A New Life For An Old Engine – Winter 1975

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

Portrait image for Captain William A. Hoey.
Image from Saulthistoricsites.com

By James S. Woodward

On September 25, 1975, Capt. William A. Hoey of the Gaelic Tugboat Company of Detroit offered the Great Lakes Historical Society a 38- ton, triple-expansion steam engine. On October 21, the engine was quietly resting at its new temporary home on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pier at the foot of East 9th Street in Cleveland, Ohio!

The engine, built by Wilson & Hausley, Montague, Michigan, in 1906, first served in the tug The Moose and in 1920 was installed in the new tug Wm. A. Whitney where it would spend the rest of its working days. When Captain Hoey purchased the Whitney, his intent was to repower her with a modern, efficient diesel. The problem-what to do with the iron behemoth presently in the engineroom? With the 50-ton boiler already cut into pieces and removed for scrap, a repeat performance would be the most efficient way to eliminate the final obstacle to dieselization. However, because of Captain Hoey’s interest in steam engines and their history, he resisted the temptation and offered the engine to our Society. Because of the modernization plans for the Whitney, it was imperative that the removal be accomplished before winter.

The tug MOOSE. Image from Alpena Public Library.

The engine is one of a fast disappearing breed. Steam powered tugs are practically a thing of the past. With the Society’s growing interest and corresponding growing collection of marine engines, the Whitney’s engine would give it the finest collection of marine steam engines on the Great Lakes. Although the engine has not run since 1965, it is still in working condition. Hopefully, after restoration, it will be displayed as an operating engine, possibly powered by compressed air or an electric motor, making it the most unique display in our engine collection.

Between September 25 and October 21, a lot of work had to be done. Our most pressing problem was where to get a crane with the required lifting capacity. A survey of the waterfront facilities in Cleveland indicated that cranes capable of lifting more than 25 tons were in short supply. Finally, Mr. John L. Jaegersen, Marine Services Superintendent for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was contacted. Mr. Jaegersen saved the day. The services of the C. of E. derrickboat Ohio, as well as temporary storage, would be donated if the Society could furnish the rigging and the manpower. But the cables, slings, shackles and gear required to lift 38 tons isn’t found in your friendly local hardware store! Through the efforts of Mr. Howard H. Baxter, Executive Vice President of the Society, and the generosity of Mr. Frank Samsel of Samsel Rope & Marine Supply of Cleveland, the required rigging gear was donated for the day of the lift.

At first, members of the Auxiliary Board of the Society were confident about the move, but as the big day approached, some apprehension crept into the picture. Marathon telephone conversations produced questions about rigging techniques, weight distribution and safety precautions. What to do? At that point, too many arrangements had been made, and too many people commit ted, to lose the engine to the cutter’s torch. It was quickly concluded that nobody in the Cleveland area knew more about the art of rigging than the Norris Bros. Co. A phone call to Mr. Jack Norris brought immediate and enthusiastic results. Although Mr. Norris was committed to other business on the day scheduled for the lift, he donated the services of Mr. Dayton Davis, whose years of experience in weight handling made him a most welcome associate.

The plans called for the Whitney, in tow of the Donegal, to leave Detroit early Monday morning, arriving at Cleveland in plenty of time to get things ready for Tuesday morning. Sunday was a day of apprehension and excitement, a Lake Erie storm on Monday would negate all of the plans and work done during the previous month. A check of the weather forecast for Monday was not encouraging: the prediction was for strong north-westerly winds and waves to 15 feet. This would eliminate all possibility of the tow to Cleveland.

Monday morning brought ominous grey skies over Lake Erie, but a check with the tug office in Detroit brought word that the weather was not as bad as expected and that the Donegal and the Whitney had gotten underway at 6:45 A.M. Throughout the day, their progress was monitered by MKC Jim Bowman of the Cleveland Coast Guard Station.

Almost fifteen hours after departure from Detroit, at 9:30 P.M., the Donegal, Whitney and an exhausted crew of five arrived at the foot of East 9th Street. Society members were waiting on the dock to help handle lines. Almost immediately this volunteer crew set to work removing the brass grease cups, lubricators and other fancywork that could be damaged during the lift. At midnight, the crew retired.

