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From the Clyde to California
Chapter VI.—China Town—Oakland


SAN FRANCISCO HOTELS-CHINA TOWN-CABLE TRAM- ROAD, A UNIQUE INVENTION-ITS APPLICABILITY TO GREENOCK-GOLDEN GATE PARK-OAKLAND-EPISODE OF THE CARTSDYKE FLOOD.

HAVING satisfied ourselves as to how the "almighty dollar" is fashioned, we pass out of this huge money-making factory and again mix among the men Whose energy and intelligence have transformed, in so short a space of time, the grain-coloured sand hills of San Francisco into a great and noble city on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, the emporium of fleets that traverse its vast extent in all directions.

The next building to which our attention was directed was the City Hall, which will be a very fine structure when finished, but there is only one-half of it completed and occupied. The mason work of the remainder is pretty well advanced, and the large columns on the front are of cast-iron. On the portion that is finished it requires very close inspection to detect what is iron and what is stone. There is not much difficulty in piloting your way through the city, the streets being very regularly laid out—in most cases crossing each other at right angles, although they vary much in width, being from 6o to 120 feet, and some of them very inferior in their construction The carriage-ways are in some cases macadamised, in others they are formed of cobble stones, which resemble round stones that have been picked up on the beach. The side-walks in some of the business parts are paved with stone, in others asphalte, but in most cases they are formed of three-inch planks. Some of the principal streets are lined on each side with very handsome and substantial business premises, private buildings, and hotels.

Of the hotels, the Palace is the most extensive and complete. It occupies a block about 350 feet square, and is built all round eight storeys above the level of the street, with a large court in the centre, covered in with a glass roof at the full height of the building. The fronts to Montgomerie Street and the court are all of white marble, producing a most brilliant effect when illuminated by the electric light. Notwithstanding the great extent of this building, it beyond doubt requires much more accommodation for the extensive business carried on in it. As a proof of this, there is an overhead covered-in passage across Montgomerie Street, connecting the hotel with a large building on the opposite side of the street. Even that is not sufficient to meet its requirements, for there is another overhead passage across a side Street, from the second to a third building. The last two buildings are used for sleeping accommodation only. All the business is carried on in the Palace Hotel. With the three buildings they have accommodation for over eighteen hundred persons. Strangers visiting the city, though not resident in the hotel, are allowed the use of the hoist to get to the roof to have a view of the city.

China Town was fixed on as our next field of research, and towards it we directed our steps, and found it the most dilapidated, and, we might say, the most degraded part of the city. It is inhabited by Chinese alone, there being in this district from twenty-five to thirty thousand. During the week some of them are employed as household servants, shoemakers, tailors, and in various other employments. They are a great eyesore to the working men on account of their working for very small wages, said to be from two to three dollars per week. Sunday is a day of recreation with them. On that day we observed that the barbers' shops were extremely busy. They all get shaved round the neck and face, and about half-way up to the crown of the head. The dressing they get that day costs them about one-fourth of their week's earnings! They are remarkably clean-looking in their persons, but most filthy in their overcrowded habitations. They are great in all sorts of dried meats. Ducks are dried and spread out like ling fish; pigs are hanging roasting in bulk, and sold in small quantities, as t matter of economy in the saving of fuel.

Of the many Yankee inventions that we observed by the way, there is one to which the city of San Francisco lays claim, and of which her citizens have just cause to be proud. It only requires to be known to be adcpted by all cities that are built on rising ground. It is the cable tramroad, the invention of Mr Halliday, a wire-rope manufacturer, and by birth a Scotchman. For easy, safe and comfortable travelling, it is, in many respects, a decided improvement on the ordinary horse cars, and can be used with perfect safety where horse cars are quite impracticable. In this city many of the streets pass right over the tops of the hills, ascending on the one side and descending on the other.

