By: Mark Albright, Staff Writer of "The Journal"
The former lake freighter William B. Dickson sits gracefully and quietly along the tended elbow of the Black River near the Henderson Drive Bridge in Lorain.
Its partner in sleep, the Charles F. Dunlap, rests alongside, covered with a thin snow of puffed cottonwood seeds.
The Dickson is about to lose its companion in rust.
The Dunlap has been sold to a Buffalo firm by its owner, Tomlinson Fleet Corp., thus ending an eight year docile acquaintance.
The Dickson will soon be alone in its Black River pasture.
The 58-year old ore boat has only two friends -- its watchman Ralph Titus and Admiral King High School teacher Gene Davis.
Titus is there out of necessity.
Gene Davis is a friend because he thinks the Dickson should be brought back to life.
"I think it's about time someone did something about this eyesore. There are so many things that could be done with it," Davis thinks.
"I think the best idea is to take the Dickson out by that lighthouse this city saved a few years ago and convert it into a hotel or a restaurant or a convention hall. Maybe all three.
"The thing's so big you could put almost anything you want in it," says Davis. The ore boat's location would be fitting by the lake, he feels, "The lake freighters are the reason this town is here. If it wasn't for them, this town and half its population would be living somewhere else. It's the ore boat that made Lorain a city," he says,
A close look at the Dickson reveals its immense size. Its length, 601 feet, is equal to that of two football fields. Its hold, which for almost fifty years fed Lorain its weekly vitamins of ore, is 30 feet deep. Across its deck, the ore boat measures 58 feet.
"Could you imagine the prestige Lorain would have if it had a convention center made out an ore boat?" says Davis,
"Why there's enough room in there to hold an American Legion Convention and a Shriner's Convention all at once," Davis said.
In a more practical vein, Davis thinks the boat would be an attraction by itself if it was just towed out by the lighthouse and opened for inspection,
"Not many people have ever been on an ore boat. In fact, I doubt many people have even been within a hundred yards of one. If there was an ore boat out by the lighthouse, I know the tourist response would be tremendous," says Davis.
Robert Kayle, a member of the Lorain planning commission, believes that although the city has more practical matters to deal with, it is worth looking into. "The only way I could see this venture would be for U.S. Steel to donate the boat. I am sure the boat would be a natural tourist spot, but how could the city keep up the continuing expenses of operating it?" asks Kayle.
Davis is quick with an answer, "Charge admission!"
But how do you get the money to buy The Dickson and keep it floating?
"If handled by the right people, I think a public donation campaign would work," says Lorain Community Development Director Richard Starr.
Lorain Mayor Woodrow Mathna believes that the Dickson idea has merit, "but does not see any way to pay for it, "I'd be for the whole idea if it was not for one word -- cost," he said.
United States Steel officials in Cleveland say they have no plans for the Dickson, which is named for one of their founders.
The enormous hulk was built by the Great Lakes Engineering Corp., of Ecorse, Michigan, in 1910. It carried ore all over the Great Lakes until 1960 when it was permanently tied down to the Black River shore where it has since rested in peace.
The rusty red deck looks like it was painted with coagulated blood.
So there it sits, the once majestic William B. Dickson. Its useless hulk rusting in the middle of Lorain's harbor. Its value unknown.
Its hold, capable of transporting 12,700 tons of ore, empty and silent. Waiting.
But for what?
Cheer up, old hulk, maybe you have more friends than you think.
Return to Home Port or Toronto Marine Historical Society's Scanner
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.