Table of Contents

Title Page
The Editor's Notebook
Marine News
T.M.H.S. Decals
Ship of the Month No. 118 VALLEY CAMP
Lay-up Listings
Additional Marine News
Annual Dinner Meeting
Table of Illustrations

by Capt. John Leonard

Since your Editor got on the subject of whaleback vessels in the November issue (to say nothing of the corrections in December and January -Ed.), I sat down, put on my thinking cap, and decided to compose a whaleback quiz. It is not meant to try to stump the members, for the last of the whalebacks went out of service almost fifteen years ago and only oldtimers like myself ('.'.) and a few others remember them well. However, our younger members will have read enough Great Lakes history to come up with many of the answers.

(Ed. Note: As this is more of an informative piece than a test of knowledge or memory, we have placed the answers immediately following the questions rather than hiding them elsewhere. We put in an extra question of our own, which we thought pertinent, and we have added a bit of detail so that the questions and answers together form a resume of the history of these interesting vessels. We certainly do not expect our readers to be nearly as specific with their answers, but we hope that they enjoy our quiz.)

1. Who invented the whaleback?

Answer: Capt. Alexander McDougall. Born in Scotland in 1845, he and his family moved to Nottawa, Ontario, near Collingwood, when he was nine. Alex grew up and then went sailing on the lakes. He eventually became captain on numerous ships, including THOMAS A. SCOTT, HIAWATHA, CITY OF DULUTH and the famous iron-hulled Anchor Line passenger and package freight propellor JAPAN. He is best known, however, for his shipbuilding exploits.

2. Despite all the work that McDougall put into designing the whalebacks, obtaining a series of patents, and finally building his boats, people laughed when they spoke of Capt. McDougall's invention. What did contemporary observers call the whaleback?

Answer: "McDougall's Dream", "A Sailor's Pig", and "McDougall's Pig" were but a few of the generally derogatory names given to the whaleback vessels.

3. At what port were most of the whalebacks built? Can you recall how many were constructed there?

Answer: Fifteen steamers and nineteen barges were built at West Superior, Wisconsin. The steamers were: JOSEPH L. COLBY (Hull 108), CHARLES W. WETMORE (112), E. B. BARTLETT (113), A. D. THOMSON (114), THOMAS WILSON (119), SAMUEL MATHER (120), JAMES B. COLGATE (121), PATHFINDER (123), WASHBURN (124), PILLSBURY (125), CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS (128), JOHN B. TREVOR (135), FRANK ROCKEFELLER (136), JOHN ERICSSON (138) and ALEXANDER MCDOUGALL (141). The barges were: 107, 109, 110, 111, 115, 116, 117, 118, SAGAMORE (122), 126, 127, 129, 130, 131, 132, 133, 134, 137 and ALEXANDER HOLLEY (139).

4. Can you name any other ports at which whalebacks were constructed?

Answer: Five barges (101, 102, 103, 104 and 105) and one steamer (COLGATE HOYT - 106) were built at Duluth, Minnesota. Two barges (201 and 202) were built at Brooklyn, N.Y. One steamer (CITY OF EVERETT) was built at Everett, Washington. And one totally unrelated steamer (SAGAMORE) was built by Wm. Doxford and Sons Ltd. at Sunderland, England, without McDougall's authority. In addition, the bow and stern sections of Barge 101 were built by Pusey and Jones at Wilmington, Delaware, and were shipped to Duluth, where they were added to the midsection that McDougall built himself.

5. Name the only whaleback steamer constructed as a passenger ship.

Answer: She was Hull 128, CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, which was launched on December 3, 1892. Built for service to the Columbian Exposition (the Chicago World's Fair of 1893), she was first operated under charter to the World's Fair Steamship Company. She later ran in the colours of the Goodrich Transit Company. The Goodrich fleet was a victim of the Great Depression, and the COLUMBUS was dismantled at Manitowoc in the late 1930s.

6. Only one true whaleback freighter was constructed with her pilothouse NOT located aft. Which vessel was she?

Answer: Hull 138, JOHN ERICSSON, was built in 1896 and carried her bridge structure abaft Hatch No. 2. The ERICSSON enjoyed a long, successful career, spread over several fleets, and last operated in 1963 for Upper Lakes Shipping Ltd. After the failure in 1966 of plans to use her as a marine museum in Hamilton's Confederation Park, she was scrapped at Hamilton in 1967-68.

7. Of all the whalebacks, only four ever operated under Canadian registry. Can you name them?

Answer: They were the steamer JOHN B. TREVOR (12), (b) ATIKOKAN (built 1895). Barge 137, steamer JOHN ERICSSON, and barge ALEXANDER HOLLEY (all built in 1896). The last three operated together in the fleet of Upper Lakes Shipping during their final years. After service for numerous U.S. and Canadian lake fleets, ATIKOKAN found her way to the east coast and was scrapped about 1935.

8. Apart from the American Steel Barge Company, which constructed all of the lake-built whalebacks (except for Barge 101 which McDougall built himself before the formation of the company) and then ran most of them, what large American lake fleet owned most of the whalebacks at one time?

Answer: The Bessemer Steamship Company and its successor, the Pittsburgh Steamship Company, division of the United States Steel Corporation. Bessemer was the lake shipping affiliate of the Lake Superior Consolidated Iron Mining Company, which was owned by the Rockefeller interests. It was these same interests that backed McDougall in the formation of the American Steel Barge Company. Thirty-five of the whalebacks either were built for Bessemer, or were acquired in 1896 or 1900. All of those went into the Pittsburgh fleet upon the formation of United States Steel in 1901.

9. The last whaleback built was named for her inventor and builder. How did she differ in construction from the other whaleback boats?

