Friday, February 7, 2014

Answer: What's that wreck in the water?

This week's Search Challenge was to figure out the story of this hunk of junk lying in the water of the Carquinez Straits.  (It's also worth looking at Remmij's "reverse angle" shot of the wreckage by Jafafa Hots.)


1.  What's the story of this wreck?  (What was it?  Did it have a name?  Why is it here?)  
2.  Can you find a picture of it (whatever it was) taken BEFORE it turned into a ruin?    
3.  Can you find a newspaper article about how this wreck came to be?   (Extra credit)   

Here's what I did.

1.  What's the story of this wreck?  (What was it?  Did it have a name?  Why is it here?)  
First, I knew it was a cell-phone photo, so I just extracted the EXIF data from the photo (I used Fileviewer, but there are many approaches--I'll write up a quick summary next week about how to get the EXIF data).  We know the lat/long information is there, so I pulled it out using FileViewer.  (38.054242,-122.20228)  
I started by going to Google Maps to get a look-around, just to see what things might be nearby that I could use as search terms.  Here's what I saw when I put the lat/long into Maps. 

But that's a little too far out to be useful.  I thought I should zoom in a bit to see more detail.  

And... what do you know?  There's the answer right there on the map!  At exactly the place where my "hunk of junk" lay, the map as "Garden City Wreckage" marked. 
Longtime Maps users know that there are layers of information that show up at different zoom levels.  Unfortunately, you can't turn them on/off individually, but have to manually zoom in-and-out until the layer you want appears.  In this case, I got lucky that it had shown up.  (If it hadn't, I would have used other clues shown here--such as "Eckley Pier," "Bull Valley," or the nearby town of "Port Costa" as place names.  I'd have found it that way.) 
But, as often happens, someone else had already marked this particular spectacular junk pile.  I switched to Earth view and zoomed way in to see if it was what I thought it was.  Here's the Earth image (and it's clearly the same, although at low tide).  

Now that I know it's the "Garden City" (and probably a boat of some kind), I had to figure out the story.  
A query for: 
     [ "Garden City" wreckage ]  
returns a large number of hits, all of which tell the story of how the Garden City was built in 1879 as a sidewheel ferry for the South Pacific Coast Railroad to move train cars to San Francisco.  
Although the Garden City was built with narrow-gauge track on the main deck to carry freight cars to San Francisco, but could also carry passengers and cars as a relief ferry. Southern Pacific used Garden City as a relief boat for their auto ferry run on the old "creek route". Garden City stayed on the "creek route" as a passenger ferry when auto ferry service was shifted to the Oakland pier. 
The ferry ran from Alameda to San Francisco until 1929 when it was brought to the piers at the town of Eckley as a fishing resort. Unfortunately, that was its last assignment before becoming a picturesque wreck. 

2.  Can you find a picture of it (whatever it was) taken BEFORE it turned into a ruin?
This task wasn't that hard:  
     [ "Garden City" ferry ] 
If you search in Images, there are quite a few images out there.  Here's a link to one from Dory Adams' web site showing the ferry before it became a wreck.  
Garden City Ferry, 1980.  Linked image from Dory Adams site, taken by Kevin Scanlon.

And another image of the Garden City steaming into the Ferry Building at the Embarcadero in San Francisco (c. 1904).  

From the Wikimapia site I first got the clue that the wreckage was there because the docked ferry had burned at some time in the 1980s.  That led to my next query: 
     [ "Garden City" ferry burn ] 
With this query I found the PrivateNaturalist web site (which tells his own story of searching for the Garden City), and tells me that “This rusting heap is the boilers and paddle-wheel hub of the old Southern Pacific Ferry Boat “Garden City”… it burned to the waterline in the fire of 1983.”
Another clue. Fire! 

