HELEN, Robert R.
NOTE: This diary is © Santa Cruz Island Foundation.
A Brief History of the Fry’s Harbor Quarry, 1928-1929
Santa Cruz Island, California
The Fry’s Harbor Quarry situated on the North side of Santa Cruz Island was created in the 1920s to produce stone to construct the Santa Barbara Breakwater. The site was chosen as it is fairly close to Santa Barbara and, at the time, the quality of stone was considered acceptable for breakwater construction and could be quarried and loaded onto barges for towing to the breakwater site.
In the 1930s, Santa Cruz Island, except for a portion on the eastern end, was owned by the Justinian Caire Interests, of San Francisco. Fry’s Harbor is in about the center of the Caire property and is protected from northwesterly weather. Agreements to open the quarry and produce stone were entered into between the contractor for the breakwater and the Caire interests, payment to be on a royalty basis per ton.
The area of Fry’s Harbor selected to open up the quarry lies along the southern side of the harbor, which lies in an east-west direction. This appeared at the time to offer the best quarry site and potential source of good stone, as well as the most practical area to load barges. The campsite, central compressor plant and electric generators were located in the valley extending inland from the westerly end of the harbor.
Even in the best of weather and sea conditions, there is motion in the harbor which makes it impractical to tie-up barges to a dock or pier. Moorings were used in the harbor to hold barges in position away from the shoreline and within reach of land derricks which loaded the stone. Two barge loading berths were provided. One was used to load large stones for breakwater slope and cap stones; these stones were loaded by a guy derrick handling individual pieces up to ten tons. The second barge berth was used to load bottom dump barges and smaller stone for the core of the breakwater. When the barges finished loading, they were placed on moorings in the outer harbor by a small tug, awaiting larger tugs for the tow to Santa Barbara.
Coyote hole tunneling and blasting was the method used to produce the stone and create a quarry face. Small tunnels were driven into the quarry face, branched out and loaded with dynamite with as much as thirty tons to a blast. This primary blasting method produced certain amounts of waste material, small stone, and large stone which in most cases required secondary blasting. Initially, after the blasting, all of the stone was segregated and loaded onto railroad cars by a 50 B Bucyrus steam shovel and then transported to the two derricks for loading to barges.
Quarrying methods in the 1930s were far different from today’s methods. Blasting techniques are now much improved; equipment such as large crawler cranes, heavy duty rock trucks, front end loaders and bulldozers were not available then.
Railroad cars with a small locomotive transported quarried stone to the barge loading areas. This required a system of railroad tracks which had to be shifted continually so that the railroad cars to be loaded were within reach of the steam shovel that loaded the cars. The use of trucks and railroad equipment required keeping a straight quarry face, resulted in handling tons of waste material since the good rock was confined to one area. Procedures today would be to concentrate on quarrying only the good rock and load to trucks. This approach would not require maintaining a straight quarry face.
Fresh water is a scarcity on Santa Cruz Island. Other than for winter rains, water is from springs. A small dam in the valley of Fry’s Harbor was built and the water collected; however, this system barely met the requirements of the camp and two pieces of steam-driven equipment. Power to operate the derricks, drilling equipment and miscellaneous items was from a central diesel-operated compressor plant.
The first pay stone was produced by the Fry’s Harbor Quarry and placed in the breakwater off Santa Barbara in 1927. Work continued at the quarry and breakwater until 1928, when the original contractor defaulted and the bonding company had to step in. The bonding company then negotiated with Merritt-Chapman and Scott Corporation (MC & S), a New York firm with West Coast offices, to take over the contract and complete the project. To continue the Fry’s Harbor Quarry operation, MC & S formed a subsidiary company, the Seaboard Stone and Construction Company. Seaboard produced and sold the stone to MC & S, who placed the stone in the breakwater and continued to pay the royalties to the Caire interests. This separate company, Seaboard Stone and construction, was formed because it was considered that the quarry could be an ongoing venture which could market stone for other projects besides the Santa Barbara breakwater.
