Tug Olive L. Moore and barge Lewis J. Kuber in Lower Lake Huron May, 2013

Mark Dease

(Sparrows Point 1952 - 1990, Buckeye 1990 - 2006, Lewis J. Kuber 2006 - 2017)

by George Wharton

With the Korean War raging in the early 1950's, there was a need for extra carrying capacity for the movement of iron ore from the upper Great Lakes to the steel mills of the lower Lakes.  With the Great Lakes ship yards being booked to capacity, ship owners had to look elsewhere for the building of their new vessels.  Bethlehem Steel Co. of Cleveland, OH chose to build two new ships for their Great Lakes fleet at their Bethlehem-Sparrows Point Shipyard at Sparrows Point, MD.  This Great Lakes bulk carrier was the second of the pair and was launched on April 18, 1952 as the Sparrows Point, entering service for the Bethlehem Steel fleet in November of that year.  The new vessel was named in honor of the ship yard that built her.  The Sparrows Point's cargoes were focused in the iron ore trades supplying Bethlehem Steel's lower Lake Michigan and Lake Erie mills with ore from ports in upper Lake Michigan and Lake Superior with the occasion trip through the St. Lawrence Seaway (after it opened in 1959) to Gulf of St. Lawrence ports for cargoes of Labrador ore.

In fact, the Sparrows Point was the third of three sister ships built at the Sparrows Point ship yard at that time.  The first was the Johnstown (3) launched January 24, 1952 for the Bethlehem Steel fleet (scrapped in 1985).  The second was the Elton Hoyt II launched March 7, 1952 for the Interlake Steamship Co. of Cleveland, OH (now sailing for Lower Lakes Towing as the Michipicoten).  The original dimensions of these bulk carriers were: 626'00" (190.80m) loa x 70'00" (21.34m) beam x 37'00" (11.28m) depth with a carrying capacity of 19,595 tons (19,910 mt).  Following 6 years of relatively uneventful sailing, the Sparrows Point was lengthened 72' (21.95m) in 1958 by American Ship Building Co. of South Chicago, IL.  At her new overall length of 698'00" (212.75m), her capacity increased to 23,350 tons (23,724 mt) at a mid-summer draft of 26'11" (8.20m) or 22,250 tons (22,607 mt) at a Seaway draft of 26' (7.92m) contained in 5 holds serviced by 20 hatches.  Her power plant consisted of a Bethlehem Steel built 7,700 s.h.p. cross-compound steam turbine engine with 2 Foster-Wheeler heavy fuel oil fired water tube boilers, the power being fed to a single fixed pitch propeller.

After about 18 more years of uneventful sailing, on September 1st, 1976, the Sparrows Point received rudder damage while backing away from the Mesabi No. 5 dock at Duluth, MN.  She had to be unloaded and towed to Fraser Shipyards at Superior, WI for repairs.  Then in December of 1977, she grounded while upbound in the Beauharnois Canal of the St. Lawrence Seaway.  The bulker had to be unloaded and laid up at Lorain, OH for winter lay-up and repair.  She had received over $1 million in bottom damage.

During her 1979/80 winter lay-up at the Fraser Shipyards of Superior, WI, the Sparrows Point was converted to a self-unloader including the addition of a bow thruster.  Her capacity dropped slightly to 22,300 tons (22,658 mt) at a mid-summer draft of 26'11".  She could carry approximately 21,974 tons (22,327 mt) at the new Seaway draft of 26'06" (8.08m) implemented in 2004 or 21.756 tons (22,125 mt) at the previous Seaway draft of 26'03" (8.00m).  The new self-unloader's cubic capacity for coal was 12,975 net tons* (11,586 tons / 11,771 mt).  The self-unloading system could discharge at a rate of up to 5,327 tons (5,443 mt) per hour via a 250' (76.20m) stern mounted discharge boom.  The bulker also had a capacity for 554.16 tons (563.06 mt) of fuel oil.

On October 18, 1983 the Sparrows Point went aground at Drummond Island receiving damage to 32 plates along a 100' (30.48m) section of bottom.  Repairs were completed at Bay Shipbuilding at Sturgeon Bay, WI.  Major damage was received when she ran aground again off Door Peninsula on November 30th, 1989 while in transit from Escanaba, MI to Chicago.

By the late 1980's, most of Bethlehem Steel's cargoes were being handled by the Sparrows Point's much larger and more efficient fleet mates Stewart J. Cort and Burns Harbor.  As a result, on July 16, 1990, the Sparrows Point was sold to Columbia Transportation Div., Oglebay Norton Co. of Cleveland, OH (becoming Oglebay Norton Marine Services Co., LLC in 1994).  Columbia Transportation did not take possession of their new addition until December of 1990.  Her new owners then renamed the self-unloader Buckeye (3), a name selected at a board meeting on February 21, 1991, being a name associated with this fleet for over 34 years.  The name honors the reference to the state of Ohio as the "Buckeye State".  With her new fleet, her cargoes were much more varied including stone, aggregates, limestone and coal as well as iron ore. 

The Buckeye sailed through the 1990's with the usual scrapes, bumps and minor groundings associated with Great Lakes trading.  On July 30, 2001, the crew of the Buckeye spotted and rescued 2 fishermen from a swamped small boat in Lake Erie giving them dry clothes and hot food.

