The backstory: In 1987 – I, as a Reno member of a San Francisco writing group and in an effort to get the membership off their butts and give up their Dick-and-Jane level of prose, challenged them to write a piece about what would happen should the Golden Gate Bridge fall into the Bay. As part of the challenge I wrote the first chapter, trying to inveigle some of them to get aboard and write a second, third, final chapter, each independent of the preceding author’s work. I threw down the gauntlet, but none came forth with any subsequent chapters. I said to hell with it and forgot about it until I was recently invited to write a SF-based piece on the Ol’ Reno Guy thing. I dragged the following out – it was typewritten, so I just recast it on my laptop exactly as I wrote it originally. Anybody want to add a chapter? Go for it; I’ll gladly make some space available here!
It was created on a tide-swept body of water a hundred feet more than a mile across, with currents ravaged by the influx of fresh water from nine major California rivers.
Eleven-hundred feet south of the San Francisco Presidio Joseph Strauss, generally credited as the designer of the project, began work on an Art Deco tower which, in the ensuing two years would rise 746 feet above the high-water line of the Bay. The tower would be built of steel boxes, three-and-a-half feet square, welded together in multiples and form the massive base, to then taper off as the tower rose above the water. It was topped with a flat plate, upon which would rest ten round steel pipes and a saddle to support a cable. The pipes and saddle were to roll freely during construction.
On the dry land of the Marin shore 4,200 feet to the north, another like tower was built, a duplicate of the one rising out of the water. When completed, skeptics swore that the two towers, viewed from a distance, had a noticeable lean away from each other toward their respective shores. In fact, each tower was 12’-6” off plumb; the cagey engineer knew that the massive load each tower would bear would tug the tops of the structures together to form straight lines. What the critics missed in the years to come was that the towers remain slightly off-plumb inward, to compensate for the curvature of the earth and thus appear parallel from a distance.
One morning a slim galvanized wire, about the diameter of a pencil lead, was stretched across the water, lifted to the top of the north tower, then allowed to sag across the span and rise back up to the top of the south tower. The wire, by then over 7,000 feet long, was connected to a steel eye in a 60,000-ton concrete block on the Marin shore. The spinning machine then pulled a like wire back along the same route, and it was connected to another anchor block adjoining Fort Point in San Francisco’s Presidio. When the spinning machine had made 432 trips across the bay, it had completed a 2-7/8-inch cable. It would make 60 more like cables on each side of the towers. With the completion of each cable, the saddle resting on the pipes atop each tower would be moved hydraulically slightly toward the center of the span, so that when all 61 cables were complete, the resulting two 37” main cables for the bridge would be exactly centered on the top of both of the towers. Both of the sets of 61 cables were spread from the main cables and anchored at the Fort Point and Marin (Lime Point) anchorages.
The two main cables, originally hexagonal, were compressed to round with hydraulic presses and wrapped with light wire. The pipes at the top of each tower, placed to enable moving the saddles, were grouted into place permanently.
Lighter galvanized cables, woven on shore in a plant on the Marin side, were suspended down from the main cables every 72 feet in groups of two, holding a steel structure which would soon support a roadbed six car-lanes wide and a sidewalk on either side. Consideration was give to the fact that most of the weight would be borne on one side of the bridge during the morning commute and transferred across the span in the evening as automobiles returned to Marin County.
The pavers followed, and the electricians placed the revolutionary sodium-vapor lights in the bridge’s Art Deco theme [pictured left]. While this work proceeded, the untold story remained the construction of roads leading through the Presidio and Waldo Grade, where a tunnel had to be bored. The access roads accounted for a major part of the expenditure for the bridge, but lacked the flair and excitement of high-steel work over a body of water!
The two slim towers, out of plumb three years before but now bearing the weight of 96,000 tons of steel plus 24,000 cubic yards of asphalt paving, pulled together to appear truly vertical. The massive concrete anchors for the main cables at either end of the span yielded, according to the best surveying techniques available in 1936 – and later confirmed by more modern techniques – not a fraction of an inch [the north anchorage is evident just to the north/right of the Lime Point landing in the photo below].
