Few indeed, in the history of shipping on the Great Lakes, are the cases of a ship being wrecked and abandoned on three different occasions during her lifetime. This is especially true of the steel carriers, for some of the early wooden ships had an amazing ability to withstand the ravages of time and the elements. Nevertheless, there was one particular steel vessel that suffered three strandings during her life of seventy-one years and managed to come back after two of them as if little had happened. She succumbed to the third exactly three years to the day prior to the appearance of these words in print.
It was early in 1896 that the firm of F. W. Wheeler and Company completed their Hull No. 112, the steel upper-lake bulk carrier, L. C. WALDO, at their shipyard at West Bay City, Michigan. The ship was built to the order of the Roby Transportation Company, Detroit, and was named for this firm's manager. Upon completion, she measured 387.3 feet in length, 48.0 in the beam and 28.0 in depth and these dimensions gave her tonnage of 4244 gross and 3290 net. She was given official number (U.S.) 141421. The vessel was equipped with coal-fired scotch boilers and a triple expansion engine with cylinders of 22", 37 1/2" and 63", and a 44" stroke.
L.C.WALDO was an extremely fine-looking steamer when she entered service. She was given a turret pilothouse with open bridge above and, like many ships of her era, she carried a large, gaily painted decorative ball part way up her steering pole. She had the typical fine lines that characterized shipbuilding in an era when marine architects cared as much about the appearance of a vessel as her carrying capacity.
The early years of the life of L. C. WALDO were, for the most part, uneventful. She was taken to drydock in 1905 and lengthened to 451.5 feet. This increased her tonnage to 4466 gross and 3519 net. The only time that she made the headlines was during the storm of October 1905. About dusk on the evening of October 19th, Capt. John Duddleson of the WALDO sighted the wooden steamer, KALIYUGA, of the St. Clair Steamship Company, a Cleveland-Cliffs affiliate, downbound in Lake Huron between Thunder Bay Island and Middle Island. The KALIYUGA was heading in an easterly direction at the time and taking a terrible beating from the huge seas running on the lake. KALIYUGA was never seen again and foundered with all hands somewhere in the area of Cove Island at the tip of Ontario's Bruce Peninsula.
By 1913, L. C. WALDO had been disfigured by the addition of an ugly wooden upper pilothouse which enclosed the open bridge. Such upper houses were then coming into fashion and, while they may have kept the officers on watch warmer than a barrel of straw on the open bridge would have, this particular cabin, which looked every bit the after-thought that it was, proved to be the undoing of the steamer.
On the morning of Saturday, November 8, 1913, L. C. WALDO, with Capt. Duddleson on the bridge, was downbound in Lake Superior with ore from Two Harbors for Cleveland. The ship was to the west of the Keweenaw Peninsula when she was suddenly struck by the beginnings of a severe gale that eventually grew into the disaster that has become known as the Great Storm. Murderous seas picked up almost immediately and suddenly a tremendous wave boarded the vessel from astern. It broke over the deck and utterly demolished the flimsy wooden pilothouses, taking with it the navigational equipment. The Captain, who narrowly missed death in the collapsing cabin, managed to struggle below and into the texas, and eventually brought the ship under partial control by means of the auxiliary apparatus in the severely damaged lower wheelhouse.
Without effective control, the WALDO was at the mercy of the raging lake and when, late on Saturday, the steamer ran on Gull Rock, Manitou Island, located near the tip the Keweenaw, there was little that her master could do. The ship drove hard aground, but was still fully exposed to the battering of the giant seas. The crew quickly went forward and, for the next ninety hours, was virtually imprisoned in the forward cabins, the only available shelter, without adequate food supplies and unable to leave the ship. The next day, the steamer, GEORGE STEPHENSON, sighted the wreck and put in a call for assistance that eventually brought the Eagle Harbor and Portage Lake life-saving crews to the rescue. The WALDO's people huddled around a fire kindled in a bathtub, burning the wreckage from the cabins, until the life-savers finally arrived on the scene on Tuesday, November 11th.
