Alma Bibliography

Alma (SAFR photo no. B07.6778psl)
Alma (SAFR photo no. B07.6778psl)
The following is an annotated bibliography of material relating to our historic scow schooner, Alma, and scow schooners in general, at the Maritime Research Center located at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. It is not completely comprehensive, rather an overview of the most pertinent material. All items are located in the Research Center unless otherwise noted. If you would like to make an appointment to review anything listed, please contact us.

Textual material

Fetesoff, Barbara. "San Francisco’s Alma." Wooden Boat Magazine, 1.3 (1980): 8-17. Print.
Barabra Fetesof’s article contains an account of the rescue of the Alma from the mud flats in Alviso, her subsequent restoration, and racing in the Master Mariners Regatta.

Fetesoff, Barbara. Scow schooner Alma: 1891-1975: a history. Thesis. San Jose State University, 1975. Print.
This is a thesis written about the history of the Alma. It’s about 70 pages. Somewhat of a technical read, but there’s good background information on the builder, the construction and the general history of the craft. There’s also a good literature review at the beginning. If you only have time to read a few things, you should read this and the Olmsted book Scow Schooners on San Francisco Bay.

Hull, David. “Before the bridges and freeways: a series of articles.” The Port Authority, 1977-1978. Print.
David Hull, a former librarian at this Research Center, wrote this series of articles about the working Bay for Port Authority magazine in the 1970’s. He draws his sources from many of the oral histories mentioned here. These installments are bite sized, easy to read with practical information. Note: only the first three installments are about scow schooners. The other 5 are about the sinking of the Blairemore.

Kortum, Karl. ed. Notes on the Scow Schooners. 1984. Print.
This compilation of articles, photocopied images and personal notes was compiled by our museum founder, Karl Kortum. There are many different sources, mostly photocopies some of poor quality and some are not cited, however some of the material is unique to this compilation and hasn't bee found in other sources yet. Of special interest is probably the collection of newspaper stories about scows, retyped so that they are easier to read than the original small newspaper print.

McNairn, Jack. "Scow Schooner Sagas: Story of the tiny hay wagons of the San Francisco Bay." Sea and Pacific Motor Boat. Feb. 1955. 27, 66, 76-79. Print. In: Scow schooners--pamphlets file.
This short little piece mostly describes accidents and troubles of various scow schooners. As he doesn’t discuss anything terribly drastic, it is an amusing read.

Olmsted, Roger. Scow Schooners of San Francisco Bay. Cupertino, CA : California History Center, De Anza College, c1988. Print.
This is pretty much the standard work on scow schooners. This book is based on a master thesis Olmsted wrote in 1955. We have the thesis in our archives as well. The book meticulously traces the history of the West Coast scow schooner and has lots of informative pictures. The bibliography and chapter notes are particularly helpful.

Olmsted, Roger. “The Square toed packets of San Francisco Bay.” California Historical Quarterly. 35 (1972): 35-54. Print.
Roger Olmsted wrote this short article up for the California Historical Quarterly. It doesn’t have the same sort of sentimentality of the other articles; rather it focuses on how scows were built and the logistical facts of handling scow schooners. No personal stories, really, but factual information such as what colors most scows were and racing in the Master Mariners Regatta. The article paints a solid picture from which to draw inspiration.

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. Scow schooner Alma, Hyde Street Pier, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, San Francisco, San Francisco County, California. Washington, D.C. : Historic American Engineering Record, 2001. Print.
This is a draft of the Alma historic structure report. No final version has been located. This is a standard work on the Alma. It includes her history, her significance, her funding needs, preservation plans and technical building details. There are also lots of pictures both modern and historic. Also available online.

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. eds. Scow Schooners—Pamphlets. n.d.
This is what we call a “pam file” meaning it is a collection of various items including newspaper articles, ephemera and notes all relating to scow schooners. Some of it has been covered in other areas. An interesting inclusion is a series of newspaper articles about the scow Mystery which had an actual mystery attached to it. The Mystery was owned by Captain Espinosa and worked by him and his crew--his 4 daughters and his wife. This most unusual crew did all the loading, sailing and unloading themselves. In March of 1907, the scow was found 2 miles offshore with the crew missing. A massive search was made for survivors but sadly, the bodies were found a few days later. No one knows exactly what happened but it is assumed they somehow died in a storm. The articles capture the day to day reveal of the heartbreaking story.

Transcript. Arthur Upton oral history interview. Feb 10 1975. David Hull. San Francisco Maritime Research Center. Print.
The first 20 pages are about his experiences on steam schooners working lumber loads. Again, lots of details of food--food seems to be a major preoccupation with coast-wise vessels. When he talks about scow schooners, it’s mostly to speak about dealing with them as transport. He was purchasing alfalfa and other goods off the scows. For some reason the transcriber used the word “scout” instead of scow, so if you are text searching, use "scout" for this one. There is only a master tape of this interview and no user copy.

