During the last few years of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth, the steel-hulled ship came into her own on the Great Lakes and found a permanent place in the commerce of the area while taking over as the backbone of the shipping industry. As this momentous development occurred, the older wooden vessels were gradually relegated to positions of lesser importance in lake trade, hauling less prestigious cargoes into the smaller ports.
The new steel-hulled carriers, however, did carry on some of the traditions (architectural and otherwise) which had their beginnings in the years of the wooden steamers. One of these was the requirement that a vessel was to be operated from an open navigating bridge so that the officers on watch might have an unobstructed view of their surroundings, particularly whilst negotiating narrow channels. Although the wheelsman sometimes stood his watch on the open monkey's island as well, he was more frequently closeted within the enclosed pilothouse below, his orders relayed to him through a speaking tube or what was generally known as "the cussing box".
As a result, most of the "modern" steel freighters built around the turn of the century carried a small, round-fronted pilothouse which squatted directly atop the forecastle, immediately forward of the texas cabin (which contained the master's accommodations and dayroom). Atop the pilothouse, which usually carried either five or seven windows in its front but sometimes on a row of portholes, was located the open bridge. Its only shelter from the elements was provided by a canvas "dodger" or weathercloth and an awning above. The officers, who were forced to stand for long periods of time in such an exposed position, frequently sought comfort in cold weather by standing in barrels of straw. It was not uncommon for them to become frozen into these barrels so that they had to be chopped out when relieved of their watches.
As the years passed and navigation became somewhat more sophisticated, it was thought to be less than fashionable for a ship's officers to expose themselves to the baking sun of the summer and the rigours of November gales while piloting their vessel. As a result, enclosed upper pilothouses were added to most of these boats, placed where the open bridge had been before. In many cases, these new cabins were little more than ramshackle wooden "cages" but some of these ships eventually received rather classy, although necessarily somewhat less than spacious, upper pilothouses. Thereupon, the original lower pilothouse was relegated to use in some other capacity, perhaps as an observation room, although in later years this was often thought to be a suitable place to locate the gyrocompass, a rather sizable piece of equipment which otherwise would have cluttered up the wheelhouse itself. In most cases, the windows of the "lower" pilothouses were then plated up and portholes cut where the windows had been, this being a precaution against heavy weather damage.
The resulting structure came to be known as a "turret" pilothouse to differentiate it from the more modern structure in which a much larger pilothouse would be placed atop a large (sometimes squared) texas cabin containing the deck officers' accommodations and frequently some guest quarters. The "turret" pilothouse has now virtually disappeared from the Great Lakes, as most of the vessels that sported such structures have now been retired and scrapped, victims of the relentless passage of time.
We all remember such ships as ONTADOC (I), LACKAWANNA, and GEORGE G. CRAWFORD which sported "turret" pilothouses. There are a few inactive lakers which still have this type of forward cabin, among these being LIONEL PARSONS, THORNHILL, VALLEY CAMP, and C. H. McCULLOUGH JR., although the latter ship has had her lower cabin altered somewhat over the years. (We are excluding from consideration at this time those triple-deck bridge structures of the kind sported by WILLIAM P. SNYDER JR.; they are an entirely different animal and evolved in a different manner.)
A review of the current lake fleets indicates that, to the best of our knowledge, there are operating in 1979 only six vessels still equipped with turret-style forward cabins, the youngest of these boats now being 62 years old. As a quick quiz to help inaugurate Volume Twelve of "Scanner", we would like our readers to identify these six ships. As a small clue, we would venture the information that three of them now fly the Canadian flag, although all six were originally built for U.S. operators.
Please forward your answers to Ye Ed. as soon as possible. The correct listing of the six boats will appear in the November issue, which will come your way in due course, provided of course, that you have renewed your membership. (Hint, hint...)
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.