The day of the package freighter on the Great Lakes has almost ended. At one time, there were more package freight vessels operating on the lakes than there were bulk carriers, but the development of shipping patterns has been such that package freight, or general cargo as it is frequently called, has almost vanished from the lakes to be carried instead by rail or road transport.
There was a time when almost all the major railways in the eastern United States and Canada had affiliated lake shipping companies engaged in the carriage of package freight. Other lake shippers also carried general cargo either as a specialty or else as a side business. But after the First World War, only a few fleets carried on in the trade and over the years even they have dropped by the wayside until today just one, Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., still carries package freight by water on the lakes. This last service has been on thin ice for the last few years but now is threatened by an even greater foe, the proposed Seaway toll increases which appear to be going to hit heaviest at package freight as far as per ton charges are concerned, this sort of cargo not being considered as necessary to national and international economies as is the trade in iron ore, grain, etc.
And yet, at one time, few were the major lake ports that were not served by such a line. Amongst the most familiar package freight shippers were the railroad fleets and their successor, the Great Lakes Transit Corporation of Buffalo. Our ship of the month for January was a vessel that spent many of her years in their service and then moved over to the Canadian side of the border for further trade of a similar nature. And yet, she ended her days in a service far removed from that for which she was built, perhaps a touch of foresight into the dismal future lying in wait for the package freighters.
The GEORGE J. GOULD was a steel 'tween-deck package freight steamer which was built back in 1893 at Buffalo by the Union Dry Dock Company to the order of the Lake Erie Transportation Company. This firm was a subsidiary of the Wabash Railroad and it maintained a package freight service, principally between Toledo and Buffalo. The GOULD was really not much larger than a canaller, for she measured only 265.6 feet in length, 40.6 feet in the beam and 25.0 feet in depth. Her tonnage was measured as 2237 Gross and 1790 Net. Enrolled for some unknown reason at Detroit, she was given registry number U.S.86267.
GEORGE J. GOULD was powered by a triple expansion engine with cylinders of 18, 30 and 48 inches and a stroke of 42 inches. This machinery, which had been built for the ship by the King Iron Works of Buffalo, developed 118 Nominal Horsepower. Steam was provided by two Scotch marine boilers which measured 11'6" by 12' and which burned coal.
The GOULD had the rather racy appearance which was typical of package freighters of the last decade or so of the nineteenth century. She had a raised forecastle and flush quarterdeck but almost no sheer to her hull at all. Her bridge was set back off the forecastle but was joined to it by a catwalk. Atop a rather large, square texas cabin was a rounded pilothouse in turn surmounted by an open bridge with wings. Her two lifeboats rested on top of a large deckhouse located aft of the bridge and not far abaft that again began the boilerhouse which led into her after cabin. This letter structure was abruptly truncated at its after end, leaving a rather noticeably bare stretch of open fantail visible. Her stack, which was fairly tall and tending toward the thin side, was set, as were the masts, at such a marked rake that one rather wonders how it managed to remain upright. Three masts were carried as the ship was originally rigged but photos do not indicate that she was ever fitted to carry auxiliary sail.
The GEORGE J. GOULD sailed under the management of her original owners until 1906 or perhaps 1907 at which time the Wabash Railroad retired from vessel management and she was sold to the Erie Railroad Lake Line. It was at that juncture that she was renamed (b) GRANVILLE A. RICHARDSON in honour of an official of the rail line which owned her. The railroad lake lines were usually in the habit of naming their boats for officials of the owning company or for places served by the boats or the connecting rail services. The Erie Railroad's marine service maintained a package freight route between Buffalo and Chicago. The steamer line had for many years been known as the Union Steamboat Company but this name was discontinued about 1896 as a result of a merger with the parent Erie Railroad.
GRANVILLE A. RICHARDSON appeared in one of the most distinctive colour schemes ever used by a lake vessel operator. From about 1895 onwards, the Erie boats were given black hulls and bright orange cabins. Their stacks were black with four white bands, each of the bands carrying a letter of the word 'Erie', reading downwards from the top. Erie steamers are exceptionally recognizable in photos dating from around the turn of the century, even in prints of something less than crystal clarity, because of these unusual markings.
The RICHARDSON remained in the Erie fleet through the 1915 season and then was affected by the greatest single change which ever touched lake package freight operations. During 1915, the U.S. federal authorities enacted the Panama Canal Act which prohibited American railways from operating steamship services which ran parallel to their rail lines. The railroads had no alternative but to divest themselves of their marine holdings. However, early in 1916, a number of executives of the former rail-affiliated lake lines, acting under the chairmanship of William J. Conners, formed the Great Lakes Transit Corporation of Buffalo which eventually would acquire the fleets of all the rail lines which had been forced out of business. The only holdout was the Lehigh Valley Transit Company which fought the legislation in the courts but which, despite high hopes, finally capitulated and joined Great Lakes Transit in 1919.
