Long Tows on the Open Ocean
John H. Dialogue and Son, of Camden, New Jersey, built Hercules in 1907. She had been ordered by the San Francisco-based Shipowners’ and Merchants’ Tugboat Company, to join their Red Stack fleet (named for their red-painted smoke stacks).
When completed, Hercules towed her sister ship, the Goliah, through the Strait of Magellan to San Francisco. Both vessels were oil-burners; Goliah carried fuel, water and supplies for her sister.
Hercules towed barges, sailing ships and log rafts between Pacific ports. Because prevailing north-west winds generally made travel up the coast by sail both difficult and circuitous, tugs often towed large sailing vessels to points north of San Francisco. In 1916, Hercules towed the C. A. Thayer (another of San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park’s historic fleet) to Port Townsend, Washington. The trip took six days. She also towed the Falls of Clyde, now a museum ship in Hawaii.
On trips back down the coast, Hercules often towed huge log rafts, laden with millions of board feet of Northwest timber, to Southern California mills. At other times, Hercules towed barges of bulk cargoes between other West Coast Ports, and to Hawaii. During the construction of the Panama Canal, she towed a huge floating caisson (a steel structure used for closing the entrance to locks) to the Canal Zone.
In her deep-sea days, Hercules usually carried a crew of fifteen-enough manpower for her Engine Department to stand three watches while underway. The deep, narrow hull made life uncomfortable at times, because it rode low in the water, and the main deck was often awash. However, the food was good and, for an experienced hand, the work was steady. Tugboat captains were generally well-paid and highly respected, for it took considerable experience to bring a tug and a heavy tow through high seas in bad weather--and good judgment to navigate the shallow bars and narrow entrances of West Coast ports.
Hercules was eventually acquired by the Western Pacific Railroad Company. Her career changed significantly; she no longer served as an ocean-going tug, but shuttled railroad car barges back and forth across San Francisco Bay. She worked until 1962, when changing transportation patterns (the decline of the railroads) and the introduction of diesel-powered tugs sealed her fate.
Hercules avoided the scrap yard, but languished until the California State Park Foundation acquired her for the San Francisco Maritime State Historic Park, in 1975. The National Park Service took over the task of her restoration in 1977, and in 1986 she was designated a National Historic Landmark. Hercules has been documented as part of the Historic American Engineering Record's Maritime Record.
"Out through the Golden Gate, the most beautiful harbor in the world. North, towing this barkentine to Port Washington in Canada. Thence south, empty, to Astoria where we picked up six million feet of timber in a raft to tow south to San Diego. Long, slow, lazy days, making no more than three knots. Even the patent log [a device trailed in the water to measure speed] would not work. We rigged a fishing line on it and caught beautiful king salmon on the way."
Albert J. Hody, fireman, describing life aboard Hercules in 1919. Excerpted from an oral history in the Park's collection.
You Can Help
Volunteers played a major role in the Hercules restoration. And they play a critical part in her continued preservation. Contributions of materials and supplies from individuals, groups and corporations aid the effort, but nothing takes the place of hands-on dedication. If you are interested in joining this elite group of weekend engineers and deck crew, contact the Park’s Volunteer Office at 415-556-1613.
An Ocean Tug's Underworld
Last updated: April 24, 2015