Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Big Loads in an "Old Canaller": Schooner Days CCCCLXXXIV (484)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 22 Feb 1941
Full Text
Big Loads in an "Old Canaller"
Schooner Days CCCCLXXXIV (484)

by C. H. J. Snider


CAPT JOHN WILLIAMS' new command in 1892, the Sir C. T. Van Straubenzee, and the schooner St. Louis were practically twins. Both were strong, well-built vessels. They were intended for the timber trade and had stave-ports in their sides and hinged sternports for loading the square sticks of oak and pine. Capt, Williams carried squared timber from Grand Marais in Lake Superior and from Georgian Bay ports with the Straubenzee for two seasons, making four trips each year. Each trip took a month or so, the timber being unloaded near Kingston. Usually the sailing was done in tow of a steamer, with two barges and the schooner E. A. Fulton for company.

The steamer would get her tow to the place of loading and all would load together. If one of the schooners finished first and the wind was fair she might start out ahead and be picked up on the way down. Capt. Williams got some big loads into the Straubenzee, from 20,000 to 22,000 cubic feet of oak. The best was his first trip, when he had the luck to have a hustling young mate, experienced in timber loading, who did not content himself with "holding up his end against the Old Man," but did his best to make a good job of a new venture. In loading timber various methods were employed. Some captains left it all to the mate, and that was poor policy. Some went into the hold and worked the starboard Side against the port, which was sometimes better.

Much depended, too, on the condition of the labor market. First year men were keen for jobs, and the mate could tell the crew "No smoking, boys, until we knock off for supper," and the men would not grumble at not being able to light their pipes while the donkey engine was quilling up. But next year men were harder to get and harder to keep, and the mate had to look the other way when they stopped to fumble for matches. Working timber, a hard, wet, long-hours job, was an art in itself in lake traffic, and by the 1890's sailors competent in this branch were becoming scarce and the trade was dwindling.

All was cargo that came to the Straubenzee's hold—-sand, coal, gravel, grain, lumber, timber or mixed merchandise. Capt Williams had one gay cargo of mousetraps, matches, crockery, kettles, pots and pans and canned goods, from Montreal to a dozen points along the St. Lawrence River and canals. And some of the grain cargoes he got into and out of the Straubenzee would have made old Louis Shickluna, builder of the Straubenzee and St. Louis, turn in his drydock.

Once he was sent to Buffalo for a cargo of wheat. He had carried 24,000 bushels in her and thought he was doing well. But this cargo had been shipped in bond and it had to come out all or nothing. Mr. Richardson authorized him to buy bags and put on deck what he couldn't get into the hold. He was to get the whole cargo to Port Colborne somehow, and then lighter the schooner and have the surplus sent down the canal in a small vessel, if necessary, and reloaded at Port Dalhousie or taken on to Kingston.

Capt. Williams saw the proprietor of a waterfront saloon, with a gold watch chain across his stomach Heavy enough for stud-link cable for the Straubenzee. He knew he was the real boss of the loading gang, for some of them had already drunk all the wages that would be coming to them. So he invested 75 cents with him. And got results. They got over 24,000 bushels into her! Then he led the cable wearer down into the forecastle and showed him a trap in the forecastle floor. They got some more wheat into the little space in the hold below that, and back into the brows of her, under the cabin. Still some was left, so this was bagged and piled on the after hatch, under the mainboom and covered with a tarpaulin. All right in dry weather. If it came on to rain the bags would have to be run into the cabin, through the galley door and the door to the captain's stateroom, which were in the forward bulkhead. There was 500 bushels in the bags.

Capt. Williams gave a receipt for 25,250 bushels!

The Straubenzee was down to 12 feet 6 inches draught, at least eighteen inches deeper than her normal load waterline. Her covering-board must have been wet.

