Northwestern Pacific (NWP) Ferries across San Francisco Bay, 1900 to 1930

One of my early blogs was about the old ferry terminal at Sausalito. Ever since I wrote that blog I have become very interested in the Northwestern Pacific Railroad. Why? Because the products of the Union Lumber Company (ULC) Mill in Fort Bragg could not have got to markets that could not be reached by schooners loading from the ULC’s wharf without the NWP’s line from Willits into the Bay area. As I delved I realized that C.R. Johnson’s (the founder/owner of the ULC) vision was much wider – C.R. saw the Bay Area as a source of tourists to Fort Bragg and the Noyo River Tavern resort that the ULC built at Northspur (see this blog for details).

How did tourists get from Oakland and San Francisco to Willits to pick up the Skunk train? There was no Bay Bridge, no Golden gate Bridge and no Richmond Bridge you could drive over. The only way was by ferry across the Bay. As I discovered there were lots of ferries and before the bridges, lots of passengers.

In 1920, there were 22,657,418 passengers carried by the Southern Pacific on their ferries across the Bay. This compared to 9,937,488 in 1938, even though the population in East Bay Cities and San Francisco increased 50 percent in that period. The bridges around the Bay were built and people found they didn’t want to take the time for those wonderful rides across the Bay. This was the beginning of hurry up!

Amazingly one of the gracious ladies who plied the Bay still exists – she is the Eureka and is moored at the San Francisco Museum quay. If you have time to spare pay her a visit – one peek at the enormous walking beam engine that powered her makes the visit worthwhile.

The pics below give a notion of what you would have travelled on to start your journey from the other side of the Bay to visit the Noyo River Tavern and the Skunk Train.

NWP Ferry San Rafael

NWP Ferry San Rafael

NWP's paddle wheeler Cazadero departs from the San Francisco Ferry building in 1920

NWP’s paddle wheeler Cazadero departs from the San Francisco Ferry building in 1920