The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
O. W. Cheney (Tug), U155034, sunk by collision, 23 Jun 1903

Full Text

      Propeller CHEMUNG Crashes Into Tug CHENEY in the Lake During a heavy Sea and Sinks her.
      - - - - -
An awful accident occurred on Lake Erie when the big freighter CHEMUNG of the Erie Line crashed into the tug O. W. CHENEY at a point somewhere between Buffalo and Point Abino about 2:45 o'clock this morning. Three of the crew of the tug, including Capt. John F. Whelan, were drowned and two escaped on the life raft. They were picked up a few minutes later by the tug FRANK S. BUTLER and brought into port, when the story of the accident was told. The CHENEY was sunk.
      Just how the accident occurred is not definitely known. Capt. Whelan was the oldest tugman in Buffalo and had 30 years experience. It is not reasonable therefore, to suppose the collision was due to his carelessness of inefficiency. Capt. F. B. Huyck of the CHEMUNG says his steamer was traveling perhaps 11 or 12 miles an hour and that it appeared to him as though whoever was steering the CHENEY had misjudged the distance and cut directly in front of the freighter while intending to go to one side.
The crew of the CHENEY consisted of Capt. Whelan; Engineer James T. Byers of 708 West Avenue; fireman Dugan. Andrew Fritzenschaf, the steward, and. John McManus, as recorded on the books of the Great Lakes Towing Company which owned the CHENEY. McManus got ashore with engineer Byers.
      It is the custom of tug captains to take their boats out just beyond the breakwater at night and await signals from steamers coming into port. There was a rather heavy sea rolling last night, and it was raining lightly. There was no fog to speak of. The CHENEY and the BUTLER were near each other, cruising around when the lights of the CHEMUNG were sighted. Both tugs started for her. It was rough going. The seas tossed the little tug boats about like playthings. Eventually the CHENEY reached the CHEMUNG on her port side. The tug was hardly distinguishable from any distance for the darkness was intensified by the heavy rain clouds which hung over the lake.
The CHENEY started to turn toward the freighter. She was tossed about in the trough of the sea but held her own and the men in the wheelhouse of the CHEMUNG thought all was well until the crash came. A wild shout rang out from the CHENEY just as the boats collided. The crew of the CHEMUNG got forward with all possible speed but the CHENEY was sinking swiftly. Two of the CHEMUNG's crew who were well forward say the tug sank in a few minutes.
      Tug Struck Amidships.
It is believed the CHENEY was struck just about amidships. Capt. Whelan is said to have been in the wheelhouse. Dugan and Fritzenschaf were asleep below. They probably had no chance to get out of their bunks. It is believed their bodies will be recovered if the wreck is located. There is some doubt expressed about the recovery of Capt. Whelan's body. He was an expert swimmer and a man who would fight to the last. The belief was expressed on the docks this morning that Capt. Whelan had been struck by the wheel of the tug, perhaps, or otherwise injured with the crash.
"If he had half a chance," said a tug captain this morning. "he'd kept up until help, came. If they ever find his body they'll find, to, I think that, he was hurt."
      Rescued Men on Raft.
Engineer Byers and the fireman who was on duty managed to get hold of one of the life rafts on the tug. They were buffeted around by the waves but the tug BUTLER was not far away when the accident happened. The captain made straight for the spot and was just in time to save the two men on the raft.
It was hoped that Capt. Whelan, Dugan or Fritzenschaf had been fortunate enough to get hold of something to float them, so the BUTLER cruised around in the immediate vicinity, the crew shouting out to learn whether there were any more alive who might be rescued. No answers came to their calls, and they gave up the search and ran into Buffalo, where the rescued men were cared for.
      Capt. Whelan was not only the oldest tugman in Buffalo river, but was well known all over the Great. Lakes and for many years was captain of the big steel tug DUMBAR. He was the father of eight grown-up children and leaves a wife, who collapsed when she heard the news. Patrolman Arthur J. Whelan is one of the sons. He was at the foot of Main street this morning arranging to make a search for his father's body.
"We will spare no effort to find it," said he. "I think if we can locate the wreck it will be comparatively easy to find the body."
Capt. Whelan was highly thought of by his employers and was esteemed by all his associates. He had a reputation for being fearless, but always careful and prudent.
0. W. Johnson, superintendent of the Buffalo fleet of the Great Lakes Towing Company, said this morning the accident was the first of a serious nature that the company had since entering the Buffalo field.
"It is regrettable," he said, "that lives were lost. Capt. Whelan was, a competent, trustworthy commander, and probably no man in this part of the country was more skillful in handling a tug."
Dugan, the fireman who was drowned, was a somewhat remarkable young man. For two years he was employed in the office of the Great Lakes Towing Company as a bookkeeper. Recently he determined upon making more money and acquiring better health by firing on a tug. He joined the Tugmen's Union and started in. He lived at 25 Herkimer street and was well thought of. He was one of the most popular young men around the docks, and was always pointed out as the one who preferred to fire on a tug than keep books.