Transcript. Captain French of Alviso. Apr. 7 1965. Karl Kortum. San Francisco Maritime Research Center. Print. (Processed but uncataloged material, available for research.)
Captain French sailed with Hans Beck (as French says “He practically ran the boat I was captain of. .. I was just a figurehead”). This transcript has nice slices of life details. There are stories about racing other scows, getting stuck and being caught up in storms. We have user cassettes of this interview. See Audio Material below.

Transcript. Hans Beck. Oral History Interview: Voyage in ship Blackbraes; scow schooners. Oct. 7, 1966. Karl Kortum. Transcript by Anita Mozley. San Francisco Maritime Research Center. Print.
Hans Beck started out painting Scow Schooners for $30 a month. He then graduated to mate, which in his words means having to haul cargo around. This history has some nice daily life and interactions of the men who worked the scows. There’s also practical information about food, payment and finding work. We have a user tape of this oral history as well. Please note the recording quality isn’t very good.

Transcript. Paul Spenger. Oral History Interview. Dec. 1977. Paula Friedman. Transcript by John Rosinski and Allan Graubard. San Francisco Maritime Research Center Collections. Print.
Paul Spenger, of the Spenger family who owned the eponymous restaurant in Berkeley grew up fishing . This oral history is a very detailed and interesting account of fishing in the Bay from the turn on the century onwards. Only about 5% of the content is scow-related (they used a scow to catch shrimp and sting rays!), however the history gives a nice overview of activity in the Bay in general. A user tape does exist for this interview. Please see Audio Material for more information. See also interview available via UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library.

Transcript. Peter Gambetta. Oral History Interview. Jan. 1st 1975. Barbara Fetesoff. San Francisco Maritime Research Center Collections. Print.
Peter Gambetta owned the Alma and used her as a shell dredger. As he was an experienced boat builder, he did major alterations on her as well. In this oral history, he describes the shell dredger trade (including loading and stowage) and the alterations and accommodations he made to the Alma. There are some interesting anecdotes about steering and navigating with full deckloads and a fire that broke out in the engine room. This interview is also available online.

Transcript. Unknown. Oral History Interview, The Alma Tapes: Transcription. 1973. by Doug Dickinson and Ned Miller. San Francisco Maritime Research Center Collections. Print.
This is a partial transcript of an oral history, almost certainly of Alma Peterson Sooman, after whom the Alma was named, but there is no credits or citation on the piece, save the names Ned Miller and Doug Dickinson. There are a variety of topics covered from Watergate to the length of hair on boys. The Alma is on page 3, 5-7.

Transcript. W. A. Bidleman. Oral History Interview. 1978. Karl Kortum and Willie May. Transcript by Allan Graubard, Jan. 1978. Print.
Bidleman sailed with the Alaska Packers Association but the focus of this interview is scow schooners. There’s lots of good information such as how men were hired, cargoes, work arrangements, etc. Here’s a great example of a detail--he’s speaking about loading sacks of potatoes: “I remember we had to tie our pants on the bottom, tie a rope around them above our shoes so the mice running out of the sacks wouldn’t run up your legs." This is a must read for its wonderful details of daily life. A master recording exists of this tape but no user copy. This transcript was then most likely done from the master tapes.

Alma trip to Alviso, 1972

Visual material

The Research Center has many historical and contemporary photos of scow schooners. We also have some film material. Key collections include: P79-103 Randle M. Biddle photographs, 1972.
(18) color roll negatives, 1-1/4 in. square, of the scow schooner Gaslight partially buried in the dry creek bed of Gallinas Creek, CA, Randle M. Biddle photog., 1972.

P90-043 Alma film.
Film on the restoration of the scow schooner and her sailing program. Produced by Eastwind Films for the NPS. We have VHS copies of this film. Please make arrangements with the Reference Librarian for viewing.

P91-015 Harry Dring Collection.
Harry Dring was the Supervisor of Ships Restoration and Maintenance and later Conservator of Ships for the National Park Service, from 1954 to his retirement in 1982.
There are a few photos of Alma in Alviso and many of her restoration. Various other scows including the James McKenna are included.

P92-108 Nancy Olmsted scow schooner slide show.
Contains 72 black-and-white slides used in a lecture about scow schooners of the San Francisco Bay Area and a videocassette of this 2 hour slide presentation. The slides are reproductions of photographic material found in the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. Many (or all?) of the photographs can also be found in the book Scow Schooners of the San Francisco Bay by Roger Olmsted; as edited by Nancy Olmsted. There are also 8 slides in this collection that were not used during the presentation. Please note at this time, the video cassette is not accessible to the public due to conservation issues.

Alma outboard profile


We do not have original plans of the Alma, but we do have plans made by Bill Doll, the park's preservation manager. Copies of Alma plans can be downloaded for free at the Library of Congress's HABS/HAER site. We have plans for two other scow schooners: HDC128, The Roanoke: Sections. The Wing and Wave: Profile-in, hold, elevations.


Archival material

We have many archival records relating to the Alma within the management records of our park. Below is a sampling of the types of records we have.

