During the last decade of the nineteenth century, one of the most prominent names in iron ore and lake shipping circles was that of John D. Rockefeller of Cleveland. He managed to gain control of certain iron ore properties in the Mesabi Range during the financial recession of 1893 and he established the Lake Superior Consolidated Iron Mining Company at this time. Recognising the need to control the transportation of his ore to the furnaces of the lower lakes, he founded the Bessemer Steamship Company and began to assemble a fleet of steamers.
In addition to almost monopolizing the shipbuilding facilities on the lakes to build his vessels, Rockefeller also began buying up tonnage from other fleets in an attempt to outsmart his archrival Andrew Carnegie. Bessemer Steamship Company built twelve vessels in 1896 and two more in 1897 in addition to buying two steamers and two barges. Then in 1898, the company built three ships, following this up with the purchase of one vessel and the construction of five large carriers in 1899 and 1900.
Amongst these latter five ships was the CHARLES R. VAN HISE built by the Superior Shipbuilding Company at West Superior, Wisconsin, as their Hull 144 and launched on June 23, 1900. Given official number U.S. 127426, the new steamer measured 458.0 feet in length, 50.2 feet in the beam, and 25.0 feet in depth. Tonnage was 5117 Gross and 3673 Net. She was powered by quadruple expansion engines, built by the Chicago Shipbuilding Company, having cylinders of 20 1/2", 30", 43%" and 63" and a stroke of 42", and developing Indicated Horsepower of 1750.
When CHARLES R. VAN HISE entered service, she bore the distinctive colours used on all of the Bessemer vessels. Her hull was red, whilst her cabins were painted white and the funnel was black with a large white block letter 'B'.
In March of 1901, Rockefeller sold out his interest in lake ore and shipping to the United States Steel Corporation which had been formed the previous month by J. Pierpont Morgan and Elbert H. Gary. CHARLES R. VAN HISE thus became a unit of U.S. Steel's shipping arm, the Pittsburgh Steamship Company. She was painted in their colours and her hull became a dark olive green shade and her stack was all silver. About 1905, the stacks of the Pittsburgh vessels were given a black smokeband at the top and about the same time the hulls were painted red. Despite these changes, masts, anchors and other trim continued to carry the green colour.
CHARLES R. VAN HISE served Pittsburgh in the ore trade for eighteen years and probably would have operated for the company much longer had not World War I interfered to bring an end to her normal service. With the entry of the United States into the conflict, the U.S. Shipping Board requisitioned many lake steamers for service on salt water. A number of vessels acquired in 1916 and 1917 were cut in two for the passage down through the Welland and St. Lawrence canals. These ventures proved highly successful and in 1918 the government purchased twelve more, all longer than the limited canal length of 261 feet. Eleven of these ships were less than 44 feet in width and hence the sections of the steamers were able to pass through the canals on the keel.
The twelfth and final ship purchased in 1918 was CHARLES R. VAN HISE and she was intended to mark the beginning of a new era in transferring lakers to the coast, for she was more than six feet too broad to pass through the old locks. The government was actually seeking a method of building, at lake shipyards for ocean service, ships of greater beam than the 44-foot limits imposed by the dimensions of the Welland locks.
The VAN HISE was taken to the yard of the Lake Shipbuilding Company at Buffalo and there she was deepened to 28.7 feet, the hull being raised almost four feet, and her capacity being increased by 2000 tons. She was then cut in two sections and bulk-headed and the two halves were towed into the outer harbour at Buffalo where they were rolled over on their side to permit passage through the canals. This rolling operation was most interesting and proved highly successful, although it has never been repeated since as there has been no need for it. Temporary tanks were fitted on the deck of each section at the port side and filled with water to provide the additional weight necessary to begin the roll. With the aid of two tugs, the rolling operation was completed, the added tanks now giving each section stability while floating on its side.
Owing to the lateness of the season and the onset of poor weather conditions, neither half of CHARLES R. VAN HISE passed down the canals in 1918. The bow section was towed to Port Colborne and in a trial effort on December 10th was successfully moved through the first lock. This half of the ship was left in the canal at Port Colborne for the winter, while the stern section remained at Buffalo.
By the spring of 1919, when the sections could once more be started on their way to the East Coast, hostilities had been brought to an end and the expensive and novel experiment was not carried through to its conclusion as originally planned. The two halves of the hull were towed back up Lake Erie to the yard of the Great Lakes Engineering Works at Ashtabula, Ohio, where they were once more joined together after being righted. A new midsection was fitted and this gave the steamer a length of 542.4 feet and increased her tonnage to 6874 Gross, 5288 Net. As originally built, the VAN HISE carried her bridge structure aft of Number One hatch, but during the course of this rebuild her texas and pilothouse were placed on a raised island amidships.
The steamer returned to service in 1920 and by this time had been purchased by the Morrow Steamship Company. She was renamed A. E. R. SCHNEIDER and entered her new service bearing the distinctive colours of the Cleveland-Cliffs Steamship Company. The SCHNEIDER, sporting one of the most strange and recognizable profiles on the lakes, continued under Morrow ownership and Cliffs operation until 1926. At that time, the Morrow-Cliffs connection was terminated and she then began operating in conjunction with the Valley Camp Steamship Company.