Dugan was ambitious and had only recently passed a civil service examination for a position in the postoffice.
He intended leaving the tug business in the near future. He was not married
      Fritzenschaf's Wife at Dock.
Fritzenschaf, who was cook and steward on the boat, was married. His wife was at the docks near the foot of Main street this morning waiting anxiously for some more definite information than, had reached her up to that time. She knew her husband was dead but she wanted details. A story arose that Fritzenschaf had considerable money with him. He was to have paid several grocery bills with it, so the story goes. Mrs. Fritzenachaf said she understood he had the money when he left port and (hat the bills were unpaid. Just how much he had is not known. Fritzenschaf was 55 years old and had lived in Buffalo all his life. He had been on the lakes several years. His son, Charles, was drowned while in swimming at Ashtabula two years ago. He is survived by his wife and two daughters, Mrs. P. J. Kearney and Mrs. William Beyer.
Engineer Byers made a statement this morning in which he says he heard Capt. Whelan groaning after he got in the water. This bears out the supposition that he was injured before going overboard. Byers was in the engine room, attending to his duties when he heard the signal bell begin to jingle rapidly.
      Engineer Byers Story.
"The crash came just after that," said he. "We were tossing around pretty rough. I got out someway to the raft. I yelled to the captain or to anyone who was near. There wasn't time to do much. I heard Capt. Whelan groaning after he got in the water and I tried to get to him with the raft but it was no use. We were thrown around and out of reach in a second."
      When asked for a version of how the accident occurred, Byers said he was not in a position to say what went on outside. "I was in the engine room awaiting signals," he explained. "I couldn't tell what was going on any place else. I know we were tossing around a good deal."
There are many ways in which the accident might have occurred. In the first place the CHENEY and the BUTLER were racing to the CHEMUNG for the tow. It was a case of all steam ahead. The BUTLER came about first in order to get close to the freighter and the CHENEY followed. It may be a significant fact that the CHENEY was fitted with a hand steering gear.. There is a possibility that the wheel got away from Capt. Whelan. Such things have occurred. If a big wave struck the rudder under certain conditions and the captain was, for instance, looking out the door of the pilot house, to see how close he was to the freighter, the chances are, the wheel would be wrenched from him and the tug might go in the direction just opposite to that he desired. There are other ways in which the steering gear might have become unmanageable at a critical time. A cable might have broken, for instance.
If the tug is raised it will be apparent just what happened, if there was anything out of the ordinary.
It is said the accident may have a tendency to stop the racing of tugs by the rival towing companies. The CHENEY was the property of the Great Lakes Company. The BUTLER belongs to the Independent Company. Tugs of each company lie in wait outside the break water for signs of a possible tow and then they race for it. The practice is condemned by marine men in general and it is said the accident of this morning may mean the abandoning of it.
      The Mate's Story.
The CHEMUNG is unloading freight at the Lackawanna's docks near the foot of Main Street. There are practically no signs of the collision about her except a slight marring of the timbers in her bow. The mate of the CHEMUNG said this morning: "We were well past Point Abino when we say the lights of two tugs coming toward us. The first time we saw the CHENEY she was off our port side. She was coming about and we thought everything was all right until she seemed to dive right in front of us. Well, there was the crash.
"Before we could do anything she was sinking fast. I heard someone yell. There was a heavy sea rolling, but it wasn't raining hard."
Supt. Johnson, of the Great Lakes Towing Company said he couldn't estimate the exact value of the CHENEY, but he thought it was worth between $8000 and $9000. It may be raised. Nothing has been decided yet and nothing can be done until the sea goes down.
      Divers to go After Bodies.
Oil on the surface of the lake about two miles this side of Point Abino showed to a party of investigators on the tug CASCADE this morning where the propeller had crashed into the tug. It was impossible because of the heavy seas to take the depth of the water. Tugmen took note of the place relative to the two shores, however, and when the lake quiets down divers probably will be sent to the bottom in an endeavor to recover the bodies.
`The party which went out on the CASCADE was organized by Patrolman Whelan, whose father met his death in the wreck. It was almost impossible to stand on the deck of the tug because of the waves.
"There was a heavier sea than this rolling last night," said a tugman. It is calculated by lakemen that the water is of about average depth where the accident occurred. It was, of course, impossible to see any part of the tug, and for a long time, there were no signs of oil. Finally the CASCADE ran right into the oily water. The scene of the fatal wreck was therefore approximately located.
      Buffalo Evening News
      Tuesday, June 23, 1903

