Peter Kyne: Coastside Author (5) Conclusion


With the creation of his Cappy Ricks character in 1916–the founder of the Blue Star Navigation and the Ricks Lumber and Logging Companies– Moss Beach author Peter Kyne was on his way to becoming a household name.

[The house Peter Kyne grew up in–near Highway 1, at the southern end of MB may still be standing. I’ve misplaced my photo of the two-story yellow house–but I’ll find it for you.]

The Cappy Ricks character became so popular that Kyne’s editors asked the author to travel the world and describe what he saw from Cappy Ricks’ point of view. And it must have seemed a much bigger world than the internet-driven one we are accustomed to today. From any point of view, small town Peter Kyne was a very lucky writer.

To use a sports metaphor, he was in “the zone” and batting in one home run novel after the other. Things got more exciting as Kyne’s book, “The Three Godfathers”– a story about several outlaws who promise a dying woman they will save her baby–was made into a 1948 film directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne and Ward Bond.

The 1919 & 1938 filmed versions of Kyne’s book called the “Valley of the Giants” was about saving the old groves of redwoods in Northern California–a timely plot as there had been a powerful movement emanating from leaders and students at Stanford University to preserve the elegant redwoods of San Mateo County through the founding in the 1920s of Memorial Park in La Honda.

As Peter Kyne became famous, he visited the Coastside more and more rarely. A Half Moon Bay nephew, Gerald Kyne, remembered his Uncle Peter visiting Moss Beach, arriving in a chauffeur-driven automobile. By then he had long lived elsewhere–but those early years on the Coastside had left their mark.

Peter Kyne died in 1957.


Story from John Vonderlin

Email John ([email protected])


Hi June,

    I  think the following news article goes

well with your five part essay on Peter Kyne,

and augments its hometown-insider aspects.

I checked Mr. Kyne on and there

are 43 hits, but many are repetitious. Still, if

somebody want to read some of Half Moon

Bay’s most prolific author, (am I right?) there

are more then a dozen different titles there to

read for free.

    I read a little  of his “Three Godfathers,”

(first novel) and found it written in an interesting

style.  When I was a kid and loved Westerns, I

would have liked it a lot.

  In this article about Peter Kyne’s return to

HMB, from the Spanish-American War, you

can see, that  bogus war or not, Half Moon Bay,

knew how to treat its returning veterans. The

names mentioned are what I found most

interesting. This is from the October 29th, 1899

issue of the San Francisco “Call.” 

Enjoy. John


A week ago Friday evening at Halfmoon

Bay, despite the storm, a grand re-

ception was tendered the recently re-

turned volunteers, Peter Kyne and James

Kelly of Company L, Fourteenth United

States Infantry. The high esteem in

which these young men were held in this

town before their departure for the war

was manifested on their return by the

general enthusiasm which greeted them.

   Pilar Hall, where the reception and liter-

ary exercises were held, was crowded

with an audience that enjoyed the fol-

lowing programme: Overture, Halfmoon

Bay Band; chorus, “California,” Half-

moon Bay School; an address of welcome,

Rev. Father Doran; duet, “Home Again,”

Miss A. Mullen and Mrs. F. Metzgar;

recitation, “Welcome Home,” Miss R.

Schubert; vocal solo, “Irma,” Miss E.

Schuyler; chorus, “Columbia, the Gem of

the Ocean.” Halfmoon Bay School; reci

tation, “The Angels, of Buena Vista,”

Miss Susie Lane: chorus, “Freedom,”

Halfmoon Bay School; oration, Hon.

George C. Ross; quartet, “Good Night,”

Misses Edna Hatch and Gertrude Fill-

more, Messrs. Alvln Hatch and Everet

Schuyler. The affair was got up by

the business men of the town. Supervisor

Debenedette, Judge Simmons. George Gil-

crest. J. Francis. George Williams, T.

Qulnian and A. Levy.


Story from John Vonderlin

Email John ([email protected])


Hi June,

Peter Kyne: Coastside Author (5)


Peter Kyne of Moss Beach returned from the Spanish-American War in the late 1890s and got work in San Francisco as a bookkeeper for a waterfront shipping firm. Maybe he knew it, maybe he didn’t, but Peter Kyne was collecting a trove of stories for books he would write in the near future.

But before he actually picked up pen and paper, he tried to work in the “real world” one last time–selling men’s hats, ties and shoes.

Discovering that he wasn’t a good salesman, Peter Kyne finally decided to do something with the colorful stories that had come his way. He was good at developing simple plots and had a little hit on his hands with the publication of “Cappy Ricks” –a book about the founder of the Blue Star Navigation and Ricks Lumber and Logging Companies. Kyne had a winner in Cappy Ricks, the character, and wrote follow-up books with the colorful CEO doing all kinds of things, including traveling the world, all before the end of WWI.


