Biography of the Schooner C.H. Hackley Lumber Hooker, Trader, Pirate Vessel – Winter 1981


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

By Carl A. Norberg

Two enterprising businessmen of Kenosha, Wisconsin, B. F. Aldrich and Royal B. Tousley, almost at the same moment set about to build separate sailing vessels that would make money in the booming lumber trade on Lake Michigan.

Together, in early 1868, they met with Louis Palo, a genius in the employ of the Allen and McClelland shipyard in Milwaukee. Palo could skillfully design and lay out a vessel with a rare gift of perfection, and he was rewarded with an equally rare order for two three-masted schooners of about 124 feet in length, 27 feet in breadth and 8 feet 9 inches in depth. They would be built for large lumber capacity but with a surprising “fast run” on the bottom for a good turn of speed. Both would be center boarders in order to navigate shallow harbor entrances. They would carry 250- to 350 thousand board feet of lumber, depending on the season. The going freight rate in 1880 from Muskegon to Chicago was $2.00 per thousand board feet. Imagine 136 sailing vessels arriving in Chicago on August 10, 1873, laden with lumber! Neither Aldrich nor Tousley had a moment’s doubt about prosperous times ahead. The Civil War was over and energy was turned to reconstruction. Mid-America was booming and the golden spike linking East and West Continental Railroads was about to be driven in Utah

Lumber hooker C.H. HACKLEY under sail. Image from the Alpena Public Library.

B.F. Aldrich would be owner with 4/6th share of his vessel, A. P. Reace of Kenosha with 1/6th and Master L. W. Miller, also of Kenosha, with 1/6th. The schooner’s name would be C. H. Hackley to honor the fame of that whirlwind lumber operator, Charles Henry Hackley, whom Kenosha’s claimed as their native son. As a penniless youth, Hackley had earned his passage under sail aboard the schooner Challenge from Kenosha to Muskegon in 1856, and from there began his meteoric rise to become West Michigan’s greatest business tycoon, with lumbering interests reaching out to nearly a dozen states. In 1929, his countless contributions to the City of Muskegon had a value of $5,884,422. Among them were the handsome Hackley Public Library, where this writer spent an interesting day in the “Marine Room,” Hackley Hospital, Hackley Manual Training School and many more.

As a note of more than passing interest, the sister ship to the C. H. Hack- ley was none other than the colorful three-master Rouse Simmons, the Christmas Tree Ship. Hackley and Hume owned the Rouse Simmons for twenty-five years, as well as the schooner Thomas Hume – both eventually lost with all hands-on Lake Michigan.

Not one of the onlookers at the happy launching celebration of the C. H. Hackley ever dreamed that this handsome vessel would meet her final hour sixty-five years later in Tampa Bay, Florida, when rumbles of World War II could be heard like distant thunder on the horizon. Our schooner was wisely timed to participate in the booming lumber movement from northern Wisconsin and Michigan to Chicago, the railroad center for the phenomenal Middle West explosion. She rode the crest of the bonanza from her day of launching until about 1900, when the inexhaustible virgin forests close to Lake Michigan were depleted. Muskegon had reaped the biggest share of the harvest, surpassing the Klondike proportions of the Saginaw forests on Lake Huron.

So, well was the schooner Hackley maintained and managed in winter gale and summer squall that she received no mention among marine disasters. The captain was usually a shareholder, which was a decided advantage. Reports of assistance rendered by the Life Saving Service (pre-Coast Guard) reveal only two minor incidents, as on August 26, 1880, while bound from Chicago to Menominee, Michigan, for lumber, she anchored off Kenosha and requested the Life Savers to put the captain ashore. He wished to take the train to Chicago to purchase replacements for the anchor windlass. When he returned with the needed parts, the surfmen rowed him out to his vessel. The repairs were made and she got under way.

Another time, on November 24, 1911, when a mile north of South Manitou Island on Lake Michigan, bound from Bowers Harbor to Chicago with a cargo of potatoes worth $9,600, the C. H. Hackley signaled the Life Saving Station at South Manitou. Whatever the reason, it was quickly resolved and she was on her way. The only serious mishap in all those years during her busy life was an unconfirmed report by the Muskegon Daily Chronicle – On May 27, 1901, when a vessel believed to be the C. H. Hackley was observed ten miles off Milwaukee by the steamer Boston to be waterlogged in heavy weather with no signs of life aboard her. Her deck cargo of sawmill slabs, bound for Sheboygan, Wisconsin, from a Michigan port, was floating all over the area. If true, the crew had wisely taken to the yawl boat should the vessel roll over and capsize, but they could have returned with a tug, pumped her out in good weather and continued on her way. Aboard a sailing vessel, there was little that could be lost except a portion of the cargo.

