Elsewhere in this issue, we have mentioned the Midland Navigation Company Ltd. and have spoken briefly of the lake shipping operations of James Playfair. To tell the entire story of Playfair's ventures on the Great Lakes would take far more space than we have available now, but it seems appropriate to feature another of Playfair's boats as our Ship of the Month. The vessel we have chosen was not one of the better-known ships of Playfair's fleet and, in fact, served as such for but two years. Indeed, her entire career was neither particularly long nor, except at the beginning, overly successful.
In order to set the stage for the construction of this vessel, we must go back to the 1880s, a period during which the transportation of iron ore by water was developing very quickly. A group of gentlemen, including Charlemagne Tower, Jr., Colonel James Pickands, Samuel Mather and Jay C. Morse, had joined forces to form the Minnesota Iron Mining Company to develop the Vermilion Iron Range of Minnesota. The holdings of the company were later extended to include the Mesabi Range.
Minnesota organized a subsidiary to carry its ore by water to the mills and, on September 3, 1889, the Minnesota Steamship Company was formed, its incorporators being James H. Hoyt, C. A. Neff, H. S. Sherman, A. C. Dustin and J. M. Shallenberger. The company's first board of directors was composed of Jay C. Morse, C. P. Coffin, C. W. Hillard, Col. James Pickands, J. H. Chandler, H. H. Porter and William R. Stirling. In 1890, the operation and management of the Minnesota Steamship Company was assumed by Pickands Mather and Company, Cleveland.
They were the first ships actually owned by the Minnesota Steamship Company and they set the pattern for the naming of its boats which was to continue until the fleet was acquired by other interests. All Minnesota vessels, steamers and barges alike, bore names beginning with 'MA' and ending with 'A'. Many of the names originated in the Pacific islands.
MATOA, as built, was 290.6 feet in length, 40.3 feet in the beam and 21.1 feet in depth, these dimensions giving her tonnage of 2311 Gross and 1836 Net. She was powered by a triple-expansion engine with cylinders of 24, 38 and 6l inches and a stroke of 42 inches. Steam was provided by two coal-fired Scotch boilers measuring 14' x 12'6". MATOA was enrolled at Cleveland as U.S.99204.
MATOA was typical of the early steel lakers, built at a time when the appearance of a ship meant as much to her owner as did her cargo capacity, and accordingly she looked very racy. MATOA was given a great sweeping sheer and she carried her bow very high, especially when running light. She had a full forecastle on which were carried her two large anchors, their chains running up from hawsepipes just below the shelter deck and their stocks protruding from the short section of enclosed forecastle rail on either side of her steering pole.
The steamer's bridge structure was carried on deck, one hatch intervening between it and the forecastle. A large, square texas was surmounted by the master's quarters and also by the pilothouse, the latter being set a half-deck above the texas. The pilothouse, as might be expected, was topped by an open bridge. Aft was a large cabin containing accommodations, and at its forward end was an indented boilerhouse. The stack was unusually squat and thick for the day and its top was cut parallel to the water. This funnel was heavily raked as was the single mast located immediately behind the pilothouse.
Another feature contributing to MATOA's striking appearance was the closed rail which ran completely around the shelter deck and which was matched by the parallel strakes which followed the line of the sheer down each side. There were also squared timber fenders which hung downwards from the deck and which, when she ran at speed whilst loaded, dragged in the water to kick up bursts of spray. These fenders were more commonly used on passenger steamers than on freighters but their use on MATOA and her sisters indicated the degree of care lavished on these boats by the Minnesota management. MATOA was painted in the usual Minnesota colours with black hull and rail, white cabins and upper forecastle, and black stack with a white triangle on which appeared the letter 'M' in red.
MATOA and her sisters operated very successfully for Minnesota, although as the expertise of both shippers and shipbuilders improved, several series of more modern steamers and barges were added to the fleet. This process of modernization reached its zenith with the addition in 1899 of the steamers MAUNALOA, PENNSYLVANIA (b) MATAAFA and TEXAS (b) MALIETOA, and in 1899 and 1900 of the large barges MANILA, MADEIRA and MARSALA.
