Late on the evening of October 31st, a most unusual accident occurred at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. At about 11:00 p.m., the vertical lift span of the railroad bridge which crosses the St. Mary's Falls Canal above the Soo Locks was being lowered to permit the crossing of a freight train. Somehow, the lift span left its guide tracks when the bridge was about half-way down, and swung some four feet away from its normal alignment with its towers. As well, the south end of the span slipped further downward than the north end, with the result that, when the bridge came to rest, it was slanted on an angle of nearly fifteen degrees. Until repairs could be made, access to the Poe and MacArthur Locks was blocked to all vessels. The Davis Lock was pressed into service as a replacement, but its limited width and depth severely restricted the size of vessel that could pass through the canal. Then, on November 2nd, with the vertical lift bridge still unserviceable, the double jack-knife section of the bridge that crosses the head of the Davis and Sabin Locks became frozen in the closed position, trapping OAKGLEN in the lock and bringing all traffic on the canal to a standstill. That problem was rectified quickly, and on November 2nd the vertical lift section of the bridge was also reopened. In the meantime, some eighteen large vessels had been delayed in transitting the canal.
It is extremely unusual that the Great Lakes should suffer two major bridge problems in less than a month, but this is exactly what has happened. On November 21st, the vertical lift railroad and highway bridge that crosses the St. Lawrence Seaway at Valleyfield, Quebec, some 38 miles upstream from Montreal, became stuck whilst partially raised. Major structural damage to the bridge was detected and preliminary investigation indicated that repairs might take three or four days. Subsequent examination of the structure indicated that the damage was far more severe than earlier thought, and it was then suggested that repairs would take in excess of two weeks. With such a lengthy delay expected in putting the bridge into operational condition, and with water temperatures in the Seaway dropping rapidly, it was feared that many lakers would be trapped for the winter in the canals, or in ports other than those in which they had been scheduled to winter. Even worse, eighty-seven salt-water ships were trapped in the lakes, with the prospect of spending the winter there if the Seaway could not be reopened. At the time of this writing, the Seaway Authority was not expecting shipping to resume on the Seaway until at least December 7th. Shippers are estimating their losses in the multi-million-dollar range, and the Seaway Authority is contemplating extending the Seaway's season as long as weather conditions permit in order to give all ships the opportunity to clear the system.
One of the major effects of the Valleyfield bridge blockade has been to cast doubt on the ability of H.M.C.S. HURON to clear the lakes before the closing of navigation. HURON, a Canadian naval destroyer, has been undergoing a major refit during the autumn at Port Weller Dry Docks. One of the terms of the contract was that HURON'S refit must be finished in time to get her out of the Seaway before winter. The Canadian government has always shied away from giving naval ship repair contracts to lake yards to avoid the possibility of a warship becoming trapped in the lakes (through enemy action, or whatever) when needed elsewhere. The awarding of the HURON contract to Port Weller raised the hopes of all Canadian shipyards on the lakes that more such work might be forthcoming in the future. If HURON cannot be got out of the lakes this autumn, those hopes will almost certainly be dashed. In fact, the work on HURON was completed in late November and, since then, she has been awaiting downbound passage through the Seaway.
The Shediac Bulk Shipping Ltd. tanker SEAWAY TRADER, (a) IMPERIAL COLLINGWOOD (79), made a surprise stop at the Eisenhower Lock in the St. Lawrence Seaway on November 2nd. Allegedly suffering from engine troubles, the motorship tied up at the cells above the lock and was still there, undergoing repairs, on November 12.
During 1984, it became increasingly evident that the Cleveland-Cliffs Steamship Company was intending to dispose of its Great Lakes fleet. Indeed, the company announced plans to sell all of its idle vessels, and the only ships of its once-large fleet that operated in 1984 were the self-unloaders WALTER A. STERLING and EDWARD B. GREENE, both of which spent much of the season in the ore trade for the Rouge Steel Company. In October, Rouge Steel signed a letter of intent to purchase both GREENE and STERLING, and during November the sale of the two steamers was completed. As a result, it would seem that no ships bearing the familiar Cliffs green houses will be active in 1985. Meanwhile, STERLING and GREENE will take on Rouge Steel colours and it seems likely that they will be given new names related to the operations of the Ford Motor Company, for which Rouge produces steel. The purchase of the two Cliffs boats means that Rouge will be unlikely to operate certain of its own carriers in 1985, but no formal announcement has yet been made in this respect.
