Ship of the Month No. 31 Grainmotor

Table of Contents

Title Page
The Editor's Notebook
Marine News
More Digging Into Point Anne Quarries
Battleford Southbound
Welland Canal Bridges
Ship of the Month No. 31 Grainmotor
Late Marine News
Table of Illustrations

by Skip Gillham

When the Montreal to Lake Ontario section of the St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959, most of the small ships built for the locks of the old canal were rendered obsolete. The bulk of those canallers have since been sold for scrap and cut up. A few, however, gained a reprieve through lengthening, conversion to a specialized lake trade, or sale to foreign owners. Those that traded their freshwater careers for new opportunities on salt water have met with varying degrees of success. Some are still active, some have had to be scrapped, while still others have been the victims of misfortune be it shipwreck or financial problems. The efforts to maintain the former Canada Steamship canaller GRAINMOTOR as a profitable carrier on salt water have not been overly successful as she has been beset by numerous management and navigational problems that have left her idle at anchor more often than at sea.

GRAINMOTOR enters Port Weller Harbour, October 28, 1961. J. H. Bascom photo.
The story of the GRAINMOTOR begins in 1929 at the yard of the Davie Shipbuilding Company at Lauzon, Quebec. She was their Hull 503 and was launched in April of that year, being delivered to C.S.L. soon afterward. Given official number C. 154473, she was a standard steel bulk canaller measuring 251.9 in length, 43.1 feet in the beam, and 18.3 feet in depth. GRAINMOTOR was registered at 1829 Gross tons, 1093 Net, and her carrying capacity was 3200 tons deadweight or 108,000 bu. of grain.

This vessel was unique among C.S.L. canallers as she was their first motor vessel. All of the company's other canallers of this era were powered by triple expansion steam engines. GRAINMOTOR was propelled by a 930 h.p. 8-cylinder. Bessemer diesel having cylinders measuring 16" x 20" each. No other canal motorship served the C.S.L. fleet until the advent of IROQUOIS and METIS in 1955 and 1956 respectively. In fact, GRAINMOTOR was something of an experiment. It had been hoped to build a number of similar ships if she turned out to be a success. Although GRAINMOTOR herself was an asset to the fleet, the other vessels were never built and plans for a fleet of motorships were abandoned as the Depression set in.

GRAINMOTOR spent most of her freshwater career transporting various bulk cargoes from lake ports to the St. Lawrence River harbours. With a good, portion of her sailing time being, spent in canals, it is not unusual that she should have been involved in a number of minor accidents occurring in narrow canal waters. Restricted channels, unpredictable currents and a good portion of mechanical failures were part of the lot of a canaller's Master.

On July 30, 1948, GRAINMOTOR was transiting the Welland Canal enroute to Montreal. Between 12 and 11 (Port Robinson and Allanburg), her engines failed and the ship veered towards the west bank of the canal. The starboard anchor was dropped to try to prevent a grounding but this measure did not prove successful and the ship, striking the west bank, bounced back towards the opposite side of the narrow channel. The port anchor was then let go but the ship glanced off the east bank and her stern smacked the west side. The ship had now swung completely around and was headed upstream when she was finally brought to a halt. Eventually GRAINMOTOR got underway and she proceeded to Kingston where temporary repairs were effected, enabling her to complete the season. The major work was performed at Montreal during the winter lay-up.

Bridges often presented problems. The railroad bridge above Lock 2 of the Lachine Canal jammed part way open on April 25, 1949 as GRAINMOTOR approached. Despite a "Full Astern," the ship rammed the abutment, denting two plates on the port bow and bending the frames. Kingston was again the site of her repair.

Another foul-up occurred on July 26, 1949. An engineer forgot to turn on the steering power after GRAINMOTOR had pulled from the Imperial Oil fuel dock on the Lachine Canal. More bent frames and plates resulted. A minor collision with the JOHN B. RICHARDS took place in the Soulanges Canal on August 17, 1952. The latter steamer was upbound and as she passed the downbound GRAINMOTOR, their port bows brushed pushing the coal laden motorship into the bank. Examination revealed a four-inch open seam and she was welded up at Kingston.

A further accident took place near Cornwall on November 9, 1952, while the vessel was upbound with 2,182 tons of sulphur. Tricky currents caused her to strike the bank forcibly and damage this time included a leak in the Number Two bilge. Repair at Kingston followed during the winter at a cost of $11,361.