On May 27, 1937 the bridge opened to foot traffic, followed a day later by the first cars to cross the span. The pedestrians, on this wind-calm day absent of any vehicles, could scarcely sense that the roadway beneath their feet, at the midpoint of the span, could rise or fall 15 feet, or swing toward the blue Pacific or Alcatraz Island a distance of 27 feet.
Fifty years passed, and on a bright day in late May of 1987, the noise of cars clicking across the steel expansion joins in the roadway abated, and a pedestrian crowd returned to relive the opening of the span. It was a day of celebration; a day when the bridge reached its 50th birthday. The red-oxide paint on the structure, chosen as much for its rust-resistant properties as its Golden link to the Bay’s early heritage, appeared a little brighter than the day prior. The water below was bluer; the sun picked up the silver in the Goodyear blimp Columbia, slowly orbiting overhead, and the mufti of the ship’s company assembled on the flight deck of the carrier Enterprise, laying on the hook bayward of the Gate. The skies were clear, and the revelers could see the Farallones twelve miles to the west and the verdant hills of Mt. Diablo to the east. Indeed, not a day to be without extra film for the camera.
A two-inch valve opened in the air pipe supplying the foghorn at midspan, just as it had opened every twenty seconds during foggy days for the last 50 years. The rush of air powered the typhon to a throaty toot that could be heard to Alameda, temporarily drowning out San Francisco’s own Huey Lewis & the News, performing on a barge 220 feet below the bridge. The horn signaled that the bridge, for the first time in 50 years, was open exclusively to foot traffic.
People, eventually 800,000 of them, give or take a couple thousand, came in all shapes and sizes; in jogging shorts and late-1930s costumes. They came alone and in groups, some as snakes and serpentines, the old and the young, and those in-between, to walk the Gate. The crowd amazed even those who had years before become accustomed to the sea of humanity convening annually a few miles away during the Bay-to-Breakers footrace.
A Golden Gate District shuttle bus stopped at the Sausalito Vista Point, and deposited another 40 celebrants. Among that group was a family with Bay Area roots. Indeed one of the group – the matriarch from nearby Petaluma – had walked the bridge when it opened in 1937. Some came from near – Napa – others came over the Sierra from Reno, and one journeyed from faraway Tucson. They had come, as so many others did, to walk the bridge as a family. Some might have the opportunity to do it again 50 years hence at the bridge’s centennial. For others it was a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. They walked down the slight grade, directed by the matriarch: the large, the small, the old, young, middle-aged; the good, the bad and the ugly.
Five-hundred-ten feet above the group, far from the noise of the crowd, unseen by any living thing save for possibly a seagull resting on a cable clamp, and only a few hundred feet south of the Marin tower, a suspension cable, 2-7/8 inches in diameter plus the thickness of the galvanizing and some 25 coats of red-oxide paint; a cable, scheduled to be replaced in a dozen years pair-by-pair; a cable which, with its miles of neighbors had supported the span under which passed the soldiers and sailors who waged then returned from three world-wide military conflicts.
A cable which had tacitly overseen Marin County grow from a bedroom community to a major force in the Bay Area economy, twisted, unwitnessed. A few bright strands of wire appeared through the dull coating of paint. The family below, intent on the music of Huey Lewis and the messages being scrolled across the flank of the blimp Columbia, didn’t feel any movement under their feet, nor did they see the few falling flakes of red oxide paint, dislodged by the cable’s splaying. They couldn’t see, five-hundred feet above in the bright morning sun that a side of the cable, which had hung in shadow for five decades, had twisted slightly and was now illuminated by that sunlight.
The massive weight borne so diligently by that cable had been slightly cast onto the strands of the adjacent cable systems, and the Petaluma family far below had no way of feeling that the neighboring cables’ load had been invisibly increased, and that their strands too, had rotated, ever so slightly.