ELMGLEN (II), the former JOHN 0. McKELLAR (II), is now in service for P. & H. Shipping Division of Parrish & Heimbecker Ltd. The 32-year-old steamer was fitted out at Owen Sound during October and cleared that port on her maiden voyage in P. & H. colours on October 31st. As far as the older vessels in the P. & H. fleet are concerned, CEDARGLEN will indeed be withdrawn at the close of the 1984 season, and she will go to Goderich for use there as a storage barge for grain. The future of BIRCHGLEN was earlier considered to be in peril, but we now understand that the company's plans are to operate her in 1985 if business conditions warrant.
During the summer of 1984, there was much speculation concerning the future of the former Westdale Shipping Ltd. self-unloading steamer ERINDALE, which spent the season in idleness in the old canal between Humberstone and Dain City. In the October issue, we mentioned that ERINDALE had been sold to M. & M. Metals of Hamilton, and that she likely would be scrapped at Port Colborne. It is now our sad duty to report that, on November 2, ERINDALE was taken in tow by the Great Lakes Marine Contracting Ltd. tugs ELMORE M. MISNER and ATOMIC. She was towed through Lock 8 and was beached beyond the end of Port Colborne's east pier, where her former fleetmate, NORDALE, was recently dismantled. The scrapping of ERINDALE began during November. The M. & M. firm is the same concern that has been engaged in the dismantling of another Westdale steamer, SILVERDALE, at Windsor during 1984.
The former Canada Steamship Lines Inc. bulk carrier ST. LAWRENCE, (a) SKAUSTRAND (73), (b) GAUCHO TAURA (76), has cleared the lakes en route to a Far Eastern scrapyard. As previously reported, she cleared her long-time lay-up berth at Thunder Bay on October 22, and proceeded first to Milwaukee and then to Detroit to load a cargo of scrap. ST. LAWRENCE cleared Port Weller, downbound under her own power, early on November 6, and proceeded to Quebec City, where her Canadian crew was replaced by a Taiwanese crew for the deep-sea leg of the long final voyage. She departed Quebec on November 13th.
In the October issue, we mentioned that we understood that the Erie Navigation Company and Erie Sand Steamship Company would be going out of business in the near future. Whilst no firm announcement has been made in respect of such plans, Erie has let it be known that two of its ships are for sale. The sandsuckers NIAGARA and LAKEWOOD, (a) CHARLES M. WARNER (28), (b) MICHIGAN (56), have both been retired and are for sale, although nothing but the scrapyard can seriously be considered to await either of these venerable motorvessels. NIAGARA, built in 1897, has not run for two years, while LAKEWOOD, now 81 years old, did not run in 1984 and allegedly suffers from mechanical problems. Adding fuel to the speculation concerning the future of the Erie fleets is the fact that the Standard Slag Company has advertised for sale its stone quarry at Marblehead, Ohio. It is the stone trade out of Marblehead that has provided most of the cargoes hauled by Erie Sand's steamer CONSUMERS POWER, which actually is owned by the American Steamship Company, Buffalo.
We understand that Groupe Desgagnes Inc. has enjoyed a somewhat less than profitable season in lake trade during 1984, operating the four small ships that it acquired from the now-defunct Quebec and Ontario Transportation Company Ltd. CHICAGO TRIBUNE, FRANQUELIN, NEW YORK NEWS and THOROLD ran for the whole season, but they were involved in several accidents and it is said that they have not done well financially. The four upper lakers that Desgagnes acquired from Q & 0 have not operated at all, and thus have provided no return on their purchase price. OUTARDE is laid up in the Toronto turning basin and has been stripped of much of her equipment, presumably in preparation for a scrap sale. LAG STE-ANNE has remained idle at Hamilton (she did not run for Q & 0 in 1983 either) and, despite suggestions that she would receive some of OUTARDE's equipment, including her sewage plant, we now understand that she will likely be sold for scrap in the near future. Even MELDRUM BAY and GOLDEN HIND have remained idle, lying at the foot of Yonge Street, Toronto, and they also seem to have questionable futures, for Desgagnes has never had any experience in operating upper lakers. If they are ever to run again, it would appear that a sale to other operators would be required, and such a sale appears unlikely in view of today's limited demand for intermediate-sized lake vessels.
