History of Tule Reclamation
The history of the Stockton buckets is described in detail in John Thompson and Edward A. Dutra’s historical work “The Tule Breakers.” Edward A. Dutra was the father of Bill Dutra, president of Dutra Dredging and Materials. He had made a hobby of collecting and preserving memorabilia of dredging in the Sacramento Delta, and this led to publication of the book in 1983. He died on Sept. 11, 1996.
The delta of the Sacramento River was historically a vast swamp, which is referred to locally as a tule (tool-ee,) for the bullrushes that formed its principle vegetation.
This delta was reclaimed for agricultural land at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, which required building more than 3000 miles of levees to enclose a series of islands. Unique dredges and unique buckets evolved to accomplish this task. They are still being used to maintain the levees.
The Dutra family has been active in the dredging community since 1878. That was the year the first family member went to work on a dredge, said Linda Dutra, widow of Edward A. Dutra. Speaking from her home in Rio Vista, California, she recalled her employment with the company, beginning in 1958. She married her boss, Ed Dutra, in 1964, and together the two ran the company, designing and building the all-steel California dredge Liberty in 1965. Ed Dutra had built two others: the Alameda and Sacramento in 1955 and 1956 respectively. All are still in service. The Liberty was converted to a barge unloader in 1995, and Linda Dutra christened the Liberty unloader, just as she had christened the original Liberty dredge in 1965. “I told Bill (Dutra, Ed’s son and president of the company) that I would christen it again if he rebuilds it again,” she laughed.
In February 1998, the Alameda and Sacramento were working on emergency levee jobs, using 1 ½-cubic-yard Stockton buckets.
Stockton Ironworks, which closed down in 1948 to avoid having to go union, built these unique buckets, said Mrs. Dutra. She retains all the records of Stockton Ironworks, including the drawings, measurements and the destination of each bucket manufactured.
Today the buckets are rare and valued. “We have acquired quite a few of them and donated them to museums,” she said. “I have a Stockton bucket in the back yard. It’s big for the type of work it does, but right for it,” she stated. “The levees are delicate, and you can’t just pile mud on them or they’ll collapse. The Stockton buckets can do the work without harming the levees,” she said.
She and Ed sent two of the buckets to Bisso Marine in New Orleans for use in their salvage work, she said.
The round design of the bucket allows material to stack up without voids, which can add two cubic yards to the capacity. Long curved closing arms give the buckets a unique winged appearance, and were the lightest and most efficient closing mechanism possible, given the materials available at the time. Drawing on the wires attached to the arms closes and hoists the bucket, and cables attached to the edges of the shells open the bucket. The California dredge is rigged for the Stockton bucket, with one deck winch opening, and the other one closing it. Thus, the long-boomed dredge and Stockton bucket together form a machine capable of performing a specific job economically and efficiently. Once the dredge is rigged, it can discharge only to one side, and moves down the waterway, digging from the channel, and swinging a boom that is usually more than 150 feet long. Discharge can be at any point on the levee or behind the levee. With a range of more than 300 feet, the dredge has broad placement options. If necessary, the dredge can be re-rigged to discharge to the other side in less than an hour, but most of the California dredges habitually discharged to starboard, according to Ed Dutra in The Tule Breakers. At the peak of the reclamation work, 135 dredges were working on the project and maintaining the newly built levees.
In 1981, Edward A. Dutra received an award from the Stockton Corral of Westerners International, which collects, preserves and disseminates materials pertaining to the American West. Mr. Dutra received the Sheriff Mike Canlis award because of his work in collecting and preserving the history of dredging in the area at his Rio Vista Dredging Museum. From that meeting arose the project to publish The Tule Breakers, with geographer John Thompson as co-author and James M. Shebl of the University of the Pacific as editor in chief. Thompson had published a study of the Sacramento and San Joaquin river deltas, which complemented Ed Dutra’s personal knowledge of the dredging and reclamation history.
It was published in 1983, complete with pictures of many of the dredges, buckets and other equipment.
The section on Stockton buckets describes how the design evolved, with detailed descriptions of problems overcome to produce the bucket still in use 80 years later.
The Tule Breakers can be ordered from the Stockton Corral of Westerners International, University of the Pacific, Stockton, California 95211.