Coggeshall Launch & Tow Boat Co.
Humboldt County, CA Biographies





COGGESHALL LAUNCH & TOW BOAT CO.—The important factor in the life and prosperity of every seaport is necessarily its shipping. The value of its imports and exports, combined with the size, number and efficiency of its carriers, registers on the commercial thermometer the size and importance of the port in the business world. Had an article been written about the close of the nineteenth century on the shipping industry as connected with the inland waters of the Humboldt bay, it would have touched upon the now obsolete wind jammer, at the present time relegated to ancient history as regards the commerce of the Pacific coast ports very much as is the whaler of Atlantic coast ports; superseded in her work and importance by the modern steamer of much greater tonnage and carrying capacity. The steamer propelled by its own power combines efficiency, despatch and economy impossible in the deposed wind jammer. As great a change as is noticeable in the large outside cargo carriers may be noticed in the class and character of bottoms used in the inland waters of the bay. Were the bay business handled today with the same equipment used at the time the wind jammer handled the commerce of this port and were the crude methods of that time still in vogue, the dispatch demanded by the outside vessels while in the bay completing cargoes could never be given.

The inland transportation of the Humboldt bay is an auxiliary of the outside. Methods on the bay have advanced and system has been inaugurated where formerly it was "every man for himself." As far as the steamer is ahead of the practically discarded sailing ship, so far are the bay craft of the present day ahead of the class of boats used in the olden times. During the opening year of the twentieth century the transportation of two million shingles from some mill up in one of the sloughs to the tackle of a ship would have taken a large share of the lighter equipment of the bay. The pike pole navigators, several of whom were doing business then, would have been utilized in the task. Today an order for five million shingles delivered alongside would give no one any particular concern. They would be loaded on lighters, of which there are several capable of handling from one million to a million and a half. The load would be taken in tow by a launch of sufficient power to handle and dock a large steamer. More easily than under the old system one million shingles were handled, this whole large lot would be docked alongside. The modern launch, equipped with from fifty to one hundred or more horse power, has taken the place of the picturesque relic of the "good old days" and the man with the pike pole. Shipping coming in from outside demands the services of a force of longshoremen greatly in excess of the number required in former days when the men went to the vessels, taking cargo in the stream and at wharves several miles distant from the city wharves, mostly in row boats or in small and unreliable launches. Today the gasoline marine engine is conceded to be as reliable as steam, and no matter what number of men may be required to work a ship, they are put aboard from a large launch with celerity and certainty.

In the olden times large picnics were handled by means of small lighters which were tied up to a central wharf. When a load was procured the picnickers were towed down the bay to the desired place. Today when there is a picnic, with an attendance of upwards of four thousand, a service is inaugurated composed of powerful, comfortable boats, capable of carrying from one hundred to two hundred persons, and these leave for the picnic grounds at intervals of ten or fifteen minutes. Formerly parties wishing to go to the trans bay town of Samoa hired a row boat and pulled across. Many times a breeze would spring up prior to their return, making the bay choppy, so that the rowers would return drenched to the skin. In former days vessels wanting boiler water and loading at points on the bay where the desired article was not obtainable, were under the necessity of leaving their docks and steaming to Eureka to secure water before going to sea. At present vessels wishing oil and water lay at their dock and an oil or water barge comes alongside giving them whichever they desire, the ship thus being saved delay and consequently saved money as well.

These comparisons between conditions on the bay in the past and at the present time are not made in a spirit of criticism. The methods and equipments of those days were sufficient for the then requirements. When the need for larger, better service came, there were men ready to embrace the opportunity. The result is that the waterfront is up to date. Steamship men and travelers are quick to appreciate the launch service on the Humboldt. Those who have visited at every port on the Pacific concede that the launches here are superior in equipment, design and comfort to any vessels of the same class on the entire coast. In 1912 the underwriters of San Francisco were considering the advisability of accepting risks on launches and sent their representative to survey the launches on the Humboldt bay. As a result they adopted them as a standard to which the San Francisco launches must adhere in order to be considered insurable risks.

