In this section of our journal, we try to feature vessels which, for one reason or another, were particularly well known around the Great Lakes. Our ship for this month had a long life in lake service but one that was marred by more than her fair share of misfortune.
In 1902, a young man by the name of George Ashley Tomlinson, a native of Lapeer, Michigan, who had worked as just about everything from a reporter to a performer in Buffalo Bill Cody's circus, and who had built himself a small vessel agency in Duluth with the assistance of his wife's family, the Davidsons of Bay City, decided to go into the lake shipping business in earnest. During the next decade, he built many steamers and clearly established the Tomlinson Fleet Corporation as one of the leading independent American vessel operators. In fact, the company remained in business right up until 1971 and is currently involved in the process of winding up its affairs, having disposed of its last three vessels only recently.
The year after its founding, the Tomlinson fleet took delivery of the bulk carrier SAXONA which had been completed in July 1903 as Hull 416 of the Cleveland yard of the American Shipbuilding Co. The new steamer, registered as U.S. 200036, was 416 feet long, 50 feet in the beam and 24 feet in depth, with tonnage of 4716 Gross and 3441 Net. Her hull was divided into four compartments and she was given twelve hatches on 24-foot centres. Steam from two coal-fired Scotch boilers measuring 13'2" by 11'6" fed her triple expansion engines which had cylinders of 20", 33 1/2" and 55" and a stroke of 42".
It was Tomlinson's custom to give some of his ships names beginning with the letter "S" and ending with the letter "A", and SAXONA joined this series which already included SULTANA, SONORA, SINALOA and SONOMA. Several more were to follow. Tomlinson, true to form, did not register SAXONA in his name. The early vessels of the fleet were actually owned by as many as a dozen small Tomlinson-controlled companies and SAXONA was registered in the name of the Zenith Steamship Co., Cleveland. She bore the usual colours, a dark red hull, white cabins, and a red stack divided into thirds by two silver bands, but in addition she carried, under the name on the bow, a pennant bearing the letter ""Z".
Her career was relatively uneventful until the 14th day of April, 1906. On that day, SAXONA was downbound in the St. Mary's River with a cargo of flaxseed loaded in Duluth and destined for Lake Erie. At the same time, the steamer EUGENE ZIMMERMAN, owned by L. S. Sullivan et al. of Toledo and operated by the Toledo Steamship Co., was upbound on her maiden voyage having left the yard of her builders, the Toledo Shipbuilding Co., only a few days previously. She was bound for the head of the lakes with coal. Below Neebish Island, the two vessels met. SAXONA allegedly turned into the path of the other vessel and struck the ZIMMERMAN about twenty feet back of the bow on the port side. The latter vessel received the more spectacular and severe damage, her entire bow being crumpled back as far as the pilothouse and a gaping hole cut on the port side. EUGENE ZIMMERMAN sank at once in about twenty feet of water on the Canadian side of the river while SAXONA continued on downstream for a short distance until she filled, settling to the bottom on the west side of St. Mary's.
SAXONA was easily pumped out, patched, and taken to drydock for repairs but the ZIMMERMAN was in bad shape. With great difficulty, her bow was covered with protective material and she was eventually raised. Once her coal was removed, she was taken to Cleveland where she stayed until the shipyard completed repairs in July 1906. She operated for many years after her inauspicious start in life, latterly serving the Cleveland Cliffs Steamship Co. as GRAND ISLAND. She was scrapped in Germany in 1964. In her later years, she often gave one the impression of being slightly twisted and perhaps this was a souvenir of SAXONA.
SAXONA was returned to service and sailed for Tomlinson until 1917 when she again met disaster in the form of collision. Ironically, the accident scene was once again the St. Mary's River, only a few miles below the location of the 1906 accident. On May 14, 1917, SAXONA, collided head-on with the Pittsburgh Steamship Company's 1903-built steamer PENTECOST MITCHELL just above the village of DeTour in the Pipe Island Channel. SAXONA had been upbound with coal and sank in some fifty feet of water. To make matters worse, the two vessels had remained locked together by the bows as they settled. The Zenith Steamship Co. abandoned SAXONA to the underwriters from whom she was purchased, cargo included, for a sum of $75,000. by the Reid Wrecking Co. of Sarnia. While another salvager had great difficulty with the MITCHELL, Reid raised SAXONA relatively easily by means of two cofferdams which were placed over the deck, allowing her to be pumped dry. She was taken to Collingwood under tow and was rebuilt by the Collingwood Shipbuilding Co. Ltd.
