.

There were other enormous changes. During the wartime
boom, Richmond's population rose from 23,000 to 125,000.
The ethnic composition of Richmond and the entire Bay Area
changed dramatically with the influx of workers recruited
from the South and Midwest. There was little time to
provide the needed schools and community services. Housing
shortages were critical. Twenty-four thousand units of war
housing were built but they were soon filled to capacity.
People were living in make-shift trailer camps along the
roadsides and the all-night movie theaters were filled with
sleeping shipyard workers.

James Leiby, professor of Social Welfare at UC Berkeley,
called Richmond a "spectacular" case of urban development.
What happened to other communities over a period of decades
occurred in Richmond in a few years.



Some of the questions I wanted to explore in the
interviews were who were these newcomers to Richmond and
were there reasons, beyond the promise of a job, which
brought them in steady streams by trains, buses, and
automobiles hauling make-shift trailers? And was this
destination of Richmond, California, all that they had
imagined?

Other questions were just as compelling. After the war
ended and Kaiser and fifty-five other industries moved out
of Richmond, leaving this new population suddenly
unemployed, what made people stay? And for those who left
Richmond and returned home to their families in the South
and Midwest, what made them come back to Richmond a second
time, often bringing relatives with them?

As intrigued as I was by this new population, I also
wanted to know how Richmond natives experienced these
changes. In a sense, as others moved in to find new homes
in Richmond, the longtime residents were losing their once
small and familiar home town.

Initially, I tried to locate people who were living and
working in Richmond before the World War II boom. They
worked in the canneries, at the Chevron Refinery, or made
their living fishing in San Pablo Bay. Most of these first
interviewees were California natives, born and raised in
Richmond. But the majority of the interviewees for this
project came from other places Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma,
Missouri, Iowa, Idaho, Utah all to start a new life in
California. Each one had a story to tell. Armed with a
tape recorder, a camera, and lots of unanswered questions,
I set out to record these local residents.



INTERVIEW SETTING



With few exceptions, the initial interview took place at
the narrator's home. Because I was recording a diverse
group, the interview setting varied dramatically. One day
I might be in a neighborhood where residents, fearing stray
bullets, keep their curtains drawn and their lights dimmed.
Another day I would be in a home with a sweeping view of
the bay, built by a former cannery owner during the
Depression.



When possible, I recorded additional interviews and
photographed at locations where the narrators had lived or
worked. Some of these included the former Filice and
Perrelli Canning Company, Ferry Point, Point San Pablo
Yacht Harbor, and the last remaining World War II shipyard
structures. . .since torn down. I also spent many days off
shore. When interviewing Dominic and Tony Ghio, fishermen
for over sixty years, I accompanied them on dawn fishing
trips in San Pablo Bay. However, following a turbulent
twelve-hour whale watching excursion to the Farallon
Islands with former whaler Pratt Peterson, I vowed to
continue my research on land.

When I asked some project participants to give me a
personalized tour of Richmond to see what landmarks were
important to them, all too often I was shown vacant lots
where a family home, church, or favorite cafe once stood.
The downtown, once bustling with movie theaters, dance
halls, and department stores, is eerily quiet for a city of
82,000. I found that local residents are still angry over
the loss of their downtown district during" the 1960s
redevelopment era. Longtime residents spoke emotionally of
the city losing its center. Hilltop Mall, built on the
outskirts of town and accessible by automobile, was no
substitute for a shopping district in the middle of town.
The struggle to rebuild the downtown and to attract new
businesses is an ongoing one for the City of Richmond.

After the interviewing was completed, there were photo
sessions in the narrator's homes and former work places, as
well as meetings in which we went through family albums and
trunks. Some wonderful photographs and the stories behind
them were uncovered during this process. - Copies are
included in the individual volumes.



PUBLIC USES OF THE ORAL HISTORIES



From the early stages of this project, both the text
from the oral histories and the collection of photographs,
have been used in community events. Examples include photo
panels and maritime demonstrations at Richmond's Festival
by the Bay, 1985, 1986, and 1987; and Oakland's Seafest
'87. An exhibition, "Fishermen by Trade: On San Francisco
Bay with the Ghio Brothers," produced in collaboration with
the Richmond Museum in 1988, was developed from the oral
history interviews with Dominic and Tony Ghio.



In an effort to present the oral histories to the public
in a form which retained the language, the dialects, and
the flavor of the original interviews, I wrote "Boomtown,"
a play about the transformation of Richmond during World
War II. "Boomtown" was produced by San Francisco's Tale
Spinners Theater and toured Bay Area senior centers,
schools, and museums in 1989.

