“Everything loose eventually drifts down to the sea,”
Louis wrote, “and eventually so did I.”

Upon his arrival in Los Angeles Louis caught the Pacific Electric “Red Car” from the downtown area to San Pedro. The port has never had the romance of New York or San Francisco, probably because it was never deeply tied to the history of Los Angeles as a city. However, San Pedro and its associated ports of Wilmington and Long Beach were major sea ports nonetheless and had all of the rough and tumble attributes of commercial harbors world wide.

"Arriving at San Pedro I registered at the Marine Service Bureau for a ship, discovering it might be as much as three months before my number came up. At that time the west coast ships were unionized but east coast ships were not and conditions aboard were drastically different. On the west coast the food was better, the fo'c'stles cleaner, conditions generally much better. As a result many seaman wanted to ship off the west coast and at the time I arrived it was said there were seven hundred seaman 'on the beach' in San Pedro.”

LA Harbor San Pedro

The Marine Service Bureau, a hiring hall run by the shipping companies (derogatorily named “Fink Hall” or “The Slave Market” by union men), kept a running tally of arriving ships and whatever crew personnel they might need. It was a first come first served operation, however, and unless you checked in regularly you could miss your chance. The story of “Survival” begins at the Marine Service Bureau and continues in the offices of the Maritime Commissioner. “Survival” is partly drawn from the story of an actual event that was still making the rounds when Louis was in San Pedro.

Bethlehem Steel Shipbuilding“My first dollar was earned helping a man unload a truck. A week later I picked up two days of rough-painting in the shipyards, and that job got me into a couple of days bucking rivets. What money I earned was necessary for eating purposes, and I slept in empty box-cars, piles of lumber, anywhere out of the rain and wind.

"Today a collection of shops and restaurant in San Pedro is known as Ports o' Call, and it occupies the site of the old E.K. Wood Lumber Dock where lumber schooners from Aberdeen, Coos Bay and other points on the northwest coast used to discharge their cargoes of raw lumber for the building of Los Angeles.

There were several slips and each one was usually occupied by such a vessel. They were old and battered, built only for the carrying of lumber. Their crews were usually Swedes or Norwegians, big, husky men who worked cargo as well as working as seamen. The discharged lumber was usually piled on the dock awaiting shipment by train, and the rails ran right up to the dock. Perhaps they ran out on the docks, I do not clearly remember. What was important to me was that often in piling great stacks of planks there would be spaces left like caves where a man could crawl in out of the rain. If he was thoughtful enough to provide himself with a newspaper he could wrap around his body under his coat, he might sleep there out of the rain and in reasonable comfort. I use the last term in a relative sense. What is comfort to some is cruel hardship to others."

The lumber schooners were also a light touch when it came to feeding out of work sailors. Many times Louis and others were fed from the galleys of these ships, sometimes with a token bit of work having been done, sometimes purely out of charity.

"It was a rough time on the waterfront. The Pacific fleet was located at ‘Pedro then and the town swarmed with sailors ashore, most of whom went on to Los Angeles on the big red cars of the Pacific Electric. Under a trestle of the P.E. the longshoremen had a crap game going almost continually. . . . [R]ough and tumble fights were common. Dead Man's Island, which still marked the entrance to the ship channel, in those days caught the drifting body of more than one loser. However, that was not the reason for its name."

US Battleships at rest in San Pedro Bay

Dead Man's Island San Pedro

“The focal point of the town as far as I was concerned was the Fifth Street Landing. Several battle wagons were anchored outside the harbor and the shore boats used to come in there.”

The Pacific Fleet sailing for Panama is mentioned in “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” though it doesn't seem Louis ever shipped out in a conventional manner from "‘Pedro" and therefore his comments about his “ship leaving in the morning” are just part of the story. The P.E. trestle (The Pacific Electric Company ran a interurban light rail network around southern California until 1960 or so) and the ongoing card game both figure in “And Proudly Die.”

The restored Red Car is parked in front of the 5th Street Landing Ferry Building.
The rear view shows the ferry dock.

The ferry building at the Fifth Street Landing, which appears in the story is now The San Pedro Maritime Museum and, although Snipe, the character in Louis’s story does not wash up on Dead Man’s Island, the port did see numerous unknown bodies turn up on its mud flats and amongst its pilings over the years.

Next Page

The Way West

  • Death Westbound

On The Beach at
San Pedro

  • Old Doc Yak
  • It's Your Move
  • And Proudly Die
  • Survival
  • Show Me The Way To Go Home

S. S. Steel Worker

  • Thicker Than Blood
  • The Admiral


  • Shanghai, Not Without Gestures
  • The Man Who Stole Shakespeare

Dutch East Indies

  • The Dancing Kate
  • Off the Mangrove Coast

North Africa

  • Glorious Glorious!
  • By The Ruins of El Walarieh

Europe and WWII

  • The Cross and the Candle
  • A Friend of the General

Home Again

  • Author's Tea


The Collected Short Stories of Louis L'Amour
Volume IV
The Adventure Stories










Copyright © 2006-2007 Louis L'Amour Enterprises Inc.
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