The geometry of the German engineer reliant upon every component doing its job was literally beginning to unravel. As the matriarch led her brood under the Marin tower toward the throng now approaching them from the Presidio, they missed the real drama, slowly but inexorably taking place five-hundred feet above them, that would reshape not only their lives, but the fate and future of the entire Bay Area…
Off to San Francisco for the weekend? Let’s see; reservations on Lombard Street for a couple of nights, done; a call ahead to see if the kids are available for a visit, check; pick a couple of joints for dinner in the Marina and the Buena Vista for eggs Benedict, easy; gas up the pickup, or the ragtop? – let’s see what the weather is the morning we leave. No sweat – we’ve done it all before; let’s not complicate our weekend.
But instead of a couple, let’s plan a trip four hundred close friends from the Beltway, this one a little further in advance. We’re off to Geneva, the one in Switzerland, and instead of the kids we’re meeting the heads of state of a half-dozen world powers so we better bring an interpreter or a half dozen. We’ll start five months in advance and make reservations for our group in five Geneva hotels – reserving rooms on a onesy-twosy basis is burdensome so we won’t mess around – let’s just book the whole Maison de Saussere, the Fleur de Eau and three more for a week or so. Better get a hundred rooms a little early ‘cause we’re sending some guys over to make sure the accommodations are up to snuff and to scope out the traffic. And, White House chefs to check out the bill of fare in the restaurants we’ll be eating at. We don’t want to get POTUS or FLOTUS heading for the Tums when they get back to their rooms. POTUS, of course, is the President of the United States; FLOTUS the First Lady O-T-U-S, but you figured that out (we’ll have a couple of American doctors with their own instruments unit and extensive medications aboard, just in case the food or a health issue gets too gnarly.)
A word about where my mind was when I strung all this together on a dismal evening: My old childhood buddy, later Sigma Nu frat brother Ty Cobb the Younger has been speaking around our village about his life and times as a National Security Council advisor to President Ronald Reagan, and writes a fine column of his own in the Gazoo every now and then. At breakfast at the Gold-n-Silver last week I told him that I abhor anything political, but getting President Reagan to a world leaders’ Summit conference, of which Ty went to four, now there would be a fine column through a Homefinder’s eyes. Ty loaned me the weighty three-volume White House planning document for a November 1985 Summit, in which his name appears liberally – T. Cobb – and I can even tell you from the documents, if asked, where he rode in Marine One helicopter from the White House to Andrews AFB (right next to C. Powell). That’s how intricate the trip planning for these sojourns was and probably remains. In one volume, the American delegation leaving a formal dinner at a Swiss mansion with other heads of state is assigned, from POTUS on down to the Official Photographer, which of the three elevators in this palace they will be riding in, and who will board and disembark the elevators first and last. Leave nothing to chance, as John Ascuaga counsels us.
Bags fly free
The planning document volumes are made available in advance to the participants of the trip – White House staff, the military branches involved, the State Department, Secret Service, press – and contain an incredibly intricate, virtually minute-by-minute itinerary of the four-day trip. A facility at Andrews AFB was clearly indicated, with an arrival time at some God-awful hour of the morning. That many folks have a lot of luggage and it appears that unless one lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue most schlepped their own bags, with instructions to leave them open – they were inspected before loading (T. Cobb always opted for carry-on). From that point their walking route to which airplane – AF One or the several support planes – was mapped. According to Ty, the most salient issue for the whole trip for most was not some vast life-changing worldwide issue being debated by the heads of state of the world powers at the Summit, but who got to get there on Air Force One. Ty flew aboard it on many occasions to several Summits, a thrill he likens only to driving the Vagabond Touring Association’s ’34 Ford school bus, uninvited, into Kezar Stadium during an East-West Shrine Game in his college days. I recall that Saturday also. Gingerly…
The limousines arrive in a C-5B
The volumes held drawings of the eleven venues and hotels for the Summit, both of their interiors floor-by-floor and topographic drawings of their exteriors and driveways, including vegetation that could block a photographer’s view or conceal an assassin. Walking routes the delegation will take within a ballroom or disembarking Air Force One at Cointrin Airport in Geneva – who leaves by the front steps or through the aft door – are clearly delineated. Where the limousines and vans (hauled in by a C-5B prior to the delegation’s arrival) will be parked by Air Force One and the support planes and who will ride in each, where the honor guard meeting the President and First Lady would stand; the locations available to photographers, and the route the motorcade would use to depart the airfield are clear, and according to Ty that’s the way it had to be, period. Some of the documents weren’t classified; it’s a pretty safe bet that other, tighter Secret Service maps showed routes to a designated hospital and other security protocol. Interestingly, one sticking point that had to be worked out was whether Secret Service agents could carry their firearms in neutral Switzerland. I don’t know the eventual outcome of that negotiation and wouldn’t ask. And, the planning volumes indicated Air Force One by its tail number 26000, the Boeing 707 in use then – parked alongside the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Cal. now is 27000, the last 707 used as Air Force One.
