The original terminus of the Lewiston branch, after it had emerged from the cuttings in the Gorge, was at the upper end of the town, about a mile and a half from the steamboat dock at the shore of the river. During the season of 1886 the New York Central began again to consider the advisability of extending their rails so that the trains might be brought to the steamer's side.
Davison's "Travellers' Guide," published at Saratoga Springs in 1834, says: - "A stage leaves Buffalo every morning at 6 o'clock, passing through the village of Black Rock, 3 miles; Tonawanda, 9 miles; Niagara Falls, 11 miles. Fare $1.60. This line, after giving passengers an opportunity of witnessing the Falls for two or three hours, proceeds to Youngstown, or Fort Niagara, passing through Lewiston.
The Buffalo and Niagara Falls Railroad had been organized and surveyed, and the first steam trains commenced running in 1836 with a speed of 15 miles per hour, a rate which was considered notable. The track was laid on wooden sills faced with scrap iron, and during the first winter was so heaved by the frost, that the steam engines had to be taken off, and horses used to haul the cars, these being only little ones with four wheels each, modeled largely afer the stage coaches of the period. In 1839, this railway having been equipped with all-iron rails, had grown to two steam trains per day each way, between Buffalo and Niagara Falls.
A further extension followed when another small railway company, the Niagara Falls and Ontario R.R. was organized in 1852 to build a railway of 14 miles from the Falls to the shores of the Lake at Youngstown, where the steamers would be joined. Benj. Pringle, president; John Porter, vice president; Bradley B. Davis, secretary. The company, at an expense relatively much greater in those days than at the present, excavated the rock cuttings and cut the shelf in the side of the cliff upon which the New York Central Railway now runs through the Gorge, alongside the courses of the Niagara River, and the railway was graded and opened to Lewiston in 1854. Construction was continued further to Youngstown and the track laid in 1855, but only one train was run down to the lower port. It has been said that this was necessary in order to complete the terms of the charter, and appears to have been a final effort. The means of the company were no doubt impaired, so that shortly, afterward all further work on this extension was suspended, the track taken up. and thus in 1855 the balance of the line being leased to the New York Central, the Lewiston station had become the terminus of the railroad, where it had ever since remained. As the transfer to the steamers was originally intended to be made at Youngstown, there had been no need, at that time, for the station at Lewiston being constructed any nearer to the River bank.
From the very first the break in connection between train and boat had been found inconvenient, and in the fall of 1855, Mr. Gordon, of the steamer Peerless wrote to the superintendent of the New York Central Railway, saying: "You must get the road down alongside the water at once."
This unpleasant transfer of passengers and their baggage in both directions by road and bus had existed all these years. The extension now proposed, would, it was expected, certainly be of advantage both to railway and to steamboat, as facilitating travel. It would mean a considerable expenditure to the New York Central Railway, yet they stated that if we would undertake to put on another boat, they would build the extension. The Michigan Central at Niagara-on-the-Lake, which had now become one of the New York Central lines, had had quite enough trial of their "any boat" arrangement and now desired a permanent service, which the putting on of another boat would supply.
Decisions had, therefore, to be come to by both parties. "The first thing for us to decide," said the Hon. Frank, "is whether Chicora is good enough to build a partner for her. This settled, we will then do our share on the water, for advancing the traffic of the route while the railways do theirs' on the land."
Immediately on the season closing in October, 1886 the steamer was put into Muir's dry dock at Port Dalhousie and every atom of lining in her hull removed so that the plates could be seen from the inside as well as from the outside. The Government hull inspector, and W. White of Montreal, shipbuilder, were brought over to make the inspection. From the beginning and throughout as well as assisting in traffic matters the charge of the hulls and engines had been my particular care. Led by Webster, the chief engineer of Chicora, we entered the hull. Webster was a quiet sort of fellow, sometimes nervous and at times excitable, perhaps a bit over-intense in his work. He was lean and with a loose waistcoat. It has been said by some that a steamboat engineer, to be successful, should have a decent sized stomach to help steady him through the changing conditions in his running days. The suggestion is well founded.
We went under deck. Webster was striking somewhat lightly on a plate which showed some signs of inner scale when White broke out at him. "Mon ar' ye feart o' goin' through? Gie ma t-hammer." Whereupon he rained his forceful blows upon the plate with such vigor as to make the din ring. "Hoot," said he as he stopped, "I'd 'a got through gin 'a could, but 'a couldn't."
Wiping the sweat off his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt he answered: "Wull, ye may tell Mr. Smith that when he, and I, and you are 'a in our graves Chicora will still be runnin' gin ye keep her off the rocks."
We therefore accepted the position set out by the railway companies and undertook to build a new steamer to be ready for the season of '88, and run the risk of profit on the investment while waiting for more traffic to grow up. We determined that speed was the essential requisite. First to perform the service with ease and regularity. Second to meet any competition which might afterwards arise.
There were then in Canada no builders of fast marine engines of the size we required. These were only to be found on the Clyde, so Mr. John Foy and I sailed the next week on the Lahn of the North German Lloyd for Southampton.
