The Journal of San Diego History
October 1957, Volume 3, Number 4
Jerry MacMullen, Editor

By Herbert C. Hensley

Considerable eclat marked the launching and maiden-voyage of the brand-new city garbage-scow Utilissimo on October 24, 1889, she (if it is not unchivalrous to refer to such a craft as feminine) having just been completed by Joseph Supple at a contract price of $2,000.

That method of disposal was the idea of Dr. David Gochenauer, well known physician and in many ways an enthusiastically public spirited citizen. (He was the chief promoter of the Electric Transit Company which operated trolley cars to Old Town briefly in 1887).

A rather large attendance of the town’s officialdom and socialites graced the occasion, and Mrs. Clara Foltz, noted “lady lawyer”, then resident of San Diego, officiated as sponsor. In so doing, she broke over the stubby bows a bottle of champagne contributed by Mr. W. E. Hadley, manager of the Horton House. Mr. Hadley let it be known that the wine was an imported article from his very choicest stock and he appeared to take an honest pride in thus sacrificing it. One undoctrined bystander, however, remarked morosely that “a bottle of ‘dago red’ would have done quite well enough for this old hooker.”

The exercises were under the auspices of the Ladies Annex of the Chamber of Commerce, whose president, Mrs. Hill, presided. Speeches were made by Dr. Gochenauer, Mayor Douglas Gunn and James Callen, the brilliant local attorney and orator. (Now, speeches on the launching of a warship or even of a cup-defending yacht seem reasonable and natural enough, but just what sentiments would be especially appropriate in the case of a garbage-scow seem, at least to me, not too apparent. It is a pity we do not have the texts of those discourses).

And, the assemblage having been roused to a high pitch of feeling by all that eloquence, they ended with the Star Spangled Banner.

Utilissimo was no beauty Contractor Supple having completed the rigging of the Utilissimo previous to launching, in accordance with the plan for an immediate trial-trip, everybody scrambled on board and Commodore Amos Pettingill, white-haired commodore of the Corinthian Yacht Club, superintended the setting of the big sails — the scow was schooner-rigged, depending altogether on the wind for propulsion — ordered the lines thrown off and took the helm.

With all canvas spread the huge craft stood out toward the ship-channel right gallantly. She handled pretty well (considering) ; not missing stays when going about if the crew forward manipulated headsails “handsomely.” Everybody was enthusiastic; they sang airs from “Pinafore” and “Billee Taylor.”

The Utilissimo was 60 feet in length by 20 breadth of beam. She had two cargo (garbage) bins 10 by 20 feet in size on either side. These receptacles were V-shaped in cross-section, sloping sharply from the central narrow, fore-and-aft gangway down to the vessel’s side a little above the water-line. The bins were fitted on the outside with big doors which could be swung up to let them empty themselves into the sea.

Mr. Supple had the contract for operating the scow, he was to carry the loads well outside the harbor mouth before dumping them. He was to get $100 per month.

Well, the west wind blew fresh and pleasant and the sun shone brightly; the little waves slapped happily under the bluff forefoot. Plainly no cup-defender for speed any more than for beauty of lines, the Utilissimo did move (if sedately) and, too, she “stood up like a church,” instilling confidence. Nobody got seasick.

Over by channel buoy No. 7, off North Island, they spied a skiff containing a lone mariner who, on closer approach, proved to be Captain James Edward Friend, insatiable fisherman when not rusticating at Po’ Man’s Ranch near Alpine, or driving over the county behind his old mare, Nance, on a roving commission to supply a column of chatty news notes now and then for the Union. “Cap” had apparently been fishing – tied up to the buoy (which was against the law) – after rowing across the bay to see how Nance was getting on; he having put her out to pasture on North Island for a while after being refused permission to picket her in the Court House yard. (Just how he got the mare over to the “Peninsula” I wouldn’t know).

A small man, Captain Friend, but capable of much dignity and with a martial carriage, he was still at times given to comedy stuff.

On this occasion he chose to give a convincing portrayal of a castaway in the last stages of exhaustion, starvation and thirst and begged weakly for succor. Being taken on board and his boat tied astern, “Cap” enjoyed the sympathetic ministrations of the deluded ladies for a while when, sniffing the pleasant aroma from the scow’s wine-drenched bows, he ventured faintly the opinion that possibly a small serving of grog might hasten his restoration. Finding nothing stronger than lemonade forthcoming, however, he decided to quit his fooling and thereafter became the life of the party.

Some further entertainment was occasioned when one of the gentlemen was nudged off the gangway by the big foresail-boom into one of those bins. He wasn’t hurt, merely sliding down precipitately into the outside corner from which he was unable to claw his way up. His callous male companions, deaf to the prisoner’s pleas, debated solemnly whether, after all, there was any good reason for pulling him out, or whether he might not just as well be left there to form the nucleus of forthcoming cargo; and they went so far as to suggest to Contractor Supple that, clearly, he should improve the opportunity to demonstrate how he would dump the contents of that bin. But, at that, the ladies all cried “For shame!” so they dropped down the bight of a halliard and pulled him out, considerably ruffled in temper.

So, the Utilissimo had a successful trial-trip and the guests, (with perhaps the exception of the individual just referred to) voted it a grand outing. But as the ship went into operation right away it goes without saying that no more fashionable yachting parties were held on her.

It might be said that this plan of disposing of the town’s garbage was far from a success. The big scow being a slow sailer and the wind hereabouts commonly not getting up much before 10 A.M. or later, and tending to drop around 4 P.M., and the tide not always cooperating, Captain Supple often found his part of the agreement beset with difficulties. There were times when a trip took two or three days. And then again, he sometimes dumped his cargo considerably “inside” the whistling-buoy (about a mile and a half south of Pt. Loma) to which point at least he was supposed to take the stuff, and turned back while there was any wind remaining to waft him homeward.

A garbage-scow is apt to become none too pleasant a place for a protracted stay. But in these cases, where the trip was cut short the redolent stuff was very apt to be brought back into the bay by the next tide, to decorate the shore-lines and offend the nostrils of the citizenry. This alleged dereliction coming to the attention of the city council, that body passed an ordinance providing that for every time the contractor dumped his load thus prematurely, ten dollars was to be deducted from his monthly pay. Considerable argument resulted from this measure, Mr. Supple holding himself not responsible for the vagaries of wind and tide, and, after city employees had taken a turn at the operation, with no better results, Mr. William Jorres was given the job. Jorres, then sole owner of the remains of the old Culverwell wharf at the foot of “F” Street, made use of his small and weak tug-boat Emma to tow the Utilissimo to sea, which was some improvement, but not much. Finally the city gave up that method of disposal and went back to hauling the loads outside the town-limits and burning it. (So then the wagoners sometimes unloaded well inside the boundary, so that the whole business remained a “headache” for a number of years).