The J. B. Ford was built by American Shipbuilding Company in Lorain, Ohio on the Black River, over the winter of 1903-1904. On December 12, 1903 the J. B. Ford was launched at noon. The ship was Christened the steamer Edwin F. Holmes by Miss Alia E. Hawgood, and in ceremonies that followed Captain James Owen was given first command. The Hawgood family and guests had arrived from Cleveland,Ohio to Lorain via a special railroad car of the Nickel Plate RR.
On January 22, 1904 heavy rains caused wide spread flooding of Ohio and PA. Ice dammed up around the Nickel Plate RR turntable bridge on the Black river causing it to be washed out. The bridge tender had to be rescued and the ice flow caused wide spread damage. The tug Pankrats caught fire and sank, the tug Gull sank after the steamer Holden pinned it against the pier until it sank in the river. The tug Brazier was washed out onto Lake Erie. The Holmes tied up along the shipyard swung across the river burying her bow into the muddy bank. The yard, as well as a steel mill, were closed for three weeks due to flooding. The local fire engine pumper was dispatched to pump out the shipyard buildings. On February 5, 1904 a gang of shipyard workers dug out the bow of the Holmes.
Today the shipyard has been re-developed into housing with two steel mills remaining on the Black River. The bridge has been replaced with a newer RR lift bridge.
The Edwin F. Holmes entered the bulk cargo trades on the Lakes in 1904. On July 19, 1904 in the Duluth, MN harbor the Holmes was backing away from the Northern Coal dock unassisted by tugs, when a wind caught her hull and she drifted into the Booth s Line passenger steamer America. One of the Holmes anchor s touched the America crushing in five cabins. The America s hull was not damaged, so she was able to continue service for chartered groups. The Holmes left Duluth,MN the next day. The Steamer America exists today as part of an underwater preserve on Isle Royale Lake Superior.
The gales of November 28-30th ,1905 damaged many ships. In Duluth, MN the storm is remembered as the Mataafa Storm as thousands were unable to help the crew of this troubled ore carrier which sank and broke in half just yards off the pier entrance. During this time many mariners lost their lives in cold icy waters of Lake Superior. The Edwin F. Holmes left Lorain up bound loaded with coal for Duluth,MN. On November 28th she is listed as passing Port Huron,MI around 1pm. Later that day 2:30PM the Steamer Charles M. Warner which lasted up until the mid-1990 s as the Lakewood, also headed up bound onto Lake Huron, but her crew was blinded by a snow storm and grounded on Nine Mile Point near Sheboygan,MI. The Holmes made it through the Soo Locks out onto Lake Superior, telegraph messages listed her as overdue on November 30th, the same day her sistership Umbria of the same dimensions and company but from the Cleveland yard arrived in Duluth with a badly damaged bridge.
The crew brought the Umbria into port by steering the ship from the emergency steering station located behind the smoke stack. The Edwin F. Holmes arrived in Duluth the next day on December 1, 1905. The Hawgood fleet expanded with more new ships like the Salt Lake City(Chester A. Congdon) and the Henry B. Smith. Captain James Owen was given command of the latter. In 1913 on November 11th another fierce gale claimed the lives of many mariners and lake ships.
The Henry B. Smith was lost with all hands in this storm. Captain James Owen first Captain of the J. B. Ford remains part of Lake Superior. In 1916 after many court appeals to the US District Court in Cleveland,Ohio the Edwin F. Holmes, and her sister ship were sold with 9 other Hawgood vessels to Harry Coulby of the Pittsburg Steamship company. The court found evidence of secret commissions paid to the shipbuilding company to have new ships built for them rather than other companies which were seeking to keep up with rising demand for new ships to move bulk cargos. The Edwin F. Holmes was re-named the E. C. Collins, and her sister ship Umbria was named the Mac Gilvray Shiras.
In 1927 the E. C. Collins at this time a Pittsburg Steamship steamer named for the Transportation Manager of that fleet went to Toledo Shipbuilding Company in Toledo, Ohio to be rebuilt. The Collins received new boilers, a radio direction finder located on the bridge among other updates. The square windows on the forward and aft houses were updated with portholes. The crew quarters located on gangway level near the steering engine were moved to a new house located on the main deck in between cargo hatches. The Collins and the Shiras former Umbria would look this way up to the 1950’s.
