When marine historians of the Great Lakes discuss or write about the vessels which traded on our waters in bygone years, they most frequently mention the many beautiful passenger steamers which served the major lake ports, or some of the well-known steel-hulled freighters which operated in the bulk or package freight trades and which have since passed from the scene due to accident or the relentless advance of time. Too often, we overlook the many small wooden freighters which for so long were the backbone of water transportation in these parts, and which were the forerunners of today's modern carriers. Theirs was not a glamourous age nor one to which many of us would wish to have been witness, for the work was hard and long, and the ships themselves were primitive, operated in many cases on a "shoestring"; but these little boats served for many years and got the job done, bringing advancement and prosperity to the Great Lakes area.
The heyday of the wooden bulk carrier came during the 1870s and 1880s, this type of vessel having developed from the small combination passenger and package freight ships which had been so common on the lakes during the two previous decades. These earlier steamers had done a good job of moving people and their personal goods as well as general cargo, but they were not suitable for moving large quantities of bulk materials such as coal and iron ore. It was evident that the economical movement of raw materials in bulk was essential to the commercial development of the lakes area and a new type of vessel was needed to accomplish this task. Lake shippers and shipbuilders developed what came to be known as the "steam barge", a relatively small wooden-hulled boat with pilothouse forward, engine aft, and large cargo hold(s) amidships. The prototype of this kind of vessel is generally considered to have been the 211-foot R. J. HACKETT which was built in 1869 at Cleveland for the Vulcan Transportation Company, although no discussion of the advent of the steam barge would be complete without mention of the 233-foot V. H. KETCHUM built in 1874 at Marine City for the Toledo and Saginaw Transportation Company. Originally laid down as a schooner barge, this vessel was completed as a steamer.
But by the time the 1890s rolled around, the day of the wooden bulk carrier was drawing to a close. First iron and then steel-hulled boats had come into favour and, by the last decade of the old century, it was realized that the steel hull was here to stay. Steel lakers could be built to larger dimensions than their forebears, enabling them to carry more cargo, and could more easily withstand the rigours of operation in all kinds of weather. Be this as it may, there were still many of the wooden ships in operation and some of the smaller operators were forced to continue with this type of vessel for a few more years because they were unable to afford the cost of building steel hulls. In addition, these boats were still economically viable in certain trades, such as the carriage of lumber, which took them into some of the smaller lake ports.
Christened LLOYD S. PORTER in honour of the infant son of John W. Porter, a local gentleman, the vessel was launched successfully at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 11, 1893. The Port Huron populace turned out in force and lined the banks of the Black River to watch as LLOYD S. PORTER slid sideways into its murky waters. As in the case of many of the wooden steamers, she was nearly complete when launched.
The Jenks interests had intended to sell the PORTER on completion, but the economy was in a depressed state in 1893 and no buyer came forward. Consequently, she was placed in service by the affiliated Jenks Steamship Company of Port Huron, and remained under its management until 1898, operating mainly in the lumber trade. By that time, however, the Spanish-American war was making heavy demands on American shipping capabilities and a number of lake vessel operators were sending ships to the east coast for salt water service. Almost any ship that could be pressed into service for the war effort was taken east and LLOYD S. PORTER was no exception, despite her wooden construction which hardly made her suitable for operation on the open ocean. In early October, 1898, the PORTER headed east, but her first venture towards salt water was not to prove to be a happy one, nor was she destined to contribute to the war effort.
"The steamer TURRET AGE, Captain Brady, of the Black Diamond Steamship Line, which arrived at Montreal on Tuesday, October 25, 1898, reported that she had collided with the American steam barge LLOYD S. PORTER near Ste. Croix, about 40 miles above Quebec City, on Sunday night, October 23. The PORTER, which struck full across her bows, filled rapidly and sank in five minutes. Only her masts and wheel house are above water. No lives were lost. Captain Snow of the PORTER and about eleven of the crew escaped in a lifeboat and landed on the north shore a short distance above the village of Ste. Croix. The five remaining crewmen and the pilot, J. B. Labranche, climbed the masts and were rescued by a lifeboat from the TURRET AGE. The PORTER was bound from Port Huron to New York and had left Montreal on Saturday, October 22. She lies in about 60 feet of water and will probably be raised."
In point of fact, TURRET AGE was actually owned by the Turret Steam Shipping Company Ltd. (Petersen, Tate and Company), Newcastle, and was chartered to Black Diamond. She was generally similar in design to the various turret-type steamers which traded into the lakes at the turn of the century.
