It was during the early morning hours of Tuesday, October 28, 1919, that the old wooden bulk carrier HOLER WARREN (C. 130222) cleared the port of Oswego, New York, at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, laden with 494 tons of coal consigned to Toronto. Weather conditions at the time of her departure were anything but good, the lake being stirred up by one of those nasty south-easterly blows that frequently hit the Lake Ontario area late in the season.
The loss of HOMER WARREN caused quite a stir in Toronto where she was owned by the Milnes Brothers who carried on a local fuel supply business under the name of the Milnes Coal Company. Her Master at the time of her loss, Captain William Stalker, and her Chief Engineer, W. H. Kerr, both held a small interest in the vessel.
Undoubtedly some observers would have considered that HOMER WARREN was just another worn-out wooden freighter that was pushed to the very extremity of her profitability. Nevertheless, although this was probably quite true, the ship actually had a long and distinguished career.
She was built 'way back in 1863 at Cleveland by shipbuilders Peck and Masters, and she was designed as a combination passenger and package freight propeller. Powered by a direct acting engine, her wooden hull measured 177.65 feet in length, 28.16 feet in the beam, and 11.85 feet in depth, her tonnage being registered as 656 Gross, 556 Net. Christened ATLANTIC, she entered service for the New York Central Railroad although she was actually owned by Dean Richmond, an executive officer of the railroad. She served the N.Y.C. operating from Buffalo up the lakes to various ports. Her official number was U. S. 298.
ATLANTIC was a typical lake propeller of her tine. She was fitted with the familiar arch hog traces which gave her wooden hull the necessary strength and which extended up over the level of the hurricane deck. Her long upper cabin was surmounted by a clerestory which extended all the way from the officers' quarters behind the pilothouse to the after end of the cabin. She carried one very tall mast forward, the mast being rigged for auxiliary sail, and her funnel was mounted well aft in the usual style. Her stack was tall and rather heavy in appearance. The main cabin on the upper deck came to a point forward and above it was the large octagonal pilothouse whose roof came to a peak surmounted by a ball on which perched a huge eagle.
The year 1867 saw ATLANTIC sold to the Union Steamboat Company, a subsidiary of the Erie Railroad. She operated out of Buffalo to Lake Superior ports until 1882. Latterly, she was a part of the pool service operated by the Lake Superior Transit Company on behalf of the Erie and several other railroad-controlled lake lines.
In 1882, the vessel passed to S. B. Grummond of Detroit, and he placed her on his service between Detroit and Cleveland, a run on which ATLANTIC operated in direct competition with the Detroit & Cleveland Navigation Company. Needless to say, Grummond remained the opposition line and never took over first place. By 1894 ATLANTIC was operating on what was known as Grummond's Mackinac Line, serving Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit, Alpena, Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. By 1898 she had been relegated to reserve boat status and was in lay-up quarters at Detroit.
The early wooden lake passenger vessels were particularly susceptible to fire, especially when they were laid up, and ATLANTIC was no exception. She was still idle at Detroit when on August 27, 1899, she caught fire and sustained severe damage before the flames were brought under control. The Grummond Line took no steps to repair the steamer and she remained in her damaged condition until she was sold in 1901 to E. L. Brown of Detroit. She was towed to West Bay City, Michigan, where she was given a thorough rebuild at the yard of James Davidson.
She was converted to a bulk carrier intended principally for the lumber trade. Her revised dimensions after the conversion were 176.6 x 29.5 x 11.8 and her tonnage was 448 Gross, 281 Net. The original power plant was removed and replaced by a steeple compound engine with cylinders of 22" and 42" and a stroke of 36". She was placed in service for the lumber fleet of Shannon and Garey, Saginaw, Michigan, and she was renamed (b) HOMER WARREN in honour of a Detroit industrialist.
After more than a decade of service as a freighter, HOMER WARREN was sold in 1914 to the Peninsula Tug & Towing Company of Wiarton, Ontario. She entered Canadian registry with Owen Sound as her home port and she continued in the lumber trade, this time on the other side of the border. After four years under this ownership, she was acquired by the Milnes Brothers of Toronto and the same year, 1918, she was transferred to the names of the Milnes gentlemen, James Henry Milnes, James Herbert Milnes and John Percy Milnes as well as Stalker and Kerr previously mentioned.
HOMER WARREN did not last long for the Milnes Brothers, but then it is hardly to be expected that she could have done so. She was 55 years old when they purchased her, a ripe old age for a wooden vessel, and her hull was beginning to show its age. Nevertheless, she was a good-looking little workhorse and it is fitting that she passed out while hard at work on her usual Lake Ontario coal run rather than rotting away in a forgotten backwater. It is, however, to be regretted that she took her entire crew with her when she took her final plunge to the bottom of the lake.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.