The early 1920s were the years that saw the proliferation on the Great Lakes of the self-unloader, that hybrid type of vessel which once was a great rarity but which has since taken over a very sizeable chunk of the lake shipping business. The self-unloading bulk carrier is able to carry a wide variety of cargoes and to discharge them almost anywhere without the assistance of expensive and awkward shore-mounted machinery. Brown Hoists and Huletts were great inventions in their day, but their usefulness has not endured in the same manner as has the ship-mounted self-unloading rig.
Self-unloaders have taken many forms over the years and we are now seeing even more configurations of design as lakers become larger and more diverse in their trades. The very first self-unloading steamers were conversions from ordinary bulk carriers, various unloading rigs having been added to them, sometimes in an effort to extend the lives of ships that otherwise might have been nearing their end. As the years passed, however, more and more vessels were built with hoppered holds and unloading machinery.
One of the earliest lakers to be equipped with her own unloading machinery was the wooden-hulled bulk carrier HENNEPIN (I), (a) GEORGE H. DYER SR., which was built in 1888 at Milwaukee and converted in 1902 so that she could carry stone for the Lake Shore Stone Company from its quarry at Port Washington to Milwaukee. The first laker to be built with unloading equipment of a type which we would recognize today was the famous WYANDOTTE (I), built in 1908 at Ecorse by the Great Lakes Engineering Works. She was built for the Michigan Alkali Company and was later transferred to the Wyandotte Transportation Company, for which she served until her scrapping in 1967.
In 1924, Steamships Limited of Montreal, a subsidiary of Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., placed an order with Vickers Limited of Barrow-in-Furness, England, for the construction of a self-unloading steamer of canal dimensions, the intention being that she would be operated by C.S.L. for the Century Coal Company Ltd., another C.S.L. subsidiary. Built as the yard's Hull 610, she measured 249.2 feet in length, 43.2 feet in the beam, and 18.3 feet in depth, her tonnage registered as 1858 Gross and 930 Net. Her overall length was 258.0 feet, the maximum that could be squeezed into the locks of the old canals. She was powered not by the usual triple-expansion engine which was, by then, the accepted motive power of most steam canallers, but rather by a compound engine with cylinders of 24 and 48 inches and a stroke of 36 inches. Steam at 140 p.s.i. was produced by two coal-fired single-ended vertical cylindrical boilers which measured 13 feet by 11 feet. The builders guaranteed a speed of 9 1/2 knots on 850 I.H.P., the engine turning at 85 r.p.m. Most records confirm that the machinery was all built for the ship in 1924, the engine by Vickers and the boilers by MacColl and Pollock Ltd. To confuse the issue, however, the latter-day records of the American Bureau of Shipping managed to reverse these two bits of information and have thus seen to the perpetuation of erroneous material.
The steamer was launched in 1924 and was, in due course, delivered to her owner. She was enrolled at Montreal as C.147662 and was christened COLLIER NO. 1, a name rather appropriate for her intended service in the lake coal trade. The name would also tend to indicate that Century Coal hoped, should COLLIER NO. 1 prove successful, to build a number of similar ships, presumably with names running onwards in sequence. This never came to pass and the steamer was forever an oddity in the C.S.L. fleet.
COLLIER NO. 1 was not dissimilar in general design from many of the other canallers of her day. Typically, she had a half-forecastle and a flush quarterdeck. On the forecastle was located a large texas cabin containing the master's quarters, and atop this was a beautiful teakwood pilothouse finished in natural style. She had a substantial after cabin from which sprouted a rather well-proportioned but unraked stack. The fairly heavy mainmast rose abaft the funnel while the small pole foremast protruded right through the pilothouse. Strangely enough, she differed from most other canallers in that her bridge deck, boat deck and pilothouse roof were all wood-planked rather than built of steel plate. COLLIER NO. 1 was not painted in the usual C.S.L. colours but rather, as the fleet's first true self-unloader, she inaugurated special colours incorporating a black hull and forecastle, white cabins (except the varnished pilothouse) and the normal red, white and black stack design. In addition, she carried the legend "Century Coal Company Limited" in large white letters down her sides.