The steamer was given yet another new name in 1931 for that year she appeared bearing the name (c) S.B. WAY (II). She did not, however, see much service under this name, for it was now the Depression Years and cargoes were very scarce. In addition, Valley Camp had run into financial difficulties. In 1935 she was sold to the Columbia Transportation Company, Cleveland, and it was suggested that she be renamed JOHN T. KELLY in honour of the manager of Columbia's fleet. This change never took place, however, and instead she was rechristened (d) J.M. OAG in 1936. Mr. Oag was fleet engineer for Columbia. The vessel never actually operated with the J.M. OAG name, however, for she was not fitted out in 1936 and during that same year she was sold out of the fleet.
Despite the change in ownership, our steamer continued to cost her owners dearly for her continued upkeep. Over the winter of 1942-43, she received a new tanktop while laid up at Toronto and the price of this job was in excess of $100,000 - an almost unbelievably high figure for those years.
The first major change in the appearance of the SECORD since 1920 came over the winter of 1953-54 when she was repowered at the yard of Port Weller Dry Docks Ltd., an operation that saw her very tall and thin stack replaced by an extraordinarily fat and squat funnel. The old "quad" engine was lifted out of the SECORD and in its place was installed an 8-cylinder Burmeister and Wain Diesel (25-9/16 x 55-1/8) originally built in 1942 by Harland and Wolff Ltd. of Belfast for the "Ocean" class tanker EMPIRE METAL (II) of 9200 tons. This vessel had been bombed and sunk at Bone, Italy, on January 2, 1943 and hence the engine had hardly been used. It was salvaged from the wreck in 1950 and was reconditioned before being fitted in the SECORD. The new power plant seemed to work well for the big laker as she had quite a good turn of speed after the repowering. During the early 1960's, however, problems developed with the diesel that forced SECORD into Port Arthur Shipyard for a prolonged period while the engine was completely dismantled and rebuilt.
The new engine produced two interesting effects which made the SECORD a bit of an oddity. Firstly, her diesel was very noisy and, especially when it was working hard, would give out a most fascinating assortment of sounds including beats which hardly seemed synchronized. In addition, the vents in her stack were such that on the occasions when she did give off any black exhaust, it was blown forcibly into the air, forming perfect smoke rings.
CAPTAIN C. D. SECORD was involved in only one serious accident which we can recall, an accident occurring fairly late in her life. On June 22, 1959, the SECORD had gone to the aid of the MOHAWK DEER, a steamer of the Beaconsfield Steamship Company Ltd. which was controlled by the same interests as the Mohawk fleet. SECORD managed to get MOHAWK DEER under tow and took her to Collingwood where repairs could be put in hand by Collingwood Shipyards. MOHAWK DEER had no power of her own as she had fractured her shaft. When the two ships arrived off Collingwood harbour, the C.S.L. harbour tug BAYPORT (I) came out to take over the tow. A line was passed from the SECORD to the little steam tug, but the SECORD still had way on and before the line could be cut, she had overtaken BAYPORT. The strain on the line pulled the tug over on her beam ends and BAYPORT quickly filled and went to the bottom, taking several of her crewmen with her. The tug was later salvaged.
The SECORD did make up for this misdemeanor when, on one occasion in the late fifties she retrieved the Hindman large DELKOTE which had broken away from the towing freighter GEORGE HINDMAN in heavy weather on Lake Superior. The HINDMAN did not have the power to do so, and so CAPTAIN C. D. SECORD, on hearing of the situation, took off in pursuit of the barge, locating her and getting a line on her before she could come to grief on the rocky shore of the Keweenaw Peninsula. The SECORD herself often towed a barge, Mohawk's ALFRED KRUPP; however this practice was discontinued about 1960.
The sixties saw CAPTAIN C. D. SECORD still in operation but her age was giving rise to increasingly costly maintenance problems. It was probably only her large carrying capacity (10,850 at mid-summer draft) that kept her running as long as she did. The axe fell at the end of the 1967 season when the decision was made that she should be sold for scrapping. She went to Prescott with a load of storage grain and in the spring of 1968 was sold to Steel Factors Ltd., Montreal, who resold her to Eckhardt and Company, Hamburg, West Germany. She was towed to Quebec City where she was sealed for the tow across the North Atlantic. Resold once again to Spanish breakers, she departed Quebec on August 21, 1968 along with the former Paterson steamer BRICOLDOC in tow of the Polish tug JANTAR. The two old lakers arrived safely at Santander, Spain, on September 13, 1968 and were subsequently broken up.
And so ended the long life of the vessel that had become known over the years as "The Ship with the Golden Rivets". On very few occasions has a lake boat had so much money poured into her over the years as had the CAPTAIN C. D. SECORD. As if her subsequent rebuilding and other jobs had not cost enough, the U.S. Government had sunk a grand total of $3,140,000 into the aborted attempt to take her to the east coast, a sum at least ten times as great as her original construction had cost John D. Rockefeller.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.