The Erie Railroad Lake Line was, of course, one of the concerns affected by the provisions of the Panama Canal Act and its four vessels, GRANVILLE A. RICHARDSON, DELOS W. COOKE, TIOGA and F. D. UNDERWOOD (four others had been sold for off-lakes use in 1915) were sold to Great Lakes Transit in 1916. The RICHARDSON was not to last long with the new company, however. The formation of the G.L.T.C. had brought 35 package freighters under the houseflag of the new line and this represented about 85% of all general cargo carriers flying the U.S. flag on the Great Lakes. Quite naturally, the officers of the G.L.T.C. were forced to take a long hard look at the economics of the various routes and ships it now possessed so that they might be able to eliminate services and vessels which were superfluous to their requirements. Considering the number of larger and newer steamers which the company had obtained, particularly from the Anchor Line and the Western Transit Company (the Pennsylvania and New York Central Railroads, respectively), it is not surprising that the 23-year-old GRANVILLE A. RICHARDSON remained under Great Lakes Transit ownership for only one year.
Before passing on, we should note that the RICHARDSON appeared only in the first of Great Lakes Transit's two colour schemes. The company at first opted for colours similar to those of the old Western Transit Company, namely a brown hull, white cabins, and black stack with an orange band. It was not until 1925, eight years after the sale of the RICHARDSON, that the fleet adopted the more photogenic colours of the old Anchor Line steamers.
In any event, the RICHARDSON was sold in 1917 to James Playfair of Midland who placed her in his Great Lakes Transportation Company Ltd. It seems that there was some delay in arranging the actual transfer of ownership and registry for it was not until 1919 that she came onto the Canadian books as c) GLENCAIRN, enrolled as C.138216. James Playfair had a penchant for naming his boats for places in his native Scotland and GLENCAIRN was no exception.
Playfair used GLENCAIRN for his package freight service between the Canadian Lakehead and Chicago and Cleveland. This route saw the movement of considerable quantities of newsprint on downbound trips. In addition, she was pressed into the grain trade from Fort William and Port Arthur to Georgian Bay and Lower Lake ports.
GLENCAIRN looked good in Playfair's colours with her grey hull, white cabins, and red stack with black smokeband, but she basically was an unusual vessel, quite distinctive in appearance and reminiscent of earlier years. She had, however, lost a bit of her "class" in that at some earlier time, probably about the time she was acquired by the Erie Railroad, she had lost her mizzen mast. In addition, the Erie, which had quite a reputation for the unusual appearance of some of its steamers, had replaced the original pilothouse of the ship with a single and then double-deck structure placed atop the original texas. The upper and middle houses of the bridge structure were almost identical square structures of wood, liberally provided with windows. They did nothing whatever for the ship's appearance.
The Great Lakes Transportation Company Ltd. made good use of GLENCAIRN but during the mid-twenties, the company set about the task of updating its rather elderly fleet. With the addition of GLENLEDI and GLENROSS, later known as RENVOYLE (II) and BATTLEFORD, respectively, Playfair had no further need for GLENCAIRN and he disposed of her in 1925. The steamer was sold to the Nassau Ship and Dredge Company, Chicago, which placed her back under the U. S. flag and converted her for use as a sandsucker in connection with the job of filling in land for Chicago's South Shore Drive development. She was renamed (d) NASSAU in 1926. When she reappeared in the U.S. shipping register, her dimensions were shown as 266.1 x 40.7 x 22.8 and her tonnage after the conversion was indicated to be 2098 Gross and 1265 Net.
After the completion of the project for which NASSAU had been purchased, she was laid up at South Chicago and there she remained through the years of the Great Depression. We should note, however, that the 1930 U.S. register indicates a change in name for her owner, it being shown thereafter as the Nassau Ship Company, Chicago. During the late 1930's she was bought by the Fitzsimons and Connell Dredge and Dock Company of Chicago and this firm refitted NASSAU for service in the sand trade. Her owners emblazoned their name in large letters down the ship's grey sides, leaving their identity in no doubt whatever.
The reactivation of NASSAU was unfortunately of very short duration and during the 1940's she remained idle at her dock in South Chicago, looking more and more bedraggled as the years passed. Finally, over the winter of 1950-51, her documentation was closed and the 58-year-old hull, its usefulness at an end, was cut up for scrap at Chicago in 1951.
In her role as a sand boat, NASSAU outlived the majority of her former package freighter running-mates but it could hardly be said that she was a success in her later years. By the time she felt the cutting torches, the general cargo trade on the lakes had dwindled away to the point where the only major package freight carriers left on the lakes were Canadian, these being the vessels of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, Northwest Steamships Ltd., and, of course, Canada Steamship Lines Ltd. The beginning of the end was long since at hand.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.