The authoritative "Canadian Railway and Marine World" stated in its issue of May 1924 that COLLIER NO. 1 was built to operate in the coal trade between United States ports and Fort William, and that she would be able to unload a full cargo of approximately 2,800 tons in six hours, or at a rate of about 500 tons per hour, "with little manual labour"! The September issue reported that COLLIER NO. 1 had received a new steering gear at Canadian Vickers Ltd. in Montreal during July, shortly after her arrival in Canada.
All period reports indicate that COLLIER NO. 1 was designed and built to be a self-unloader. When she crossed the Atlantic, however, she was in possession of her gantry frame but the unloading machinery itself had not yet been installed. In fact, she may have operated for a short time after her arrival, still without her machinery but carrying mainly coal and grain. We have no confirmation of when the equipment was actually installed, but it is possible that the work was done over the winter of 1924-25 whilst the steamer was laid up at Port Arthur. The machinery, manufactured by the Canadian Mead Morrison Company Ltd., was essentially similar to that fitted aboard the sandsucker CHARLES DICK.
The unloader was indeed primitive when compared with the equipment installed in lake vessels today. Nevertheless, it served its purpose, although it was sufficiently awkward that the design was not repeated. Basically, the structure consisted of a gantry frame whose two longitudinal sections, mounted on a central "tower", were supported by end braces and by three intermediate arches each. A small trolley, moved by cables from a steam winch on deck, ran along the frame and, suspended beneath it, was a clamshell used to scoop the cargo out of the holds. (Each of the two holds was covered by continuous wooden hatchcovers, 24 by 64 feet.) The clam carried the coal to a hopper located amidships beneath the operator's cabin. The cargo was then discharged over the side on a boom, fitted with a conveyor belt, which was hinged on the central part of the frame on the starboard side. The boom could be swung either forward or aft; early photos and plans show that it was normally stowed in the forward position, but in later years she could be seen with the boom swung aft whilst the vessel was running. The machinery was, apparently, not too successful as it was originally installed. The bulky equipment got in the way of the coal-dumping shutes at the loading docks and this made the loading of the vessel quite difficult. Accordingly, the rig was soon altered to facilitate loading. The frame's central tower was extended upwards and, three of the four supporting braces removed from beneath each arm of the gantry, the longitudinal sections were hinged so that they could be raised by means of cables running over pulleys on the tower, thus leaving the deck area unobstructed about the hatches. Thereafter, the steamer ran through to the end of her career with no other significant changes in the unloading equipment.
The July 1925 issue of "Canadian Railway and Marine World" confirmed that COLLIER NO. 1 was being operated by C.S.L. on the account of the Century Coal Company Ltd., the article stating further that she "will be engaged in carrying coal from Lake Erie and Lake Ontario ports to Toronto, Port Stanley, Kingston and other ports. She may also be operated in the grain trade at times between Port Colborne and Montreal. It is expected that she will carry approximately 150,000 tons of coal to Port Stanley during 1925 to be forwarded over the London and Port Stanley Railway." The L&PS was one of Ontario's most famous electrified railroads, operating freight and passenger services in the heart of southwestern Ontario. Imported via its rails from Port Stanley was much of the steam coal used not only in the city of London but also by the major steam railroads.
COLLIER NO. 1 carried on with her usual duties, mainly in the coal trade, without change until 1928. At that time, her name was shortened to COLLIER, the name that she was to carry through to the end of her career. The change appears to have indicated that C.S.L., although committed to having self-unloading canallers in its fleet, was not prepared to construct any further vessels of her particular type. Nevertheless, COLLIER was not an unsuccessful experiment and, despite her ungainly equipment, she was to serve C.S.L. in the coal trade, normally on Lake Ontario, until the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway rendered uneconomical the operation of steamers of her small size.
