The most cheerful piece of news we have to report this month concerns the steam carferry CHIEF WAWATAM which, at least for the present, has been spared the ignominy of being reduced to a barge. On March 9th, the Michigan Highway Commission voted 3-1 in favour of retaining the CHIEF as an operative steamer and of spending $400,000 to give the old girl a partial refit. The state officials are seeking from the U.S. Coast Guard at least a one-year extension of the ship's certificate so that it would not be necessary to put her on the drydock this spring as was originally required. This is indeed a most happy decision as it means that for a while longer yet, the sweet aroma of coal smoke will waft across the Straits of Mackinac announcing to all the fact that CHIEF WAWATAM is at her old stand just as she has been since 1911.
Speaking of Pickands Mather, we have learned that P.M. and the Republic Steel Corporation have signed a letter of intent to the effect that the Interlake Steamship Company should float all of Republic's domestic iron ore (an estimated 7 to 8 million tons per year) starting not later than 1985 and possibly rather earlier. As such, Pickands Mather will be edging Cleveland-Cliffs out of the Republic ore contract. In order to handle the considerable increase in business which the new deal will mean for Interlake, the company will have built two more 1,000-foot self-unloaders (similar, presumably, to MESABI MINER and JAMES R. BARKER) and in addition will be converting ELTON HOYT 2nd to a self-unloader.
Cleveland-Cliffs is not showing any indication of a cut-back in operations in anticipation of its loss of the Republic ore contract, not surprising if one considers how far in the future the change lies. To the contrary, the company has let to the American Shipbuilding Company a contract for the conversion to a self-unloader of WALTER A. STERLING, a ship that was lengthened by AmShip only last summer. The STERLING will be going to the shipyard for the work during the autumn of 1977.
A recent casualty was the Columbia Transportation motorvessel W. W. HOLLOWAY which suffered a serious fire in her forward cabins while laid up at the AmShip South Chicago yard on February 16th. The damage was pretty well confined to the spar deck and to the accommodations in the texas cabin, and is believed to have started from welding operations which ignited insulation inside a bulkhead. Local firemen attended at the scene and although it took quite a lengthy period of time to get the fire extinguished, this was eventually accomplished. The damage, estimated to be about $400,000., will be repaired by the shipyard and the boat is expected to be back in service by the end of May. W. W. HOLLOWAY, (a) HENRY A. HAWGOOD, (b) C. RUSSELL HUBBARD, was built back in 1906 and was converted to a self-unloader in 1957. She is one of only three Hawgood steamers still in active operation on the lakes, having served that fleet until sold in 1911 to a Columbia predecessor.
The first departure from Toronto harbour for the 1977 season took place on Monday, March 7th when the Upper Lakes Shipping Ltd. bulk carrier GODERICH was towed from port by the tug PRINCESS NO. 1. The 71-year-old steamer was taken to Port Weller where she was raised in Lock One (specially activated for the occasion) and placed on the drydock at the shipyard. The unscheduled trip was necessitated by the fact that the steamer had taken on a rather alarming list to starboard after her storage cargo of soya beans had been unloaded at Victory Mills earlier in the winter. During the latter part of the winter, pumps had been working on the ship almost continuously, as evidenced by the stream of water which invariably could be seen coming from her side. The damage to the ship's hull (necessitating the replacement of some ten plates) was apparently caused during a 1976 grounding but she also had rudder damage which was painfully obvious when the ship was riding light. It is indeed gratifying to note that Upper Lakes considers the elderly steamer to be worth the cost of repairs.
The next departures from Toronto came on Thursday, March 10 when the Q & O motorships NEW YORK NEWS and FRANQUELIN were towed across to Port Weller. The two boats had earlier been scheduled to be towed to the shipyard at the end of February but their departure had been delayed by ice conditions and by the fact that the drydock was needed for emergency repairs to GODERICH.
Navigation of the upper lakes by bulk carriers resumed in mid-March after a two-month hiatus forced by extremely heavy ice conditions. U.S. Steel's ore carriers JOHN G. MUNSON, CASON J. CALLAWAY, ARTHUR M. ANDERSON and PHILIP R. CLARKE cleared their lay-up berths at Milwaukee on March 15 and two days later passed up through the Soo Canal en route to Two Harbors, the latter port having been opened for them by the veteran steam tug EDNA G. Due to the heavy ice that is still clogging ports and channels around the lakes, it is unlikely that most other fleets will bring their vessels out for service on the upper lakes until mid-to-late-April. Meanwhile, as we go to press, we have a report that the Welland Canal will be opening on April 4th. We get the distinct impression that the Seaway Authority will be having problems at the Welland as the spring wears on and the ice in Lake Erie breaks up and jams into Port Colborne harbour. The opening of the Welland will necessitate the removal of C.S.L.'s self-unloader TARANTAU from the draw of the old Thorold guard gate where she spent the winter as a result of being trapped in the ice last January. Perhaps we are mistaken, but to the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that a ship has actually wintered in the draw.