In previous issues, we have outlined developments leading to the purchase, this summer, of the defunct Upper Peninsula Shipbuilding Company by Wedtech Corp. The Ontonagon, Michigan, shipyard has been reactivated and has been building components for a U.S. Navy pontoon causeway project. In early November, Wedtech announced that it had found a buyer for the partially completed tug and railroad ferry barge that were at the yard when U.P.S.Co. went bankrupt. The sale, allegedly worth some $18 million, will be completed on December 20, and not until then will the identity of the buyer be revealed. Thereafter, Wedtech will alter the vessels for the new owner, a project that will cost $10 million and take nine months to complete.
The newest C.S.L. bulk carrier, christened HON. PAUL MARTIN, was successfully launched by Collingwood Shipyards on November 1st. The launch proceeded a bit later in the day than originally planned, but without untoward incident, and in sufficient time that photographers could record the event before inclement weather set in. The MARTIN is named in honour of the father of the present C.S.L. board chairman and chief executive officer.
The C.S.L. Kingston "boneyard fleet" was reduced in size earlier in 1984, when FORT HENRY and FORT YORK were towed away to a Hamilton scrapyard, but another vessel has now been added to the lay-up fleet. Late in October, the company's 38-year-old, 15500-ton, steam bulk carrier T. R. McLAGAN arrived at Kingston with a cargo of grain for the local elevator. Once the cargo was unloaded, the McLAGAN was laid up near the elevator and, in so doing, joined METIS, HOCHELAGA and NIPIGON BAY there. This development is not pleasant, in that it may mean that C.S.L. does not foresee further need for the McLAGAN as part of its active fleet.
During the 1984 season, the Jensen Shipping Ltd. package freighter JENSEN STAR, (a) FRENCH RIVER, ran the general cargo route between Thunder Bay, Windsor and Toledo, operating for Newman Harbour and Transportation Inc., of Windsor. It is reported that the ship enjoyed a profitable season, particularly with the development of a considerable trade in lumber and newsprint into Toledo, and all indications are that JENSEN STAR will be back on the route in 1985. It is intended that she will spend the winter at Toledo, and the fact that she will remain on the lakes during the winter is a good indicator that she will be staying in these parts. Incidentally, we are pleased to report that our longtime member, Capt. John Leonard, enjoyed a month on board JENSEN STAR as relief master during the autumn.
The Star Line Corp., which this year put its new STAR OF DETROIT into dinner cruise service at Detroit, is moving its STAR OF CHARLEVOIX from her present base at Charlevoix, Michigan. First reports indicated that the 114-foot motorship might be taken to Mobile, Alabama, for service there as STAR OF MOBILE, but it now appears that she will be operating in 1985 on the Maumee River at Toledo as STAR OF TOLEDO. If so, the port of Toledo will have five excursion boats in service during the summer of 1985. SANDPIPER, a reproduction of an old canal barge, is operated at Toledo by River Adventures Inc., while Toledo River Cruise Lines operates ARAWANNA PRINCESS and ARAWANNA II. The latter firm will take delivery in 1985 of ARAWANNA QUEEN, a 121-foot motorvessel purchased from Blount Marine of Providence, Rhode Island.
Recent years have not been kind to U.S. lake shipyards, for companies have not been ordering new ships, and those few major yards that are still operative have generally had to content themselves with repair work. The Bay Shipbuilding Corp., Sturgeon Bay, completed a salt-water coal-topping barge (THOROUGHBRED TOPPER) in 1984, but has since faced an empty order-book in respect of further new construction. Late in October, however, it was announced that BayShip had won a contract for the construction of three 710-foot container ships for Sea-Land Corp. The three ships, which will be built with $180 million in U.S. federal funds, will be delivered in 1986 and 1987, and will operate on the West Coast between Tacoma, Anchorage and Kodiak. The contract will enable BayShip to expand its work force by some 1,700 employees.
The end of the line appears to have come for the last of the lake ships once operated by the famous Capt. John Mitchell of Cleveland. Sold during November to Marine Salvage Ltd., Port Colborne, for scrapping is the American Steamship Company's self-unloading motorvessel SAGINAW BAY, (a) FRANK H. GOODYEAR (II)(39), (b) DIAMOND ALKALI (II)(76), (c) BUFFALO (I)(78), which was built by the Great Lakes Engineering Works at Ecorse, Michigan, in 1917. She was converted to a self-unloader in 1939 after her acquisition by Boland and Cornelius, and in 1964 she was repowered with diesel machinery. An extremely handsome vessel, she has remained idle at Cleveland for the past several seasons, apparently because of poor hull condition. In the spring of 1984, American Steamship planned to cut off her stern and use it to repower the mechanically-troubled JOHN T. HUTCHINSON, but those plans were vetoed by the U.S. Coast Guard. On November 22, SAGINAW BAY arrived at Ramey's Bend in tow of the G-tug OHIO, and there she joined PONTIAC and the remains of E. G. GRACE in the Marine Salvage scrapyard. It is thought that she will probably be towed overseas for scrap rather than being broken up at Ramey's Bend.