L. G. WALDO proved a constructive total loss and was abandoned to the insurers. In 1914, she was purchased as she lay for $10,000 by the Mathews Steamship Company Ltd., of Toronto. The ship was refloated and taken to the American Shipbuilding Company's yard at Lorain where repairs were started in 1915. The job was completed the following year and the ship, equipped with new scotch boilers built by the shipyard, entered service bearing the name RIVERTON. She was given official number (Can.) 137898 and emerged with a much different appearance than during the Roby years. In order to finance the project, Alfred Ernest Mathews had obtained a ten-year loan of $100,000 with the ship as security. It is said that he was able to pay the loan off with two years' earnings from RIVERTON.
For sixteen years, RIVERTON served the Mathews fleet well, but in 1932 the company gave in to the financial troubles that had beset the local shipping scene. A receiver was appointed and the fleet was operated during 1932 and 1933 by Toronto Elevators Ltd. In 1933, the remains of the Mathews Steamship Company was purchased by Capt. Robert Scott Misener and associates, and RIVERTON became part of Colonial Steamships Ltd. For the next ten years, she sailed under the Misener flag and often traded into Toronto. On one occasion, when she was being painted while in port, the hull paint was chipped away and there, seeing light for the first time in over twenty years, was the old Roby monogram, a white "R" inside the outline of a triangle.
Finally, thirty years after her meeting with Gull Rock, RIVERTON's number came up for a second time. In November of 1943, under the command of Capt. E. C. Hawman, she was downbound in Georgian Bay with a cargo of grain when she ran foul of Lottie Wolf Shoal near the Giant's Tomb. There were no casualties, but RIVERTON settled on the bottom. She was declared a constructive total loss and abandoned. Salvage was undertaken by John Harrison and Sons Co., Ltd., of Owen Sound using the tug, NORTHERN, and the lighter, MICHIGAN, the former C.P.R. carferry. However, during a severe gale on November 24, MICHIGAN also was wrecked on the shoal, where her bones still lie. Harrison was forced to give up the job for want of equipment and because of the heavy weather and the lateness of the season, with the result that RIVERTON spent the winter on Lottie Wolf Shoal.
She was eventually released the next year by the Sincennes-MacNaughton Line Ltd., a towing and salvage company of which Robert A. Campbell was managing director, and she was towed to Collingwood shipyards for repairs. The steamer was sold to the Mohawk Navigation Co. Ltd., Montreal, another firm managed by Mr. Campbell, and re-entered the Canadian grain trade, this time under the name MOHAWK DEER. Her tonnage by now was shown as 4422 gross and 2684 net. In 1948 she was transferred to yet another Campbell company, Beaconsfield Steamships Ltd., of Montreal, who gave her the familiar red hull and buff and black stack. During the Mohawk-Beaconsfield. years, MOHAWK DEER was seldom laid up, despite her years and she was a frequent visitor to the Welland Canal. On several occasions, she had winter storage cargoes for Toronto. In 1957, the vessel was altered slightly by the raising of the last three hatches to increase capacity in the after hold, but the curious trunk-like structure on deck rather detracted from her appearance. In 1964, MOHAWK DEER entered the last phase of her operating life. She once again took on the Mohawk green having been transferred back from Beaconsfield to the Mohawk fleet. She operated continuously until the end of the 1966 season when, at age 70, she was retired and laid up at Sorel with storage grain. She passed down the Welland Canal for the last time on December 11, 1966. She was the first casualty in the purge of the older Mohawk upper lakers that was soon to claim CAPTAIN C. D. SECORD and SIR THOMAS SHAUGHNESSY. Early in 1967, she was sold to Steel Factors Ltd., of Montreal, who in turn sold her to European breakers.
MOHAWK DEER left Sorel under tow during October, 1967, and was the 57th laker to head overseas for scrapping. In tandem tow with the tanker MAKAWELI, she was bound for La Spezia, Italy, but once again fate stepped in and MOHAWK DEER took the third strike swinging. On November 5, just a few miles from her destination, she broke loose from the tug, JUNAK, and grounded on the rocky shore near the fishing village of Portofino, Italy. During the night of November 6/7, 1967, the old laker slipped from the rocks and sank. For the third time in her long life, she was abandoned, but this time there were no salvors to disturb her rest.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.