World Wars 1 & 2 came and these ships continued to deliver vital coal, iron ore, and grain to meet America s demand. In World War 2, Pittsburg Steel acquired newer, faster, larger ore carriers, and the pair were sold in 1944 to Kinsman Transit Company(Steinbrenner Fleet). The vessels mainly worked in and around Buffalo & Cleveland. The E.C. Collins would lay-up during the winter months on the Buffalo River or in the outer harbor. Ships were loaded with grain to keep the flour mills producing when shipping closed for the winter season. In February 1956 the Huron Cement Company of Detroit ,MI purchased the Collins to be converted into a cement carrier. The ship was tied up near the Seneca elevator on the Buffalo River. Over the winter of 1958-1959 in Sturgeon Bay, WI, the Collins was converted to a self unloading cement carrier, equipped with a Norberg diesel generator to power her self unloading gear.
On January 21, 1959 fifty years ago her sister, the Mac Gilvray Shiras, was docked near the Concrete Central elevator on the Buffalo river. Gale winds and rain pulled her free from the dock. The Shiras navigated three right-angle bends in the river unassisted by tugs or crew. She bore down stern first to another grain boat. The Shiras collided with the Michael K.Tewksbury which then continued down the river until it was stopped by the Michigan Ave lift bridge. The Lift bridge towers fell one crashing into the river and the other blocking the Buffalo Fire Dept. vessel Cotter. A huge pulley from the bridge landed on top of an unsuspecting Ford Fairlane crushing it s trunk. Later in 1959 the Shrias was given up for scrap, the aft end of the carrier housing it’s steering engine and rudder were badly damaged.
The J. B. Ford continued service as a cement carrier, her hull a green with gray decks and white deck houses. Huron Cement became part of National Gypsum. The Ford spent many more winters laid up in Buffalo housing a load of cement instead of grain. On Feb. 16, 1967 Buffalo was blasted with a 90mph wind storm, killing three when a bar collapsed at 6 South Park Street. Much paper debris ended up on the streets, and the ship keeper s stove vent located on the boat deck was lost in the storm. Oldman Boiler Works repaired the vent.
During the winter of 1975-1976 as the country prepared for the Bi-centennial, Nicholson & Hall Corp. of Buffalo,NY was commissioned to convert the coal fired steamship to burn heavy fuel oil. It was a cold three month project according to M. Padia, then project manager, who is now the current president of the company. The J.B. Ford s coal bunker was removed and three grain elevator like fuel cells were installed in the ship along with fuel burning boiler fronts.
In 1985 the season was very damp due to much rain. On November 8th 1985 the J. B. Ford unloaded a cargo of cement into the E. M. Ford built in 1898 serving as a storage hull in Milwaukee,WI. On November 15 the J. B. Ford was laid up for the season in Milwaukee. The ship was full of cement for the winter season, and she was tied to the E. M. Ford. Interviews with Bill Kulka(engineer 1984), and Rodney(fireman 1984) former crew; suggest that in 1985 the steam engine suffered damage when an operator did not blow condensation out of the steam line heading to the triple expansion steam engine. A water droplet propelled by steam cracked the high pressure cylinder damaging the engine. The engine was repaired, but was not functioning the way it did prior to the damage.
Another interview with Larry B. son of one of the last captains of the ship stated one of the reasons why the J.B. Ford was converted to oil firing was due to it s thick black smoke from her stack. The ship is rumored to have been not welcome in the town of St Joesph, MI, due to this problem prior to her conversion. The J. B. Ford was towed to LaFarge s cement silo in S. Chicago,IL where she remained for a long time as a floating cement silo. Larger cement carriers unloaded cement into her which was then pumped to the land silo into trucks. The J. B. Ford also pumped cement into river barges to be transported inland.
In 1991 she was discovered by a youth and with much luck and with the cooperation of the Chicago Maritime Society and Illinois Port Authority 30 museum guests toured and photographed this aging carrier, noting her riveted hull, steam machinery, and victorian wood work. Between 1991-1993, I a freelance photographer documented most of this ship on film. I rode a Schwinn bicycle two hours each way from Bridgeport in Chicago to the ship on 130th Ave and the Calumet River. In 1992 after shooting some film the crew, consisting of Max, Greg and John, advised me of an upcoming storm. I made my way home only to be caught in a fierce wind storm on 31st beach. Like the storm of 1967 people were harmed. At a construction site three workers were injured when a wall fell on them, a woman was struck and killed by lightning in the Chicago area. DeLaSalle high school on Wabash Ave lost a large section of roof and some rooms suffered water damage. The J. B. Ford was fine because the crew prepared by securing her doors and hatches. My tours were rewarding as all of the Ford s nautical goodies were intact, the brass plaques, steam whistles, and other memoirs that make for good den decorations. I toured the engine room with Norman Martinson, a Fleet Engineer for Inland Lakes Management who managed the ship for Lafarge Corp. He gave valuable information on how the ship functioned. He explained what the handles on the engine were used for, and what the brass gauges measured. As a cadet for GLMA I toured the J.B. Ford again while the cement carrier Alpena was unloading a cargo of cement into her in the summer of 1996. I noticed a handful of items were missing, such as the engine revolution counter, whistle, and name boards. In 1996 Inland Lakes Management transferred ownership of the vessel to LaFarge Corp.