The same newspaper, in its edition of Saturday, November 12, 1898, reported that the Donnelly Wrecking and Salvage Company of Kingston, Ontario, had begun salvage operations. A further report in the same paper, dated September 2, 1899, stated that the PORTER had been raised. The steamer was towed to drydock after being raised and, in due course of time, was rebuilt.
As a result of the government investigation of the collision, as well as subsequent legal proceedings, the owners of the PORTER were awarded damages amounting to $45,000. The Canadian Railway and Marine World stated that the award went to A. W. Hepburn, a well-known Lake Ontario vessel operator, but this information does not seem to match the official records. The accident occurred late in 1898 but Hepburn did not become the registered owner of LLOYD S. PORTER until 1901.
In any event, the PORTER was acquired in 1901 by Arthur W. Hepburn's Ontario and Quebec Navigation Company Ltd., Picton, Ontario. She gave up her American registry (U.S.141264) and was reregistered at Picton, being placed on the Canadian books as C.94927. The Canadian official records showed her dimensions as 159.7 x 29.5 x 10.7, 489 Gross and 379 Net. For the next dozen years, she served Hepburn well, operating mainly in the coal trade between the lower lakes and Montreal.
The second major accident to befall LLOYD S. PORTER occurred on October 13, 1912. The PORTER was downbound in Lake Erie at the time and had the wooden schooner barge MARENGO in tow. This latter vessel was owned by the Pittsburgh and Erie Coal Company of Erie, Pennsylvania, and had on board a cargo of soft coal which she had loaded at Erie for delivery to Montreal. It is to be assumed that the PORTER had a similar cargo. In any event, the tow ran into trouble in a dense fog which was blanketing the eastern end of the lake, and the steamer and barge missed the entrance to Port Colborne harbour. The two vessels went hard ashore at Morgan's Point, about six miles west of Port Colborne. Efforts to free the PORTER were successful and she was refloated without damage, but salvage tugs were unable to haul the MARENGO from the beach before she went to pieces in heavy weather. There was no loss of life in the accident but barge and cargo were a total loss. The MARENGO was uninsured and was valued at approximately $6,000.
The Hepburn ownership of LLOYD S. PORTER came to an end the next year, for it was early in 1913 that control of the Ontario and Quebec Navigation Company Ltd. was acquired by a Toronto syndicate headed by Aemelius Jarvis. Then, in June of the same year, Ontario and Quebec was absorbed into the newly-formed Canada Transportation Company Ltd. which was soon rechristened Canada Steamship Lines Ltd. It was in this manner that LLOYD S. PORTER came under the C.S.L. houseflag, but she was not to fly it for long.
The old wooden steamers tended to be rather accident-prone, for as they grew older, they tended to soften up and were more susceptible to damage through the stresses of canalling and the vagaries of the weather. The little PORTER was no exception and the third major accident of her life occurred only a few months after she joined the C.S.L. fleet. On September 13th, 1913, the steamer was downbound in the Welland Canal with yet another load of coal for Montreal. Near the town of Port Robinson, the PORTER met the wooden bulk carrier FAIRFAX which was upbound light. For reasons unknown, the pass was not accomplished in the normal manner and the two boats struck head-on. FAIRFAX received severe damage to her bow but she remained afloat. The PORTER, however, was not so lucky and took on water rapidly. She soon settled to the bottom of the canal.
The Dominion government, quite naturally, was not enthusiastic over the prospect of having the PORTER remain for long on the canal bottom and wished to have her removed immediately. A salvage contract was let to the Reid Wrecking Company of Sarnia, which sent its lighter MANISTIQUE to the scene. LLOYD S. PORTER was duly raised and was taken to drydock for repair and an extensive refit. She returned to service in 1914 under the ownership of Alphonse A. Larocque of Montreal who was the operating manager of the Sincennes-McNaughton Line Ltd., Montreal. She remained in the coal trade and was operated as a part of the Sin-Mac fleet.
As may readily be imagined, fire was the scourge of the wooden lakers and many of them succumbed to this peril. On May 10th, 1917, LLOYD S. PORTER and another wooden steam barge, CONGERCOAL, were moored alongside the coal trestle at North Fairhaven, New York. The PORTER was taking on a load of coal for delivery to Montreal when fire broke out. Nothing could be done to extinguish the flames and both steamers were destroyed.
LLOYD S. PORTER had served her various owners for twenty-five years, not a short lifetime for a ship of her type. Many of the steam barges had considerably shorter careers, falling victim to a multitude of perils. That she managed to survive at least one stranding (and probably more) and two sinkings was testimony to the skill of the Jenks shipbuilders.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.