During the last few months, we have featured in these pages a number of passenger vessels which, although well known in their own areas, have generally been ignored by the various other marine publications of the Great Lakes. This time around, by special request, we feature the Misener steam bulk carrier BAYTON. It has been thirteen years since this vessel last operated, but for those of us who knew her so well, it seems as if it were only a year or two since we last saw her going about her appointed rounds. BAYTON, with her rather antiquated appearance, was a bit of an anachronism during the last few years of her active life, but she served her owner well and, indeed, is still extant on the lakes, serving in a much different capacity than was ever imagined for her by her builder or her original owner.
One of the most famous vessel operators on the Great Lakes at the turn of the century was W. H. Becker of Cleveland, a gentleman who, over the years, built up a fleet of steamers which, although not by any means the largest American lake fleet, was very much an important part of the shipping scene. The Becker fleet was also renowned for the handsome design of its freighters which were generally considered to be amongst the best looking ships ever to sail the lakes, second, perhaps, only to the designs of the famous Captain John Mitchell. The Becker steamer JOHN A. DONALDSON, (b) J. H. MACOUBREY, (c) WILLIAMSPORT, for instance, was acknowledged at the time of her building to be one of the best freighters ever built for lake service. The Becker operations were an influence on the lake shipping scene for many years, and even after the Becker management itself had faded away, a large portion of the fleet survived until the second half of the century under the auspices of the Midland Steamship Line Inc.
One of the companies which operated under the management of W. H. Becker was the Columbia Steamship Company of Cleveland. In 1903, this firm let to the American Shipbuilding Company a contract for a new bulk carrier. This boat was constructed as Hull 421 of the company's Cleveland yard. She was launched on April 7, 1904, and the Becker interests had her christened FRANCIS WIDLAR.
FRANCIS WIDLAR was a typical laker of her period, although she was rather shorter than some of the bulk carriers which would be built by lake shipyards in the next few years. She was given a half (or sunken) forecastle and by this we mean that, to enter the accommodations in the forecastle, it was necessary to descend from the shelter deck a distance of about half the height of the usual "full" forecastle which was usually entirely above the level of the shelter deck. The WIDLAR was fitted with the usual turret-style pilothouse which was placed on the forecastle forward of the officers' accommodations in the texas cabin, an open bridge being provided on the monkey's island as was the custom of the day. In typical Becker fashion, FRANCIS WIDLAR's hull was painted green, while her forecastle and cabins were white. The stack was black and carried the large white letter 'B' which denoted the boats managed by Mr. Becker.
FRANCIS WIDLAR served the Columbia Steamship Company faithfully for many years which passed for the ship in a generally uneventful fashion as she passed up and down the lakes with her cargoes of iron ore, coal and grain. The only major change in her appearance came about the time of the First World War when, like many lakers, she was given an enclosed upper pilothouse. The upper houses placed on numerous boats were flimsy affairs which afforded only minimal shelter from the elements; FRANCIS WIDLAR, on the other hand, received an extremely handsome house which obviously was designed to last. And last it did, for half a century!
Great Lakes vessel operators were, in the early decades of this century, much given to shifting their boats around amongst various affiliated companies under their control. Becker was no exception, and when a reorganization of its operations was undertaken in 1920, FRANCIS WIDLAR was transferred to the Valley Steamship Company. There was no alteration in her colours with this change in official ownership. There is some suggestion that, in 1920, FRANCIS WIDLAR was operated by the Becker Steamship Company, but it is our understanding that Becker did not form this affiliate until 1922.
FRANCIS WIDLAR, however, was not long to operate for her new owner. On November 12, 1920, whilst downbound loaded in Lake Superior with what would have been one of her last cargoes of the season, the WIDLAR encountered heavy weather. As she neared the eastern end of the lake, she failed to negotiate the turn to starboard which would have taken her southeastward and into the shelter of Whitefish Bay. Instead, she continued on and, in due course, made a violent and unexpected rendezvous with the rocks of Pancake Shoal. This menace to navigation is located off the Canadian shore of Lake Superior, about 4 1/2 miles south of Coppermine Point and 31 1/2 miles north by west from the Point Iroquois lighthouse.
The Reid Wrecking Company of Sarnia and Port Huron, under the inspired direction of Tom Reid, was never one to shirk the responsibility of undertaking seemingly hopeless salvage tasks if its fearless leader thought that there was even the most remote chance of success. This was proven on many occasions, perhaps most notably in the case of the wresting of the stern section of WILLIAM C. MORELAND from Sawtooth Reef in Lake Superior. The Great Lakes Towing Company was originally asked to undertake the salvage of FRANCIS WIDLAR but its big wrecking tug FAVORITE was busy elsewhere and Great Lakes Towing was unwilling to take on the job. As a result, Reid was awarded a contract to attempt the removal of FRANCIS WIDLAR from Pancake Shoal. The hull remained in its exposed position throughout the following winter and, during 1921, the efforts of the salvors proved successful as the steamer was refloated.