In 2001 La Farge no longer needed the ship in S. Chicago, due to a much larger land silo being completed there. The J. B. Ford under tow from May 31st to June 5th was lead up to Superior,WI just across from Duluth,MN where she continued service as a cement silo. In 2004 the J.B. Ford was dry docked at Fraser shipyards, where her hull was painted, and her sea chest ports were welded shut. The large propeller was also cut off from the hull to ensure water tightness.
In the year of 2006 a few things occurred, LaFarge Corp. celebrated their 50th year of service, the same number of years the J.B. Ford was in the cement fleet, and some small items from the vessel s lifeboats and engine room were sold on on-line auctions during the summer months. The ship s Starboard lifeboat and wooden steering wheel were put on display by LaFarge Corp. at the Bessemer Museum in Alpena,MI from February to September. Also in Sept. the J.B. Ford was moved to another dock in Superior,WI to make room for a larger carrier which is currently being used as a cement silo. The J. B. Ford was still docked in Superior , WI as of 2014. In November of 2006 www.steamshipjbfordhistoricalsurvey.com was created in order to raise awareness of this aging lake carrier and to promote her story through the sale of pastal painting prints by Catherine Lorech. Some of the items listed on internet auctions from the J. B. Ford were loaned to Lower Lakes Historical Society in Buffalo, N. Y. Museum guest have the opportunity to see items like one of the name boards from the ship. Interested parties may visit www.llmhs.org .
In November of 2008 another old fleetmate the E. M. Ford(1898) was sold to Purvis Marine of Canada to be reduced to scrap. As of April 2009 the E. M. was docked across the river from the S.S. Valley Camp Museum. The E. M. was eventually reduced to scrap. LaFarge N. A. awarded some marine artifacts from the E. M. to some individuals whom were associated with various Saginaw, MI non-profit groups. Months later many of these items ended up on internet auctions. A gear mounted on the propellor shaft of the E. M. was pulled from the idle J. B. Ford while they were docked together in Milwaukee,WI in 1985. This gear was used to turn over the main engine when engineer’s were making repairs. Thus part of the J. B. Ford was scrapped when the E. M. was broken up.
Over the summer of 2010 Steve Haverty Jr. with help from Richard Jenkins & Kevin J. Foster and myself started the non-profit group Great Lakes Steamship Society. Steve the president of the group began raising interest on a facebook page and Great Lakes Steamship Society was incorporated in MN. GLSS can be contacted with the latest updates on their web page www.greatlakessteamshipsociety.org or www.jbford.org . GLSS has made contact with LaFarge North America in an effort to preserve this vessel for future generations. I was part of GLSS for eight years.
In July 2014 the Duluth, MN newspaper reported GLSS has abandoned efforts to save the J. B. Ford as a whole. As of September 2014 LaFarge North America has been actively seeking bids to scrap the vessel. GLSS is working with LaFarge to save as much of the vessel as possible. LaFarge North America is not open to or commited to sell any items off the vessel to any individuals.
On October 9th 2015 the J. B. Ford was towed from Superior, WI across the harbor to Duluth, MN where the ship will be broken up for scrap.
On November 5th 2015 after a long ten year run the decision was made not to renew steamshipjbfordhistoricalsurvey . com. On November 27th 2015 steamshipjbfordhistoricalsurvey moved to .org. The J. B. Ford is truley a gem of Great Lakes Heritage. It is sad to see it broken up for scrap.
In the spring of 2017 a number of artifacts including doors, sinks, and portholes were removed by Azcon Metals from the vessel for resale. Crews are working to prepare the vessel to be broken up this year. Plans were under way to see if the ship’s triple expansion steam engine could be saved at Canal Park Museum Duluth, MN. Those plans included a new building to house the engine, but as of July 2017 some details regarding engine removal could not be worked out. As of Sept. 2017 the main steam engine from 1903 was further prepared to be scrapped. The original main engine, along with seven deck winch engines, a WW2 era liberty ship steam steering engine, an a Nordberg six cylinder diesel engine will be broken up for scrap.