COLLIER's life was comparatively uneventful, unmarred as it was by any serious collisions or strandings. On November 17, 1933. however, she came so close to meeting an untimely end that her escape from the clutches of the elements put her in the news and, for perhaps the only time in her workaday lifetime, her photograph appeared in the daily papers.
Anyone who thinks that Lake Ontario cannot dish out its own share of hell for those who sail it, is sadly mistaken and has not witnessed the power of an Ontario "blow". COLLIER, sailing from Charlotte for Toronto on November 16 with one of her innumerable loads of coal, encountered bad weather from the moment that she cleared the mouth of the Genesee River. First Officer E. Jones remarked that "when we left Charlotte, there was steam all over the water; the visibility was terrible and, from then on, it got worse". He commented further that "if we had got into a trough, we would have been in great danger. As it was, we headed straight into it and the waves were breaking right over the top of our rigging. We had about 18 inches of water in the rooms below decks and every member of the crew was on watch all the time bailing her out."
With all hands bailing out the accommodations and with the engineroom crew fighting to keep up COLLIER's head of steam lest she lose her steerageway, Capt. Reg. Belcher and the first mate busied themselves chopping ice from the pilothouse windows so that they might see their way through the storm. Taking turns at this task, they eventually broke one of the windows, maintaining what visibility they could with the rest of the wheelhouse coated in ice at least six inches in thickness. COLLIER's head had to be kept up into the teeth of the gale for fear of what would happen if, with so much weight carried above deck level in her unloading rig, she fell off into the trough and began rolling.
At last, sheathed in ice and having averaged something less than two knots per hour into the storm, she arrived at Toronto on November 17, more than 12 hours overdue on her 86-mile trip. She tied up at the Century Coal dock on Cherry Street and there unloaded her cargo. Despite her harrowing journey across the lake, her labours for the year were not ended and she headed back out into the lake, making some three more trips back to Toronto from Charlotte before laying up in Toronto Harbour for the winter.
COLLIER continued to serve C.S.L. well for many years, long after she lost the Century Coal "billboards" on her sides. As the 1950s wore on, however, and as the opening of the Seaway drew nearer, it became evident that COLLIER was no longer economical to operate, despite her position as a specialty carrier. The less-viable canallers began to drop out of service even before the new canals were opened and COLLIER was one of them; she laid up at Kingston in December of 1957. it being then thought that she would not fit out again. The press reported in May of 1958 that she was to be rebuilt to receive the self-unloading A-frame, elevator, boom, etc. recently removed from GLENELG (which had been converted to a cement carrier), but we doubt that C.S.L. ever seriously considered any such scheme.
When the contract was filled, however, C.S.L. had no further use for the venerable COLLIER and she was laid up in a slip at Kingston where she was joined by the retired package freighters CANADIAN, CITY OF HAMILTON, CITY OF KINGSTON, CITY OF MONTREAL and CITY OF TORONTO. None of these steamers would ever again turn a wheel and all eventually found their way to the scrapyard. COLLIER remained at Kingston until November 1959, when she was sold to the Steel Company of Canada Ltd. for scrapping at Hamilton.
During the night of November 25-26, 1959, COLLIER left Kingston in tow of the Toronto Towing and Salvage Company Ltd. steam tugs H.J.D. NO. 1 and J. C. STEWART, but it was soon found that Lake Ontario was kicking up a sizeable swell and was too rough for the trip. COLLIER was anchored for the night and the tugs returned to Kingston for shelter. Left alone out on the lake, COLLIER dragged her hooks and went ashore at Reed's Bay near the head of Wolfe Island. The Toronto tugs gave the tow up as a bad piece of business and returned to Toronto as soon as the weather moderated.
A contract for the salvage of COLLIER was awarded to the Pyke Towing and Salvage Company Ltd. which planned to remove the steamer's unloading gantry in order to lighten her sufficiently to refloat her. In February of 1960, however, she floated free without the removal of any of her equipment and she was then towed into the Cataraqui Elevator slip, arriving there on March 9. The tow up the lake was resumed shortly thereafter and COLLIER arrived at Hamilton on April 13, 1960, in tow of SALVAGE MONARCH. The hull was soon cut up in the Stelco scrap yard, much the same way as were the many other canallers which, having outlived their usefulness, finished their days under the Stelco cutting torches.