The event times during the four-day summit? Leave us not forget that Geneva is a bunch of time zones ahead of any of the four in the US of A. and in the final evaluation these ritualistic and formal handshakes between eight world powers weren’t being choreographed just to go on live TV in some morning between “Regis Live” and “General Hospital” – prime time is the operative word for live formal events at a Summit and some of them were some pretty strange hours of the day in Geneva.
The three volumes were a thought-provoking read of the highest level of worldwide statesmanship, and Ty’s first-hand insight brought to light some facets of such a trip one would never think about without his narration. Thanks, Tyrus…
Have a good week; summer’s right around the corner, trust me, and God bless America!
© Reno Gazette Journal Jan. 10, 2006
Here’s a sign on the west reaches of Victorian Way in Sparks, still known by most of my readers as B Street, that’s amused me for many a year. If I owned a motel and was catering to German tourists, I’d probably put sprechen sie deutsch on my sign.
But what do I know about tourism…?
Happy Turkey to All, and to All a Good Night. (Wait, that doesn’t sound right…)
PS if you’re looking for the flood story try this
The non-sensical piece that follows has run innumerable times, usually proximate to Thanksgiving, in the Gazoo when I wrote those columns, on my website when I had it years ago, and a couple times in the SF Chronicle when I sent it in (I didn’t really write it; I merely stole it from someone who told it in a joke and turned it into a news story.) It may be true, or not. The photo is a vintage British airliner, a Comet made by the forerunners of the Airbus consortium. A friend asked me over the weekend, are we going to read that stupid turkey story again? Yes you are; here it is. Maybe the next post will be of some substance. Or not. Happy Thanksgiving to All!
~ ~ ~
Early in the maturation of jet airliners, British aircraft engineers, addressing the dilemma of strengthening pilots’ windscreens against bird-strikes at low altitude, think a Canadian honker vs. a FedEx Airbus getting together over Peckham Lane after takeoff. They knew the United States had much experience with this matter and contacted some Southern California aeronautical engineers, who supplied plans for a rudimentary catapult that hurled a standard, store-bought turkey at a test windshield at a calculated velocity for analysis.
The British guys fashioned a catapult, and soon after sent the Yanks photos of a test cockpit with the windshield shattered, the pilot’s headrest in smithereens, a gaping hole in the bulkhead behind the pilot’s head and the flight engineer’s console behind that bulkhead totally demolished. Other photos depicted another huge hole aft of the console in the next bulkhead separating it from the crew lavatory, which was also trashed.
A few weeks later, the Brits received a telegram from the Americans: “Next time, thaw the turkey.”
If you’re after the Thanksgiving flood story, click here
Things have been a bit busy in July, coupled with a relocation of the Old Reno Guy global corporate office. But I’ll be back.