FRANCIS WIDLAR, once freed from her rocky perch, was considered still to have life in her yet and, accordingly, was not consigned to the scrappers. With considerable difficulty, she was towed by the tug SMITH to Batchawana, where she was temporarily patched. She was then taken to Port Arthur where she was drydocked for repair.
W. D. Becker, the successor to W. H. Becker, put in a bid for the WIDLAR, but his bid was unsuccessful. On October 12, 1922, while the ship was still lying at the Port Arthur shipyard, she was purchased from the underwriters by the Mathews Steamship Company Ltd. of Toronto, Albert Ernest Mathews, prop. Mathews, after reregistering the boat at Toronto as C.141675, arranged for the battered vessel to be taken to the yard of the Collingwood Shipbuilding Company Ltd. and there she was readied to take up duty in the Canadian grain trade.
Mathews ships were generally given names ending with the suffix "ton", and although in some cases the names referred to actual towns, they were usually chosen to reflect some aspect of lake shipping and Mr. Mathews' interest therein. Thus came into existence names such as LAKETON, RIVERTON, YORKTON, and MATHEWSTON. FRANCIS WIDLAR was duly renamed (b) BAYTON, a name she was to carry through the remainder of her days. It might be argued that her name was reflective of no particular bay, there being a good many such bodies of water around the Great Lakes, but it is our thought that the name was probably intended to honour Georgian Bay and its many harbours, commonly referred to as "The Bayports", to which BAYTON frequently traded with cargoes of grain.
BAYTON gave the better part of a decade of good service with the Mathews monogram on her bows. A. E. Mathews had built his fleet up from humble beginnings until, during BAYTON's time, it was a force with which to be reckoned amongst Canadian lake vessel operations. But although the fleet was quite capable of turning a good profit during periods of good business conditions, it was an entirely different story when things began to go bad in the fall of 1929. Mathews, in fact, had overextended his interests and, without the financial backing that supported such fleets as Canada Steamship Lines and kept them going, he found it impossible to continue operations as the Great Depression deepened.
The Mathews boats ran through the 1930 season and BAYTON was no exception, but the writing was already on the wall. On January 8, 1931, the Mathews Steamship Company Ltd. went into receivership on petition of the Montreal Trust Company and the National Trust Company which were acting on behalf of the bondholders. Mr. G. T. Clarkson, of the Toronto firm of E. R. C. Clarkson and Sons, was appointed as official receiver and manager of the fleet. The Mathews Steamship Company continued to operate, but it was only a shadow of its former aggressive self and most of its boats spent their time languishing in ordinary. BAYTON ran spasmodically during 1931, 1932 and 1933 under charter to Toronto Elevators Ltd. and/or its affiliate, Sarnia Elevators Ltd., but she spent at least as much time at the wall as she did in service.
Late in 1933, the bedraggled remains of the Mathews Steamship Company Ltd. were sold to Colonial Steamships Ltd., Port Colborne, which had been formed by Captain Robert Scott Misener and associates specifically for that purpose. Misener had been associated with lake shipping for many years and had gone into business as a shipowner several years earlier when he and John O. McKellar had joined together to purchase the wooden steamer OVERLAND. Misener had gradually extended his venture and, during the Depression years, had been able to avoid the financial troubles which proved to be the undoing of Mathews.
Once the effects of the Depression had worn off, Colonial Steamships kept BAYTON hard at work, mostly in the grain trade. During the 1946 lay-up, she was reboilered with two Babcock and Wilcox oil-fired water tube boilers which had been built in 1942 by Goldie McCulloch Ltd. and which originally had been installed in the corvette H.M.C.S. DUNDAS. After the close of hostilities in the Atlantic, the Canadian Navy declared H.M.C.S. DUNDAS to be surplus and she was purchased by Misener and was brought to the lakes specifically so that her boilers might be reclaimed. For the removal of her old boilers and the installation of the "new" ones, BAYTON was placed in the spare gate berth on the east side of the Welland Canal above Lock One. Port Weller Dry Docks Ltd. had not yet been formed nor the shipyard constructed, but the spare gate berth was used as a drydock for the purpose. With the new boilers in place, BAYTON's triple-expansion engine was still, despite its age, capable of generating 1,460 I.H.P.
