On Friday, August 16, 1957, a tug made her way up the Kaministiquia River at Fort William with her tow behind her. A common, every-day occurrence, perhaps, but in this case there was one small difference. The object at the end of the towline was an iron-hulled, 'tween decked freighter with a tall thin funnel, two strikingly raked masts, a triple deck bridge structure set one hatch back from a turtle-backed forecastle, and a set of engines and boilers that had been serving her for exactly seventy years.
The story of this famous little steamer began back in 1887 when Drake and Maytham, famous Buffalo vessel operators, ordered an iron package freighter from the Cleveland Shipbuilding Company. Built as this yard's Hull 2, she was completed in 1888, being christened SCRANTON and given official number U.S. 116235. Just a bit too large to fit the Welland and St. Lawrence Canals of the day, she measured 268.0 feet in length, 38.2 feet in the beam and 21.6 feet in depth. Her tonnage was registered as 2015 Gross, 1595 Net. Cleveland Shipbuilding made for her a triple expansion engine with cylinders of 19", 30", 52" and a stroke of 40", steam being supplied by two coal-fired Scotch boilers measuring 11'6 x 11'0".
She entered service in 1888 for the Lackawanna Railroad, Drake and Maytham operating her in their Lackawanna Transportation Company which was commonly known during the 1890's as the Red Star Line. She carried package freight from Lake Erie ports to Lake Michigan and it was to facilitate this trade that she had been given a 'tween deck. During the early 1900's, she was chartered for a short period to the Canada Atlantic Transit Company and operated between Depot Harbour, Milwaukee and Chicago. By 1905 she was back on her regular run, but this time for the Lake Transit Company, another Buffalo firm that was at this time under the control of Drake and Maytham. By 1911 she had passed to the Buffalo Transit Company which was managed by Brown & Company.
In 1913 SCRANTON was sold to the River Transit Company of Marine City, Michigan, one of the many interest of Mr. Sidney C. McLouth, a famous St. Clair County entrepreneur. He used her to carry bagged cement for the Huron Cement Company which had plants located around the Great Lakes. It was not until several years later that Huron began to assemble its own fleet and so McLouth carried the cement in bags in a rather rag-tag collection of mismatched steamers of which SCRANTON was apparently the best. Even after Huron bought SAMUEL MITCHELL in 1915 and converted her to run her themselves in the bulk cement trade, McLouth still operated SCRANTON for them and it was not until the building of Huron's JOHN W. BOARDMAN in 1923 that SCRANTON became surplus to their needs.
During 1924 SCRANTON was chartered by McLouth to the Minnesota-Atlantic Transit Company, a firm operating package freighters between the American Lakehead (Duluth) and Buffalo. One of the founders of this firm had been Alexander McDougall of whaleback fame. The charter was continued after the close of the 1924 season and actually was renewed until 1927 when Minnesota-Atlantic purchased SCRANTON outright. At the time of the purchase she was renamed (b) TEN to bring her into line with the other units of what was known around the lakes as the "Poker Fleet". The company owned four World War I "Laker" type vessels named ACE, KING, QUEEN and JACK. Eventually in 1934 another old "Laker" was added to the fleet and she became TEN (II). As might be expected, Minnesota-Atlantic did not wish to break the sequence of the names and so TEN (I) was renamed (c) NINE. During most of her years with the Poker Fleet, NINE was commanded by Capt. Louis Guyette who was destined to lose his life when the Nicholson Transit steamer PENOBSCOT rammed the oil barge MORANIA 130 in Buffalo harbour in October of 1951. The entire forward end of PENOBSCOT was gutted by fire after the collision.
NINE continued on her regular run for the Poker Fleet until 1941 which was the last year of the Minnesota-Atlantic service. The vessels of the fleet had begun to be sold off or requisitioned for war service on salt water and the company was wound up in 1942. NINE was getting old and about the only improvement she had ever received (or would ever receive) was the addition of an upper pilothouse. She did not seem to be suitable for any other service and so late in 1941 she was sold to the Steel Company of Canada Ltd. and was taken under tow to Hamilton for breaking up. She escaped from the torches, however, and is to our knowledge the only vessel ever taken to Stelco at Hamilton that won her freedom from the scrappers.
The salvation for NINE was her purchase by Powell Transports Ltd., Winnipeg, a firm managed by Kenneth A. Powell and associated with grain dealers Hallet and Carey. She was Powell's first vessel and was renamed (d) STARBUCK in honour of her manager's Manitoba hometown. Reregistered at Toronto, she was given official number C. 173515 and her tonnage was shown as 2025 Gross and 1466 Net at the time of the transfer.
Powell had the old steamer refurbished and gave her his own colours, black with white cabins. Her stack was black with two thin but widely spaced silver bands between which was a silver star. It runs in your editor's mind that at one time the section between the bands was a very dark purple colour, but we can locate no photographic proof of this.
Once Powell got STARBUCK running again, he placed her in the grain trade from the Lakehead to the Bay Ports and Goderich. She did not frequently stray from this run, but on several occasions she did bring grain all the way to Toronto. In 1953 she was joined by a running mate, STARBELLE, the former tanker IMPERIAL COBOURG which had been converted to a stemwinder bulk carrier at Port Dalhousie.
In 1957, however, STARBUCK had reached the end of her rope. Her seventy years were telling on her as she had never received a major rebuild of any description and still had her original engine and boilers. She was sold to the Western Iron and Metal Company Ltd., Fort William, and the job of supervising her tow to the breaker's yard fell to Capt. Jerry Blevins who had commanded STARBUCK for her first decade under Powell Transports ownership and who had then moved over to STARBELLE.
STARBUCK proved her strength to the wreckers for it was found that her iron hull was resistive to dismantling efforts. She could not escape as she had done fifteen years earlier, however, and in 1958 her remains were towed around to Duluth where she was finally cut up.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.