The cross streets along the hill sides are partly dug into the hill on the high side, and partly made up by by the debris on the low side. Where these streets intersect each other, the ascending street, to the extent of the breadth of the cross street, passes on the level, then ascends the next section on the incline, till it comes to the next cross street, where it again crosses on the level. On these level crossings the cars usually stop to set down or take UI) passengers. Though the level crossings are used for this purpose, there is no difficulty in stopping on the incline. We observed a car stop with the greatest of ease when descending an incline of one in eight, and then silently resume its course down hill with an easy, sliding motion.

The cable trarnroads are similar to the ordinary horse car rails, with this exception, that there is a tunnel, or tube, extending the whole length in the centre between each set of rails. This tube is about three feet deep and two feet wide, and is formed with strong cast-iron frames, set about five feet apart, and to which a casing of sheet iron is fixed to form the tube. The outside of this iron casing is filled in to the surface of the Street with concrete. To these frames are fixed rollers, over which the cable works. At the surface of the street and in the centre betweei the rails, running the whole length of the rails, are two iron plates about four inches broad, screwed down to the top of the cast-iron frames, with one inch between them, forming a longitudinal slit the whole ength of the railroad. The driver stands inside of a small car, called the dummy, which goes before the passenger car. From this dummy an iron arm passes down through the slit into the tube, where the connection is made with the cable. When the driver wants to stop the car, he pulls a lever which disconnects the car from the cable (which continues in motion), and at the same time presses down a brake from under each side of the car on each of the rails. When the lever is pulled in the opposite direction, the brakes are raised, the cable connected, and the car again set in motion.

The driving power is got from a stationary steam engine—the one we examined is 50 horse-power----placed in a large building on the line of the street on the top of the Russian Hill. The wire cable, which is about one inch in diameter, is led into this building and passed round a large wheel that is always in motion, and stands on shears like the slide-rest of a turning lathe, and is free to move backward or forward so as to accommodate itself to any expansion or contraction of the cable that may result from a change of temperature. It is this wheel that gives motion to the cable, and which has never been known to break. When any of the wires give way, they are seen when passing through the engine-room, and the defective part of the cable is stopped there during the night when the cars have ceased running, and the faulty wires are replaced previous to the cars beginning to run next day. Looking from Russian Hill, the situation and its surroundings very forcibly reminded us of the view from the top of the Whinhill, behind Greenock. If we substitute the Cloch for the Golden Gate and Helens- burgh for Oakland, but only about four miles water space between, then there is beneath us about the same extent of level ground hemmed in by the hills behind and the deep waters in front, with a large fleet of vessels riding safely at anchor in its well-sheltered bay, and with Lone Mountain Cemetery beautifully situated between us and the Golden Gate. But here the similarity ends. Before us is a city, the growth of less than half-a-century, occupying all the level ground and extending over the hills, with streets double the width of ours, and about six times the number of inhabitants; with trade and commerce in even a greater proportion, and still extending at railway speed.

Returning to the city, we took a walk down Market Street towards the wharves, where preparations were being made for the erection of an extensive building. At first sight there appeared to be an unnecessary quantity of timber used in the foundation. The whole area was dug out to a depth of nine feet below the level of the street and six feet beyond the building line, so as to give a sunk flat. This area was closely laid with a floor of pine, six inches thick. On the top of this floor there is another of the same thickness laid across the first, making a floor of twelve inches over the whole area, and extending five feet outside of the walls. On inquiring if it was really necessary to use so much timber in the bottom, we were informed that it was, and that all the buildings in that neighbourhood, having sunk flats, were done in the same manner. The flooring forms the foundation of the walls, which are built near the level of the street with cement, and made thoroughly watertight, the floor being caulked under the walls before the building is begun, and, should there be any appearance of water, the rest of the area can be caulked at any time, the advantages of the timber being a regular foundation and a dry sunk flat.