By 1882, at which time Captain Miller owned a 5/12th interest, she was sold to John Botcher of Chicago, who became sole owner and master. Until this time her gross tonnage had been 248 tons and net tonnage 236, but under the new Measurement Act of 1882, it was reduced to 207 gross, 197 net. The Oertling family, with Herman Oertling as Master, acquired our schooner in 1899, and her home port became Milwaukee. Longtime sailing vessel owner, Win Schlosser, of Milwaukee, bought her in 1906, with Capt. Niels J. Norem in command, and later Capt. Louis Fredericksen.

By now the Hackley earnings were becoming leaner. Lumber cargoes were more scarce, railroads were everywhere, steamers were getting into bulk cargoes. The outlook for sailing vessel owners was grim, but here and there an occasional shipper could use an aging sailing vessel. In 1911, she went to new owners, listed as the Chicago Transportation Company, managed by H. L. Crumpacker of Michigan City, Indiana. This writer believes that the owner was the same as Estebrook, Skeeles Lumber Company of Chicago, who evidently had a cargo source for the schooner. It was sometime between 1911 and 1913, that the three-masted schooner C. H. Hackley was re-rigged to become a two-master, thus joining the controversial ranks variously called the “Grand Haven Rig.” This change was not uncommon during the period. There was much to be admired about the rig, in which the mainmast was removed, thus opening up the midship deck for easier loading below and stowage of deck cargo. Some said speed was only a fraction less, if any, and it reduced the work for the crew, which by 1911, were getting softer than the “hard as nails” seamen of the earlier years. A less happy reason was that she may have become a “tow barge” for a short time, making room for a tremendous deck load in the summer months.

The ROUSE SIMMONS, sister ship to the C.H. HACKLEY, waiting to be loaded. Image from Alpena Public Library.

At this time the C. H. Hackley was considered to be in fair condition. She received a new deck in 1876, was rebuilt in 1889, which earned her an A-2 rating and a current value of $7,500. Being a good moneymaker, she was well maintained over the years. By 1912, her sister ship, the Rouse Simmons had already been lost at sea with a heavy loss of life.

In the year 1916, our schooner neared the end of her career as a Great Lakes “lumber hooker.” World War I was raging and freight rates on the Atlantic were soaring and vessels scarce. So, it was then, when Ole Hansen, an important shipowner in Milwaukee, bought her on April 18, 1916, and put her longtime captain, Louis Fredericksen, in command with a 1/4th interest. At the same time, he took out a “Consolidated Certificate of Enrollment and License” for one year, expected to be renewed annually. Her official number 5992, since building, would remain the same. It is our belief that the mainmast, which had been removed, was again rigged for a new life. At the same time, it is believed, her long familiar yard on the foremast, on which was set her typical Great Lakes “raffee” above it and the “runner,” or square sail below, was removed in preparation for a different kind of sailing that lay ahead. Ole Hansen probably had a buyer in mind, for on April 24, 1916, in Chicago, a southern pine lumber shipper, Paul E. Chalifoux of Birmingham, Alabama, took title to the still sturdy schooner C. H. Hackley. Her new home port was entered as Mobile, Alabama – quite a change for a forty-eight-year-old vessel. Sailing under the hazards of stormy seas and strange waters soon to be infested with enemy subs, she faced a perilous journey to her new home.

Records do not reveal if she found a cargo en route to the East Coast, via the St. Lawrence River. At any rate, by June 12, 1916, either her new owner or new master, George Berg, of New York City, appeared at the Collector of Customs, Port of New York, to reregister her. Undoubtedly, shemtook on a cargo at that point and commenced to earn handsome returns for her new owner. While no harm befell the C. H. Hackley, many Great Lakes schooners which had ventured to the Atlantic for higher profits met disaster, as witnessed by this partial roll of tragedies in 1915 and 1916:

David Wallace, foundered off Matinecus Rock, Maine, on August 7, 1915.

