The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), Thur., August 31, 1899

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"Come seven, come eleven," shouted Deputy United States Marshal Cash P. Taylor yesterday afternoon at 12:03 o'clock as he mounted the steps at the federal building. Seven times eleven men and a few more answered the call and a game interesting thousands was started. The betting was hot and fierce and continued nearly and hour and a half.

It was not a riot or a mob, but a crowd of a hundred or more of the representative vessel owners and marine men of the lakes, who had gathered to bid on the steamer City of Rome, which was libeled some time ago by the Detroit Dry-Dock Co. Like Uncle Tom, the good old boat was put on the stand and knocked down to the highest bidder. The successful party was J. C. Gilchrist, of Cleveland, representing the Gilchrist Transportation Co. He paid $56,040 for her. The sale was made under court order by United States Marshal W. R. Bates.

It was the most notable gathering of marine men Detroit has seen in years, excepting, of course, the regular meetings of the Lake Carriers' Association. To the casual observer, it was merely a party of men bidding on a steamboat, but to a person conversant with affairs of freight, it had a deeper meaning.

It meant that there was a greater scarcity of steamboats of the freight variety than there has ever been before in the history of lake traffic. It meant that everything in the shape of a boat is being gobbled up at almost any old price. The fact that the richest and best known steamboat men on the lakes were present at the sale furnished evidence early that the the boat in question was going to bring a big price, which she did. There are only a few boats that are out of commission on the lakes and they are being grabbed whenever the opportunity presents, even if the rich owners must must take their bank rolls under their arms and travel a thousand miles to buy them. The sale yesterday was probably one of the most remarkable that was ever made on the lakes. many millions were represented by the crowd of gentlemen who attended.

* * *

"Well, this looks like old times," said Deputy Taylor who was conducting the sale, after he had surveyed the crowd. " It looks like the times we used to have when we knocked 'em down over on Griswold street."

They were all there. There was Captain John Johnson of Buffalo, who had the proceeds of the recent sale of his tugs to the trust in his inside pocket. He was the target for a good many good-natured jabs during the sale on account of his bank roll, but he took them all good-naturedly. There was John Kelderhouse, also of Buffalo, who came to buy the boat and for nothing else. Wiley M. Egan, of Chicago, who used to own Rome, the was on hand to see his property go over the hill. "Jack" Keith of Chicago, answered the roll-call, and J. C. Gilchrist, of Cleveland, looked wise and said nothing.

Every vesselman in Detroit was there. There was Charles W. Norton and his faultless silk hat. When the bidding was the hottest, Mr. Norton got excited and stepped on the wag apparatus of a little yellow dog. It took ten minutes to start the sale going again. The tall, willowy form of Capt. A. E. Stewart was prominent in the crowd, and he had the honor to make the first bid. Captain J. W. Westcott was on hand and said he was ready to make a $51,000 bid, but he didn't get a good chance. Then there was George King, B. W. Parker, Timothy Hurley, D. Whitney, Jr., W. T. Gray, J. J. Clark, Capt. J. W. Millen, L. C. Waldo, L. W. Green and many others. Among the "also-rans" from out of town were F. W. Gilchrist, Alpena; Capt. James Davidson, Bay City; Archie Thompson, W. A. Hawgood, Upson and Walters, W. C. Richardson, Cleveland; John Kelderhouse, Buffalo; C. J. Neilson, R. A. Shuck, Sandusky, and many others.

Capt. A. E. Stewart bade the other men welcome to Detroit by offering a first bid of $25,000 for the boat. The out of towners felt of their inside pockets to see if their rolls were still there. Then the fun began in earnest, and when the bidding was half through it had narrowed down to Capt. Johnson of Buffalo, John Kelderhouse of Cleveland and his neighbor, J. C. Gilchrist. Then Johnson quit the game and it narrowed down to the other two. This was when the bid was in the neighborhood of $50,000. It was give and take from then on. Most of the raises were $5 or $10, with now and the a sweetener of $50 or $100. When Gilchrist bid $56,040, Kelderhouse said: "I will quit."

One prominent marine man, who was on hand with his certified check, said to a Free Press representative at the Russell House:

"Yes, I think it was a great sale - about the greatest, that I have ever seen. I never saw so many men come from so many ports to bid on that kind of a steamboat. It means that rates are high and boats are almighty scarce and that any kind of boat is a veritable gold mine. I believe that the boat can make her price during the balance of the season in ore."

The Rome will go into the ore-carrying trade as soon as she is in shape. Her engines and boilers are comparatively new, and as every moment is of great value these days, the work on her will probably be done as quickly as possible.

A suggestion presented itself when the vessel owners were bidding on the Rome. Someone asked, "How many of you big guns are stuck with a cheap ore contract on your hands and need more vessel capacity to come out even?" There was no reply, but several of the men started bidding more furiously when this was mentioned. Just how many of the men here yesterday have cheap ore contracts in their hands would be difficult to estimate. Probably no mean number, however. The big boom in rates makes the men who were hustling for contracts early in the season, when ore rates were low, hustle still harder to get boats and get in on the harvest

* * *

Chicago, August 30. - A pool was made up by the leading vesselmen over the price the Rome would bring. A variance of some $27,000 between the prices named showed the wide divergence of views regarding the value of vessel property at the present juncture of boom times.

The highest price named in the vessel pool was $61,000, but most of the vesselmen guessed hardly more than half that sum. It is estimated here that the repairs yet to be made will cost $15,000, making the Rome cost her new owner about $71,000.

Media Type:
Item Type:
$56,040 in 1899 dollars is approximately equivalent to $1.31 million 2006 dollars. The CITY OF ROME (US#125914) was built in 1881 at Cleveland and measured 1908 gross tons. She continued to make money for her owners until lost to fire above Ripley, NY, in 1914.
Date of Original:
Thur., August 31, 1899
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Dave Swayze
Copyright Statement:
Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), Thur., August 31, 1899