The day being now far gone, and our rambles having been very extensive and interesting, we felt an inclination to seek the privacy of our hotel, which having obtained we began to reflect on what we had observed during the day. What most prominently presented itself to our mind's eye was the striking resemblance that the general outline of the district bore to our native place, and the ingenious appliance here resorted to for overcoming the natural disadvantages that are common to both. The fact that this appliance is as applicable to the one place as the other brings it within the range of possibility that Greenock may, at no very distant date, be extending southward over the hills, harbours and building yards stretching along its shores, and stores, public works and workmen's houses occupying the level ground that is at present taken up by the mansions of our merchants, who may find it more respectable and advantageous to take up their residence in the hill district, and to be taken up and let down by the cable tramroad, worked by engines stationed on the tops of Conic and the W7hinhill.

Next day we resolved to have a comparative trial of the cable cars, as against the horse cars. A very short trial enabled us to decide which was the most preferable to travel by. Though our course by the cable car was very much up hill and down brae, where horses could not possibly be of any service, yet the stopping and starting were done silently and almost imperceptibly (the rate of speed never varying), and the sensation created by the motion was more like a slide on a sheet of very keen ice, than a ride along a street on a tramway car.

We again embark on this pleasant-going cable tram- road. Never can there be a smoother mode of transit than this noiseless, easy-gliding motion. It seemed as if you were seated before a moving panorama of streets, with peoples of many nationalities passing before you. We reach the Golden Gate Park, which is about three miles distant from the city. Part of the route is through the city cemeteries, which are very extensive, well kept, and situated in the immediate vicinity of the park. The one belonging to the Roman Catholics is the most conspicuous on account of an isolated mound (Lone Mountain), which occupies a very prominent position in the midst of the ground, and is surmounted by a large cross, which serves as a landmark to point out at a distance the locality of the dead.

On leaving the car, we took a stroll through the Golden Gate Park, which is worthy of notice, though it is in some respects much inferior to many of the public parks we have visited—yet there is none that so well illustrates the indefatigable perseverance of the Americans in overcoming natural disadvantages. This park is one of the chief resorts of the city pleasure-seekers. It is about 1,200 acres in extent, and occupies a very exposed and elevated position. Part of the ground is closely planted with trees, amongst which, in some secluded spots, large conservatories have been erected, and are apparently doing well. Other parts are laid down in green lawn and ornamented with neat flower plots. A considerable part of the ground is still in its natural state, and is gradually being brought into a fair State of cultivation. The whole is very extensively laid out with serpentine walks and well-formed carriage drives, which seem to be much taken advantage of and immensely enjoyed by the citizens, judging from the easy, aristocratic manner in which we saw them driving along.

Towards the western extremity of the ground there rises a large hill or mound, round which the carriage- drive is formed, and from the summit of which there is a very extensive view towards the Golden Gate and right on to the Pacific Ocean. It is only eight years since the first attempt was made to bring this ground into cultivation. Previous to that it was a waste of sand, such as is still to be seen in the surrounding district, where the whole surface of hill and dale is as smooth and even as newly-fallen snow; and, when viewed from the mound, it resembled very much in appearance a large extent of ripe grain, which on closer examination turns out to be an immense surface of yellowish sand, not unlike a sandy sea-beach, where there is a succession of little ridges or waves with a few inches between each.

There is not a tuft of grass visible on the whole surface. It is like working against nature to bring such land into cultivation, and it is scarcely credible that it can be done, when one takes into account the barren ground to begin with. No rain during the summer half of the year, the moisture being supplied by irrigation and exposure to the westerly winds which invariably set in from the Pacific every afternoon. However, these disadvantages may be compensated to a certain extent by there being very little difference of temperature between summer and winter, it seldom being so cold as to freeze, with a very moderate quantity of rainfall in the winter.

Having had a very satisfactory stroll through this desert park, we resolved to see some of the more fertile city resorts, and made our way back to the pier, where we took the ferry-bat to Oakland, which may be said to be one of the city suburbs. The time occupied in crossing the bay was about fifteen minutes, the distance being three and a-half miles to the end of the pier, which is of itself over two and three-fourth miles long and over one hundred feet in breadth. All the railway engines that ply on this pier are fitted with force pumps, so that if at any time, by accident, fire should break out on the pier, each engine can, at a moment's notice, proceed to the scene of danger, and act the part of a fire brigade in extinguishing the fire. It is about seven years since the pier was constructed, and the company, fearing that when the timber should begin to decay the expense of the up-keep and the inconvenience to the traffic would be great, have already set to work to provide against such a contingency by filling up with stones and clay alongside the pier and amongst the piles. This is intended to be carried out about two miles into the bay, and is expected to be pretty well consolidated before the timber gives way.