      . . . . .
      Another unsuccessful attempt was made this morning to get at the wreck of the tug CHENEY which was run down and sunk by the propeller CHEMUNG early yesterday morning about four miles south of Windmill Point in Lake Erie. The tug CASCADE, Capt. James Gray commanding, started for the scene of the wreck at 6 o'clock this morning. It was hoped that the sea would have gone down sufficiently to permit a diver's going to the bottom but the weather was too severe.
Just as soon as the sunken tug can be reached it is believed the bodies of Edward Dugan and Andrew Fritzenahaf will be recovered. They were asleep in the tug and presumably had no chance to get out. In response to the appeal of Patrolman Arthur J. Whelan, son of the dead tug captain, people living along the Canadian shore of the lake in the vicinity of the wreck are keeping a lookout for any bodies.
G. W. Johnson, superintendent of the Great Lakes Towing Company's Buffalo fleet, said this morning that an almost perfect calm would be necessary before a diver could go to the bottom, and do successful work.
      "it is, of course, impossible to say just when we can get a. diver down there," said Supt. Johnson. "If the wind stops and the sea quiets down we will lose no time in sending a diver to the scene. We know now just about where the tug is and it probably will be an easy matter to find it,".
      "How deep is the water in the vicinity of the wreck.?" was asked.
      "I should say perhaps 40 or 60 feet," said Mr. Johnson.
      At that depth, marine men say there will be little danger of rough water having any very disastrous effect on the tug. If the collision with the CHEMUNG didn't do too much damage, it is more than likely the CHENEY will be raised.
      The families of the men whose lives were lost in the wreck, are anxiously awaiting the recovery of the bodies. The suspense is telling on them. Mrs. Bridget Whelan, wife of Capt. Whelan, who was among those lost, has not yet recovered from the shocking, news. Mrs. Whelan is in poor health, and the effect of the tragic death of her husband upon her is feared.
      Much speculation is being indulged in as to how the accident really occurred. Vessel men say the solution is simple. The method of "rounding to" as the sailors call it was responsible for the accident, in their minds. One experienced lake man said this morning: "A tug goes out after, a big boat like the CHEMUNG and rounds to so as to get in the big boat's suction. You see a tug couldn't run as fast, as those big boats go. It is a case of run up to a big boat, turn quickly and snuggle right in under her bow where the suction takes hold of the tug and hurries her along just as fast as the big boat is going. If a tug misses the suction it goes away off behind and the captain can't do business with the big one unless she slows down and waits. Now as I figure this out, Capt. Whelan, in rounding to, came a little too soon and ran directly in front of the steamer. The rounding to with a tug is always more or less dangerous. Of course there is the possibility that something was wrong with the steering gear. There might have been a dozen different reasons for the accident. Perhaps we'll never know, although the boat may show something."
      Buffalo Evening News
      Wednesday, June 24, 1903

      . . . . .