3.  Can you find a newspaper article about how this wreck came to be?  Now it's time to turn to my trusty Newspaper Archives.  So I visit and redo my query there.  This leads to several articles in the news archives, all saying more or less the same thing.  Fires, started by arsonists, destroyed large parts of the area, and spread onto the old wooden ferry, burning it to the waterline next to the Eckley pier on Sunday, August 7, 1983.  
Because I was curious, I also check Google Books for any mention of the Garden City ferry, and found a few.   It was a quick click to find Ferries of San Francisco Bay by Paul C. Trimble.  (Note that you search in this book for "Garden Ferry." There are 4 great photos on pages 27 and 28.)  
Another excellent book is Port Costa which also tells the history of "Garden City" with many images over the years, and with a detail saying that it was the "largest dance floor in Contra Costa county" in its day.  There's also a Christmas card from its time as fishing resort. 

But as I mentioned in yesterday's post, there are also often county-wide historical societies that collect information (and photos).  I thought I'd look for the county that might have information.  Since Port Costa is the closest town of any size (and it's pretty small), I did the obvious query: 
     [ what county is Port Costa in ] 

Note that this gives us a name and a map.  Now that I know the county name, I can look for: 

   [Contra Costa historical society]

and find The Contra Costa Historical Society .  Their site is a little funky, but by navigating down (search doesn't seem to work very well), I was able to find all of the photos shown in the previous pages, and get confirmation from a different (and very local source).  
As another approach, I could have looked in Google Maps for: 

     [ Contra Costa libraries ] 

or, using Maps, zoomed into the place of interest, and search for [ library ] 

Search Lessons: 

1.  Zooming in on a map can sometimes reveal information you can't see at all levels.  In this case, it basically gave me the answer instantly, but you have to know to zoom all the way in (and check each level--most easily done by using the + and - controls).  

2.  Switching the view to Earth can also reveal new information.  In this case, we can see that the wreckage is accessible at low tide.  (I'm tempted to go back!)  

3.  Using local place names can help focus the search and find new information.  In this case, Eckley is name of the pier, but it WAS the name of the village where the Garden City was finally moored.  Likewise, Port Costa is the closest "big" town (nowadays, it's around 200 people), but it's a longer lasting place that Eckley, which no longer has any town left.  BOTH place names, though, help to find news articles and books with local information.  

4.  Local historical societies and libraries often have great local historical information.  Here, I used the "look for a county historical society" trick to locate a nearby cache of historical photos.  Keep that in mind when you're searching for this kind of information.  

Finally, I have to include Rosemary's story from the comments (I'm adding it here because it was an aspect of the story that I hadn't thought about.  And it turns out to be intriguing...)   

The arsonist aspect of the 1983 fire was of interest to me so I searched papers to see if the person was caught. The Rodeo fire chief's son was responsible and pleaded guilty. He was sent for psychological testing. His father was to retire the next month. (News article) 

Here's an article that indicates his father turned in his son for the crime after admitting he was responsible.  That's a difficult thing for any father to admit, perhaps especially one who is the local fire chief.  


  1. fwiw: - some other perspectives, low tide, 2010 - from Panoramio (photos by 'Drafter') -
    looking toward Eckley Pier
    detail, paddlewheel axel - note grass
    overall, better sense of remaining wreckage
    interesting contrast to water levels shown in DR's photo, also note the greenery on the far shore (Vallejo) in August as opposed
    to the bare/brown in Dan's pic - hopefully the bit-o-rain helped.
    also - similar to 'jafafa hots' reverse angle -
    'Drafter' -Aug. 25, 2010
    jafafa - boilers/axels, Sept. 2010
    Carquinez Straits/Bridges

  2. I'm the person who marked the wreckage on the map, has photos on flickr, etc.
    Unfortunately one of the "community editors" edited my text in the mark very badly, mangled it and made the information incorrect.
    I tried to correct it, and that same person rejected it as incorrect - because I'd disagreed with them.
    So last time I looked, the info on that tag was wrong.

    That was the last time I ever marked something. I have done extensive research on Bay Area transport, and when some no-nothing can come along right after you mark it and make it incorrect and then revert your changes back to their incorrect version, I figure you're wasting your time. Instead of helping to inform, you end up being used to misinform.

  3. Jafafa -- Can you amplify for us what you marked? (That is, what map did you mark?) Your experience is not all that uncommon in a community-edited world, so it would help us all to understand what's happening if you can amplify just a bit. Thanks.