One June morning ten or more years ago a transparency reading "Coggeshall Launch Co., Ferry to Samoa," appeared at the foot of F street, Eureka, (this street being the launch center of the port). Capt. W. Coggeshall was the "Company," being himself president, secretary, office boy, ticket taker, and master of the little boat of twenty passenger capacity which he had purchased from William McDade, the Humboldt bay shipbuilder who since has made a reputation as a master builder extending from Puget sound to the Pacific coast. No one knew anything about Captain Coggeshall except that he evidently was a Yankee and smilingly stated that he was from Nantucket, an island off the Massachusetts coast. When he left on his scheduled trips across the bay on the little boat, the Island Home, the transparency was left to "hold down the job" until he returned. The trim boat attracted favorable attention, but there were already two or three small power boats on the bay and the people did not understand how another launch could support its owner. Yet within three months Captain Coggeshall had designed the Nantucket, Mr. McDade had built the boat and it was in commission, for a long time running as the Pomona. The next step of the venturesome Captain was the building of an office and the taking in of the transparency. It was thereupon freely predicted that the building of the large boat would financially ruin the owner, for the Nantucket was the first passenger launch in the port and there seemed little use for such a vessel. Yet within a year a third launch was designed and built, the next year a fourth was added, a year later a fifth was added to the possessions of the company, this being the Wannacomet. Two years later the Miacomet was launched and put into commission. The first boat was built thirty feet in length with seven horsepower; the last boat was sixty five feet long, with one hundred and thirty five horse power.

After having operated an exclusive passenger service for the first two years, Captain Coggeshall then bought one small lighter. At the present time, either through purchase or by building, he has come into the ownership of eleven. The first lighter carried fifteen tons cargo and the last one was built for two hundred tons. The company, which is now capitalized at $50,000, owns the six launches and eleven lighters, employs a superintendent and from sixteen to twenty men, and has the reputation of working its men the shortest hours and paying them the highest wages of any company of a similar nature operating on any Pacific coast port. About 1911 the company purchased the ferry steamer Antelope from the Hammond Lumber Company, together with their lighters and good will, that concern being a competitor in a way.

The Marine Exchange of Humboldt bay was started by Captain Coggeshall about 1909. Finding that the general public were in ignorance concerning the movement of vessels in San Francisco harbor and along the coast, he established the exchange in order to systematize such information and to serve as an auxiliary to the general business of the shippers. From its nature it is of course not a money making proposition. About 1907 the Captain made a contract with the government to operate as United States mail contractor on all the steam schooners running between Eureka and San Francisco. Prior to that time the mail had come to Eureka on two steamship lines exclusively. Through his system every steamer between this port and San Francisco became a mail steamer and the efficiency of the service was greatly enhanced. It had not been uncommon for an interval to occur of three days between mails, but under the present system the port practically has one mail in and one mail out every day, the exceptions being infrequent. All the lighters and launches of the company were designed by the Captain and built by Mr. McDade. During the Pacific coast visit of the great American fleet the Captain took the Nantucket and Wannacomet to Monterey bay and San Francisco, where they attracted perhaps a greater degree of admiring attention than any other boats in evidence. The reputation of the company for reliable service is fully established and each year they handle three hundred thousand passengers between Eureka and the various places of call on the bay.

When the company took over the New Era park about 1910 its only claim to notoriety was a broken down wharf, a redwood open dance platform and several acres of fine trees. Within three months from the date of transfer New Era park opened up with a casino, 70x150 feet, with a fine floor and modern appointments. In point of excellent floor and size of the building, Humboldt bay now has the best recreation park and Casino north of San Francisco. The first Chautauqua ever held in northern California had its headquarters on these grounds, the Casino being used as the auditorium. This article is not written for the purpose of exploiting the Coggeshall Launch & Tow Boat Company; yet it is impossible to treat of the bay transportation business without dwelling upon the individual and the concern responsible for the remarkable transformation of the past decade. Business made the great improvement in transportation and Captain Coggeshall happened to be the man to work everything out to a definite end. There will always be an opportunity at this port. Humboldt bay will be a standard in marine matters as long as there are practical men to take advantage of the local opportunity. Shipping and commerce are here and the bay business therefore must necessarily prosper as long as it is under the superintendence of men who thoroughly understand the work and its requirements.

From:
History of Humboldt County, California
With a Biographical Sketches
History by Leigh H. Irving
Historic Record Company
Los Angeles, California 1915


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