From John Vonderlin

Email John ([email protected])

Kyne, the Dolbeers, Carson, and the Donkey

Hi June,

  I found about a dozen hits in  a search of the old newspapers, using Peter Kyne, and the more productive, Peter B. Kyne, as Search terms.  Most of them were bland, except for a couple that mentioned him as testifying in the “High Society”-tinged, Dolbeer Estate Trial/Scandal and as having inherited $5,000 from the estate.

  He testified, along with many others, that Bertha Dolbeer seemed totally rational and sane the last time he saw her. That was when she had come into the office at Dolbeer & Carson, where he was a stenographer, for some piece of business, not long before she committed suicide by jumping out of a window of the Walforf Astoria.

   She was a very rich young woman with a tragic past. Her deceased father, John Dolbeer, invented the “Steam Donkey Logging Machine,” that gets mentioned often in the Coastside logging stories;  and thereby revolutionized 19th Century logging, especially of the giant redwoods.  

  At some point earlier, after a fire, and needing capital, Mr. Dolbeer formed the Dolbeer & Carson  Lumber Company with Mr. William Carson.  This was a giant of the lumber companies in Humboldt, harvesting the old growth as fast as possible, to get it to S.F., to build Victorians on the hills.  Mr. Carson, is now remembered most for the extremely ornate, “Carson Mansion,” in Eureka, that he had built. 

  When Mr. Dolbeer died he left about a million dollars to his only survivor, his daughter Bertha. For Bertha’s mother, an invalid, had committed suicide when Bertha was 2, and her brother, four years older, was killed when she was nine, by being thrown from a wagon and run over. 

  When Bertha died she left the bulk of her estate to her longtime, closest confidant, a young female cousin, and most of the rest in five and ten thousand sums to many friends. The relatives were outraged and took it to court.  And lost. Mr. Kyne’s testimony wasn’t critical, but he must have really appreciated the rather princely sum for that time, $5,000, that his testimony helped cement. He also seemed to  have benefited from the exposure he got at this high profile trial, where descriptions of the fine clothing of the Society attendees was included in the coverage, as he was listed in the following years as a participant in hoity-toity events in various newspaper articles.

Peter Kyne: Coastside Author (4)


When, as an adult, he began writing, some of the plots in Peter Kyne’s books included businessmen, the deals they cut and the maneuvering for power that went on in back rooms–all crafted with experience gained working in a Half Moon Bay general store.

East Coast critics never took Kyne’s work seriously, dismissing him as a “local atmosphere writer.” [Jack London, he wasn’t.]

Eventually Half Moon Bay got too small for Peter Kyne and he decided he needed real adventure, lying about his age and enlisting in the army in 1898, in the midst of the Spanish-American War. Off he sailed to the tropical Philippines, with dreams of good plots for stories in his head–but where instead he fell ill with diseases that accompany poor sanitary conditions.

When Kyne returned from Manila and shed his army uniform, he was ready for a quieter life, so he signed up for business school and was hired as a bookkeeper for a shipping firm on the San Francisco waterfront. [This front-row position would prove to be the best choice for finding good plots for stories!] For one thing, he was there when the hardened stevedores came out swinging with their fists when they went on strike for higher wages and better work conditions in 1903.

…to be continued…

Peter Kyne: Coastside Author (3)

[Note: I remember meeting Gretchen Drew, a friend of Peter Kyne long ago. Ms. Drew lived in San Francisco, in the Embarcadero, and had some of Kyne’s personal [childhood] papers. I made a Xerox copy of a couple of items….one of them was an algebra lesson showing his perfect penmanship. She also gave me a photo of Peter Kyne which I donated to the historical files of the San Mateo County History Museum.]


The 1897 economic depression called the “Cleveland Panic” was making life difficult for everyone, including the Coastside Kyne family.

“My father,” wrote Peter Kyne, “had owed a bill for a year, and my poor wages wre being applied to its reduction.” The Kynes needed a miracle to get them out of hard times.

At that moment– the soon-to-be-famous oilman from Southern California, the future president of the Pan-American Petroleum Corp– Ed Doheny, drifted into the Half Moon Bay general store where Peter worked. Remember, Ed’s fame and fortune was all in his future so when Doheny met Peter, he was down on his luck.

[In later years when both men were household names, Peter Kyne attached great significance to the crossing of their paths.]

Doheny was drilling for oil on a ranch near Half Moon Bay. Doheny “boarded his crew,” Kyne wrote, “and bought his dry groceries from my employer on credit. The well was a duster, and 10 minutes after I was ordered to kill his credit, he drove into town in his old battered buckboard with a broken leaf in the right side spring, so that when Mr. Doheny got into the vehicle it sagged so low one expected him to be dumped out into the dusty road. A wearing old mare pulled this contraption. When he entered the store and told me he wanted a 50-pound bag of flour I had to tell him his credit had run out and I’d have to have cash for the flour.”

Ed Doheny was embarrassed to be turned down by this young boy but he said nothing and, according to Peter, “he loaded all his gear on Ed Frey’s two big freight wagons and pulled out for parts unknown. The jingle bells on the hames of Ed’s leaders was his requiem and my employer did not sue him and attach the rig.”

…to be continued…