Mary B Mitchell, foundered in the Atlantic off the Massachusetts Coast, December 15, 1915.

Minnie Slauson, foundered in the Atlantic off Auburn Light, New York, December 16, 1915.

Cora A., foundered 400 miles off Cape Hatteras, March 6, 1916.

Alex Anderson, foundered in the Atlantic off Sable Island, near Boston, October 6, 1916.

Schuylkill, foundered in the Atlantic off Chincotegue Shoals, Virginia, October 16, 1916.

Scotia, foundered in the Atlantic off Marsh Island, North Carolina, December 30, 1916. And many more.

Possible earnings to both crew and owners were so irresistible that almost anything that could float might be sent to sea. A cargo in good demand, among the islands of the Caribbean and in Central America, was southern long leaf yellow pine and tidewater cypress, while common necessities like flour, hardware, construction materials, and food products were delivered under sail until well into the ’30s. Year-round sailing and reliable trade winds helped sail to “hang on” a bit longer.

The captain of the C. H. Hackley, on October 25, 1917, was M. J. Marcial a name that reflected his Mobile origin. He reported in to renew the Certificate of Registry. The preferred port on the Gulf of Mexico for shipping to the islands was Tampa, Florida, due to its close proximity and racial ties to Cuba and the greater likelihood of picking up the prevailing “trades.” By 1920, a Tampa lumber broker, W. M. Fielder, who purchased lumber cargoes and delivered to island customers, bought the Hackley. He proved to be the owner for the final thirteen years of her career, with one exception of a short time when she was flying the British flag, a story in itself.

Apparently, the Great Lakes schooner performed in handy fashion as she plowed the indigo waters of the Caribbean Sea, under azure skies flecked with fleecy white clouds of the prevailing easterlies. Imagine the old girl talking to herself as she heels to a fair breeze. Flap – that was a flying fish striking the deckhouse! A barefoot seaman retrieves it for a tasty lunch. Was our schooner recalling the ice flows that battered her bows on Lake Michigan in contrast to the friendly porpoises cavorting under the bowsprit? But, please hurry on, C. H., your years are numbered, the pump bowls are bright, your canvas is soft and so are some timbers.

Out of the port of Tampa there also sailed other old-time schooners, all three-masted, flying the British flag and registered in the Cayman Islands, south of Cuba, as follows:

  1. A. Bellivieu, scrapped in 1927.

Louis B. Beachamp, sailed into the early ’30s.

Rubins (gas auxiliary), wrecked in ‘49.

Leonie O. Louise, built Cayman Brac Island in 1920.

All were owned by an enterprising Cayman-born British subject, R. B. Kirkconnell, who made his home in Tampa. His craft were not only cargo carriers among the islands but often carried passengers as well.

Mr. Fielder had hardly commenced operating the Hackley after he bought her on August 18, 1920, and had sent several shiploads of lumber to the islands, when Mr. Kirkconnell offered him the irresistible sum of $8,820. Mr. Fielder accepted after a permit to sell the vessel to a foreign flag was obtained. The United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation, in granting the permit, had stipulated that “such vessel not engage in trade with ports of the United States.” This apparently was to prevent American- built tonnage from operating under foreign flags, where it had no control. Mr. Kirkconnell had assumed that once under the British flag, the Hackley could operate like his other schooners, which were built foreign. No amount of pleading by Kirkconnell would move the Board to change its mind so he found he had bought a vessel he could not use, with one exception – that was, to take on a perishable cargo of coconuts waiting at the English-speaking island of Roatan, Spanish Honduras, destined for Tampa. Imagine our Lake Michigan schooner loading coconuts on a lush tropical island!

So, in March, 1922, Mr. Fielder took back the Hackley, although it appears as if Cayman-born Kirkconnell and her last captain, C. C. Foster, owned minority shares from then on. The life of our schooner, crewed by Cayman Islanders and later by Jamaicans numbered about five men. Somewhere in her southern sojourn, a forward deckhouse was built, perhaps as a fo’c’s’le, as shown in the Tampa photo.

By this time our schooner was requiring more than a moderate pumping in a good breeze. Occasionally she was fitted with a new or recut sail when the old was beyond repair, but there was no money except for bare necessities. Undoubtedly, she would have seen more service under the British flag.

