When Bob Dylan sang those words many years ago, he meant them to refer to something entirely different from the subjects that we normally cover in these pages. But they could certainly be applied to the lake shipping industry, where modern technology has managed to do away with so many of our old familiar vessels and replace them with much larger and more efficient, albeit considerably less interesting, carriers. And even those ships that have managed to survive from earlier years are now in danger of being done in by the recent downturn in economic conditions.
A look at the fleet of the United States Steel Corporation (it's now officially called the USS Great Lakes Fleet Inc.) in 1983 indicates that it is comprised of 31 vessels, but the majority of these are laid up and many of them will never sail again. In fact, no more than ten tinstackers have operated at any time during 1983, and that figure even includes the "Bradley" self-unloaders.
How times do change! It wasn't so very many years ago that U.S. Steel's Pittsburgh Steamship Company had by far and away the largest fleet of vessels on the American side of the lakes, and nobody thought that situation would ever change. The fleet contained a number of very interesting ships, but most of those have since departed from the scene, replaced by today's ugly but efficient supercarriers.
As an illustration of how much the fleet has changed, we present here the 1940 list of appointments for the Pittsburgh Steamship Company. You will note that the "Steel Trust" was operating exactly seventy boats that year and, as the U.S. had not yet entered the war, the fleet did not yet include any of the "Supers" or the Maritime-class steamers that would make the fleet even larger in just a few years. Not many years hence, however, many of the older vessels that were to be traded in to the Maritime Commission for newer tonnage would be scrapped, whilst other ships would be sold to other operators for a few short years of additional service before they, too, found their way to the scrapyard.
We do not usually publish vessel appointments in "Scanner", but we are including in this list the name of the master and chief engineer for each vessel, as many of our members have had connections with this fleet over the years and they may recognize the names of old acquaintances in the list. (The original report from which it has been taken includes as well the names of all the mates and assistant engineers, but we do not have space to include them all here .)
With the passage of 43 years, things have indeed changed considerably in the fleet. At the time of the appearance of this list, the "Bradley" self-unloaders were still operated completely separately, and hence there is no notation of the fact that JOHN G. MUNSON (I), T. W. ROBINSON, B. H. TAYLOR, CARL D. BRADLEY (II), CALCITE (I) and W. F. WHITE were all operating in Bradley grey.
As for the regular tinstackers, it is interesting to note that they are listed according to seniority. Hence, WILLIAM A. IRVIN was the flagship at the time. This is all the more notable in that the IRVIN is amongst the most recent group of six tinstackers rumoured to be for sale for scrap. IRVIN and her since-scrapped sistership GOVERNOR MILLER have been considered by many observers to be amongst the most handsome lake freighters ever built. It was on October 30, 1941, that Capt. Rolfson (the father of the Capt. Rolf-son that brought out ROGER BLOUGH) committed to the waters of Lake Superior, from the deck of WILLIAM A. IRVIN, the ashes of A. F. Harvey, the longtime president of the Pittsburgh Steamship Company.
The only ships in the list that are still operating for U.S. Steel are WILLIAM G. CLYDE (now CALCITE II) and MYRON C. TAYLOR, both of which became "Bradley" self-unloaders. IRVIN, WATSON, HULST, LAMONT, THOMAS, JOHNSON, AFFLECK, HATFIELD, PARGNY, WILLIAMS and ZIESING are all still owned by the fleet but none operated in 1983 and few, if any of them, ever will again.
B. FORD, while RICHARD V. LINDABURY (KINSMAN INDEPENDENT), WILLIAM A. McGONAGLE and WILLIAM B. DICKSON (MERLE M. McCURDY) all operated for Kinsman Lines this year. PETER A. B. WIDENER is a storage hull at Chicago and NORMAN B. REAM (KINSMAN ENTERPRISE) serves the same purpose at Port Huron. WILLIAM J. OLCOTT (GEORGE E. SEEDHOUSE) is a floating warehouse at Sturgeon Bay. THOMAS LYNCH (WIARTON) is a dock facing at Hamilton, WILLIAM E. COREY (RIDGETOWN) is a breakwater at Port Credit, and DOUGLASS HOUGHTON is part of the Ontario Place breakwater at Toronto. ROBERT W. E. BUNSEN, as the barge MARQUIS ROEN, is an unloading facility for salties in the Mississippi River below Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The rest of the ships have all been sold for scrapping at one time or another over the intervening four decades. All made it to the scrapyard except for D. G. KERR and HENRY C. FRICK (MICHIPICOTEN), both of which were lost in the North Atlantic during scrap tows. WILLIAM B. SCHILLER, although sold for scrap several years ago, still sits untouched at a Duluth scrapyard.
And so, things really do change with the passage of years, even if we tend not to notice the changes on a day-to-day basis. We cannot help but wonder what the U.S. Steel fleet will look like, if it even still exists then, after another forty-three years.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.