Major changes were coming, however, for J. Pierpont Morgan and associates were in the process of assembling a gigantic corporate entity which for many years would dominate the steel business in the United States. It was in 1900 that Morgan's Federal Steel Company absorbed the Minnesota Iron Mining Company and, the following year, Federal itself was involved in the larger consolidation which formed the United States Steel Corporation. In 1901, the Minnesota Steamship Company was taken over by the Pittsburgh Steamship Company, the lake shipping arm of U.S. Steel, and its boats took on the colours of the larger firm, namely green hull, straw-coloured cabins, and all-silver stack. By 1905, the stack had developed a black smokeband, the hull had become red and the cabins white. At the time of the merger in 1901, MATOA and her Minnesota mates exchanged their registry port of Cleveland for that of Duluth.
MATOA put in more than a dozen good years with the "Steel Trust" but, by the beginning of the second decade of the new century, she had been far surpassed in capacity and appointments by the 500 and 600-foot steamers which had come to dominate the ore trade. Most of the ships of MATOA's vintage were sold off to other operators, some to be sent to salt water during the war, and a few destined never to return to the lakes.
It was not to be, however, that MATOA would remain with the fleet long enough to be sold off in such a manner. On Sunday, November 9. 1913, MATOA was upbound in Lake Huron with a cargo of coal. Suddenly, she found herself in the middle of the cyclonic fury which has since come to be known as The Great Storm. Fortunately for MATOA and her crew, she was not swallowed up without trace on the open lake but instead suffered the indignity of being blown hard ashore at Pointe aux Barques. Abandoned as a total loss, the steamer herself was uninsured and was valued at the time at $117,900. The cargo of 3,104 gross tons of coal was insured for $12,000.
MATOA was abandoned by her owners and the job of salving the remains was undertaken by the indomitable Tom Reid and his Reid Wrecking Company of Sarnia and Port Huron. Reid, it is alleged, purchased the wreck and cargo for $2,500 when it became evident that no other salvor was interested in the apparently hopeless task of removing her from the rocks on which she was pinned. MATOA was successfully refloated in 1914 and was taken to the Port Huron shipyard of the Reid and Sons Dry Dock Company where she was rebuilt. It was at this time that MATOA was given an after mast, a fairly tall pole which was set forward of the stack but which was much less raked than was the stack itself. It was also at this time that a portion of the after cabin was closed in by means of an extension of the bulwark up to the level of the boat deck. The closed bulwark down the sides of the deck (except for the sections running around the after cabin and from the break of the forecastle back to the bridge) had been removed. It is likely that this rail had disappeared some years previously, as it was not suitable for an ore boat to have her deck enclosed by such a rail which would make the cleaning of the deck into a major task.
The Reid organization, however, was a wrecking firm, not a shipping company, and a buyer was sought for MATOA once she was back in operable condition. In 1915, there being considerable demand for additional tonnage on the east coast during the war years, MATOA was purchased by the Warren Transportation Company (George Warren and Company Inc.) of Boston, Massachusetts. Warren was engaged in the coal trade and he wanted MATOA to haul coal on the coast for him. Warren paid $75,000 for the ship and Reid contracted to get her out of the lakes. She was cut in two at the Reid drydock in Port Huron for the trip down the canals. The stern section departing first (complete with steam raised to operate the pumps), and with the bow following closely behind in tow of the big tug S. M. FISCHER, the two halves travelled in convoy, a most unusual sight as photographs of the event clearly indicate. The sections were rejoined at the Montreal yard of Canadian Vickers Ltd. and MATOA, with no change of name, set off for Boston and her new duties.