Oakland is the permanent residence of many of the gentry and merchants of San Francisco, who daily pass to and fro. The present population is said to be about sixty thousand, and an average of eleven thousand persons cross every day. The ferry-boats leave every half-hour, and in order to give greater facilities to the increasing traffic, it is at present in contemplation to have them plying at shorter intervals.

It is difficult to realise the possibility of such a short distance intervening between so stirring a commercial city, built on a bleak, mountainous sandy waste, and one that is so completely rural and occupying such an attractive and fertile plain, enlivened with such luxuriance of fruit, flowers, and shade trees, the oak holding a very conspicuous place amongst them.

The streets are very wide, and all the buildings have a neat, clean, and substantial appearance, each having a large piece of ground; even retail shops, warehouses, and stores occupy detached buildings. The city extends over a radius of nearly five miles, and enjoys the privilege of a free State College, where both sexes prosecute their studies in the higher branches of education. No intoxicating liquors are allowed to be retailed within two miles of this institution.

As regards railway travelling, the citizens here enjoy a very exceptional privilege. There are seven or eight local stations within the city boundaries, and all passengers entering and leaving at any of these stations travel free if they don't go beyond the city limits. This is a privilege that we could not at all comprehend, until an old acquaintance, who is resident there, informed us that when the railway was being promoted, the city of Oakland occupied the position most favourable to its approach to San Francisco. The Local Authority of that date made a bold stand, and would not consent to the line passing through the city unless the company agreed to the terms that they proposed, which resulted in securing free trains to all parties who did not travel beyond the city boundaries.

In the course of our wanderings we came to the store of a Greenockian settled in Oakland. He was, unfortunately, from home, but his wife, a Scotch woman, welcomed us in the kindliest manner possible. Coming as we did from the old country, was warrant sufficient for a hearty welcome. Our countrymen abroad are intensely Scottish in their feelings, and everywhere in our travels we found their kindly words and hospitality towards us unbounded. Neither time, trouble, nor expense was spared on their part to entertain and make us feel at home among them. Our friend's wife was overjoyed at our visit, and in the course of our conversation related an incident in her life so singular that it is worth reproducing, more especially as the leading episode took place in Cartsdyke.

"I remember," she remarked, "when but a little girl, I one day got hold of a paper containing the narrative of the Cartsdyke flood. I read it with absorbing interest, and one most touching incident became indelibly fixed in my mind. It was the story of a child in its cradle being carried by the flood out of its parents' house and found floating in the river, like a second Moses, asleep and unharmed. My father found me in tears over it, and scolded my mother for allowing me to read matters of so exciting a nature. We emigrated to America, and, after many vicissitudes, in course of time I got married to my husband. About two years after our marriage, when my husband and I were one evening entertaining each other by relating some events of former times, I told him how deeply I had been impressed by the reading of the story of the child in its cradle voyage in the Cartsdyke flood, and, to my utter astonishment, my husband told me that he was the Moses of the episode that I had wept over in my childhood!"

Such was the story related by our friend's wife, far away from the scene of its occurrence, and once more demonstrated that "truth is stranger than fiction." I felt interested in it, from the simple and correct manner in which she told it, and from the fact that I was aware of the particulars at the time it occurred, and also having heard it repeated a few years ago by the father of the child, whose mother was drowned in the house out of which the cradle, with its precious cargo, had been swept by the flood. The time allotted for our trip to the Far Wrest had now been exceeded, and we were reluctantly compelled to forego visiting many places of interest that were on our programme, and we now turn our attention to the home journey. Some will, no doubt, be curious to learn something about car life crossing the desert, and the expense attending it. To such we willingly give a sketch of it, and of railway travelling generally.


 

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