GRAINMOTOR outlived most of the C.S.L. canallers trading on the Great Lakes. In 1961, after most of the steam canallers had been retired, she was deepened by five feet by her builders at Lauzon and this increased her cargo-carrying capacity to 3,800 tons. Her tonnage was now shown as 2252 gross, 1351 net. Strangely enough, her length increased by 7/10 of a foot at this time but this might have been caused by straightening of the stem or some other such minor operation. When she finally laid up at Kingston at the end of the 1964 season, she was the last pre-war bulk canaller to be operated by C.S.L.

In June of 1966, GRAINMOTOR was sold to Bahamas Shipowners Ltd. and was soon transferred to Bahamas Package Carriers Ltd. (the same firm that bought BATTLEFORD) for operation by the Gold Line. She underwent an extensive refit at Kingston and emerged sporting a gray hull. Her first trip was to Port Colborne where she loaded grain on June 28th. She cleared the Seaway shortly afterwards, still bearing her original name.

Soon after entering salt water service, the vessel was renamed (b) BULK GOLD. She sailed in the West Indies cement trade as well as the general cargo service between Miami and Nassau. On January 10, 1968, she was laid up at anchor at Montagu Bay in the Bahamas and was listed for sale with an asking price of $245,000. There were no takers and she apparently remained at anchor until January 1971.

BULK GOLD was finally sold to Michael Zapatos of Miami, no doubt for substantially less than the asking price since three years at anchor had taken their toll and had left the ship in deteriorating condition. The tug DIANE towed the old canaller to Charleston, S.C., in January 1971, her destination being the Detyens Shipyard where she was to undergo an undisclosed "conversion." The contract was never accepted, however, and the crewless BULK GOLD went to anchor once more, this time in Charleston Harbour. She was later berthed at the Salmons Dredging Company yard during the ensuing dispute over the payment of the towing bill.

BULK GOLD reappeared in the news during December 1971 at which time she was spotted at Miami Beach, presumably having arrived under tow. Her owners were listed as the Antilles lines (again a parallel with the other C.S.L. canaller BATTLEFORD) and they financed a complete refit to return the ship to service, a refit reportedly costing as much as $100,000. It appeared that the veteran laker was finally ready to resume operation, but it was not to last for long.

Upon her arrival at Tampa, Florida, in March 1972, BULK GOLD was loaded with approximately 3,500 tons of phosphate and set out for Houston, Texas. After taking on a cargo of potash, apparently at Houston, she sailed once more only to break down in the Gulf of Mexico. She was towed to New Orleans where the cargo was lightered and the mechanical problems repaired. Her activities in the ensuing weeks are vague. It is known that she broke down again near the entrance to Tampa Bay and was towed into that port in July 1972 after receiving damage during Hurricane Agnes. Repairs were again attempted but there was difficulty in obtaining proper parts and once more she went to anchorage.

Her owners had planned to operate BULK GOLD to Colombia and Ecuador carrying phosphate and potash and when she went to anchor she carried a phosphate cargo worth about $42,000. There were plans to tow her to Ecuador in the fall of 1972, but these evaporated when the company doing her refit filed suit for nonpayment and the ship was seized until the debt could be paid. She remained, at Tampa with Capt. O. P. Criollo and a small crew aboard, the owners believed to be the Cia. Frutena Chikena Ecuatoriana of Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Then, in late 1972, her anchorage was declared off-limits by the U. S. Coast Guard and the Corps of Engineers. The ship was removed to Block's Terminal located in an area leased to the Gulf-Tampa Drydock Company, her cargo still intact. Her owners, still anxious to operate her, tried to have her re-engined to avoid further costly breakdown. They located a suitable engine in northern Florida and had it trucked to Tampa where it was installed.

In early 1973, the owners of the ship posted a $100,000. bond against the earlier notice of seizure issued over the repair bill. As such, the ship was permitted to sail and she departed Tampa on Friday, May 4th, 1973, bound for Guayaquil where she has since delivered the cargo which had been in her hold for a year and two months. Six members of the original crew had stayed with the ship during her long lay-up and sailed with her for Ecuador.

Thus the story of GRAINMOTOR has not yet reached the end which seemed so close only a few months ago. We wish her many years of smooth sailing after all her problems. Who knows but that someday she may load a cargo for delivery in the Great Lakes she knew so well.

(The author would like to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of the following in tracing the distant activities of GRAINMOTOR: The Gold Line, E. Dawson Roberts & Co., Brent Michaels, Paul Michaels, Stewart R. King of the "Charleston News and Courier," Bob Zeleznik,. Thomas J. O'Connor of the Tampa Port Authority, Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., Dave Glick, Nels Wilson, and John. N. Bascom.)


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