The St. Lawrence Seaway Authority is considering several methods of increasing the efficiency of the Welland Canal. In addition to the testing of the prototype shunters with MARINSAL, the S.L.S.A. is considering the realignment of numerous lock approach walls, the extension of the navigation season for the canal as well as for the St. Lawrence River section, the provision of computer-assisted scheduling for vessels in the waterway, and the removal of Bridge 5 which is located at Merritton, between Locks 3 and 4. How the latter change could be made without completely disrupting the heavy commuter traffic to and from the McKinnon Industries (General Motors) plant on the east side of the canal above the bridge, we do not know. In addition, work will begin during 1979 on the widening of the narrow section of the canal between the Thorold South guard gate and the town of Port Robinson (a.k.a. "Steelton Gap").
As far as MARINSAL is concerned, we are pleased to report that she ran trials out on Lake Ontario off Port Weller with the shunters on the afternoon of March 24. We must assume that everything went according to plan, as the pushers were able to get the former steamer back to her berth in Port Weller harbour without incident.
During the winter months, it was said that the management of Misener Transportation Ltd. was considering giving all of its vessels the blue hull colour which has been sported by RALPH MISENER ever since her construction. It now seems that this will come to pass, for JOHN A. PRANCE (II) received this treatment whilst in winter quarters at Port McNicoll. It is not yet known whether she will have "billboards" with the company name down the sides. We presume that the other Misener boats will also receive blue hulls.
Notice was formally given at Toronto, on January 15, by Dallas Milne, a director of both firms, that Liquilassie Shipping Ltd. and Porter Shipping Ltd. would be applying for leave to surrender their charters. These two companies, successors to Gayport Shipping Ltd. which operated the British American Oil Company's canal tankers from 1946 until 1959, were involved in the operation of the steam tanker LIQUILASSIE for many years but have been inactive since her retirement, sale, and conversion to a barge.
In the February issue, we passed along a report that the Groupe Desgagnes of Pointe-au-Pic, Quebec, was considering the building of eight new boats for its fleet. We now learn that this report was somewhat exaggerated. It seems that Desgagnes has put MAURICE DESGAGNES in service between Quebec and Europe hauling pulp and, if this trade should prove successful, the company will try to obtain a second-hand ship of about 8,000 tons to assist her on the route.
The Huron Cement Division, National Gypsum Company, is once more considering the updating of several vessels of its aging fleet in a continuing effort to improve the carrying capacity and operating cost factor of each boat. It will be recalled that E. M. FORD and LEWIS G. HARRIMAN have both received considerable attention during recent years. It is now suggested that J. A. W. IGLEHART may be considered for lengthening and the steamer S. T. CRAPO for a conversion to diesel power. More worrisome to the historian is the suggestion that, possibly as soon as the winter of 1979-80, Huron may replace both the forward and after cabins of J. B. FORD. The FORD, (a) EDWIN F. HOLMES (16), (b) E. C. COLLINS (59), is a 420-footer built back in 1904. She is one of the very few early steamers still operating with anything resembling her original cabin configuration. She is a picturesque little thing and, even if her accommodations are not of the most modern nature, we rather hope that she retains her current quaint profile.
Despite recent rumours to the contrary, FRENCH RIVER will operate during 1979 for C.S.L. in the container trade. She was on the drydock at Port Weller late in 1978 and fit-out crews have been aboard at Hamilton since midwinter. Meanwhile, her near-sister ENGLISH RIVER, which normally hauls cement between Bath and Toronto, left Toronto on March 16 for Port Weller.
Despite the severity of the winter ice conditions which sent many lakers to lay-up earlier than their owners might otherwise have intended, the U.S. Steel Great Lakes Fleet continued to operate, primarily because of a shortage of taconite at its South Chicago plant. By late February, only ROGER BLOUGH, CASON J. CALLAWAY, PHILIP R. CLARKE and JOHN G. MUNSON were in regular service and they were having a hard job to keep moving in the 100% ice-cover on Lake Superior. All had received damage of one sort or another from the battle. ARTHUR M. ANDERSON, meanwhile, having received repairs to damage suffered in her January 31st collision with the icebreaker WESTWIND, was pressed back into service to shuttle ore to South Chicago from the Youngstown Steel Company plant at Gary, Indiana.
