The narrow gauge Pacific Coast Railroad served San Luis Obispo to Los Olivios and connected to steamer service at Port Harford. Photo courtesy Point San Luis Lighthouse Keepers
The Queen of the Pacific was in trouble. At at 2:45 a.m. the crew notified Captain E. Andrews the vessel was 15 miles from port and taking water rapidly in a choppy sea. In the pre-dawn darkness navigation along the rocky coast was a problem. There was no lighthouse to mark the way, no radio or GPS.
The vessel was on its way from San Francisco south to ports of call in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Diego with 500 tons of cargo and 125 passengers. It was now engaged in a dangerous race for life, blindfolded in the dark. Could the crew bring the ship to port without breaking up on the rocks?
Captain Andrews put the crew to work moving the freight from the lee-side to the weather side but water poured in faster than the freight could be moved.
At this point the mission shifted from saving the vessel to saving the lives of those aboard.
As the ship made the best time under the conditions toward port as the engineers and firemen were ordered below deck to pump. The water level rose up to their necks and the lifeboats were swung out, ready to be lowered in the pre-dawn darkness.
About 8 a.m. women and children were put ashore in the lifeboats and the Queen was settled on sand in the port in 32 feet of water, listing about 50 degrees. Later the men were evacuated, the only loss being the cargo.
The May 2 story said that hundreds of people flocked to observe the salvage operations. Fishing skiffs loaded with the curious took people out to scramble on the deck.
The condition of the unfortunate Queen continues to excite unabated interest, and hundreds of our citizens have visited the harbor, lined the wharf and taken extended observations of the stranded ship. The cranky little fishing skiffs of the vicinity have been kept busy taking out loads of the curious, who have scrambled over the vessel, hanging on to ropes, or any other hand hold and experienced the curious sensation of seeing the sea rise and fall in the cabin of the vessel, and had their notions of the perpendicular, sorely tried in the endeavor to promenade the decks. Occasionally a visitor has come to grief, but no serious accidents has occurred. Sheriff McLeod, so far, has made the best record. Relying on his well known habitual uprightness and ability to sand on a slippery place, he took an unlucky misstep and fell some distance with a good deal of vlolence, damaging his good looks and shaking him up badly. He is going about now looking as if he had been attempting to arrest the great John L.
Clerks in San Luis Obispo tried to get a holiday declared so they could go watch but a major business refused to sign off. Merchants served by the port and the Pacific Coast Railway estimated their losses at $10,000.
A photographer named Kerlin sold scores of souvenir photographs. If anyone has a copy I’d love to include it in this post.
Divers discovered the cause of the accident was a open dead-light, (one of those round windows on ships). Water filled a side compartment causing the ship to list and pushing the opening underwater causing the ship to fill faster. A salvage tug was dispatched from San Francisco and the ship was expected to be floated in three days. The cargo, with the exception of wet goods was expected to be a total loss. The Santa Rosa was sent to pick up stranded passengers and carry them on the way.
This news merited front page coverage for several days, though with the old Tribune, story placement could be inconsistent. Sometimes the most important local news landed on page 3.
In other news on the page, sharp eyed readers will notice the birth announcement of a new town. As the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived new towns were platted by developers. Santa Margarita, Templeton, Grover Beach and Oceano were all created in response to the arrival of the rails. Unlike early areas of railroad expansion, the coast route was not a government land grant route. Much of Coast line crossed old Spanish land grants held in private ownership which were now being subdivided.
The New Town.
Gen. Murphy intends to lay out a town one mile square on the Santa Margarita Ranch in San Luis Obispo county. Moore, Duly & Co., of this city will have the handling of the lots. The town will be on the line of the Southern Pacific which is to run through the ranch.–S.B. Independent
Anyone interested in the history of the county from this era should take a look at Rails across the Ranchos by Loren Nicholson. He outlines the history of the area as the land grants are developed and the railroad comes to the region.
Wishing everyone a safe and non-newsworthy journey this Thanksgiving.