Readers will no doubt recall that our January and February issues contained much information on the fleet of Lloyd Tankers Ltd., and particularly on the trials and tribulations of the little tank barge (later steamer) BRUCE HUDSON. Thanks to the efforts of Mr. Lorne Joyce of Port Credit, who himself worked at the Port Credit refinery, we can now report further on two of the many accidents involving the HUDSON.
We had reported that the fire involving the HUDSON at Chicago occurred on July 27, 1943. Actually, that was the date the outside world became aware of the occurrence, but the explosion and fire really took place during the evening of July 26. The HUDSON, under the command of Capt. Ross Linwood Hindman of Midland, had loaded at the East Chicago dock of the Phillips Petroleum Company, her cargo being casinghead, that is, the light ends of natural gasoline from the top of an oil well. Casinghead is an extremely volatile liquid and contains the highly explosive substance ethane, methane, butane and propane. It was a hot night and four hoses had been playing on the deck in an effort to reduce the temperature of the steel plating to avoid an accident. In addition, all of the steamer's hatches had been left open to let excess fumes escape prior to sealing the ship for the trip down the lakes.
Capt. Hindman was always very careful about his movements aboard the little HUDSON and he made sure that his crew acted likewise. Nevertheless, with the fumes from 11,000 barrels of casinghead in the air, the slightest mistake would spell disaster. The HUDSON's lines had been singled up as the crew made ready to sail.
Details of what actually happened are sketchy, but it appears that there was an electrical spark, possibly inside the deckhouse. The casinghead fumes ignited at once and several explosions shook the tanker, sending sheets of flame 150 feet in the air. Serious burns were sustained by Capt. Hindman, his sixteen year old son Stanley who had moved over to the HUDSON from the passenger steamer ASSINIBOIA, so other crew members could take their holidays, and Arthur Plouffe, age 30, of Waubaushene, an oiler. In addition, wheelsman William Goneau, 23, Midland, his clothes afire, leapt overboard in an effort to escape the flames. All four were taken to St. Catharine's Hospital where they died on July 27th. Capt. Hindnan had intended taking his wife along on the trip but at the last minute she had declined to accompany him.
The East Chicago Fire Department, summoned to the scene, managed to keep the fire from spreading shoreside while the U. S. Coast Guard cleared the area of other ships. The superstructure of BRUCE HUDSON was severely damaged but she did not sink and was, in due course, towed to Muir's Drydock at Port Dalhousie where repairs were effected.
Another accident of which we had not previously been aware occurred in 1947. HUDSON, by now rebuilt and lengthened, the work having been done at Port Weller in 1946, was upbound in Lake Erie bound for Toledo. She got into heavy weather on November 27, 1947, and put into Port Stanley for boiler repairs. Late that night, she set out again but apparently suffered further boiler trouble and lost power. As she was dangerously near the treacherous Southeast Shoal, her crew sent out distress calls on the radio and these were answered by the tankers ROCKET and IMPERIAL MIDLAND which after hours of searching finally found the HUDSON wallowing in the heavy seas. The HUDSON was taken in tow and later the tankers transferred the tow to the tug ATOMIC which had been dispatched from Amherstburg. The job was made all the harder by the fact that the steamer in distress could send messages (these being heard as far away as Chicago), but could not herself receive calls from her would-be rescuers. At the time of this latter escapade, BRUCE HUDSON was under command of Capt. Howard Drinkwater.
Much of the above information comes from clippings which Lorne Joyce obtained through the courtesy of Mr. George Thompson who at one time served as deckhand aboard the HUDSON. If any other readers have information on the ill-starred life of the tanker, we would appreciate being advised.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.