EDWIN H. GOTT emerged from Milwaukee on February 16 to make her maiden voyage up the lakes to Two Harbors for a cargo of taconite. We rather suspect, however, that the "Steel Trust" will long regret having put her into service under such severe conditions. Not only did the GOTT manage to lose one rudder and seriously damage the other in the heavy ice, but she also suffered extensive damage to her plating, particularly near the bow. As well, her after ballast tanks received severe structural damage when their vents froze up and were unable to compensate for pressure changes when the level of ballast in the tanks was changed. Several sources have indicated that the damage to GOTT may approximate $3,000,000 - a rather hefty price to pay for the privilege of showing the flag in mid-February during one of the worst winters on record.
Once again, the future of the 68-year-old Straits of Mackinac steam carferry CHIEF WAWATAM is in doubt. The Michigan State Highway Department is still complaining about the subsidy which is required to keep the ferry operating and it has been suggested that a tug and barge could do the CHIEF's job at a reduced cost. It seems that the authorities have forgotten how much fun it is to handle a big barge in heavy ice conditions. They have also forgotten the lack of success demonstrated by the tug MUSKEGON and barge MANISTEE which temporarily replaced CHIEF WAWATAM about ten years back. If the Highway Dept. has its way, the change could possibly be made by late summer, although it is not certain whether the CHIEF would be cut down or another barge obtained. Much protest over the retirement or cutting down of CHIEF WAWATAM is expected.
Despite earlier I.C.C. approval of the "Kewaunee Plan", a compromise in the efforts of the Chessie System to phase out its Lake Michigan carferry services, we understand that Chessie is still operating the route between Ludington and Milwaukee. This was the route that the I.C.C. was going to permit Chessie to drop first, the line being forced to continue service to Kewaunee and Manitowoc for five years. Whether as a result of an appeal of the I.C.C. decision or other factors we do not know, but Chessie apparently plans to maintain the Milwaukee service at least into the summer months. What will happen after that is anybody's guess.
The Ann Arbor, meanwhile, is going ahead with reinstated service on the route between Frankfort and Manitowoc, but is having difficulties. The line wanted to make use of the Soo Line dock at Manitowoc but it is out of service and Ann Arbor is forced to use the Chicago & Northwestern dock with the C.N.W. transferring the cars to the Soo Line. This problem will have to be resolved before the revitalized ferry service to Manitowoc can reach any reasonable potential.
We understand that several interested parties have been considering the preservation of the craneship BUCKEYE (II) as a salvage lighter. Columbia took the veteran steamer out of service at the close of the 1978 season but she has not yet been sold out of the fleet. Apart from the barge MAITLAND NO. 1, which is usually to be found somewhere on Lake Michigan, BUCKEYE is the only craneship left on the lakes which is of sufficient size to be of assistance in removing cargo from a large laker in distress. To keep her available for wrecking service would seem logical.
With FERNDALE (II) sold earlier this year for scrapping, Westdale Shipping Ltd. has found itself desperately short of tonnage to fulfill its contractual obligations for the season. Things are so critical that ERINDALE raised steam at Toronto during the first week of March and headed out onto Lake Ontario to resume the Colborne - Clarkson stone run which NORDALE had been forced to give up in early January when her operation was impeded by ice. It is known that Westdale could use another self-unloader for its fleet but there are very few such vessels currently on the market that are in sufficiently good condition to merit consideration. JOSEPH S. YOUNG and IRVIN L. CLYMER hardly qualify. It has been suggested that Westdale might be looking at C.S.L.'s steamer HOCHELAGA which is gradually becoming a "fringe" unit as far as her present owner is concerned. With yet another maximum-sized self-unloader on order from Collingwood, it seems possible that C.S.L. might well be persuaded to part with the 30-year-old HOCHELAGA if the price should be right.
Another rumour making the rounds these days concerns United States Steel's steamers GOVERNOR MILLER and WILLIAM A. IRVIN, both of which have been laid aside by the Great Lakes Fleet. The word is that both bulk carriers may appear under the flag of a Canadian operator, but we must take such a story with something more than the proverbial grain of salt. Both MILLER (which has not operated for several years) and IRVIN (which ran in '78 but sustained bottom damage in a late-season grounding) are in need of major work and, to make things worse, both are coal-burners. It would seem unlikely that any other operator would be much interested in these 41-year-old sisterships, but we would be very happy if they did have an active future ahead of them, for they are amongst the most handsome boats ever built on the lakes and it is sad indeed to see them languishing in idleness.
Our spy in Tampa, Florida, reports that CAPE BRETON HIGHLANDER was still in port there late in March, but that she was expected to depart about the end of the month. It is anticipated that she will proceed to Montreal and then back out to St. John, New Brunswick. She is expected to arrive at the shipyard for her self-unloader conversion about April 18th.
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