All the equipment belonging to the original contractor at the quarry was taken over by the Seaboard Stone and Construction Company. Other contracts with tug and barge operators were also taken over by MC & S. Haviside Company of San Francisco furnished a derrick barge on a charter basis. Harbor Tug & Barge Company, also of San Francisco and at that time a subsidiary of American Dredging Company, had the contract to furnish tugs and barges.
Not long after work was resumed by the new contractor, it was recognized that to complete the Santa Barbara Breakwater job on schedule, much more effort was necessary at the quarry to increase production. A new manager was placed in charge, additional equipment assigned and revised quarrying procedures initiated. However, it was never possible to produce sufficient tonnage of the larger stone required for the breakwater to achieve a fully successful operation.
Good quality stone became less and less available and more costly to obtain as more tonnage was taken out of the quarry. It reached a point when the core stone was completed and only large stone was required to finish the breakwater. All of the small stone produced in order to obtain the large stone had to be dumped at sea to dispose of it. Consequently, this increased the cost of producing the larger stone.
There was a considerable amount of time lost when loading barges at the quarry due to rough water in the harbor, particularly during the winter. The harbor had no protection from wind and weather from the north or northeast. Heavy ground swells from offshore disturbances often made it impossible to load barges. On occasion, as much as three days would be lost at a time. Barge loading was also interrupted whenever a Santa Ana storm occurred with its strong east winds and waves.
Eventually, Merritt-Chapman and Scott received an additional contract to extend the Santa Barbara Breakwater and to close off the gap originally left between its west end and the shore. This helped the quarry financially somewhat but did not cover its previous losses.
The quarry completed furnishing all of the stone for the Santa Barbara Breakwater in 1930. At this time, it was determined that there were not sufficient quantities of good quarry rock left, readily available, that could be economically quarried. Consequently, operations ceased and the quarry was demobilized.
Life at the Fry’s Harbor Quarry
Personnel working on the Fry’s Harbor Quarry operation varied from 50 to 60 people, including supervisors, quarry operating personnel, inspectors and camp employees.
Operations were carried out on a two-shift basis, six days per week with Sundays off. There were no planned recreation activities for leisure hours. Individuals found their own sources of entertainment. There were those who took long hikes over the island; some fished, others engaged in producing cactus wine (these were prohibition days); and naturally there was poker and dice. Another source of entertainment was treasure hunting, which was rewarded by finding caches of liquor high-jacked and confiscated from rum runners and hidden in various locations on the island.
The only full-framed buildings were the cookhouse, mess hall, compressor and electric building and the Superintendent’s house. Housing for all other personnel consisted of tents with timber floors and siding. Heating in the winter was with wood stoves.
The food was barged from the mainland, except for some fish and crawfish acquired locally. An occasional wild boar made the mistake of wandering into the camp and, after becoming domesticated and fattened, added to the diet.
It was possible to arrange leaves of absence for visits to the mainland; however, transportation was a five hour trip on a tug or barge between the island and Santa Barbara with the vessels often wallowing in the trough of the Channel seas, this rough trip deterred many from making frequent excursions off the island.
Surprisingly, there was very little labor turnover. Quarry workers were not too much in demand at other projects; the pay was good, with housing and food free to the individual. Even though the work was hazardous, fortunately there were few serious injuries. Only first aid was available; workers with injuries that required a doctor or hospitalization were sent to the mainland by special trip of a tug boat.
Communication between the island and Santa Barbara was by radio telephone and calls had to be scheduled ahead of time.
It was not a very attractive life for wives. Only the cook’s wife, who helped with the commissary, lived there permanently. Wives of some of the supervisory staff made occasional visits, but few stayed for any length of time.
There was practically no communication with the other residents of Santa Cruz Island. The headquarters of the island at Prisoners’ Harbor was accessible only by boat and it was pretty much understood that quarry people were to keep to themselves; consequently, there were no frequent boat trips between Fry’s Harbor, Pelican Bay and Prisoners’ Harbor.
Robert R. Helen (1907-1998)
was an employee of Merritt-Chapman & Scott Corporation assigned to the Santa Cruz Island Quarry from June 1928 to July 1929.