Answer: The steamer ALEXANDER MCDOUGALL, built in 1898, had a whaleback hull but a traditional "steamboat" bow. Her forward end, complete with raised forecastle, was much the same as that of a conventional freighter.

10. Name the only whaleback that remains in existence today.

Answer: She is the METEOR, (a) FRANK ROCKEFELLER (28), (b) SOUTH PARK (43), which was built as Hull 136 in 1896. After having served as a bulk carrier and auto transport, she was converted to a tanker in 1943 at Manitowoc, and operated thereafter for Cleveland Tankers Inc. She was retired in 1969.

11. Where is the METEOR today?

Answer; She sits ashore on Barker's Island at Superior, Wisconsin, not far from where she was built. She serves as a marine museum, open to the public.

12. Apart from being the last whaleback, what is METEOR's other major claim to fame?

Answer: Considering the age of her hull, she is the oldest tanker in the world (even if she was only rebuilt as a tanker forty years ago) .

13. Many whalebacks went to salt water, some of them in 1911 and others in earlier years. But they were just not designed for the rigours of deep-sea service and fifteen lake-built whalebacks were lost whilst on salt water. As well, all four whalebacks built off-lakes (Barges 201 and 202, steamers CITY OF EVERETT and SAGAMORE) were lost on the high seas, SAGAMORE as a result of enemy action. Can you name the eight whalebacks that were lost in accidents that occurred on the Great Lakes?


Barge 104 foundered in Lake Erie off Cleveland in November, 1898.
Barge 115 was wrecked on Pic Island, Lake Superior, on December 18, 1899, after breaking away from her towing steamer, COLGATE HOYT.
THOMAS WILSON sank June 7, 1902, outside the Duluth harbour entrance after a collision with the wooden steamer GEORGE G. HADLEY.
CLIFTON, (a) SAMUEL MATHER (23), disappeared with all hands on Lake Huron, September 21, 1924. Her loss is generally considered to have been connected with her conversion, the previous winter, to a self-unloader.
JAMES B. COLGATE sank on Lake Erie during the "Black Friday" storm of October 20, 1916. Her master was the only survivor.
Barge SAGAMORE sank in Whitefish Bay, July 29, 1901, after a collision with the package freighter NORTHERN QUEEN.
HENRY CORT, (a) PILLSBURY (96), stranded to a total loss along the north pier at Muskegon, Michigan, November 30, 1934, and subsequently broke up.
Barge 129 was rammed and sunk on Lake Superior by her towing steamer, MAUNALOA, on October 13, 1902. A storm separated the two and while MAUNALOA attempted to recover the barge, the steamer's anchor struck and holed her.

In all, 27 of the 44 whalebacks are known to have been lost.

14. Whalebacks were designed with rounded sides so that seas could wash right over them, and with rounded bows so that the barges would not deviate from course so much in the wash of their steamers. The above-deck cabins were raised on rounded turrets to avoid direct contact with the seas. McDougall's idea was good in theory, but in practice the ships had many disadvantages which eventually led to the cessation of construction of whalebacks. Can you identify some of the faults that plagued them?

Answer: The rounded decks and flush hatches were a hindrance in port, as cargo spillage fell right over the side. The decks were very wet in bad weather and sailors found themselves unable to move forward in such conditions without running a grave risk of being swept overboard. The engineroom and stokehold, as well the quarters in the hull forward, were unbearably hot in summertime and veterans of the boats compared being belowdecks in them with being in an iron coffin. Their spoon-shaped bows caused the ships to pound unmercifully when running light in heavy seas. As well, their own design severely limited the size of whaleback that could be built. In boats of up to 45 feet beam, the arched hull frames sufficed without any additional support, thus providing unobstructed cargo holds. With any increase in beam over 45 feet, vertical supports were necessary to strengthen the hull, these stanchions interfering with the handling of cargo. Also, fore-and-aft stringers and rounded decks limited the size of hatches. JOHN ERICSSON and ALEXANDER HOLLEY, the two largest true whalebacks, as well as Barge 137, were all broader than 45 feet, and one of the reasons that they were used in the grain trade in their latter days was that their extra hull supports got in the way of ore-unloading rigs. It is suggested that ALEXANDER MCDOUGALL was given a conventional bow, making her a compromise between a whaleback and a regular freighter, to help overcome these problems.

Whilst researching this quiz, we turned up some interesting facts. One concerns the steamer E. B. BARTLETT (05), (b) BAY PORT, which was built in 18-91 as a near-sister to A. D. THOMSON and CHARLES W. WETMORE. All other lake-built whalebacks were fitted with triple-expansion engines (except for ALEXANDER MCDOUGALL which had a "quad.") which were built by American firms, most of them coming from S. F. Hodge and Company, or the Frontier Iron Works, both of Detroit. The BARTLETT's triple came from the Northeastern Engine Works of Sunderland, England. Nowhere can we find a reason for this peculiarity and we must assume that the BARTLETT's 1891-built engine was an experiment of some sort, and probably not a successful one, for no subsequent whalebacks were ever given British-built engines.

Another problem concerns ALEXANDER MCDOUGALL. Certain well-known reference works have referred to her as the American Steel Barge Company's Hull 140. The "Record" of the American Bureau of Shipping, however, lists her as Hull 141, with the conventional barge CONSTITUTION shown as Hull 140. I believe the A.B.S. record to be correct, for ALEXANDER HOLLEY (Hull 139) was built in 1896, CONSTITUTION followed her in 1897. and the yard did not turn out the MCDOUGALL until 1898. (Ed. Note: We have checked this point thoroughly and believe this information to be correct. Let the record show, therefore, that 141 was the true hull number for ALEXANDER McDOUGALL.)


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