But she had luck all the way. Gentle weather to Port Colborne. Enough water in the canal to float her in and out of every lock. No need for a lighter. Gentle weather again down Lake Ontario. When she got to Kingston there blew up a summer thunderstorm. But they spread the lowered mainsail across the bags on deck and the grain was not even dampened. And to cap it all she overran 25 bushels when the grain was-unloaded; that is, the elevator measurement of the delivered grain was 27,275 bushels instead Of 27,250. Mr. Richardson, admiring Capt. Williams' feat, was willing to allow him the overrun, which might have meant the price of a suit of clothes. But Capt. Williams said: "No, I was measured short a few bushels on the trip below, and I wouldn't pay it, for I knew I had delivered to you all the grain I got. I've done the same again and I don't want to be paid for the overrun."

Less generous was his treatment when he carried the biggest schooner-load of barley ever shipped out of Oshawa for a Toronto dealer. The terms were 16,000 bushels to Oswego or Charlotte and the rest at the shipper's option. Ho got the Straubenzee to Oshawa, and, running back and forth to Whitby and Frenchman's Bay whenever the weather made it impossible to lie at the Oshawa pier, crammed 27,400 bushels of barley into her by a week's work, his own crew doing the trimming. With the wind blowing snow flurries from the northwest he walked up and down the pier with the grain dealer and listened to his plea to take the barley to the malthouse dock in Kingston, instead of Charlotte or Oswego, where she would have been sure of a load of coal for the return trip. He pointed out that to go to Kingston meant a week's more time unloading and that he would still have to cross the lake for his coal cargo, so it should be worth half a cent a bushel to change the destination; $137. The owner took off his mitts and his glove below and shook hands vigorously saying, "Come right into my office in Toronto and I'll see you're fixed up, when you get back."

He came into the Toronto office a little more than a week later, and got the laugh.

"I'll never charter a vessel for that man again,"said the agent, when told of the dirty deed.

But Providence was kinder than man or Mammon. When the Straubenzee was dodging in and out of Oshawa, loading, the William Jamieson, then sailed by Capt. Charlie Wakely, finished loading in Whitby and sailed for Oswego. And the Annandale and the Flora Carveth and the Trade Wind all got their loads and sailed.

"They'll be back up the lake with loads of coal before you get started, captain." The grain shovelers told Capt. Williams as another thousand bushels of barley found its way into the Straubenzee's half-filled hold during loading intervals at Oshawa's tempestuous pier. There was no harbor there then, just a stub sticking out into the open lake, and whenever the wind came in from the south there was no lying at it.

However, the northwest snow-squalls which hustled the Straubenzee down when she did get loaded held the fleet down the lake after they had been unloaded, while she was unloading at Kingston. She was up as soon as any of them, after crossing over to Oswego. The Jamieson had left Oswego to load coal at Fairhaven, and poked her jibboom into the coal trestle there, and the others had lain windbound in a week of gales. So all was well that ended well.



Rudderless, her hull leaking like a sieve, and her engines incessantly breaking down, a Belgian relief ship sent out an SOS. That was back in the days of the last war. The tale of how the SOS was answered, and how the ship was eventually towed safely into Halifax harbor, after 11 days filled with danger, was told to the Shellbacks Club at this week's luncheon.

The teller of the tale was J. B. MacAulay, who had signed on as an engineer in the ship as the quickest way to get to England and join the navy. The ship was the S.S. Camino, whose five or six thousand tons had been in use off the coast of California as a coasting vessel until that state decided to send her across the Atlantic filled with supplies for Belgium.

Mr. MacAulay joined her at Colon, Panama, where he, with several hundred others, had been waiting transportation to England.

"She was," he told the Shellbacks, "the crankiest thing which ever sailed. She took a long time to get to Panama because something was always going wrong, either her boiler tubes were bursting or her bearings were getting hot or her pumps were not working." Because of these defects the Chief Engineer was only too glad to sign him on as an engineer, and a friend with him.