The next major change to affect BAYTON came during the winter of 1957-58. The steamer was laid up for the winter at the Union Carbide dock located on the east side of the Welland Canal immediately south of old Bridge 16 at Welland. There, her handsome old wooden pilothouse was removed and in its place was fitted a more modern structure built of steel. The new pilothouse was much larger than the earlier cabin and protruded noticeably over the forward end of the lower house; and yet, a catwalk was not placed around the front of the new wheelhouse as on most of the ships which still sported turret cabins forward. The new house was fitted with large windows which undoubtedly provided improved visibility for its occupants, and the structure certainly was much more comfortable than was its predecessor, but its installation did nothing at all for the appearance of BAYTON. Indeed, she looked very strange from that point onwards, as the new pilothouse contrasted markedly with the rather old-fashioned stern of the ship which was dominated by a virtually unraked stack topped by a very noticeable cowl. This stack had been placed in BAYTON at the time of her reboilering. Her masts also had very little rake and, due perhaps to her age and also the lasting effects of her grounding back in 1920, her hull had begun to look "tired" and was losing its sheer.
BAYTON, however, continued in operation and, in 1959, was transferred to Scott Misener Steamships Ltd., Port Colborne, when a capital reorganization of the Misener interests took place. Despite her age and relatively small size, BAYTON was still considered to be a useful carrier and she plodded on for a few years more, looking more and more her age with each passing year. In July, 1962, she fractured an engine piston whilst at Contrecoeur and was towed to Sorel for repairs. She was not fitted out in the spring of 1963 but did operate later in the season.
The end for BAYTON as an operative vessel came in 1965. Part way through the season, she was laid up along the West Street Wharf in Port Colborne; she was suffering from engine problems, shaft damage, and a very noticeable dent in her bow which had been sustained in a canalling accident. Scott Misener Steamships finally came to the inescapable conclusion that BAYTON had reached the end of her rope and she was sold to Marine Salvage Ltd., Port Colborne, which had her moved back down through Lock Eight and into the scrapping berth at Ramey's Bend. It was generally expected that the Marine Salvage workmen would soon make short work of the venerable steamer.
Just as BAYTON was nearing the end of her active life, the Quebec and Ontario Transportation Company Ltd. was expanding its fleet with the purchase of several older American lakers. One of these was a boat only three years younger than BAYTON, namely the bulk carrier JAY C. MORSE which was acquired early in the spring of 1965 from the Interlake Steamship Company and renamed (b) SHELTER BAY (II). After operating SHELTER BAY for the 1965 season, Q & O decided that the ship was in need of reboilering. It was not thought that the cost of new boilers for such an elderly vessel could be justified and so Q & O searched for some good used boilers which might be obtained at a more reasonable price. The company did not have far to look and decided to purchase from Marine Salvage Ltd. the boilers which were then ensconced in BAYTON.
In due course, workmen went aboard BAYTON and commenced pulling apart the old girl's after cabin. Her stack removed and a hole chopped down through her upper decks, the Babcock and Wilcox water tube boilers were lifted from the vessel and were carted 'round to the West Street Wharf in Port Colborne where SHELTER BAY was lying. During the summer of 1966, the boilers were installed in SHELTER BAY and she has operated with them ever since. Q & O, however, might better have searched elsewhere for boilers rather than taking third-hand equipment for the conversion. In recent years, SHELTER BAY has been plagued with boiler problems and a particularly nasty spate of difficulties during 1977 threatened to send the boat to the scrapyard. She was reactivated in 1978 for one further year of operation but continued struggles to keep the well-worn boilers in serviceable condition are almost certain to bring the ship to the end of her career at the close of the current navigation season.
Her boilers gone, the forlorn BAYTON lay at Ramey's Bend during the summer of 1966 alongside T.J. McCARTHY and GEORGE H. INGALLS which were being dismantled. The scrappers, however, were cheated of their prey when BAYTON was sold by Marine Salvage for use as a breakwater on Lake Michigan. The Bethlehem Steel Corporation was in the course of developing a new plant and ore-unloading facility on the lower west side of the lake, the new port being christened Burns Harbor. It was decided that several old hulls should be obtained to provide shelter at the new harbour and BAYTON was one of the vessels selected for the purpose. She was towed out of Ramey's Bend on September 9, 1966, and was taken to her final resting place where, in due course, she was sunk in position.
The elements were not long in taking advantage of the chance to make up for their lack of success 47 years earlier. The old hull was unable to withstand the strain of repeated batterings and, during the 1967 season, it broke into two sections. Notwithstanding this damage, BAYTON's last remains still lie at Burns Harbor and it seems likely that they will remain there for many years to come.
Shipwatchers, being the nostalgic sort that they usually are, had expressed sincere regrets back in 1965 when BAYTON was retired from service, much as they have done when other historic vessels have been withdrawn. They did not, however, kick up as much of a fuss on that occasion as on others, for it was almost universally acknowledged that the poor old BAYTON had lived a full, long life and that no operator with any sense at all could possibly consider the steamer to be worth the serious kind of money that would have had to be invested in her to keep her in service. BAYTON had been a credit to her builders and we were extremely lucky that she had survived her encounter with Pancake Shoal back in 1920 so that we might have the chance to see her in action in later years.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.