      Was Sighted Off Fort Erie Beach and Soon Brought Ashore.
The body of Capt. John F. Whalen of the ill-fated tug CHENEY, which was sunk by the propeller CHEMUNG, was found at 2:30 yesterday afternoon near the Fort Erie Beach shore of the lake. H. C. Webster of 163 West avenue. Buffalo, says he first discovered the body. He was walking along the beach with his 12-year-old son.
I notified some men of the discovery and we got the body ashore and notified the sheriff," said he. "There was no doubt about the identification."
F. L. R. Hope and Joseph Shumacher, U. S. Inspectors of Steam Vessels, held an inquiry yesterday into the circumstances of the accident. They mean to see whether there was a violation on any one's part of the rules governing lake navigation. Capt. F. R. Huyck, Pilot Ward; Lookout Slattery and Wheelsnan Rowe, the last three of whom were on deck when the accident occurred, told what they knew of the accident. In substance they said the CHENEY had switched straight in front of the CHEMUNG.
The bodies of Andrew Fritzenschaf and Edward M. Dugan have not been recovered. Neither has the CHENEY been reached. If the lake calms down today, a diver will be sent to the bottom to search the wreck of the CHENEY.
      The body of Capt. Whalen was taken to the morgue this morning by Undertaker Thomas Crowley. Deputy Medical Examiner Howland has been informed the coroner at Fort Erie has refused to issue a death certificate on the ground that Capt. Whalen was drowned in American water's. Dr. Howland in case a certificate is not issued he will make one out.
      Buffalo Evening News
      Thursday, June 25, 1903

      . . . . .
      Two Tugs Grappling in the Lake With Big Anchor Chains.
      Practically every tugman in Buffalo who could get away attended the funeral this morning of Capt. John F. Whalen, who was drowned by the sinking of the tug O. W. CHENEY about five miles south of Windmill Point, in Lake Erie, last Tuesday morning. Owing to this fact, further search for the missing tug was postponed until this afternoon when the tugs MASON and CASCADE started for the vicinity of the wreck. Supt. Johnson of the Great Lakes Towing Company's Buffalo fleet said this morning he was hopeful of finding the tug before nightfall.
      "We had two tugs out there all yesterday," said Mr. Johnson, "big anchor chains were used for grappling, but the tug wasn't found. We mean to keep at the work, however, until all hope is gone. It may prove a long tedious job, and again it may not. There is not much chance in a search of this kind when we know only the approximate location of the sunken boat."
      It is naturally impossible to send divers to the bottom before the boat is located, Mr. Johnson said, however, that if the CHENEY is found divers will be sent down to get the bodies of Edward M. Dugan and Andrew Fritzenschaf, the men who are said to have been asleep in their bunks when the freighter CHEMUNG crashed into the tug.
      The bodies of these men probably are still in the hold of the tug. Until an inspection of the sunken boat can be made it will be impossible to determine whether the whole or any part of it can be raised.
      Buffalo Evening News
      Sunday, June 27, 1903
      . . . . .