Cargoes of pine lumber were frequent to Havana, Cuba, returning to Miami or Tampa with genuine Spanish tile used so widely in the Florida building boom, which featured Mediterranean architecture. It is said that she carried the lumber for the Miami Kennel Club from Tampa about 1925, at which time Florida roads were impassable.

The writer, in recent years a resident of St. Petersburg, Florida, was able to contact people who knew the Hackley personally. Principal among them is the daughter of R. B. Kirkconnell, Mrs. C. C. (Eudean) Foster, wife of the last captain of the schooner. She recalled the time when her youngest son died while her husband was away on a long sailing trip with the Hackley. She induced him to forego any more extensive voyages to concentrate on raising their remaining boy, who today operates a marine supply company in Tampa.

ONE LOG ENTRY WRITTEN IN BLOOD

“You might have heard about the raids of the Confederate forces on the Great Lakes during the Civil War, but did you ever know that a Great Lakes sailing vessel, loaded with cutthroat pirates, successfully attacked a Florida city? In the early 1920s during the annual capture of the City of Tampa, the Milwaukee schooner C. H. Hackley entered the harbor and stormed the town. In desperation, the Alcalde (Mayor) submitted to the followers of Jose Gaspar as she approached the docks in the Hillsborough River!

By the year 1928, the Hackley became inactive. The old girl was in bad repair and freight movements were slow with the Great Depression already clamping down on business. Nevertheless, because of the possibility that vessels may suddenly become profitable, she was kept in semi readiness in the Hillsborough River. At last, in 1933, at the age of sixty-five hard years, she was towed out into the Bay and sunk forever. On August 21, of that year, Mr. Fielder declared her abandoned and gave up his final enrollment. By then Chancellor Adolph Hitler was rattling his saber in Europe and World War II was rapidly taking shape.”

The schooner C. H. Hackley might have been the last Great Lakes sailing vessel to remain on salt water. Another, listed as the schooner Biwabic, of 1,401 gross tons, built in 1894, at Marine City, Michigan, became waterlogged and was abandoned near Boston on February 12, 1935. However, she was really a tow barge with a short rig -probably used as a steadying sail at most. Another candidate could have been the Great Lakes schooner, Alice, of 307-gross tons, still registered in 1928 at Port Arthur, Texas. She was built at Manitowoc, Wisconsin, in 1881, and was sold in World War I by Milwaukee ship owner, Ole Hansen. Capt. Fred Nelson was in command all the way to Texas. While passing Mobile, Alabama, the local battery opened fire, not recognizing the peculiar rig of the Lakes, and seeing no Coast Guard flag in the rigging. This was the same Captain Nelson who sailed the schooner Our Son until she foundered on Lake Michigan in 1930.

The economic and historical contribution of the schooner C. H. Hackley during her lifetime was significant. About $17,000 (her original cost) largely went for wages and materials at the Milwaukee shipyard where she was built. For forty -eight years she supported a crew of five men and their families on the Lakes. She paid dividends to thirty-one shareholders and masters over the same period. For seventeen more years, when most of her old companions had succumbed, she was still working hard among the islands, with that schooner rig that only a Great Lakes sailor would recognize . . . Amen.

Schooner C. H. HACKLEY Built Milwaukee, 1868 Sunk Tampa Bay, 1933 R.I. P.

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About the Author: Mr. Carl A. Norberg, as our readers will remember, has a particular interest in the schooner era on our Great Lakes, and has compiled this article following considerable research devoted to his favorite type of vessel. For assistance during his efforts he wishes to acknowledge the following: the Hackley Public Library, Muskegon, Michigan; the Milwaukee Public Library, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and the National Archives, Washington, D. C. To Caroline Everett, St. Petersburg Library, Florida, for Life Saving Annual Reports; and to Mrs. Eudean Foster, of Tampa, Florida, for personal recollections of the C.H. Hackley; to Walter M. Hirthe, the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for photographs and special data; also, Larry Kirkconnell, St. Petersburg, Florida, “family historian; and to others who supplied pertinent facts along the way Mr. Norberg expresses sincere gratitude.

A graduate of the University of Chicago School of Business, he later be- came engaged in the manufacture of industrial and marine paint at Chicago, Illinois and St. Petersburg, Florida, where he and Mrs. Norberg now enjoy retirement.


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