MATOA operated through the war years and managed to withstand the rigours of enemy action as well as the nasty weather and sea conditions usual to the North Atlantic. While on the coast, she was given a new stack, taller and thinner than the old and with less rake to it. She also acquired a new square pilothouse and officers' cabin behind it. The new wheelhouse had but three windows in its face and was set off in a rather unusual manner by its prominent bridgewings which joined in a catwalk running across in front of the cabin.
Warren continued to operate MATOA after the close of the war and it was not until 1923 that she was sold. As luck would have it, James Playfair was at that time actively engaged in lake shipping and was seeking extra tonnage for his fleet. He located MATOA on the east coast and purchased her for his Great Lakes Transportation Company Ltd., Midland. She was taken up the coast and the St. Lawrence and was once again put in the Vickers drydock, this time to be cut apart for the return to the lakes. The two halves were taken up the canals and then to the yard of the Collingwood Shipbuilding Company, the stern section being towed by the tug STRATHBOGIE and the bow by SARNIA CITY.
MATOA was placed in drydock at Collingwood in 1923 and rejoined, an extra piece being added in the process so that her length was increased to 326 feet and her tonnage to 2723 Gross and 1538 Net. Her mainmast was moved to a position abaft the stack and a large wooden rail was built around the bunker hatch atop the boilerhouse. She was repainted in Playfair's usual (and very attractive) colours, featuring a grey hull, white forecastle and cabins, and crimson stack with a black smokeband. Reregistered at Midland as C.151587, she was renamed (b) GLENRIG. James Playfair had a penchant for naming his vessels after places in his native Scotland.
The Great Lakes Transportation Company Ltd. operated GLENRIG and the many other Playfair steamers during 1924 but changes came in 1925 for the firm which, we might mention, was principally backed by the Valley Camp Coal Company. During 1925, the fleet's canallers were transferred to the George Hall Coal and Shipping Corporation of Montreal, while the Great Lakes Navigation Company Ltd. was formed to operate GLENRIG and the other upper lakers. The fleet colours remained the same and there was no outward change in the appearance of the boats or their style of operation.
Things were not to remain static for long, however, for on April 16, 1926, the Great Lakes Navigation Company Ltd. was absorbed by Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., Montreal. Of course, this was not the first time that a Playfair fleet had been absorbed into C.S.L. In any event, GLENRIG, after having worn Playfair colours for only two years, was given the usual C.S.L. livery and was renamed (c) HUGUENOT. It is something of a mystery why the steamer was given this odd name. The reference is to the term applied to the Protestants of France during the lengthy religious struggles of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but what connection there was with the ship can now be nothing but conjecture on our part. Even during the years of the First World War MATOA, as she was then known, was busy on the east coast coal run and it is unlikely that she ever strayed much from that service, much less cross the Atlantic to France from whence such a name might come.
HUGUENOT operated only slightly longer for C.S.L. than she had for Playfair. During her fourth year of C.S.L. service, the Great Depression set in and it was not long until she and many other vessels of the fleet were sent to the wall where they were to rest for many years to come. HUGUENOT was no longer young and she was anything but a modern ship. In addition, even though she had been lengthened, she was inefficient to operate considering her small capacity. Accordingly, she remained idle all through the Depression years, whereas some of the more modern upper lakers did see at least minimal service from time to time.
Through the Depression, HUGUENOT, along with PORTSMOUTH, VALCARTIER, SASKATCHEWAN and BRENTWOOD, lay at the old shipyard in Midland harbour. None of these steamers would ever operate again and, in the early spring of 1937, they and seventeen other obsolete C.S.L. boats were sold for scrapping. HUGUENOT was sold to an Ontario buyer who subsequently resold her to breakers in Wisconsin. She was towed to Sturgeon Bay by the wrecking steamer MAPLECOURT and there she was broken up along with some of her superannuated mates.
The builders at the Globe Iron Works in Cleveland back in 1890 had done a good job when they built MATOA, but neither they nor the vessel operators of the day could have been expected to foresee the rapid developments in ship design that would make a boat such as MATOA/GLENRIG/HUGUENOT obsolete in such a very few years.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.