A new direction for the oral histories is in the field
of adult literacy. Nearly fifty years after the
recruitment of men and women from the rural South and
Midwest to work in the Kaiser shipyards, some former
shipyard workers and many of their descendents are enrolled
in LEAP, Richmond's adult literacy program, where the
students range in ages from 16 to 85 and are 70 percent
black.

Our current goal is to make a shortened, large print
version of the oral history transcripts for use by adult
literacy students and tutors. We think that by using the
true stories of local residents as literacy text, there
will be an additional incentive for adults learning to
read. The characters in the oral histories are often their
neighbors, friends, and families speaking in their own
words on such topics as the Dust Bowl, the World War II
migration of defense workers, waterfront industries, family
and community life.



THANKS



"On the Waterfront" project has had many diverse layers,
including the University of California, the advisory
committee, a wide range of financial supporters, and of
primary importance, a large group of interviewees. I want
to thank all of the project participants who donated their
time, enthusiasm, and memories to this project.

Special thanks is due Jim Quay, Executive Director of
the California Council for the Humanities, who has been a
source of good advice and inspiration from the beginning.
The Council's grant in 1984 got the project off the ground,
kicking off the campaign for matching funds. Jim Quay's
counsel last summer set in motion the completion of the
oral histories by introducing me to the California State
Library grant programs.



Bay Area historian Chuck Wollenberg and labor folklorist
Archie Green have been my primary advisors, as well as
mentors, from the early planning stages. Chuck provided
insight into how Richmond's transition during World War II
fit into the larger picture of California history. Archie
Green reinforced my belief that as chroniclers of history
we must continue to document the lives of working people.

From the preliminary research to the completed project,
Kathleen Rupley, curator of the Richmond Museum, has been
enormously supportive. Working in collaboration with
Kathleen, and Museum staff Paula Mutton and Joan Connolly
on the "Fishermen by Trade" exhibition was an invigorating
experience as well as an excellent example of how two
organizations pooled their talents and resources to create
a popular community event.

Stanley Nystrom, a Museum volunteer and lifelong
Richmond resident, has been a continuing resource to me. A
local history buff, with a great sense of detail, he
assisted me often.

Finally, I want to thank Adelia Lines and Emma Clarke of
the Richmond Public Library, Sharon Pastor i of the LEAP
program, and Rhonda Rios Kravitz and Gary Strong of the
California State Library for their support in making
possible the completion of these oral history volumes and
their distribution to several Bay Area public libraries
which serve minority populations.



CLOSING THOUGHTS



In my work I am most interested in recording the stories
of people who are undocumented in history and who are
unlikely to leave written records behind. For me, the
strength of this project has been seeing the transformation
in how the interviewees view their relationship to history.
They came a long way from our first contact when a typical
response to my request for an interview was, "Why do you
want to interview me?" or "What's important about my life?"
And "Why Richmond?" With some encouragement, many became
actively involved in the research and the collection of
photographs, and began recommending others to be
interviewed. "On the Waterfront: An Oral History of
Richmond, California," became their project, with a life of
its own.



This set of oral histories is by no means the whole
story of Richmond. It is one piece of its history and one
effort to generate community-based literature. I hope that
it will encourage others to record the stories, the songs,
and the traditions of our community members. They have a
lot to teach us.



Judith K. Dunning
Project Director



September 1990

Regional Oral History Office
Room 486 The Bancroft Library
University of California
Berkeley, California



INTERVIEW HISTORY

M. M. "Tubby" Snodgrass

I interviewed M. M. "Tubby" Snodgrass, a native of
Blackfoot, Idaho, in February of 1985. We met at his office on
Macdonald Avenue in Richmond. He was a retired employee of the
Richmond-San Rafael Ferry Company who had spent a good part of
his life working on the ferry. "I was a dishwasher, a cook,
ticket agent, a toll collector, the commissary manager, and the
Port Superintendent." He began with the company in 1924, at
age twelve, and worked until the ferry's last trip on August
31, 1956.

I was interested in talking to Mr. Snodgrass not only
because of his experience on the waterfront but also because he
was an active member of the Council of Richmond Industries. I
wanted to get an insider's view of Richmond's business scene.
After the first interview session, Mr. Snodgrass acknowledged
that he was in no position to speak freely about this work.

For our second meeting I asked Mr. Snodgrass to accompany
me to the former site of the Richmond-San Rafael ferry landing
near Point Molate. We met at the Richmond Plunge in Point
Richmond early one morning and drove out to the old ferry
landing. The sign read Red Rock Marine Harbor, and the area
was run down with heaps of abandoned cars, boats, and wooden
piles jutting out of the water. Except for a few people
fishing off the pier, the area was abandoned. I shot some
photographs while Tubby chatted with the fishermen.

We continued our waterfront tour by car with Mr. Snodgrass
pointing out landmarks along the way. We drove past the
Winehaven buildings, and to the site of the old whaling station
and the still-operating rendering plant. I found this informal
tour helpful. Mr. Snodgrass was relaxed and talkative off-
tape.

