For almost two decades, a familiar sight around the upper lakes was the big self-unloading barge MARQUIS ROEN (II), owned by the Roen Steamship Company of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. This vessel, (a) ROBERT W. E. BUNSEN (54), had been built in 1900 as Hull 40 of the Chicago Shipbuilding Company for Rockefeller's Bessemer Steamship Company which was absorbed in 1901 by the newly-formed Pittsburgh Steamship Company of the United States Steel Corporation.
In December of 1953, Pittsburgh sold the BUNSEN to Captain John Roen who converted her to a crane barge at Sturgeon Bay during 1954. In 1957, she also received a self-unloading rig with conveyor, A-frame, and unloading boom, this gear making her an even more appropriate boat to serve Roen's needs. She was normally towed by Roen's big diesel tug JOHN ROEN IV. Incidentally, MARQUIS ROEN was named for the son of Capt. John Roen.
The Captain passed away in 1970 and, thereafter, his estate gradually disposed of the fleet which he had created. Both JOHN ROEN IV and MARQUIS ROEN were sold to the Indian Towing Company of New Orleans, Louisiana, and they passed down the Welland Canal on June 20, 1973, en route to their new home. Since that time, we had managed to lose track of both boats, but at least one of the lost has now been found.
On April 22, 1980, Ye Editor was aboard the steamer DELTA QUEEN, upbound from New Orleans for Cincinnati. Having just negotiated the turn around Point Houmas in the Mississippi River, some 55 miles below Baton Rouge, Louisiana, we spotted a familiar hull which, in fact, proved to be MARQUIS ROEN. She was lying along the left bank (descending) of the river at about Mile 173.0, close to the town of St. Elmo and opposite Donaldsonville, La.
MARQUIS ROEN, or whatever she may now be called, is a sorry sight indeed. She has obviously not been painted since she left the lakes and her name only barely appears from beneath the rust which encrusts her. Her forward cabins have been removed, while her after cabin appears intact even though the stack has long since gone. Her cranes are still on deck, although the A-frame and unloading boom have disappeared. Large rubber fenders are hung down her port side, no doubt as protection from the nudges of vessels which may moor alongside for loading or unloading.
The ROEN appears to be permanently moored in this rather strange location and we know not what cargoes she may handle for the salt water vessels which frequent the Mississippi River in this area. Nevertheless, despite her less-than-pristine condition, she is still used, for a number of persons could be observed on her deck and about the after cabin. We are pleased that she is still in existence and that we had the opportunity to observe her, but it is a bit disheartening to see her in such condition, especially when it is compared with the manner in which Roen maintained her during her latter years on the Great Lakes.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.