The day before they sailed, Mr. MacAulay said, the Chief took him down to the forepeak, which was "leaking like a sieve." Started rivets were letting streams of water as thick as a man's finger play into the hull.

"Don't say a word about it" the chief cautioned, "it's a dry-dock job and we haven't the time."

"I said 'O.K.'," Mr. MacAulay recalled, as the Shellbacks chuckled, "and we started out."

They started out into winds which, for five days, were of near hurricane strength. A wave came on board and smashed away the port side cabins, in which three newspapermen reporting the trip had been berthed. One was knocked unconscious. Each of them lost nearly all their equipment. A similar wave battered the ship's rails to the deck, so that it was not safe for a man to go forward.

The crowning blow, however, came when Mr. MacAulay was at the thought, the chief answered: checking down the engines when the propellor was racing. The chief engineer came to him.


"Mac," he said, "I think we've lost our rudder."

Then, as Mr. MacAulay asked why the thought, the chief answered: "Well, we are supposed to be steering northwest and we're going north-east."

"Came the dawn," said MacAulay, "and we could see that the rudder had snapped at the head."

After the seamen had attempted to rig a jury rudder and the engineers had tried to repair the real one, a call for assistance was sent out. The first ship to answer, carrying mules and war supplies across the Atlantic, offered to stand by to save life but not to salvage. The captain of the Camino refused to abandon ship, and another vessel, the S.S. Kanawah, 100 miles away, signaled she was coming to his assistance.

Mr. MacAulay told of preparing a new five-inch manilla hawser as a tow-line and of securing it to the anchor cable to give them about 1,500 feet. His description of the passing of the line to the towing ship, in weather which swept the ships together from 100 feet apart "in a matter of seconds," was given very briefly, but the Shellbacks, most of whom are yachtsmen, were well able to imagine the scene. Finally, with the use of a rocket line, the hawser was passed.

"We towed for about 15 or 20 minutes, then it snapped," said Mr. MacAulay. "The other ship cruised around us all night to keep us company and the next day, after a nice bit of maneuvring and seamanship, we got the hawser aboard again. It broke again and again, there being no proper gear aboard to equalize the strain.

In the meantime, a coastguard cutter from Boston had arrived, and she put a two-inch wire aboard. "That snapped," was the brief report on this effort.

The United States sent one of its ice-patrol ships with a brand new hawser "strong enough to tow a battleship."

"That's what they thought," said Mr. MacAulay. "It parted on the second day."


During the battle with the storm, three men were washed into the scuppers and two of them seriously injured, so they were transferred to the United States cutter and the three newspapermen "who had enough" went with them.

"We just went on getting hawsers aboard and being towed," Mr. MacAulay reported, amid laughter.

Finally the Kenawah, with the aid of the Canadian cable-laying ship Lady Laurier, got the Camina into Halifax harbor. Before she could be berthed, however, the Lady Laurier, which was using her lines to steer the disabled ship from astern, "stopped, and the Kanawah kept going, so the towline went again." This time they just anchored and, after a final flurry of excitement through the night, when the anchor started to drag, were towed to a berth in the morning.

"The next time I went to sea I had a good ship beneath me," said Mr. MacAulay, "for I was in the navy, in a cruiser."


THE ST. LOUIS, a twin of the STRAUBENZEE and very much like her in everything but paint, she being white and green to her sister's black and red. At the foot of John street, about 1905.

Snider, C. H. J.
Item Type
Date of Publication
22 Feb 1941
Personal Name(s)
Williams, John
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 42.88645 Longitude: -78.87837
  • Michigan, United States
    Latitude: 46.67081 Longitude: -85.98517
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.22976 Longitude: -76.48098
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.90012 Longitude: -78.84957
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.45535 Longitude: -76.5105
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 42.90012 Longitude: -79.23288
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.85012 Longitude: -78.93287
Richard Palmer
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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Big Loads in an "Old Canaller": Schooner Days CCCCLXXXIV (484)