November 16, 2011

Spruced up SS Red Oak Victory ship comes home to Richmond

Old Shipyard No. 3 Ford truck comes back home to Bay Area waterfront

Marian Sauer, matron of honor, cracked the champagne bottle across the replica bow of the Red Oak Victory.

Plenty has been happening lately at the site of the World War II Kaiser Richmond Shipyards where the decade-old Rosie the Riveter national park is taking shape. Maybe the most exciting event for the community and history buffs was the recent return and the ceremonial relaunch of the SS Red Oak Victory ship.

The ship, built in 1944 in the Richmond shipyards, was greeted by a small enthusiastic crowd when it returned from BAE Systems dry dock in San Francisco where it got a major facelift. The Red Oak was towed back across the bay on Oct. 14, just one day before the annual Home Front Festival, an event celebrated both on the ship and at the Craneway Pavilion just across the channel.

The Home Front festival honors workers who helped build ships in Henry Kaiser's WWII Richmond shipyards. The shipyard's medical care program for workers and their families was the genesis of today's Kaiser Permanente Health Plan.

Old recovered shipyard fire truck part of the fun

Arriving almost simultaneously on the Red Oak dock was a newly recovered shipyard wartime fire truck found by chance in Spanish Fork, Utah. The Richmond Museum of History, savior of the Red Oak from the Mothball Fleet 13 years ago, is also sponsoring the restoration of the long-lost Ford fire truck, which the museum purchased and volunteer Anthony D’Ambrosio of Potenza Transport towed back to Richmond.

The fire truck still sports the original, yet time-worn, shipyard designation: “Kaiser Co. Inc., Richmond Shipyard No.3, but the interior, engine and other moving parts are in pretty bad shape. Lois Boyle, president of the Richmond Museum Association, estimates the relic can be restored for about $5,000, funds the association hopes to collect from donors.

The community excitement over the Red Oak’s restored grandiosity gave rise to its Veterans’ Day rechristening attended by an audience of about two hundred. Guests climbed the gangplank to the deck and descended the steel ladders to squeeze into the ship’s former cargo hold that today houses a gift shop and museum.

truck front
Shipyard No. 3 fire truck has been towed back to the dock from Spanish Fork, Utah

The crowd made up of veterans, former shipyard workers, museum volunteers, local dignitaries and lovers of history were entertained by color guards, World War II singers and a reenactment of the ship’s blessing.

Marie Sauer, a Rosie and the day’s matron of honor, shattered the ceremonial champagne bottle over a flag-draped replica of the Red Oak bow, exploding the bubbly over herself and revelers standing nearby. Chevron Oil Company, whose wartime role in Richmond parallels the shipyards, hosted a buffet lunch following the ceremony.

More chances to visit park

If you missed the recent doings at the Richmond waterfront, you still have a chance to experience the Rosie park and the Red Oak Victory ship in upcoming events. A Vision for Victory ship tour, conducted by museum volunteers, is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 3. You can also take a bus tour of the far-flung historic park with ranger Betty Soskin on Saturdays, Dec. 3, Dec. 10 and Dec. 17.

Park rangers also conduct Wednesday and Saturday afternoon tours of the newly restored Maritime Child Development Center at Florida Avenue and Harbour Way in Richmond, also part of the Rosie park. An upcoming tour is scheduled for Dec. 17. You need to make a reservation for the school tour and the bus tour. For more information, call 510-232-5050, ext. 0, or go to

Photos by Ginny McPartland

old fire truck
Old shipyard fire truck discovered and returned to waterfront.
fire truck front view
Power view of the front of the Ford machine.
Ford logo
The Ford insignia has taken on an amazing patina after all these years.
The vintage truck’s paint job has deteriorated in the usual way.
Lois Boyle
Lois Boyle, president of the museum association and a key figure in the acquisition and renovation of the ship
property number
A close-up view shows the original government property number for the truck.
close up of ship
Red Oak Victory edges up to the Richmond dock after its facelift.
SS Red Oak Victory
The SS Red Oak Victory as it came into dock at the former Kaiser Shipyard No. 3, Richmond, Calif.