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Saturday, February 8, 2014

As Big as a County

I have four post cards of the same train ferry. Three of them look awfully similar to each other. The other one is independent of these cards. The post cards are pictures of the train ferry “Solano”. Until its sister ship, the “Contra Costa”, was built it was the largest train ferry in the world. The two of them carried train traffic from Benicia (the third capital city of California from February 4, 1853 to February 25, 1854) and Port Costa in California (a trip that was perhaps less than two miles). It is a body of water known as the Carquinez Strait on the eastern edge of the San Francisco Bay where the Sacramento River empties into the Bay. Today, the former ferry route is framed by Solano County on the north, Contra Costa County on the south, Interstate 80 on the west and Interstate 680 on the east.

Although you can’t see it in these post cards, the “Solano” was a double side wheel paddleboat. It was constructed, owned and operated by the Central Pacific Railroad to ferry trains on the transcontinental line (it was on this route that the golden spike was driven in Utah on May 10, 1869) to and from the San Francisco Bay Area. In the bottom post card of this set, it says that the ferry is carrying the Overland Limited from Point Costa (it is actually Port Costa) to Benicia (the train is headed east).
Once the transcontinental railroad reached the sea level ferry crossing at Benicia, it was moved onto the “Solano” to be transported across the strait to Port Costa.

The “Solano”, which was built in 1878 in Oakland, California, was named for the county in which Benicia sits. It was 424 feet (129 m) long and 116 feet (35 m) wide and was capable of carrying entire passenger trains or a 48-car freight train and locomotive. It was in service from 1879 to 1930.
By 1927, the “Solano” had reached its maximum capacity. On May 31, 1928 the Southern Pacific, successor to the Central Pacific in operations of the ferry, authorized construction of a railroad bridge from Benicia to Martinez just east of Port Costa. The railroad bridge opened in November 1930 and continues to serve the Union Pacific and Amtrak railroads.

Following the opening of the railroad bridge, most of the “Solano” was dismantled and sold for scrap. However, what does remain of the “Solano” can be seen today where it was scuttled to create a breakwater in the San Joaquin River near Antioch, California east of its old route. This video on youtube will take you on a tour:
The top picture is on a post card published by the Souvenir Publishing Company of San Francisco. I do not know much about the history of the company. The appearance of the back makes me think that Edward H. Mitchell had something to do with printing. I can’t guarantee it, though. We can tell that it was published before 1915. In the upper left-hand corner of the card is a seal advertising the upcoming Pan-Pacific International Exposition to be held in San Francisco in 1915. It is a divided back card, so it was printed between 1907 and 1915. I know absolutely nothing about the printer or publisher of the bottom card! I have several that have that scroll design around the words POST CARD, but I cannot find any information about who used it.
The top post card of this set was published by Richard Behrandt, an importer and wholesaler of toys, novelties, stereo-views, greetings and postcards. Behrendt published a wide variety of postcard types under his own name including view-cards of the West Coast and the San Francisco Earthquake. His office was at 711 Mission Street in San Francisco from 1906 to 1930. This post card was sent to France on January 22, 1919.

This bottom post card has a very distinctive logo in the top middle of the card. Despite that, I can find no information about the publisher of this care, either. It, too, is a divided back card, so it is from between 1907 and 1915.

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If you know anything about the history of the cards, the trains or the locations, please add them.