Cleveland group working to save Chicago's Hulett unloaders06/06
A group trying to preserve the last Hulett unloaders on the Great Lakes is seeking support in Chicago, where a recently closed LTV Corp. coke plant has the last intact examples of the giant machines.
Unfortunately, the group is battling to overcome ignorance of the machines' industrial significance, their immense size and the substantial cost of preserving them.
"Huh?'' and "What the heck are Huletts?'' are typical responses to the preservation effort by those outside the steel industry, Steve Merkel, president of the volunteer organization, told the Hammond Times.
Huletts were used in the steel industry to unload Great Lakes vessels bringing iron ore to steel mills. The gigantic machines, which lower a large clamshell bucket into a ship's hold, were invented by Ohio-native George H. Hulett in the late 1800s. They revolutionized ship unloading and were a key to the growth of Great Lakes shipping during the early 1900s.
Because of their historical significance, the "Save the Huletts" campaign has been under way in Cleveland since the late 1990s. Its organizers -- The Friends of the Hulett Ore Unloaders and Steamer William G. Mather, a committee of Ohio-based Citizen's Vision -- are now hoping it spreads to Chicago.
"Our concentration is on the Huletts in Cleveland,'' said Ray Saikus, a member of the Cleveland campaign. "We hoping someone in Chicago will pick up the ball for the ones in Chicago.''
At one time 75 Huletts operated around the lakes. Now only four remain: two in Cleveland and two in Chicago. The unloaders in Cleveland were dismantled in January 2001 Two were placed in storage for future use at a proposed park along the Cuyahoga River.
The last six operable machines were used by LTV Corp.'s Cleveland Steel Works until 1992 and at the bankrupt company's Chicago Coke plant until it ceased operating in late December. Two of the four in Cleveland were demolished in 2000 and the other two decommissioned. That leaves the two in Chicago as the only intact Huletts in the world.
"Cleveland's were built in 1912 and put in service in 1913,'' Saikus said. "The ones in Chicago were built in the 1950s. Their designs are almost identical.''
In an effort to keep the Chicago Huletts from being dismantled they have petitioned the federal bankruptcy court hearing the LTV's Chapter 11 case to preserve the two Chicago Huletts, their associated equipment and structures "until appropriate disposition of them can be made in keeping with their historical significance,'' according to the court filing.
"These Huletts operated on a full-time schedule until the final plant shut down at the end of 2001,'' the motion says. "If the Chicago coke plant is not restarted, these historic machines are in jeopardy of being lost forever. Because of their historical significance, they, like the Cleveland Huletts, would be eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historical Places and could possibly become a National Landmark.''
The committee's motion, filed by vice chairman Stephen L. Merkel, claims the cost of demolishing the Huletts is likely to exceed their scrap value, that they don't interfere with the current use of the closed plant; they don't pose an environmental hazard; they don't pose a navigational hazard to the waterway or to aircraft and their preservation is in the public's interest.
Members of the committee say LTV has objected to preserving the machines.
LTV, which with the exception of the coke plant, sold most of its steelmaking assets to International Steel Group in April, couldn't be reached for comment. There were no offers for the coke plant.
The bankruptcy court has not yet to rule on either motion.
Merkel and his group have contacted the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Chicago Historical Society for assistance.
The Museum of Science and Industry responded that the machines are too big for its collection, Merkel said. The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency's staff showed an interest and were sent information on the project, but haven't responded, he said.
Peter Alter, historian at the Chicago Historical Society, said the Huletts "are immense and expensive and something we don't have the funding to help with.''
Although the committee's only estimated the cost of preserving the two dismantled Cleveland Huletts, Merkel said saving those in Chicago will probably cost about the same.
"We figure it will be about $3 million to $5 million for the pair,'' he said. "A lot depends on where they go because transportation is a good part of the cost.''
Reported by: Clem Miner