At 7:30 A.M. on Tuesday, the Corps of Engineers dock was alive with activity. The C. of E. tug Washington, under the command to Capt. L. E. Chambers, was making final preparations to move the gigantic C. of E. derrick boat Ohio into final position. Meanwhile, Mr. Davis of Norris Bros. Co. pondered the question of where to attach the lifting gear so that once lifted from its bed, the engine wouldn’t shift. At the same time, the crew of the Donegal and members of the Society’s Auxiliary Board worked in the hold of the Whitney, freeing the engine from its mounts, moving obstructions and assisting the rigging operations.

The tug WILLIAM A. WHITNEY. Image from Bowling Green State University Archives.

The afterend of the engine bed was tight against the drive shaft. The forward end was about four inches behind the sea chests. A miscalculation of the balance point of the engine or a misalignment of the hook over the engine could send the 38-ton mass into the sea chests. This much force would surely crush them, sending the Whitney to the bottom in a matter of minutes.

At about 10:00 A.M., all was ready. The Ohio took a strain on the cable and with the care and finesses of a diamond cutter, Crane Operator John Spitalik began to lift. A look at the waterline of the Whitney immediately told you something was happening. The hull was six inches further out of the water than it has been just minutes before. Suddenly, the engine broke loose and sprang about 18 inches off the keel. Mr. Davis’ experience was evident as the engine hung in perfect balance. The engine seemed to hang for an eternity just inches above the bed. A sudden gust of wind could still smash the sea chests. Ever so slowly, the Ohio lifted the engine. At the main deck level, minor adjustments were made and the seven-foot-wide engine slid through the ten-foot opening in the engineroom overhead. Again, a sudden shift or roll could send the engine careening into the cabin bulkhead, upsetting the load and dropping the engine: from this height, the engine would plow through the hull to the lake bottom, taking the Whitney and some personnel. But within 15 minutes of the start of the lift, the engine was resting on l2- by 12-inch timber blocks on the Corps of Engineers pier where it will remain until it is restored and placed on display.

Many people donated a great deal of time and equipment to make all this possible. The overwhelming interest, enthusiasm and generosity in response to our pleas for assistance was most gratifying. Without the help of each person involved, the engine pull would not have been the total success that it was.

We hereby wish to express our appreciation to the following: Gaelic Tugboat Company-Capt. William A. Hoey, President, Jim Storen, Jim Hill, Roger Bednarz and Ronald Ingram; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Mr. John L. Jaegersen, Marine Services Superintendent: C. of E. tug Washington-Capt. L. E. Chambers, John G. Dean, Lewis Gordon and Johnnie Anthony; C. of E. derrickboat Ohio-John S. Spitalik, John F. Ilenich, Arthur W. Gilmore, James E. Siebert, Casmir J. Wawrzyniak, Harold M. Gray, Jimmie Savette and Robert J. Daniels; Norris Bros. Co.-Mr. Jack Norris and Dayton Davis; Samsel Rope & Marine Supply-Mr. Frank Samsel, President, Jimmie Shumar and Mike Mastre; and to the U.S. Coast Guard, Cleveland Station-MKC Jim Bowman, Station Engineering Officer.

To the volunteer crew, including our own Great Lakes Historical Society members, a special vote of thanks to Auxiliary Board members Tom Meakin and Tom Miller for donating a lot of time, labor and even a few bruised knuckles to make the project a successful reality. Thanks to Mr. Howard H. Baxter, Executive Vice President of the Society for his advice, legal opinions and encouragement. Thanks to Harvey T. Miller, Director of the Auxiliary Board, for photographing the event, to Charles D. Bieser for his unexpected and most welcome last-minute help, and to friends Erwin Thorns and John Stanton for their assistance.

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About the Author: Mr. James S. Woodward is a civilian employee of the U.S. Coast Guard, in the Civil Engineering Branch of the Ninth District Office, Cleveland. He is Director of Accessions for the Great Lakes Historical Society and an active member of the Auxiliary Board. Not indicated in his article, Mr. Woodward was the motive force behind the acquisition and successful moving of the Wm. A. Whitney’s engine to Cleveland, having made most of the arrangements for services, and coordinating the planning and scheduling required in this unusual operation. He well deserves the commendation of our Society for its success.

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