Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Western States (Steamboat), U81811, collision, 24 May 1909
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      Tug Was About To Take Up The Steamer When The Collision Took Place
Three lives were lost in a collision between the steamer WESTERN STATES of the Detroit & Buffalo Navigation Company and the tug PRINCETON this morning in the harbor off the U. S. Life Saving Station. The drowned were: -
      William McClure, fireman, 23 years old. Lived at foot of South Michigan street.
      Frank Traufler, engineer, 34 year old. Lived on Bertha Place. Missing.
      Raymond Norbury, fireman, 19 years old. 160 O'Connell avenue.
Traufler's body was recovered at once. The two remaining bodies were recovered this morning and were sent to the Morgue by Deputy Medical Examiner, Howland.
      The body of Raymond Norbury of 160 O'Connell avenue was recovered by men on the police patrol boat at 11:20 o'clock. The body was found on top of the cabin of the PRINCETON, near the smokestack.
Thomas Thompson, a diver employed by the Great Lakes Towing Company brought up the body of William McClure. The drowned fireman was found in the bed of the river, near the hull of the PRINCETON, he had been evidently spilled out of the fire hold when the tug rolled over.
The PRINCETON was rolled over in about the same spot where her sister tug, the YALE, (?) was rolled over by the freighter YALE of the Boland Line last fall. The YALE went to the scene of the accident to search for the bodies of the crew shortly after the accident.
Capt. James Sullivan of the PRINCETON escaped. He swam to the Life Saving dock
      According to statements of eye-witnesses, the PRINCETON had crossed the bow of the WESTERN STATES in order to tow her to her dock. The YALE had taken the line of the WESTERN STATES and was swinging around to head up the river for the dock. The WESTERN STATES, however, had greater headway than the captain of the YALE evidently calculated, for the big steamer struck the PRINCETON amidships and turned her over, the members of the crew being precipitated into the water.
      The collision was witnessed by a large number of passengers of the WESTERN STATES who were gathered in the bow enjoying the waterfront panorama in the bright May morning, and waiting to disembark on the near approaching dock. The women screamed and men shouted as the tug was seen to turn turtle, and a stampede took place, all hurrying to the side to see where the tug sank to the bottom.
One head was seen to come to the surface, and the excited passengers saw a short but sharp struggle for life. Then the unfortunate sailor disappeared from view for the last time. According to the testimony of eye-witnesses, a police officer stood on the life saving dock within 10 feet of the drowning man and failed to as much as throw to him a life preserver which the officer held in his hand. The passengers say the officer appeared to be paralyzed or, as they expressed it, "afraid of wetting his uniform."
The spectacle of cowardice or inefficiency stirred the passengers to deep indignation, so that it was talked of more than anything else as they landed on the docks. Among the eye-witnesses was Mrs. Frank Howard, wife of the proprietor of the Bohemian Caf_ & Grill, Twelfth street, Oakland, Cal. She was one of the passengers, and stood in the bow of the WESTERN STATES, where she saw the entire accident. She said:
      We were enjoying the view of Buffalo as it rose out of the morning mist, and were watching the tug hitch up to the WSTERN STATES. I thought the boat was going too fast for the tug to get out of the way. The tug was turning sideways. I screamed when I saw the little boat tipped over. I knew that some of the men were in the little cubby (the cabin) and would be drowned like rats.
      "But when I saw one of the men on the tug come up to the surface and splash around trying to save himself, I was so excited I could have thrown myself overboard to go to him. It would have been foolish, for I would have been drowned, too, but I just couldn't seem to help it. All the other women near me were just about crazy, too, but none of us could do anything. The WESTERN STATES was going ahead all the time, further and further from where that head was bobbing up and down, trying to save himself from drowning."
Mrs. Howard paused to gather her breath. Her breast heaved and tears stole down her cheeks at the recollection of the futile struggles of the drowning man. But the tears were scorched away as she proceeded, indignation supplanting sympathy as she continued her story.
      "But what do you think of the policeman we saw who couldn't lift a hand to help that poor drowning man ? He stood on the dock, within five feet."
"Nearer 15 feet." Suggested her husband." "No, not 15 feet. It was no further than from here to that post." Indicating a distance of 10 feet. "The policeman with his helmet on his head and a life preserver, stood right there with his mouth gaping open and saw that man drown. He never tried to throw the life preserver. He never offered to jump in. He just stood there like a knot on a log and saw him struggle and struggle and sink. The man was struggling for about a minute
before he went down for the last time. It was the most shameful thing I ever saw in my life."

