The weekend of February 15-16 saw the writer travel to Detroit accompanied by fellow members, Bill Wilson and Don McCartney, to attend the annual dinner meeting of the Marine Historical Society of Detroit. The meeting, held in the Pick Fort Shelby Hotel, featured Mr. Tom Manse, well known to many of us, who spoke about the apparently successful attempts by Le Sault de Sainte Marie Historical Sites, Inc., of which he is the driving force, to maintain the 1917-built Republic Steel freighter, VALLEY CAMP, as a public exhibit at Soo, Michigan. Tom is presently serving as "Skipper" of VALLEY CAMP and his inexhaustible energy has certainly helped carry the project successfully through the many difficulties besetting such an undertaking.
The banquet was well attended and, among those present, were two other members of T.M.H.S., Capt. John Leonard and Father Dowling. Three new members for our club were recruited, namely, Bill Luke of Birmingham, Mich., Dave Glick of Dearborn, Mich., and Jim Dziak of Lakeside, Ohio, all three being popular members of the ship-watching fraternity. Interest in our group seems enthusiastic among the Detroit society members and more applications for membership are expected.
Sunday morning, the three of us were able to ride, with special permission, the Canadian National Railway's car-ferry LANSDOWNE, on her run between Windsor and Detroit. This relic of the past was built in 1884 at Wyandotte, Michigan, and is 294 feet long. The last operating sidewheeler on the Great Lakes, she is powered by horizontal low-pressure two-cylinder engines built in 1872 at Montreal and inherited from the car-ferry, MICHIGAN (I). She is used as the winter boat since she is considered an excellent icebreaker and is very manoeuvrable in that her engines operate independently. She is interesting because of her odd external appearance with engine rooms on the main deck and two funnels athwartship. Her engines are a photographer's and recorder's paradise as they are very slow-turning and have a nine foot stroke.
Also observed at Windsor was the C. N. summer-operated railway ferry, HURON, built in 1875 at Point Edward and now, apparently, facing the scrapper's torch. She is a high-pressure non-condensing propeller and, like LANSDOWNE, is built of iron. By far the oldest operating Lakes vessel, she would reach her hundredth anniversary if spared for another six years but would seem to be excess tonnage after the recent purchase of other equipment.
Moored nearby is that aesthetic abortion SCOTIA II, a sawmill-stacked 1915 vintage car-ferry brought by C. N. from the East Coast last December. She was intended to replace HURON but has yet to make a revenue run as she is too high for the apron at the Windsor dock and is two feet too wide for the Detroit slip. Being hand-fired, she is given to producing dense clouds of coal smoke even when lying at dock and has, ever since her arrival, aroused the ire of the Windsor air pollution authorities. (All the other area ferries are oil-fired). Her deck trackage will also have to be altered to conform with the two-track aprons currently in use at both C.N. wharves. The writer understands that C.N. have purchased a fourth railway ferry of the River type and that a name has now been chosen for her, so this would seem to spell the end of HURON's career and the reducing of LANSDOWNE's duties to those of spare boat.
Other ships in year-round service in the area are the three Norfolk and Western (formerly Wabash) Railway carferries, DETROIT (1904), MANITOWOC (1926) and WINDSOR (1930) which also run across the river. However, all three are scheduled to be retired in April of this year as soon as their owners can bring tug-powered car floats up from the East Coast area. The three present self-propelled ferries will probably be sold and reduced to barges; in fact, rumour has it that the sale of the oldest is already being negotiated. Even though the finding of beauty in a Detroit car-ferry is a difficult chore, they do have a dedicated band of fans and anyone wishing to observe operations in their present form should do so as soon as possible before some very drastic changes take effect.
Sunday afternoon we paid a visit to Detroit's forty-year old steam firetug, JOHN KENDALL. The ship is most interesting in that her superstructure appears older than she really is because of a most unusual pilot-house and unraked stacks in tandem. She has a two-cylinder compound engine which shows very few signs of wear and she is kept in immaculate condition from stem to stern. Normally moored just downstream from the Ambassador Bridge, she is frequently seen speeding up and down the River as well as saluting with water on any notable occasion and is very hard to ignore due to the noisy exhaust from her non-condensing machinery. Of unusually large dimensions for a fire boat, she ranks as one of the largest in the world and sports a whistle in keeping with this honour, a three-tube chime which works well with 225 pounds of steam and which was inherited from the Pringle tug, JESSE JAMES, and was earlier carried on the Columbia self-unloader, E. G. MATHIOTT. We made excellent recordings of this whistle thanks to the courtesy of Capt. Ray Dowler of the Detroit Fire Dept. who gave us a personal tour of the entire ship.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.