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The First Car Across the Bridge

By Larry Clinton, President

Frenchy Gales was one of many young Sausalito men who found work building the Golden Gate Bridge in the depths of the Depression. In an oral history conducted for the Historical Society by Liz Robinson, then-91-year-old Frenchy recalled, “A tea leaf reader told my mother, ‘In the near future they’re going to build a red bridge and your son’s going to work there and he’s gonna get killed on it.  So don’t let him work on it.’  That was about 1928, and there hadn’t been a mention of [the bridge project] before that.”

Frenchy also declared, “A structural bridge worker couldn’t get any insurance, their lifespan was too short. So they lived it up while they were young.” Some workers found interesting ways to escape from work-related stress, as Frenchy details in the following excerpt:


 It was very dangerous, no training.  All you had to do was be nimble and keep your fingers out of the way.  A guy showed you in 10 minutes what to do. 

In the rain they sent us home.  One day we came down out of the tower.  It was raining, and there were four guys who had to go on a ferryboat, so they asked for a ride into town.  I had a Chevy sedan.  So naturally we went into a bar.  At one o’clock in the day, and for about four hours, we were shaking dice and fooling around, and one of the guys said,  “Take us back to San Francisco.”

The roadway wasn’t paved --  they had beams across it and boards [for construction vehicles].  So I says, “Sure, they don’t watch it at night.”  So we went on the boards almost all the way to San Francisco; then there was a space of about 10 feet where the irons go across, but they had taken the boards up.  [Frenchy’s passengers] ran out and got two boards and laid them out there and I drove across the 12-inch boards.  They walked across. 

The guys got in and we went to the first joint we come to buy a drink.  They guys started to get out and I said, “Wait a minute, now, this is the first private car to go over the Golden Gate Bridge, and it’s not gonna be free.  You gotta pay me a toll.”  I charged them 50 cents and I had to buy the first drink. Cost me two dollars, so I was out.

But, anyway, I had the first car across the Golden Gate Bridge.  We were there until about 9 o’clock at night.  I wasn’t drunk, but when I came [back] to where the boards were I don’t remember going over them boards.  I thought somebody might be working on them.  In the morning, I thought, “How’d I get home?”  And I looked out the window and my Chevrolet was there.


Frenchy’s full oral history can be reviewed at the Historical Society, which is open to the public on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 AM to 1 PM.




Workers like Frenchy Gales lived dangerously on and off the Bridge.

Photo by Dulce Duncan            Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society


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