The San Leandro was a turboelectric steamer built in 1923 by Los Angeles Shipbuilding Co. for the Key System, which ran commuter trains in the East Bay.
The Fresno was built as an auto ferry in 1927 for the Southern Pacific Railroad and later operated by the Southern Pacific/Golden Gate line. It was one of six steel-hulled ferries built for service on San Francisco Bay. The Fresno and her five sister ships had motor-driven generators that created an electric current to turn the propellers. They became known as "steel electrics" or "the electric fleet."
Railroads, in those days, commonly owned ferries because they could then bring train passengers directly to the ferry landings, providing a seamless transportation network the likes of which today's transportation planners only dream about.
In 1929 there were 28 Southern Pacific-Golden Gate ferries serving Sausalito, Tiburon, Richmond, Vallejo, Berkeley, Alameda and Oakland. It was the largest ferry operation in the world.
The six electric fleet boats became obsolete after the Bay and Golden Gate bridges opened in 1936 and 1937, respectively, turning automobile travel into the area's primary mode of transportation. The boats were all sold to Puget Sound's Black Ball line in 1940 and 1941 and renamed. Amazingly, four of the vessels are still in use in Washington.
The Fresno was renamed the Willapa and used on the Seattle-Bremerton run until it was retired in 1968 and returned to the Bay Area. Gridley bought it at auction in 1990.
The San Leandro was a Bay Area classic. After U.S. Maritime Commission service during World War II, the San Leandro was acquired by Southern Pacific and used on the Oakland-to-San Francisco run.
It was the last old-time ferryboat on the bay when, to much fanfare, it made its final run on July 30, 1958, essentially bringing to a close the era of the auto ferry.
It later became home to 1960s rock bands, including Blue Cheer, while she was moored in San Leandro. Legend has it the Grateful Dead once used the boat as their studio and crash pad. Gridley's children remember wild parties aboard the vessel after he purchased it.