At this time, the vessel was sold to R. M. Wolvin, Capt. J. W. Norcross, and Harold Smith, three of the parties who held interests in the shipyard. They resold the ship to Albert Ernest Mathews of Toronto and in 1918 she entered service for the Mathews Steamship Co. Ltd., Toronto, having been rechristened LAKETON, the name she would carry for the rest of her days. Her tonnage was now listed as 4423 Gross and 3248 Net and her Canadian registry number was 137906.
With the Mathews colours on her stack (black with two silver bands) and the big "M" monogram on her bow, LAKETON served in the Canadian grain and ore trades for more than a decade. Her appearance had been altered by the addition of a much larger texas cabin and pilothouse and she was one of the better vessels in the Mathews fleet. However, the Depression years hit Mathews hard. LAKETON was laid up at Port Colborne but was moved during the summer of 1932 to Toronto. By this time, the company was in the hands of receivers and during 1932, LAKETON and other units of the fleet were used for grain storage by Toronto Elevators Ltd. The following year, the last remains of the Mathews Steamship Co. Ltd. were sold and LAKETON passed to Capt. R. Scott Misener's Colonial Steamships Ltd. of Port Colborne. She retained her old funnel colours since the black and silver design was adopted by Misener for use in his operations.
The Misener years were generally uneventful for LAKETON. She ran regularly in the Canadian ore and grain trades and does not appear to have been involved in any further mishaps. The onset of World War II brought an increased demand in the United States for iron ore and American vessels were not able to keep up with the demand. As a result, emergency legislation was passed in 1941 to allow foreign ships to carry ore between two American ports. LAKETON made the news when in July 1941, she became the first Canadian ship to carry an American domestic iron ore cargo. She loaded at Duluth and took her ore to the C. & P. Dock at Cleveland.
By the end of the war, LAKETON's machinery was beginning to show the strain of over forty years of service. In 1946 her engines and boilers were removed and she was fitted with the machinery salvaged from the corvette PORT ARTHUR which was decomissioned and scrapped after the cessation of hostilities. Her two new boilers were of the water tube variety and had been made by the John Inglis Co. in 1941. The steam produced by them fed 1942-vintage Inglis four-cylinder triple expansion engines having cylinders of 18 1/2", 31", 38 1/2" and a stroke of 30". This power plant gave LAKETON a new lease on life and she continued to serve the Misener fleet for almost twenty years, being a frequent visitor to Toronto, especially with winter storage cargoes.
One of the low points of LAKETON's career came during the winter of 1958-59 while she was laid up at Toronto in the Turning Basin. Colonial Steamships was reorganized as Scott Misener Steamships Ltd. and, whether in an effort to give the company a progressive image or whether the management simply fell victim to the fad then popular among certain operators, LAKETON's stack was chopped down to roughly half its former height. The funnel had been rather handsome, moderate in height and with a slight rake, but now there remained only an ugly stump from which protruded the liner in a most ungraceful fashion. For her remaining years, LAKETON had a decidedly unbalanced profile as a result of this operation.
In the 1960's, the Misener fleet embarked on a new project of modernization and it was only natural that the veteran upper lakers should start to fall by the wayside. LAKETON completed the 1964 season and laid up at Goderich with a cargo of storage grain. She was subsequently retired and was sold in 1965 to Crosbie Shipping Ltd., St. John's, Newfoundland, for grain storage. She passed down the Welland Canal under her own power in August 1965 en route to her new duties. Her ownership soon passed to Lundrigan and Lundrigan's Ltd., Corner Brook, Nfld., and she was used as a feed storage hull for Hillcrest Turkey Farms, being kept in the harbour at St. John's, the capitol of the island province.
She did not maintain this lowly status for long, however, for in 1967 she was sold to Steel Factors Ltd., a Montreal scrap metal firm. She was resold to Italian breakers and early in January 1968, was towed from St. John's by the tug KORAL, her destination being Vado, Italy. Her partner in the tandem tow was the former Canadian Coast Guard steamer SAUREL which had been renamed G.S.S.NO. 2 for the trip. The scrappers apparently did not bargain for the weather that the old ships would meet out on the wintry North Atlantic. On January 13th, the seas became particularly nasty and LAKETON took matters into her own hands, breaking tow and drifting off into the storm. The tug could not recapture the steamer and she foundered in a position 39° 42' North, 30° 36' West. This time there were no salvagers to snatch her from her resting place on the bottom.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.