National Register of Historic Places in San Francisco

National Register #75000225: Hercules Steam Tugboat in San Francisco Hercules Steam Tugboat
Alcatraz Island in the Background
4 July 2009

Working Tugs in the San Francisco Bay

Liberty Ship Jeremiah O'Brien with Escort Tugs Taurus and Apollo Liberty Ship Jeremiah O'Brien
Escort Tugs Taurus and Apollo
Pier 45
28 July 2005
Bearcat Escort Tug in San Francisco Bay Escort Tug Bearcat in San Francisco Bay
Owned by Westar Marine Services, Pier 50
4 February 2007
(Click Photos to Zoom)
National Register #75000225
Hercules Steam Tugboat
Hyde Street Pier
San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

At the turn of the 20thcentury, San Francisco was a great center of international commerce and trade, and the busiest Pacific port of the United States. Steamers carried passengers and cargo from the far corners of the world into San Francisco Bay, while windjammers by the score still ploughed their stately way through the swells working in trades where time was not of the essence.

Competition was fierce to tow sailing ships into and out of the bay, and many were the exciting races to be the first tug to pick up ships at sea. There were three major competitors in the towboat business in San Francisco at the times Crawley Tug and Launch Company, founded by Tom Crowley who got his start meeting sailing ships in an oar powered Whitehall boat; the Blackstack tugs of Spreckels Towboat Company; and the Redstack tugs of Shipowners' and Merchants' Towboat. Company.

In 1907, Shipowners' and Merchants' sent one of the outstanding towboat pioneers of the Pacific Coast, Captain William J Gray to Camden, New Jersey, to supervise the construction of two powerful new oceangoing tugboats, Hercules and GOLIATH. The East Coast yard, John H. Dialogue & Son on the Delaware River, was selected because of its reputation of turning out high quality tugboats.

Hercules and GOLIATH were fitted out and readied for sea at the beginning of the new year of 1908. Their maiden voyage was extraordinary. Hercules towed her sister nonstop 14,000 miles, all the way around South America, through the Straits of Magellan, to San Francisco. Each vessel was topped off with 105,000 gallons of oil. GOLIATH acted in the role of tanker for her sister.

Throughout the oceangoing portion of her career Hercules generally carried a crew of three firemen, three oilers, a chief and two assistant engineers, deckhands, a cook, two mates, and a captain - enough manpower to work three shifts while at sea, four hours on and eight off. Life on an ocean-going tug could be quite uncomfortable for the crew because the deep, narrow hull rode so low in the water that the main deck was likely to be awash much of the time.

In 1912, Hercules towed a caisson for the first drydock at Pearl Harbor from San Francisco to Hawaii. She made several subsequent voyages to the Hawaiian Islands, once with Lurline in tow.

During the construction of the Panama Canal, Hercules towed a caisson for the Miraflores Locks to Balboa from Union Iron Works in San Francisco, where it was built. Upon completion of the canal, Hercules took advantage of the shortcut in her first coast-to-coast trip since her maiden voyage, at which time the Biq Ditch had not been built. She hauled the dredge SAN DIEGO to Jacksonville, Florida, from San Pedro, California, in 27 days approximately one-third of the time of her first voyage around the Horn.

Lumber was the premier coastal cargo of the Pacific Coast. Lumber schooners had been carrying timber cargo southward to the burgeoning cities under sail since the 1850s. In 1895 the first successful attempt was made to tow logs down the coast, chained together in huge rafts to take advantage of wood's natural buoyancy. As much as seven million board feet at a time could be delivered a dozen times the load of an average schooner. But it was slow and disagreeable work. Hercules' 1913 log raft tow from Astoria, Oregon, to San Diego, took 29 days, longer than the voyage to Florida via the new canal. Hercules made at least six more voyages with log rafts in tow.

In 1916, Hercules towed the schooners ESPADA and C.A. THAYER from San Francisco to Port Townsend, Washington. This was a routine towing job at the time, now of significance because C.A. THAYER survived wear and time to be preserved as a National Historic Landmark.

In 1918 the Shipowner's and Merchant's Redstack fleet was acquired by Crowley Tug and Launch Co. Crawley's maritime enterprises have since grown to worldwide significance in the tugboat, barge, launch, and harbor cruise fields.

Not long after, Hercules was sold to the colorful Mayor of San Francisco, and future Governor of the State of California, Sunny Jim Ralph, Jr. who was San Francisco's leading sailing ship owner. His Rolph Navigation and Coal Company changed Hercules' plain red stack to black with a big white "R", but otherwise operated her in much the same service as before.

In 1924, the Western Pacific Railroad Co. bought Hercules. She ceased serving as a deepwater towboat, and until the 1950s, she shuttled railroad car barges back and forth across San Francisco Bay between terminals in Alameda, Oakland, and San Francisco's northern waterfront.

In 1941, her foremast was removed and the wheelhouse raised to improve visibility over the railroad cars on barges floating alongside. Hercules now operated around the clock, using two, twelve-hour watches daily, and changing crews early in the evening and morning. A schedule of three, eight-hour watches was instituted just before World War II.

In 1962, she was retired by Western Pacific, a victim of changing nationwide trends in rail transportation and of the local introduction of the diesel powered self-propelled car float LAS PLUMAS. She changed hands once again and was docked in Oakland before being acquired by the Maritime Museum.

Excerpted from the NRHP Nomination Form.

Hercules is a National Historic Landmark.

Aquatic Park and Vicinity

Hyde Street Pier Pier 45
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