As a result of being unable to operate its boats throughout the winter, the U. S. Steel Corporation has far less ore stockpiled than at the same time last year. This will have a happy result for shipwatchers in that the company's Great Lakes Fleet will reactivate two steamers which did not operate in 1976, namely AUGUST ZIESING and WILLIAM A. McGONAGLE. There is little likelihood that any of the company's other inactive boats will fit out this year or, for that matter, ever again. In fact, as regards the scrapping of old tinstackers at Duluth, one of our spies has reported that GEORGE G. CRAWFORD has been completely cut up and that cutting has started on the after end of WILLIAM J. FILBERT, the last of the former Mills trio of sisterships.
Although as far as we know no public announcement has yet been made, we have heard that the new self-unloader under construction at Collingwood Shipyards for Algoma Central will be named ALGOLAKE. She will be very similar in appearance to J. W. McGIFFIN and H. M. GRIFFITH and as a result will aesthetically (but not economically) be a blight upon the landscape of the lakes.
PIERSON DAUGHTERS is now sporting her new pilothouse. The job of removing the old structure and fitting the new cabin was done as the boat lay in winter quarters at the old Empire-Hanna coal dock on the east side of Port Weller harbour below Lock One. The new pilothouse, looking a bit like the new houses fitted on PONTIAC and FRONTENAC a few years ago, has been set atop the old texas and a new lounge has been added at the after end of the texas, complete with large observation windows. Although when we first saw the uncompleted steel box in position on the ship we were somewhat worried about what the end result would be, we must say that it doesn't look too bad at all and is actually more in harmony with the character of the rest of the ship than was the old pilothouse, a remnant from the days when the boat was a normal 586-foot laker.
With the Kinsman fleet deprived of the services of CHICAGO TRADER and with PAUL L. TIETJEN unlikely to turn again, the Steinbrenner interests are finding themselves short of vessels to operate. At the present time, we believe that only HARRY L. ALLEN, C. L. AUSTIN, FRANK R. DENTON, GEORGE D. GOBLE, KINSMAN ENTERPRISE, MERLE M. McCURDY, BEN MOREELL and HENRY STEINBRENNER are operable, and some of these are certainly in less than perfect shape. We have now heard a report (which we must stress is not confirmed) that Kinsman will fit out GEORGE M. STEINBRENNER this spring using certain equipment removed from CHICAGO TRADER and that the company will have the use of this boat through 1977 and part of 1978. GEORGE M. STEINBRENNER has not operated since 1974 and we understood that she was in pretty rough shape, so much so that she was shunned by prospective buyers. In fact, we even had been told that she was either sold or on the verge of being sold for scrapping. While we would very much like to see this distinctive laker back in service and dislike playing the role of Doubting Thomas, we must say that we will believe in the return to operation of GEORGE M. STEINBRENNER only when we see it for ourselves.
The sightseeing boat CAYUGA II may well have seen her last service in the Toronto area. Last fall, we commented upon the fact that the boat had been sent to Oshawa for hauling out of the water for winterization in anticipation of further service on Toronto Bay and its environs this coming summer, an eventuality which we would have thought was somewhat remote since passengers had been avoiding her like the plague throughout 1976. Now we learn that, with still more work to be done, her owners seem to have run a bit short of the folding green, a development not calculated to send the people at the Oshawa Marina jumping for joy. The Toronto Harbour Commission will not lift the boat except at the owner's risk (and cash in advance) because the cable slings on its heavy-lift shear-leg crane would collapse CAYUGA II's aluminum hull. And so, it looks as if CAYUGA II has little if any operating future in this area.
Thanks to Gordon Turner who has done some extensive digging, we can present the following information on LOWELL THOMAS EXPLORER which will soon be making her appearance on the lakes for the summer cruising season. The vessel is owned by Midwest Cruises Panama S.A. and is registered in Panama. She measures 90.86 x 14.28 x 4.992 (yes, that's in metres) while her Gross is 3007, her Net 1583 and her Deadweight 864. She was completed in December 1952 by Oskarhamns Varv A/B, Oskarhamn, Sweden, as (a) BORE III. She has a modified icebreaking bow and is propelled by a single screw driven by a Skinner Una-flow engine. She originally carried two funnels, the forward one a dummy containing private quarters for the owner, but she now sports only one rather heavy but traditionally-shaped stack. She was actually built for a ferry service and operated for many years between Stockholm, Helsinki, Abo and Mariehamn. About 1970 she was converted for the Baltic cruise trade and thereafter ran cruises from Helsinki to Tallinn and Leningrad. She was rebuilt in 1972. She was purchased by Midwest in 1976 and, although it was planned to have her in the lakes last summer, she was caught in Finland by a strike of local seamen. Once released, she was sent to the West Indies where, over the winter, she has been making special cruises for school students. We hope that she will have more success in the lakes than had STELLA MARIS II and WORLD DISCOVERER, the two earlier Midwest lake cruise boats.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.