Mr. Snodgrass was very supportive of the project and
interested in helping out. He advised me on fund-raising and
made several phone calls on the project's behalf. Often he
would call me early in the morning and if he happened to catch
me at home, he asked me why I wasn't swimming at the Richmond
Plunge. If he reached me at the office on a sunny afternoon,
he asked why I wasn't out enjoying the day. I enjoyed his
sense of humor.



Tubby Snodgrass is eighty years old now, and is on the
Board of Directors of the Richmond Museum. Because there was a
lot left unsaid in this oral history I hope that Mr. Snodgrass
will add to his story. He could offer us some valuable
insights into the political and business scene in Richmond.

Judith K. Dunning
Project Director

June 1992

Regional Oral History Office

The Bancroft Library

University of California, Berkeley



M. M. Snodgrass Table of Contents

Family Background 1

Growing Up in Blackfoot, Idaho 1

Description of Parents 5

Marriage in 1938 8

Presbyterian Church in Richmond 9

Education and Teenage Ambitions 10

Beginnings with the Richmond-San Rafael Ferry Company,

1924 12

Description of the Ferry 15

The Kitchen 15

Steaks and Chops in a 30-Minute Crossing 17

Fees and Schedules 18

Rules of the Workplace 20

The Crew 21

Accidents 24

Storms 26

Ferries: Woodenhulled to Steelhulled 27

Labor Disputes 29

Recollections of Strikes 32

Chinese Cooks 36

Changes in the Ferry 37

Impact of World War II on Ferry Operations 38

Changes in the Richmond Waterfront 43

Background on the Richmond-San Rafael Ferry and

Transportation Company 44

Captain Raymond Clarke 45

Ferrying Prisoners to San Quentin 50

Ferry Safety Record 53

Fog 55

Changes in Bay Traffic 57

Growth of the Trucking Industry 57

Work Schedule 58

Other Recollections of the Ferry 61



Richmond as a Historical Place 66

World War II Transforms a City 67

Loss of Downtown Richmond 72



Regional Oral History Office University of California

Room 486 The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 94720



BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION

(Please write clearly or type. Use black ink.)

>

Your full name Marion Myers Snodgrass

Date of birth December 24, 1911 Birthplace Blackfoot. Idaho

Father's full name Howard Bertram Snodgrass

Occupation Merchant Birthplace Shambaugh, Iowa

Mother's full name Edith Marion Howell

Occupation Homemaker Birthplace- Albion, Idaho

Your SpOUSC(s) Mar-i^ T.hm'gg SnnHpra g g



Your children Kathryn Marie Snodgrass Peterson

John Thomas Snodgrass (Deceased)

Where did you grow up? 1-12 Blackfoot r Idaho then Richmond, CA
When did your family first come to California? 1924



Reasons for coming Land of opportunity - Father opened Variety Store

Present community _ El Cerrito How long? 51 years

Education (and training programs) High School - Armstrong Business College
Accounting - La Salle Correspondence School - Various training program

Occupation(s) Richmond San Rafapl Fprry Company

Public Relations Consultant

continued on back page



Special interest or activities Government and community activities
Home and family

Ideas for improving Richmond's image Continue to clean-up City -



Rring in .TOR PRDDIir.TNf; TNDII.9TKTF.S - H^lp -j n pypry way
to educate citizens, both young and old

What do you see for the future of Richmond? Nothing but good!



Eafflily.-Backsco.ynd



Growing Up in Blackfoot, Idaho
[Interview 1: January 24, 1985] ##

*

Dunning: Mr. Snodgrass, where were you born?

-

Snodgrass: I was born in Blackfoot, Idaho.

Dunning: What year were you born?

Snodgrass: In 1911, December 24th.

Dunning: Where did your parents come from?

Snodgrass: My mother came from Utah and my father from Iowa.

Dunning: When did they come to Richmond?

Snodgrass: In 1923.

Dunning: Do you know what brought them here?

Snodgrass: Yes. My dad opened a store here, a variety store

Dunning: Did they know anyone else in Richmond?



## This symbol indicates that a tape or segment of a
tape has begun or ended.



Snodgrass: No, they didn't. Not a soul.

Dunning: Do you know how they happened to choose this part of
the country?

Snodgrass: No, except it was sunny California. That's about
all. I know how disappointed we were when we got
here to see what it looked like.



Dunning :



What did it look like?



Snodgrass:



When I came, I came with a fellow in an old Model T
Ford. When we crossed the Rodeo-Vallej o ferry into
Contra Costa county, the hills, were all brown. It
was in July, see. We expected to see all green grass
and orange trees, which of course we didn't see.


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