Part of COLLIER lived on for a further short period of time, however. While she was tucked away in the elevator slip at Kingston during the early spring of 1960, her texas cabin, pilothouse and stack were purchased by Bayswater Shipping Ltd. of Brockville, a small fleet of canallers which had been formed by George McKinnon Davidson in 1946 and which continued operations until it went into voluntary liquidation in 1967. In the spring of 1960, as COLLIER was lying at the Kingston elevator, Bayswater was the proud owner of three aging vessels. One was the 201-foot self-unloader BAYQUINTE, (a) FRANK C. OSBORN (43), (b) BAYFAX (56), a former sandsucker built in 1912 which, in her latter days, spent most of her time on short-haul work in the Bay of Quinte area. The largest carrier in the fleet was GEORGE S. GLEET (61), (a) IOCOMA (47), (b) IMPERIAL WHITBY (49), (d) BAYGEORGE, a full-sized self-unloading canaller which had been converted from an Imperial Oil tanker. She was later lengthened to increase her capacity even further.
The "Grand Old Lady" of the Bayswater fleet, however, was the veteran steamer BAYANNA, (a) ARAGON (46), a full-sized canaller built at Wyandotte back in 1896. She had been converted to a self-unloader in 1927 and was Bayswater's first ship, having been purchased by the company in 1946. BAYANNA looked every one of her years, if not considerably more, by the later stages of her career, for she was old-fashioned in every respect. Perhaps the most fascinating portion of her anatomy was her little wooden pilothouse which, complete with corner braces, squatted atop an equally quaint texas. The whole structure was, however, a bit loose after all the years and so it was secured to the forecastle by means of a cable which passed over the pilothouse roof and was secured to the deck on either side, turnbuckles being provided in case tightening should be necessary.
Nevertheless, BAYANNA was still of some use to Bayswater, the old girl having a bit of life left in her, and so the company saw the perfect opportunity to modernize the boat at minimal expense by using parts off COLLIER. The entire forward cabin was lifted off the C.S.L. steamer and moved over to the forecastle of BAYANNA. Bayswater, unfortunately, did not seem to appreciate the varnished look of the teakwood pilothouse and so it was painted white. It did, however, retain the unusual mast which grew right out of the middle of the pilothouse roof. In addition, BAYANNA was fitted with COLLIER's stack, complete with its chimed whistles; it replaced a smaller funnel which BAYANNA had sported for several years and was placed atop her rather quaint raised boilerhouse. It was then painted in its new owner's colours, black with a narrow white band between two blue bands.
Looking just a trifle more modern with COLLIER's face and funnel, BAYANNA operated through the 1960, 1961 and 1962 seasons. She probably would have hung on for a few more years as well, perhaps right through until the dissolution of the company, had it not been for her stranding near Deseronto in the Bay of Quinte on December 7, 1962. The late-season accident was serious enough that it brought the ship's career to an end and she was abandoned as a constructive total loss. The wreck was acquired by P. E. Larose of Williamsburg, Ontario, who successfully refloated BAYANNA on December 10, 1963. She was taken to Deseronto where, in May of 1964, her remains were gutted by fire. Scrapping operations were undertaken the same year and it did not take long to complete the dismantling of the old steamer.
And so, on Lake Ontario, where she spent so many of her years of operation, ended the service of the last vestiges of COLLIER. Her forward cabins and her stack survived longer than did her hull or her unusual unloading rig, but COLLIER still can be said to have enjoyed a successful career, one that undoubtedly turned a considerable profit for her owner.
(Ed. Note: For their assistance with the preparation of the COLLIER feature, we extend our thanks to James M. Kidd and to Capt. John Leonard. We also acknowledge the special assistance of Robert Campbell of Toronto who did much research for us and who managed to come up with copies of COLLIER's original plans and a description of the vessel published at the time of her construction.)
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.