      Inspectors Say if Rules Had Been Observed Accident Could Not Have Happened.
In a report submitted today, Government Inspector Pope and Schumacher hold the pilots of both vessels responsible for the collision of the steamer CHEMUNG and tug O. W. CHENEY off Windmill Point on the night of June 23. Three lives were lost and the tug was sent to the bottom.
The lIcense of James Ward, Pilot of the CHEMUNG, is suspended for six months. The pilot of the CHENEY was lost. Following is the report:
      Department of Commerce and Labor Steamboat Inspection Service, office of local inspector, ninth district. Port of Buffalo, N. Y., July 7. 1903.
      After careful deliberation on the testimony taken in the investigation of the collision between the steamers CHEMUNG and 0. W. CHENEY on Lake Erie between Point Abino and Wind Mill Point on the 23d day of June, 1903, about 3 o'clock A. M., we find that the steamer CHEMUNG was enroute to Buffalo, running at her usual rate of speed, which is about 12 miles per hour and heading due east. The night was dark and raining. Wind S. S. E. The lights
of a steamer on the port bow and also of a steamer on the starboard bow was plainly visible to the pilot and lookout of the steamer CHEMUNG when two miles distant.
The steamer Q. W. CHENEY was lying off Wind Mill Point waiting for a tow. As soon as the lights of the steamer CHEMUNG were seen by the crew of the tug they got underway, heading
for the CHEMUNG in the customary way for the purpose of getting a tow or to communIcate with her, and in doing so came across her bow, was struck on the starboard side and sank. Three of the crew of the tug 0. W. CHENEY were drowned.
      Rule I. "When steamers are approaching each other 'head and head.' or nearly so, it shall be the duty of each steamer to pass to the right, or port side of the other and the pilot of either steamer may be first in determining to pursue this course, and thereupon shall give, as a signal of his intention, one short distinct blast of his whistle, which the pilot of the other steamer shall answer promptly by a similar blast of his whistle, and thereupon such steamers shall pass to the right or port side of each other. But if the course of such steamers is so far on the star board of each other as not to be considered by pilots as meeting head and
head,' or nearly so. the pilot so first deciding shall immediately give two short and distinct blasts of the whistle, which the pilot of the other steamer shall answer promptly by two similar blasts of his whistle, and they shall pass to the left, or on the starboard side of each other."
      Rule V. "The signals, by blowing of the whistle, shall be given and answered by pilots, in compliance with these rules, not only when meeting 'head and head' or nearly so, but at all times when meeting or passing at a distance within a half mile of each other, and whether passing to the starboard or port."
      It appears from the evidence that the pilots of both steamers failed to observe the above rules. Signals were not exchanged as required by law. We feel satisfied that strict compliance with these rules would have made a collision impossible. Therefore, we must, in view of the evidence impose a penalty for a violation of the rules herein quoted and under the authority conferred upon us by Section 4450 of the Revised Statutes of the United States we hereby Suspend the First Class Pilot's license of James Ward of the steamer CHEMUNG for six months, same to take effect immediately. The pilot in charge of the steamer 0. W. CHENEY was drowned.
      Respectfully yours.
      F. L. R. POPE.
      U. S. Local Inspectors.
      Buffalo Evening News
      Tuesday, July 7, 1903
The wreck of the tug CHENEY, which sunk several years ago, was located yesterday near the old salt dock by Capt. Cofffee and John Burns. It is in several feet of water, but the ferrymen recovered some pieces of the machinery.
      Buffalo Evening News
      August 23, 1909
Steam screw O.W. CHENEY. U.S. No. 155034. Of 41.91 tons gross; 20.96. Built 1881 at Buffalo, N.Y. Home port, Bay City, Mich. 61.0 x 16.0 x 8.0
      Merchant Vessel List, U.S., 1886
O.W. CHENEY Built May 26, 1881 Steam Tug -Wood
U. S. No. 155034 41 gt -20 nt 61' x 16' x 8'
Sunk June 23, 1903, in collision with stmr. CHEMUNG off Buffalo, N.Y., Lake Erie.
      Buffalo Shipbuilding Master List
      Institute for Great Lakes Research
      Perrysburg, Ohio

Media Type:
Item Type:
Reason: sunk by collision
Lives: 3
Remarks: Total loss
Date of Original:
Local identifier:
Language of Item:
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 42.88645 Longitude: -78.87837
William R. McNeil
Copyright Statement:
Copyright status unknown. Responsibility for determining the copyright status and any use rests exclusively with the user.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
WWW address
Comment on this item
Groups of Related Records
Shipwreck news
Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.

O. W. Cheney (Tug), U155034, sunk by collision, 23 Jun 1903