Daily Archives: May 11, 2010

Quack, Quack, DUKW, DUKW…

Today we headed into San Francisco about 8:50 am, with a quick detour to a gas station to get some air in one of my tires. Yesterday my tire pressure monitor told me my passenger front tire was down about 10# so I aired it up. Then this morning it was down again. So I’ve got a slow leak. I’ll have to get it fixed tomorrow.

We got to our Duck Tour pick up point, but then found a problem. We were supposed to be picked up at the corner of Powell & Ellis, but there was nothing there to indicate this was a pickup point. When we’ve done these tours before, there’s always a ticket booth or sign or something. But nothing here.

After making a couple of phone calls and getting no more info, we just hoped that we would be picked up at noon on schedule.

We had about a hour before our supposed pickup so we decided to take a Cable Car ride down to Fisherman’s Wharf and back.

While we waited for the cable car, I saw this sign and just had to shake my head.


It’s really a shame that they just don’t teach spelling in American schools anymore.

We started our cable car ride at the Market St. Turnaround.

Calble Car 1

The turnaround is a turntable that allows the cable cars to reverse direction.

Cable Car 2

Once the car is on the turntable the crew turns it by hand.

Cable Car 3

This is the Grip, the guy who controls the cable car. The cable runs underground, kind of like an upside down ski lift.. The cable is constantly running at about 9.5 mph. A gripper extends below the car into the slot between the tracks. The lever in the Grip’s left hand grips the cable that pulls the car along. Releasing the grip lets the car coast. The lever in the Grip’s right hand controls the car’s brakes.

Cable Car 4

And good brakes are really needed on some of  these hills.

Cable Car 5 

Cable Car 6

We got back to our DUKW pickup point about 10 minutes before noon, and looking around, suddenly, our DUkW was there. The DUKW’s are WWII amphibious 6 wheel drive trucks used in the D-Day landing at Normandy and others. The DUKW name is not a military acronym, but the designation given to it by General Motors Corporation, the builder. The D indicates a vehicle designed in 1942, the U meant "utility (amphibious)", the K indicated all-wheel drive and the W indicated two powered rear axles.


And it was a special tour. We were the only two people on the tour, so we had the DUKW all to ourselves.

The driver/tour guide noticed I was wearing an SR-71 Blackbird T-shirt. It turns out that he was stationed at RAF Mindenhall in England as a SR-71 support officer in the USAF. Since I had worked on the SR-71 once when I was working for the Department of Defense back in the early 70’s, we had fun trading our favorite Blackbird stories.

We started with a tour of the sites of SF. Here’s San Francisco’s iconic Transamerica Building.


And of course, Chinatown.

Chinatown 1

Our driver said there is no natural level ground in San Francisco. The only level spots are from hills being leveled off, or valleys filled in. This really illustrates that.

SF Skyline

After about a hour we drove into San Francisco Bay and started the water part of our tour. This is AT&T Park where the Giants play.

AT&T Park

And here’s the Bay Bridge…and the back of Jan’s head.

Bay Bridge

Our DUKW lasted about 90 minutes, so by 1:30 pm we were back where we parked the truck. And after grabbing a Starbuck’s coffee and a bathroom break, we got our truck out of the parking garage and head down to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch.

We liked the look of Castagnalo’s so we decided to give it a try.


The place was beautiful inside and had a great view of the Wharf.


Castagnolas View

We started off with a half dozen raw oysters, and then Jan had the Fried Shrimp and I had the Lobster Bisque in a sourdough bread bowl. Both were delicious.

Leaving Castagnola’s, we walked down a couple of blocks and turned a corner. And suddenly I wished we had eaten somewhere else

What i saw was Fisherman’s Grotto.

Fishermans Grotto

And I remembered this as the place my family and I ate in 1964 when we did our big western vacation. Bummer!

It would have been neat to eat here again after 46 years.

Leaving the Wharf area we headed over to Lombard St. to drive the ‘Crookedest Street in the World”. It consists of a 27% grade with 8 hairpin turns, and looks like this.

Lombard 3

Here’s what it looks like going down.

Lombard 1

And here’s what it looks like from a couple of blocks away looking back up.

Lombard 2

Lombard St. may be the crookedest, but certainly not the steepest, at a 27% grade. Here’s a list of steeper streets. A couple of these we took. And I’m glad our truck had good brakes and a V-8 engine.

The Steepest Streets in the City
1. (tie) Filbert between Leavenworth and Hyde (31.5% grade)
1. (tie) 22nd between Church and Vicksburg (31.5% grade)
3. Jones between Union and Filbert (29% grade)
4. Duboce between Buena Vista and Alpine (27.9% grade)
5. Jones between Green and Union (26% grade)
6. Webster between Vallejo and Broadway (26% grade)
7. Duboce between Alpine and Divisadero (25% grade)
8. Jones between Pine and California (24.8 grade)
9. Fillmore between Vallejo and Broadway (24% grade)
Source: San Francisco Bureau Of Engineering

Supposedly there is another street with a 34% grade, but I wasn’t able to locate it. 

Some of these streets are so steep that it’s like driving off a cliff. When your vehicle is level before you start down the hill, you can’t see the roadway in front of you. You just have to take it on faith that the road is still there.


Before heading home Jan wanted to drive past the famous “Painted Ladies” near Alamo Square. They are on so many postcards that the street is known as Postcard Row. The street was also featured in the credits of the TV show “Full House”.

Painted Ladies

Heading home, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and decided to stop at Vista Point, a viewing area overlooking the bridge.

Here we got our last look at the Golden Gate.

Golden Gate

We got home about 6 pm and Jan heated up what was left of last night’s crockpot King Ranch Chicken. I forgot to mention yesterday that we had it cooking for us when we got home. Jan’s King Ranch Chicken is always great.

Tomorrow is our last day in San Francisco, and we have some things to get done before we leave on Thursday for the Redwood National Forest about 295 miles north.

More later…