We inspected the principal day boats on the lower Thames, and English Channel, making notes and enquiries. Thence to Liverpool for Isle of Man steamers. Here we called on the head office of "Lairds," the builders of the Chicora, and made enquiries of her from the manager. "Chicora:Chicora, I don't remember any steamer of that name - Ah: did you say the Let Her B? Yes, she was the best ship of her class we ever built. There she is," and raising his hand he pointed to the model of the Let Her B, still hanging on the wall. He said they had built several steamers for service in blockade running into the ports of the Confederate States during the American Civil War. Three of these were named Let Her Go, Let Her Nip, Let Her B. Of all the steamers which they had built the last named and the last turned out was the most successful. Fast, seaworthy, of a model which was a thing of beauty, she had not been surpassed. He was quite enthusiastic about her and added "She had a stronger frame than usual, so that she would be worth replating should it ever be desirable.* He gave us every attention and much information and for the requirements which we detailed to him, advised us to go to the Clyde, giving us letters to some of the best yards there.
In travelling one makes strange acquaintances. On the day express between Liverpool and Glasgow when we were running at high speed down the grades into Carlisle and the carriage was banging from side to side a gentleman, the only other occupant with us, who had never said a word since we started suddenly broke into speech, at the same time throwing his feet up on the seat opposite to him. "Pit yer legs up! Quick!" The necessity for doing this he explained by adding "Gin we leave the line yer legs might be cut off by the seats comin' tegither." A good laugh at his fears and earnestness dispelled the silence which had previously reigned. He was a Scotch shipowner, and finding we were in the same line became communicative.
How earnestly he blamed Plimsoll for his legislation in putting his "mark" for load line on British ships but leaving the foreigner free, with all the privileges of trading between British ports, and of loading as deeply as he pleased. The effect, he said, on the British coasting trade was, that as the foreigner could load as far as he liked, and therefore carry larger cargoes, he could accept lower rates. Many British vessels were in consequence of this competition sold out, and transferred to foreign ownership.
Mr. Plimsoll was just then introducing a new Bill into the House of Commons at Westminster, proposing to make it illegal for Marine insurance companies to insure the hulls of vessels for more than two-thirds of their value.
"Does the man think I want to lose my vessels. I'm in the business as my fayther was, and I want to stay in the business. As things are I can insure for full value. If I meet an accident either I get my vessel back again, fit for her service, or I get the money and build a new and larger one. If every time I have a total loss I am to be docked of one-third of my capital, then it wouldn't be long before I'd be out of business. Ye never can keep up the British merchant marine that way."
"No, not at all. The insurance companies make their money, not oil the ships' hulls, but on the cargoes which the ships carry. A single ship in one season will carry dozens of cargoes. We are the shuttles which carry backwards and forwards the cargo values on which the companies earn their rates. In fact, we help to earn their money for them. Where would be the cargoes without the ships? 'Gin Plimsoll had his way he'd wipe all the British ships off the seas, but we're no so bad as he wad paint us."
These was a good deal of truth in what he said, for given that the repute and moral hazard is good, it matters little so far as the owners exercise of care for the avoiding of loss is concerned, whether the insurance carried is for total value or only partial.
Needless to say the Plimsoll Bill did not carry. As evidence of our faith I may mention that in the early days, when the Niagara company was simply a family ownership, we insured only against fire and collision, carrying the whole of the marine risk ourselves. But we watched with infinite closeness the ships and our men, as is equally done now when the company insures for a portion of the value.
November in Glasgow!A mixture of smoke, fogs and grime. Never was such gloomy weather experienced. A soot of blue murkiness seemed to pervade the atmosphere. We visited and consulted with the builders of the fast steamers particularly the Fairfield Co. at Govan and the Denny's of Dumbarton. Nothing could exceed the freedom with which the fullest information was laid before us.
We also inspected the fast day steamers of the David MacBrayne and the Caledonian S. S. companies among them Columba and Lord of the Isles, whose repute as day steamers for speed and equipment stood on the highest scale and are still (1912) performing their regular service.
For instance - in making a trip one day on one of these steamers there was a nasty drizzling rain. It dribbled down the main stairway which was open to the sky, and there were no awnings or coverings over the upper deck. As a result the passengers, who wished to have fresh air, sat along the deck seats, either huddled together under umbrellas, or wrapped up in the Scotch plaids with which almost everybody seemed to be supplied.
After fullest enquiry and consideration, we came to the conclusion that the best thing we could do was to repeat a highly successful play passenger paddle steamer, the Ozone which had been built on the Clyde and sent out to Australia a year and a half previously, and had there obtained a splendid record for speed and commercial success.
She was just the size we wanted, 250 feet long, 28' 6" beam in hull, or 52 feet over guards, draft 6 ft. 6 in. Compound engines with two cylinders of 47 inches, and 87 inches, developing 2000 horse power, and sending the steamer at the officially certified speed of 20 miles per hour on the Scotch trials on the Clyde between the Cloch and the Cumbrae.
This would be a step larger and a step faster than Chicora. We arranged with Mr. Robert Morton, the designer and supervisor of the Ozone, for a set of plans and specifications for the hull, which, constructed of Dalzell steel, would be put together on the shores of Lake Ontario, where the upper cabin works would be added according to our own requirements.
They offered to deliver a fully completed steamer at Montreal in four months, but we would have had to cut her and take off one of the guards to get her up through the canals. For my part, I had had quite enough of bringing steamers in parts up the St. Lawrence River on which the smaller canals were still uncompleted, so we decided to erect our new steamer on the shores of Lake Ontario.
The engines would be built by Rankin, Blackmore & Co., of Greenock, from whose shops had come some of the fastest engines on the Clyde. These would be a repetition of the engines which had been so successfully built by them for the Ozone and would be shipped out in parts to Montreal by the first steamer in the spring.
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This volume is copyright The Estate of Ivan S. Brookes and is published with permission of the Estate. The originals are deposited in the Special Collections of the Hamilton Public Library.