HDC 648
Harry Dring Collection
Harry Dring was Supervisor of Ships Restoration and Maintenance and later Conservator of Ships for the National Park Service, from 1954 to his retirement in 1982. In regards to the Alma, his records contain 6 linear feet of records pertaining to drydock contracts, surveys (audiotape & transcription), rigging, documentation, engine contracts, restoration, historical info, special use permits, "Friends of the Alma" by-laws, minutes, newsletters, correspondence, outings. A finding aid for the collection is available online.

HDC 651
National Maritime Museum records
These records cover the museum from the period of 1977 to 1988, when the park was turned over to Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The records related to the Alma include dry docking contracts and photos, outing accounts, sail training, clippings, brochures, publicity, logbooks, a training manual and information related to the administration history of "The Friends of Alma." Please see the Reference Librarian for a finding aid to this collection.

HDC 1609
San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park Resource Management Records
Training manuals, correspondence, maintenance and operation records, inspection records, sail programs, dry docking, safety protocols, engines, mast and sails repair information. Please see the Reference Librarian for a finding aid to this collection.

Nancy and Roger Olmsted papers
The Olmsteds’ names appear again and again on this list. This collection of their personal papers contains research and correspondence done while putting together Scow Schooners of San Francisco Bay and The Square-Toed Packets of San Francisco Bay. A detailed finding aid for this collection can be found online.



We have many parts of scows in our collection. Also of note are various paintings and prints. Below I am describing three models of scows we have in order to highlight our model collection and promote the use of models in research.

Model of the scow schooner James McKenna (SAFR 9264)
Model of the scow schooner James McKenna (SAFR 9264)

NPS photo

This delightful little model was built around 1910. The James McKenna was built in 1902 by Hans Anderson. This model is L 34, W 9.6, H 28.5 cm.

Model of the scow schooner Robbie Hunter (SAFR 527)
Model of the scow schooner Robbie Hunter (SAFR 527)

NPS photo

This beautiful wooden model depicts the scow Robbie Hunter being built in 1870. The model dimensions are length overall 87 cm, mast 86 cm, beam 24 cm.

Model of the scow schooner Magnolia (SAFR 12118)
Model of the scow schooner Magnolia (SAFR 12118)

NPS photo

The Magnolia is an interesting model because she has her sails set. Note the sailors on deck. L 65, W 22.5 cm.


Audio material

Oral History. Beck, Ludwig Hansen. Oral History interview. By Karl Kortum. 10/7/1966. San Francisco Maritime Research Center.
Hans Beck was a long time scow schooner sailor. We have a transcript of this interview listed above. The audio quality of this tape isn't very good and it might be easier to read it than listen. However the transcript seems to leave out certain parts. If you are doing in depth research, I suggest using both.

Oral History. French, V.N. Oral history interview. By Karl Kortum. 4/7/1966. San Francisco Maritime Research Center.
The quality of this tape is very poor, but Mr. French has fairly good recall. He sailed with Hans Beck ("he practically ran the boat I was captain of") and provides good details such as his crew was paid $1 a ton for the canned fruit and tomatoes, 20 cents a ton to unload it, using winches, and how a two man crew works a scow. The recording is poor quality and hard to hear at times. There is a transcript of a portion of this interview. See Textual Material above.

Oral History. Sarcander, William. Oral history interview. 11/5/1973. By Karl Kortum. San Francisco Maritime Research Center. Audio tape.
The first part of the tape is mostly Sarcander showing pictures to the interviewers and talking about them, with some stories interspersed in such as "Mother Malough" who ran the boarding house by the Anchor Salon and allowed scow sailors to run tabs, location of boat yards and hauling out boats for repair. We have copies of the photos he mentions in the interview. The scow stories start towards the end of tape 1 and continue to tape 2 and include information on how to sail scows, load hay.

Oral History. Shirley, Charles A. Oral history interview. 10/4/73, 10/7/73. By David Hull. San Francisco Maritime Research Center. Audio tape.
Tape 1 side 1 talks about Shirley's experiences on the scow Mayflower. He speaks about recognizing scows by the rigging, sailing techniques, Humbug Bay, loading techniques and reminisces about other scow men and scows.

Oral History. Spenger, Paul Erik. Oral History Interview. OHCC007. 3/5/75, 3/7/75, 3/14/75, 3/18/75, 6/5/75. By Paul Friedman. San Francisco Maritime Research Center. Audio tape.
This is a 330 minute interview conducted with Paul Spenger of the Spenger Restaurant. There is a shorter transcript listed above in Textual Material. The majority of this interview consists of his time spent fishing for his family and the fishing trade, however he does speak some of scow schooners as fishing vessels.


The Vessel

The scow schooner Alma is docked at the end of Hyde Street pier. While books, photographs and documents are excellent resources, the best way to get to know the Alma would be to visit her. She sails from May to November. Alma’s crew and volunteers are always happy to discuss her, so if you have the time, please visit and have a chat about the best scow schooner in San Francisco.

--by Gina Bardi, Reference Librarian, Maritime Research Center, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. (Last revised, September 16, 2015)

Last updated: September 23, 2015

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