Stubby, and other queens of the lakes
February 14, 2010 2:55 PM   Subscribe

One among many interesting pieces of Great Lakes freighter history: This ship is also this ship. The explanation - and everything else you ever wanted to know about the massive, but largely unknown freighters of the Great Lakes - is on Boatnerd.

The "lakers" that ply the upper Great Lakes are up to 1,000 feet long - aircraft-carrier length - but they work in such sparsely-populated areas of North America that they hardly factor into the public awareness. Yet anyone who's lived or worked close to them will tell you that you'll hardly find more magnificent creations.

Beyond the formerly-stubby Stewart J. Cort (whose bow I once cut across in a motorboat, eliciting a honk that woke the whole city), you might be interested to learn about the oldest working lake freighter (1906!), the largest lake freighter, the most infamous lake freighter, and the one that sank last year.
posted by bicyclefish (20 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Every Halloween for the past several years they have turned the Irvin into a large haunted house here in Duluth. Very effective use of the space I've always thought.
posted by edgeways at 3:06 PM on February 14, 2010

Awesome post! I've visited several of the port cities along the Michigan coastline and I love to read about the history of the Great Lakes. Thanks!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:09 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lakers also relied on the awesomely steam-punkinsh Hulett unloader.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 3:30 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

With a load of iron ore - 26,000 tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early
posted by bwg at 4:16 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid growing up in Detroit, my dad and I used to get a copy of Know Your Ships every year and go out to Belle Isle to see what we could spot. I never get tired of reading about the Great Lakes freighters.
posted by fancypants at 4:23 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just knew that the Edmund Fitzgerald would get namechecked. The song is the best song ever written about a ship that didn't sail the seas.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:01 PM on February 14, 2010

I work around the (Canadian side) of the lakes, often in Goderich. To see one of these huge lakers (like Algosoo) loading salt is impressive. Best and eeriest is to have a quiet night of R&R in Port Colborne and have one of these giant suckers butt its way through downtown on the Welland. Eastport Dr in Hamilton is also a great, if now rare, place to see them slide by with just centimetres clearance of the lift bridge.
posted by scruss at 5:29 PM on February 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

The vessel made its way up to the Lakes in 1971 where it was cut apart (following the "Cut Here" instructions painted on the hull) ...

As if it weren't already an awesome story.
posted by GeckoDundee at 8:02 PM on February 14, 2010

"Hull 1173", what an evocative name.
posted by mattoxic at 8:19 PM on February 14, 2010

Wow, the St. Mary's Challenger! I had no idea it was so historic, I remember it as the Medusa Challenger from a series of (minor) incidents it was blamed for in the late 80's or early 90's, stuck drawbridges on the Chicago River which were opened for its passing, and a minor bump or two which wouldn't even have been news, except that it was the "cursed" Medusa Challenger.

Now after reading its page I may try to get out and see if I can catch a glimpse of it some time this summer!

Great post!
posted by Reverend John at 8:24 PM on February 14, 2010

The raffle for a cruse on one of the lakers sounds like serious boatnerd fun -- a 5 day trip for 6 adults this summer on the Paul R. Tregurtha... February 20th drawing.
posted by acro at 8:42 PM on February 14, 2010

I sailed on an oil tanker from Thunder Bay to Beauhornois when I was about 19. I was a guest of the 2nd engineer who just happened to be my dad. My dad sailed the Great Lakes for about five years, but on tankers, not freighters. (He didn't really like sailing the Lakes and the St Lawrence -- far preferred ocean-going.) Thanks so much bicyclefish -- I'm going to send this to my dad. He'll be fascinated. This is a great resource.
posted by angiep at 9:32 PM on February 14, 2010

This brings to mind the earnest Edmund Fitzgerald knock-off 32 Down on the Robert Mackensie, written by Due South star Paul Gross after he decided not to pursue the rights to use Lightfoot's song for the episode Mountie on the Bounty.
posted by Vectorcon Systems at 8:23 AM on February 15, 2010

this is so boss! my powerball fantasy (not that I ever play) is a tugboat and a brand new garbage truck, but this is a wish list to keep you on envy forever. actually, I guess owning one of these would be like owning an elephant - you're better off just going to admire somebody else's.
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:00 AM on February 15, 2010

hull 1173 sounds like a historical british sitcom

c.f chelmsford 123

interesting article, these type of ships are amazing.
posted by marienbad at 9:26 AM on February 15, 2010

A few years ago we went camping at the Riverside-Cedars campground near Morrisburg, Ontario. The sight and and sounds of the huge lakers chugging by on the St Lawrence was awesome. We could spend all day just watching them go by.

On a slightly related note, we are going to see Gordon Lightfoot perform at the NAC in Ottawa in April. His song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" is one my favourite tunes of all time. I get shivers everything I hear it.
posted by eastofottawa at 9:53 AM on February 15, 2010

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
Superior, they say, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early.
posted by Mental Wimp at 5:38 PM on February 15, 2010

Boatnerd also has a bit of the story about the Roger Blough, launched out of Lorain, Ohio in 1972. Blough was chairman of US Steel, who went head to head with JFK over prices and wages. But while the ship was under construction, a fire broke out and killed four workers. When smoke started pouring from the yard, two young newspaper photographers grabbed a rowboat, rowed across the Black River to the shipyard and snuck in to get great photos of the fire before they were arrested. Who owned the yard? That would be George Steinbrenner, owner of American Shipbuilding Co., which was headquartered in Ohio before packing up for Florida. One of those photographers was Ross Baughman, went on to win a controversial Pulitzer a few years later.
posted by etaoin at 9:04 PM on February 15, 2010

Well, that's an hour spent. And most of it was ancillary stuff. Thanks! :-)

Once when I was around 8 years old, my family spent a night camping along the St. Mary's River, in the Soo (below the locks). When the lakers came by, the water would go very far out from shore, and then rush back after they passed. Sadly, the weather was miserable that brief visit.

Funny, I never knew there was a passenger boat docked in Saugatuck. I never really went anywhere there but the beach.
posted by Goofyy at 5:34 AM on February 17, 2010

Confess, here's a cool youtube video of a Hulett in action.
posted by acro at 7:43 AM on February 18, 2010

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