      "The Big Side-wheeler Was Going Too Fast" Was His Only Comment On The Accident.
Immediately after the tug sank. The first body recovered was that of Frank Traufler, engineer of the tug. It was taken to the dock and the attempt at resuscitation was continued for more than an hour. Traufler lived in South Buffalo. It was said at the tug office that his wife had died a year ago, leaving five small children, who are now deprived of their father.
      James Sullivan was captain of the PRINCETON, and with Tom McMahon, fireman, was on deck when the boat turned over, and both of them escaped.
L. F. Lautenslager, local manager for the Great Lakes Towing Company, went out to the wreck in the tug YALE and had it marked with buoys. The PRINCETON lays diagonally across the river between the Delaware, Lackawanna & Weston coal trestle and the new Life Saving Station in about 25 feet of water, her bow near the center of the river and her stern towards the life savers' dock.
"The big side-wheeler was going too fast," was the only comment Mr. Lautenslager would make on the wreck.
      The PRINCETON, known as the tug ALPHA until last year when her name was changed because the Great Lakes Towing Company has a tug ALPHA at Chicago, was a steel tug of 43 tons, 57 feet long and 16 feet beam. She was built at the Union Dry Dock in this city in 1882 and was rated A 1-1/2.
      Buffalo Evening News
      Monday, May 24, 1909
      . . . . .

      More testimony in Trial to Recover for Loss of PRINCETON'S Crew
Furter testimony was taken today in the cases of Mary Trauffler, Alice A. McClure and Charles Norbury, who are suing the Detroit & Cleveland Navigation Company, and the Hand & Johnson Tug Line for a total of $55,000, as damages for the death of their sons, Frank M. Trauffler, William A. McClure and Ray E. Norbury, killed when the WESTERN STATES collided with the tug PRINCETON last summer.
Thomas McMahon, who was a lineman on the PRINCETON at the time of the collision, but who managed to swim ashore and save himself, was first on the stand.
"I don't know, I never will know, just what happened when we got along by the North Pier, he said, as the attorneys gave him free reign to tell his story in his own way. " I was on the lookout to get a rope from the big boat so that we could tow her in. Before I could tell what had happened there was a terrific shock, our tug seemed rended to splinters, and them all was shouting and running back and forth and confusion. The PRINCETON began sinking at once and rapidly. Almost in the same second with the striking of the two boats, the rope was hurled to us from the WESTERN STATES, and I grabbed at it. But I could hold on only a moment.
"Trauffler and McClure were overboard in the water now and were trying to swim ashore. They seemed to be making pretty good headway when the steamer began to back away from us. The paddle-wheels, of course, threw wave after wave of water forward towards those two poor fellows struggling in the water, sucking them under. As long as I live I will remember Trauffler's white face there among the waves, and hear his voice in an agonized wail crying to the people on the steamer, "Stop her; oh, stop her!" But they didn't stop her, and in a second the two lads were dragged under. How I escaped I don't know. I seemed to be in the lee of the wrecked tug, I suppose, and didn't get into the undertow of the paddle-wheels."
      From Capt. John Farrell, in command of the MASON, the attorneys for the complainants tried to elicit the fact that the WESTERN STATES was going much too fast. Capt. Farrell described how the big vessel passed him and how he took himself alongside of her when the stern was about abreast of him. He was losing ground with her, although he was doing nine miles an hour, he said, and didn't catch up until he speeded up to 11 miles.
      Buffalo Evening News
      Thursday, February 17, 1910

      . . . . .

      Decision By Judge Hazel Makes Owners Of Tug And Steamer Jointly Responsible.
      By a decision of Judge Hazel yesterday the Detroit & Cleveland Navigation Company and the Hand & Johnson Tug Line are made responsible for the deaths of those who were drowned in the collision between the steamer WESTERN STATES and the tug PRINCETON, and must pay damages to the amount of $12,500 to the respective parents of James Trauffler, William McClure and Raymond Norbury. Mrs. Trauffler receives $7,500, Mrs. McClure $3,000 and Mrs. Norbury $2,000.
      In his opinion Judge Hazel said:
      "The steamer was not solely to blame, as the master of the tug was delinquent in that he negligently navigated the boat. Both vessels were at fault for the accident, and had it not been for their joint current negligence, there would have been no collision, or accident."
      The accident occurred in May 1909, when the steamer WESTERN STATES was entering the harbor and in approaching to take a line from her the tug was struck by the bow of the steamer and turned over.
      Buffalo Evening News
      July 20, 1910

Item Type
Reason: collision
Lives: nil
Remarks: Repaired
Date of Original
Local identifier
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 42.88645 Longitude: -78.87837
William R. McNeil
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Western States (Steamboat), U81811, collision, 24 May 1909