In the May 1986 issue, we devoted an extraordinary thirteen and a half pages (plus both sides of our photopage) to the steamer CAYUGA, which probably was Lake Ontario's most famous passenger vessel of all time. We were able to do so because, thanks to Barbara Howard, we had access to Alan Howard's immense collection of material concerning the ship. We doubt that any great amount of detail could possibly be added to our narrative for the simple reason that Alan's material covered almost every aspect of CAYUGA's career. We were, however, lacking items of an anecdotal nature concerning CAYUGA, and in this respect we wish that Alan had committed to paper his many reminiscences of the steamer. Fortunately, Malcolm McGrath has helped to fill this void with his own material, including information provided to him by Don Page of the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston.
For years, we had heard it said that, in 1907 or 1908, CAYUGA engaged the steamer TURBINIA in a race on Lake Ontario, and that CAYUGA had beaten the pants off her rival. We had not been able to obtain any concrete information about this event until very recently. Thanks to Messrs McGrath and Page, we now can say something about this unofficial speed test (which undoubtedly went unreported in the press because of concerns for passenger safety).
In 1936, Don Page sailed in KINGSTON as an oiler, and her chief engineer was a man named MacDonald who had been an oiler in CAYUGA at the time of the race. His version of the incident was that CAYUGA was bound from Niagara to Toronto and "somehow strayed" towards Hamilton just as TURBINIA came out of the Burlington piers, bound for Toronto. MacDonald said that the boats stayed neck-and-neck for about an hour, but that CAYUGA then pulled ahead. TURBINIA's condenser was unable to deal with the volume of exhaust steam that was produced with the ship running flat out, and the vacuum began to fall, thus slowing the wing turbines. Aboard CAYUGA, her chief opened the starting impulse valves on the line from the high pressure valve chests to the second intermediate chests, which were designed to be opened when manoeuvring if the H.P. sections of the two engines were centred.
Now we can well understand how CAYUGA beat TURBINIA, but how did it happen that CAYUGA was near Hamilton at the time, well off her normal route? If she was diverted there to seek shelter in bad weather, which is very unlikely, then conditions would have prevented a race. Or did she go there specially because the race was not impromptu but had already been planned?
As it happens, Mal McGrath's father was aboard CAYUGA at the time of the race, and his version of the event differs rather considerably. He says that CAYUGA and TURBINIA were both bound from Niagara to Toronto on a regular trip, and that neither was anywhere near Hamilton. He also says that the race developed naturally as both steamers came out of the Niagara River and headed across the lake. We tend to believe this version of the event, for it would pin the date squarely in the 1908 season, when TURBINIA operated briefly on the Toronto-Niagara route in opposition to CAYUGA. Of course, TURBINIA lost in the competition, for she could not buck the Niagara Navigation Company, which could offer many cross-lake sailings each day with its fleet of large steamers. It is highly likely that a race between TURBINIA and CAYUGA could have developed under those circumstances, with TURBINIA out to prove that she could make it on the route by herself.
It is extremely unlikely, considering the number of years that have passed since this "race" was held, that we will ever find out anything more about it, but should any of our readers have additional details, we would be most pleased to hear from them.
The correspondence between McGrath and Page also yields much detail concerning the reboilering of CAYUGA over the winter of 1946-47. Page worked for the Kingston shipyard at the time and was closely involved with the reboilering. It seems that the job of removing the seven old boilers began after a large opening had been cut in CAYUGA's superstructure. The first two of the old boilers were removed with no difficulty but when efforts were made to lift out the third, the ship became unstable. Accordingly, the rest of the old Scotch boilers were cut up in place, the debris being lifted out as new equipment was moved aboard, thus preserving the weight inside the hull. With the fitting of the new boilers and associated equipment, there was no need for CAYUGA's second funnel and Canada Steamship Lines wanted it removed. Shipyard officials objected on the grounds that the lines of CAYUGA would be would be ruined if she carried but one stack, and C.S.L. was finally persuaded to leave the second funnel in place.
In our original narrative, we mentioned that, during the summer of 1948, CAYUGA fractured the first length of her starboard intermediate shaft, and in consequence lost the tailshaft and propeller. At the time, no explanation for the occurrence could be given; in mid-lake, whilst en route to Toronto, the starboard engine had simply begun to race. It was shut down and the ship proceeded home on her port engine. She sailed the next day for Kingston and was on the drydock from August 13 to the 20th. The shaft was found to have fractured just aft of the stern tube, with both fore and aft steel-cast shaft brackets and bearings badly worn. The shaft and screw had simply dropped away from the ship. No problems had been reported with the starboard engine previous to this peculiar occurrence, and the lost screw was one of the new three-bladed propellers that only recently had been installed.
The alignment of the shaft was checked and no problems could be found. A replacement tailshaft was machined from a spare obtained from the Ontario Car Ferry Company and one of CAYUGA'S old four-bladed screws was fitted on it. This rig functioned well, but the ship was back on the dock at Kingston the next winter and the installation was checked. Much to the amazement of all, it was found that the new shaft also was wearing down through the bearings, although no misalignment could be discovered. As the damage could not be explained, new bearings were fitted and the boat returned to service in the spring, apparently without any recurrence of the problem, although (as we previously reported) fractures were found in both intermediate shafts in the autumn on 1949. Both were then replaced and a new port tailshaft was fitted.
CAYUGA ran two more years for C.S.L. and later four years for the Cayuga Steamship Company Ltd., and probably because she was not called upon to run at full speed during this period, no additional shaft problems were encountered and little thought was given to the cause of the earlier difficulties.
In fact, it would seem that the problem was directly related to the reboilering. It will be recalled that, as a result of stability tests performed in the spring of 1947, considerable ballast was placed in CAYUGA to make up for the weight differential between the old and new boilers. This ballast took the form of steel rails which were cut up and placed in groups between the frames and floors in the engine room and aft boiler room bilges; this produced a concentration of weight which had not previously existed in that area. It is thought that, when the engines were worked up to full power, the weight concentration caused the lightly-built hull to twist with the stress, thus throwing the shafts out of alignment but only during operation at full speed. This caused the wearing of the shafts through the bearings and strut brackets .
The Royal Canadian Navy apparently experienced similar problems in some of its destroyers and accordingly later destroyers, also built with light hulls, had their shafts deliberately misaligned so as to counteract such stress-twisting when operating at high speed.
Before we leave CAYUGA, we should mention that the famous naval architect, Arendt Angstrom of the Canadian Shipbuilding Company Ltd., Toronto, was not solely responsible for the design of this famous ship. In his work on CAYUGA, he was assisted by one L. E. Tornroos. Their association was a productive one in that it produced a very successful steamer in CAYUGA.
We should like to express our thanks to member Gerry Hutton who provided certain reminiscences of the last years of CAYUGA's service. Unfortunately, we have insufficient space to include them here but we may be able to use them in a future issue.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.