Time, however, has not been on the Buckeye's side.  In the new century, with her age now well over 50 years old and her steam power plant not being as efficient as today's diesels, the Buckeye was often one of the last of the fleet to fit out.  In fact, she did not fit out at all in 2003 and did not sail in 2004 until late in September when there were enough cargoes for an extra vessel.  On December 20, 2004, while anchored off Port Inland, MI, she was swung around by strong winds and heavy seas hitting a rock causing serious damage.  The vessel was allowed to proceed to Nanticoke, ON to unload her cargo of coal. arriving at Toledo, OH on December 23 for lay-up and repair.

This load of coal proved to be the last load carried in her holds for Oglebay Norton and the last as a powered lake boat.  After remaining laid up in Toledo (unrepaired) through 2005, on November 29, 2005 Oglebay Norton Marine Services announced the sale of the Buckeye to Buckeye Holdings LLC (an affiliate of K&K Warehousing, Inc., Menominee, MI) for $4 million for conversion to a notched, articulated barge, a $9 million project.  On December 4, 2005, the Buckeye arrived at Erie Shipbuilding, Erie, PA under tow of tug Olive L. Moore.  This tug was to be mated with the Buckeye following her conversion, the pair becoming a new articulated tug/barge unit.  The Buckeye became the first vessel in 9 years to be drydocked at the Erie shipyard when she entered the graving dock in late February, 2006.

By August, 2006, the "new" articulated self-unloading barge had emerged from the drydock minus her stern accommodations, engine room, forward accommodations and wheelhouse, displaying her new name Lewis J. Kuber. She was named after the father of the owner of KK Integrated Logistics (formerly K&K Warehousing) and KK Integrated Shipping.

In February 2011, Rand Logisitcs acquired the two self-unloading tug barges Lewis J. Kuber and James L. Kuber from KK Integrated Shipping for $35.5 million in cash as well as more than 1.3 million shares of its common stock.The vessels are operated by Grand River Navigation.

In May 2017, Lewis J. Kuber was renamed Menominee, in honor of the Michigan town in the western Upper Peninsula. She was paired for the 2017 season with the veteran tug Olive L. Moore.


Overall Dimensions (metric)
 Length  616' 10" (188.00m)
 Beam  70' 00" (21.34m)
 Depth  37' 00" (11.28m)
 Capacity (dwt)  22,300 tons (22,658 mt) est.


Downbound Detroit River,
Oct. 6, 2004. Mike Nicholls

Stern view, Oct. 6.
Mike Nicholls

Duluth, MN Oct. 2004.
Ed Labernik

St. Marys River, June 30, 1996. Jon

Detroit River, Aug. 28, 2001. Mike Nicholls

Soo Locks. Rod Burdick

Stern view, Aug. 28, 2001. Mike Nicholls

Deck view. Sharon Bouchonville

Underway. Sharon Bouchonville

View from the Boom. Sharon Bouchonville

Pilot house. Sharon Bouchonville

Crew rescues a sinking fishing boat July 28, 2001

Good timing

Detroit River, June 8, 2002. N. Schultheiss

Close up. N. Schultheiss

Stern view. N. Schultheiss

Flags flying. N. Schultheiss

Buckeye unloading in Ludington MI. Max Hanley

At Erie, PA waiting for conversion,
Jan. 20, 2006. Brian Wroblewski

Classic bow, Erie.
Brian Wroblewski

Stern with stack removed, Erie.
Brian Wroblewski

Erie, PA Aug. 17, 2006. Roman Kloecker

At Erie, PA, Aug. 21, 2006. Mike Nicholls

Stern view at Erie, PA Aug. 21, 2006.
Mike Nicholls

Downbound the Saginaw River Sept. 18, 2006.
Todd Shorkey

Tug Olive L. Moore in the notch.
Todd Shorkey

Stern view. Todd Shorkey

Loading at Stoneport, MI Sept. 19, 2006.
Ben & Chanda McClain

Another view. Ben & Chanda McClain

Saginaw River, stern view Sept. 21, 1006.
Todd Shorkey

Stern view at Menominee, MI, Mar. 31, 2007.
Dick Lund

With tug Olive L. Moore, downbound the Menominee River, Apr. 2, 2007. Dick Lund

Stern view clearing Menominee North Pier Lighthouse.
Dick Lund


More pictures
from our archives

  Sparrows Point Maumee River.  Jim Hoffman

Unloading stone at Marquette, 1987.
Rod Burdick.

Upbound at Port Huron, 1988.
Rod Burdick

Unloading stone at Marquette, 1988.
Rod Burdick

Departing the MacArthur Lock at the Soo, 1990.
Rod Burdick

Lake St. Clair, July 2, 1991.
Skip Meier

Wave breaks over the deck of the Sparrows Point November 1990 in heavy weather on
      Lake Michigan. Dave Cook.

Aerial view. Don Coles

Detroit River, Oct. 20, 2001. Mike Nicholls

Stern view. Mike Nicholls

Winter lay-up Toledo. Roger LeLievre

Loading in Duluth. Glenn Blaszkiewicz 

Unloading in Lorain, July 14, 2001. TZ

Toledo lay-up. Roger LeLievre

Another view, Feb. 2, 2002. Mike Nicholls

Toledo Shiprepair Dry Dock. Roger LeLievre

Toledo.  Roger LeLievre

St. Marys River, Nov. 12, 2002. Scott Best

Fleet Mates. Roger LeLievre

Unloading in Lorain. TZ

Upbound Detroit River,
Sept. 30, 2004. Mike Nicholls

Stern view, Sept. 30.
Mike Nicholls

St. Clair River. John Meyland

Saginaw River, Sept. 21, 2006. Todd Shorkey

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