In honor of Hot August Nights, please observe if you will the Old Reno Guy chauffeuring a friend from San Francisco, in the staff limousine, a totally-restored 1966 CJ-5A Jeep, easy to 66restore in that it has no doors, windows, cranks, roof, minimal upholstery and if it becomes soiled it may be thoroughly rinsed off with a garden hose. It has a stock GMC V-6 engine, three-on-the-floor (six counting the transfer case), turn signals and back-up lights which were optional equipment in 1966, I know, because I bought a ‘ 66 in 1966 from Cal-Vada Jeep on West Fourth Street at Chestnut, oh, OK, Arlington.
I’ll be back in a few days. Karl
While reading on the web of the newest Jeep wagon I was flat slapped like a gut-shot cougar by an automobile writer’s prose: “…A bruiser car. Everything about the new 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, with its pugnacious nose, its monster 20-inch wheels with massive P295/45 tires, its snarling 470-horse V8 engine, shouts that here is a big, bad bully of a wagon…
“…This one, with the 6.4-liter V8 ripped from the dragstrip headlines, is meant to say something. It’s aggressive, it has that deep exhaust rumble…” – and then the writer goes on (and on) to compare it with a double-jack, water-back drink in a bar, leaving some doubt about where he drinks or why he goes to a bar in the first place. One steers this beast from the “cockpit,” by the way. God save us…
“…Stomp on the gas pedal on a freeway on ramp (after the requisite check in the rear view mirror) and those 470 horses will emerge loudly from those exhaust tips and ramp you swiftly up the ramp – the car’s zero-to-60 times are regularly under five seconds and it’s said to have a 160 mph top end…” Somewhere about here I sensed that he might be getting orgasmic at his keyboard and I was tempted to click off this site before it was X-rated. This writer does get close to his cars. He did mention that this particular
Jeep, er, Snarling Bruiser was approaching $70,000, which for me would be too much for a Jeep if had twin GE J-47 turbojet engines, a wet bar and a Barca-Lounger seat behind the wheel.
My thoughts returned to the Wagoneer of old, that sprung forth in the early 1960s while I was driving a Jeep “Station Wagon,” a two-door, four-passenger box with a tailgate that was probably the best all-round Jeep that Willys, and later Kaiser, ever built. My neighbor got a “Wagonaire.” A Studebaker. A good-looking car, or wagon. It ought to be; it was designed by Brooks Stevens, the American industrial designer who gave the world a design for some kitchen appliances, the full-dress Harley, dolled-up luxury passenger railcars, the Excalibur automobile (which looks a lot like a pre-war Mercedes, but that’s OK), and last but not least, the Wienermobile. With a sliding back roof the Wagonaire could haul a refrigerator home from Montgomery Wards or a tree from Arlington Nursery, if need be. With a Studebaker engine. Built in Canada. And Kaiser picked up on it, Studebaker exited the auto business after a hundred years of cars, trucks, Army Weasels, Navy Ducks (like the ones on Fisherman’s Wharf) and every other configuration of weird vehicle known to man.
Kaiser called it the Wagoneer. It was built from parts from every automotive body, brake, engine, transmission, electronics, hubcap and rear-view mirror company in the Detroit Yellow Pages, not unlike the seven blind men building the elephant. And it sold like hotcakes, some say more in the northern Nevada area than anywhere in the world. And with such dubious reliability that owners would put “lunching” on placards on their windshields if they pulled off the road to picnic, knowing that other Wagoneer owners would think that they’d surely broken down.
And they kept selling, constantly being improved and made increasingly luxurious. The last one rolled off the assembly line in 1991.
Not a bad run, at that – from a 6-cylinder Wagonaire in 1964 to the last V-8 Wagoneer in 1991, to the Grand Cherokee of today with massive 20-inch wheels and a snarling 470 horsepower that’ll knock your, well, you know, right into your watch-pocket if it gets away from you on the on-ramp.
How is it in the snow? Or hauling home a tree from Arlington Gardens, like the Wagonaire of old? We don’t know. But it’s fast. And this guy can sure as hell write.