In the October issue, we mentioned the sinking of the former Canadian Dredge and Dock Company Ltd. DREDGE PRIMROSE at Kingston on September 19, while she was being towed away to the Oshawa scrapyard of Acton Marine Salvage. The oil spill that her sinking unleashed was eventually contained and mopped up, and the dredge herself was raised on October 30. She was returned to the C.D.D. yard at Kingston for repairs. At the present time, it is not known what her new owner will do with her. She probably will be dismantled, but it has been rumoured that she might even be restored as a floating cafe (a use for which we would consider her to be completely unsuitable).
In recent issues, we have commented upon the bleak prospects for further operation of The Boat Company's 73-year-old steam carferry CHIEF WAWATAM. Not only is the CHIEF'S Straits of Mackinac service threatened by decreasing Michigan State subsidies, but there has been very little business for her during 1984. By October, CHIEF WAWATAM had been laid up at Mackinaw City, and it seems unlikely that she will ever operate again unless additional funding and railcar traffic can be found for her.
In 1975, the Port Arthur Shipbuilding Company built a new ferry, WOLFE ISLANDER III (she really should be called WOLFE ISLANDER IV for she is the fourth ferry to bear the name) for the Kingston - Wolfe Island service operated by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and Communications. Since the advent of this modern ferry, her predecessor, WOLFE ISLANDER (III)-yes we know it's confusing, but blame the government - has been held as spare boat for the route. Now the older boat has been acquired for one dollar by the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston, which will place her on the old Kingston drydock and open her for public display, complete with onboard exhibits. WOLFE ISLANDER (III) (C.157269), 144.3 x 43.1 x 8.0, 404 Gross, 206 Net, was built in 1945-46 at Collingwood (Hull 135) as the coastal freighter (a) OTTAWA MAYBROOK (46), but she was almost immediately converted to a ferry for the Wolfe Island run. We are pleased that she will be preserved, even though her "blistered" hull makes her something less than a handsome vessel.
In the November issue, we reported that the Great Lakes Towing Company intended to resume tug operations at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, after many years of absence from that port. By early November, Great Lakes had indeed returned to the Soo and had stationed its tugs MAINE and MICHIGAN there to compete with Seaway Towing, the firm which latterly has operated all tug service out of the Michigan Soo. Interestingly, the G-tugs are moored on the west side of the old Carbide slip, while Seaway's CHIPPEWA and SENECA are tied up on the east side of the same slip. The competition between the two firms at the Soo has led to a series of charges and counter-charges, and even litigation, between the two companies.
Unexpectedly trapped in the lakes for the coming winter is the extremely elderly salt-water sailing ship CIUDAD DE INCA, which is owned by a British preservation trust. She was on Lake Ontario for the "Tall Ships" visit in July and was on her way from Toronto to Rochester when word was received that writs for her arrest would be served when she entered U.S. waters. Litigation had been commenced by the families of crew lost in the sailing vessel MARQUES off Bermuda during June, for MARQUES was operated by the same interests that own the INCA. Outbound passage through the Seaway would take the INCA. into U.S. waters and hence she has been forced to remain in Canada to avoid arrest. She ran several excursions on Lake Ontario out of Canadian ports and has since been laid up at Kingston with a bubbler system installed to prevent hull damage in the winter ice. Her owners hope that she will be able to leave Lake Ontario during 1985.
We earlier reported that J. W. Purvis Marine Ltd. of the Canadian Soo had acquired a fleet of small tugs from the Marathon Paper Company. Two of the former Marathon tugs have now appeared at the Soo, these being POLYGON and MARTIN E. JOHNSON. It is not clear what Purvis will do with these tugs, but it is thought that the JOHNSON may remain at the Soo as part of the Purvis fleet, while POLYGON may be sold to other operators.
Despite the high hopes of early 1984, demand for lake tonnage did not hold up through the season, and many ships went into early lay-up. Iron ore movements softened considerably as steel production slumped, few coal cargoes were available as a result of earlier stockpiling in anticipation of a coal miners' strike that never happened, and the autumn grain movement was something less than spectacular. The net result is that an extended navigation season is out of the question, and most lakers will be laid up in December.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.