I may be wrong – Reno folks may go to Lou LaBonte’s in droves, and I just don’t hear from them.
But we stopped there for dinner tonight on the way back from Sacramento – a quick day trip – and it was wonderful! Good food, service, great old photographs on the walls of the days when the road in front of the building was the Lincoln Highway – Highway 40 (now it’s a frontage road; Ikeda’s is a short block to the east, on the same side of the freeway). I’d bet – I may lose but I’d do it anyway – that the fireplace was crafted by the Indians from Stewart Indian School in Carson City. Can’t say enough good about it, but give it a whirl, breakfast, lunch or dinner…it’ll bring back a lot of memories, for many of us back to the days before Interstate 80 crossed the Sierra
In an April 10 post I included a photo of the last vestiges of snow on Mt. Rose take during my stroll around Virginia Lake, and alert reader Gordon Zimmerman chided me that the scene wasn't really Mt. Rose, which was correct – it was in truth north of Mt. Rose. And a couple e-mails rolled in, about the peak's name origin, which has always been kicked around by local historians. So, we turned Carmine Ghia and our research staff loose on the situation and learned of, or at least reinforced some of that which we probably knew and forgot a long time ago about the 10,772-foot landmark. We also sent staff photographer Lo Phat out this Saturday morning to get another shot of Mt. Rose from Virginia Lake. The snow fields of Mt. Rose are barely seen in this view, with Slide Mountain to the left/south.
Regarding the “Rose” name, take your pick: One version, the one I always heard and grew up with, was that Hank Monk – the incomparable! The most daring – the most reckless of drivers; and the luckiest. The oddest, the drollest of all the whimsical characters who made Western staging famous the world over* – in other words, a stage coach driver of some note who drove between the Carson Valley and Placerville, saw the image of his daughter Rose in the mountain to the north.
If you don’t like that story, here’s’ another: The name might have come from early 1800s settler Jacob H. Rose, who built a lumber mill near Franktown. Or, another possibility is that it might have been for Rose Hickman, a friend of Washoe City newspaper editor H.S. Ham. For these past two names I offer attribution to the U.S. Forest Service information on the web. And what moved newspaper editor H. S. Ham to name a mountain for this Hickman lass is a tempting inspiration for a song or a column, akin to the folk song Darcy Farrow – having a mountain named for oneself is no mean feat, and thank God it’s not Mt. Hickman…
Carmine further learned the more northern peak of Mt. Rose was named for Dr. James E. Church (Church Peak), a University of Nevada professor and hydrologist born in 1895, who perfected the snow-water content sampling device still in use today. Dr. Church passed away just months after we graduated from Reno High in 1959, and many of us were so fortunate as to have met him in our Physics class taught by John Marean at Reno High School. He held the distinction of being the first white man to have summited the peak which would later be named for him, while conducting his snow experiments in the 1920s. And many of us have visited the shelter that he constructed over a period of years at the very summit of Mt. Rose, following a robust but enjoyable hike up to the peak from Sheep Meadows on the Mt. Rose highway. And I mention parenthetically that political correctness guidelines in use today, largely ignored by the Ol’ Reno Reader, would indicate that it was “…the first European to have summited…”. But we have a tale to tell, our way.
So there you have it – a bit more about Mt. Rose and its name. And to the south of Mt. Rose, to the left in the photograph, is Slide Mountain, a thousand feet lower in altitude. Many remember the Memorial Day slide of 1983 when the southeast face of Slide Mountain – in actuality a man-made lake, known as Price Lake, man-made as a hydroelectric plant reservoir – let loose a 15-foot wall of water that inundated Washoe Valley below and to the east, blocking Highway 395. And let’s all bear in mind that the two neighboring mountains are in the Cascade range, not the Sierra, which we’ll never convince the travel and ski writing press so we won’t even keep trying.
Stay tuned for a future update of the wiles and charm of Miss Rose Hickman, for whom Mt. Rose may or may not have been named.
*Idah Strobridge, The Land of the Purple Shadow