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 Loading oats at Owen Sound, ON, Sept. 15, 2007.

Wayne Brown 

Great Lakes Fleet Page Vessel Feature -- American Fortitude

by George Wharton

The classic steamer American Fortitude was originally built in 1953 as a straight deck bulk carrier with coal-fired boilers by the former American Ship Building Co. yard at Lorain, OH as their hull # 869.  The vessel was launched November 19, 1952 for the National Steel Corp. of Cleveland, OH and christened Ernest T. Weir (2) in honor of Mr. Ernest Tener Weir.  Mr. Weir, born August 1, 1877, formed the National Steel Corp. in 1929 serving the company as chairman of the board and chief executive officer before retiring.  Mr. Weir died on June 26, 1958.  His namesake Ernest T. Weir has lines very similar to those of the Wilfred Sykes whose design was considered a prototype for many of the lakers built in the 1950's.  The new laker departed Lorain on April 12, 1953 on her maiden voyage in ballast to Superior, WI arriving April 14 to load 18,198 tons (18,490 mt) of iron ore for delivery back to Cleveland, OH.

The American Fortitude is powered by a General Electric cross-compound 7,700 s.h.p. (5,744 kW) steam turbine engine built by General Electric Co. of Lynn, MA with 2 Foster Wheeler heavy fuel oil fired water tube boilers.  These boilers were converted from coal by Bay Shipbuilding, Sturgeon Bay, WI in 1972/73.  The geared drive power is fed to a single fixed pitch propeller giving the vessel a rated service speed of 16.7 m.p.h.  She is equipped with a bow thruster.  As a straight decker, the vessel could carry up to 22,700 tons (23,065 mt) of iron ore at a mid-summer draft of 26' 10" (8.18m).  Today, as a self-unloader, the American Fortitude can carry up to 22,300 tons (22,658 mt) of iron ore or stone at a mid-summer draft of 27' 06.5" (8.25m) or approximately 21,624 tons (21,972 mt) at the Seaway draft of 26' 06" (8.08m).  Her holds have the cubic capacity to carry up to 14,700 net tons of coal (the standard measure for coal, otherwise 13,125 tons or 13,336 mt).  The cargoes are contained in 4 holds serviced by 19 hatches.  Her self-unloading equipment consists of a conveyor system feeding a stern mounted loop belt elevator to a 260' (79.25m) discharge boom that can unload up to 6,000 tons (6,096 mt) per hour.

During the summer of 1953, the Ernest T. Weir delivered a Cleveland, OH record cargo of 21,057 tons (21,395 mt) or the equivalent of 368 rail cars of iron ore to that port.  On May 5, 1964, the laker was in collision with the tanker Mercury in Lake St. Clair near the mouth of the St. Clair River.  The tanker, running aground following the collision, suffered severe bow plating damage back to the No. 1 cargo tank. The Ernest T. Weir received port bow damage.  The incident was caused by faulty steering gear on the Mercury.  The Weir's damage was repaired at Toledo, OH.  The Mercury was upbound with a cargo of jet fuel and the Weir was downbound with a load of iron ore at the time of the collision.  On the morning of November 10, 1975, the day of the Edmund Fitzgerald disaster, the Ernest T. Weir was above Whitefish Bay reporting SE winds of 30 knots, 10' (3.05m) waves and lightening.

Early in 1978, the Oglebay Norton's Columbia Transportation Division acquired the Ernest T. Weir to become the flagship of the fleet replacing the Edmund Fitzgerald.  She operated through the 1978 season under her original christened name until December of that year when she was renamed Courtney Burton in honor of the grandson of Col. Earl W. Oglebay.  Mr. Burton was born October 29, 1912 and was associated with the Oglebay Norton Co. through his whole adult life starting as a director of the E.W. Oglebay Co. in 1934.  Mr. Burton died on August 12, 1992.

The Courtney Burton arrived August 25, 1980 at Bay Shipbuilding, Sturgeon Bay, WI for conversion to a self-unloader; returning to service on May 23, 1981.  The "new" self-unloader was not in service long before being laid up for a number of seasons due to lack of cargoes.  She returned to service again in August of 1987.  She continued sailing under the Columbia Transportation Division banner until the end of 1994 when the division ceased to be a separate entity of Oglebay Norton Co. with it being absorbed into the parent organization.  The Courtney Burton had very few notable "incidents" recorded against her name.  On December 30, 2002, the self-unloader was again laid up due to lack of cargoes; her smaller size and mode of power working against her. 

The Courtney Burton returned to service on May 2, 2005 sailing from her lay-up port of Toledo, OH to Calcite, MI for a load of stone.  That same year, on September 7, the vessel was noted to have transited the Welland Canal in ballast for Hamilton, ON where approximately 17,000 tons (17,273 mt) of grain were loaded on board bound for Buffalo, NY.  She returned upbound through the Canal on September 9.  This rare passage of the Welland Canal was the first visit to the Canal by this laker since 1966.

The Courtney Burton's last cargo for Oglebay Norton was loaded at Calcite, MI on June 3, 2006 delivering to Superior, WI on June 6.  On June 6, 2006 in a joint announcement made with American Steamship Co. of Williamsville, NY, Oglebay Norton Co. announced the sale of the Courtney Burton and five of her fleetmates to American Steamship Co. (ASC) for $120 million.  With the sale came a new name: American Fortitude.  The other vessels going to ASC were the Armco, Columbia Star, Fred R. White Jr., Middletown and Oglebay Norton.  Her fleetmates were renamed American Valor, American Century, American Courage, American Victory and American Integrity respectively.  After her stack was repainted ASC colors and her new name applied to her hull, the American Fortitude departed Superior's General Mills elevator on June 9, 2006 with her first ASC cargo, a load of grain for Buffalo, NY.  This trade route is expected to play a major roll in American Fortitude's future with American Steamship Co.

On September 14, 2007, the vessel visited the Georgian Bay port of Owen Sound, ON for the first time for a load of oats from the Great Lakes Elevators for delivery to Buffalo, NY.  Agricultural bulk products continued to contribute to the list of cargoes carried by the American Fortitude in 2007.


Overall Dimensions (metric)
Length  690' 00" (210.32m)
Beam  70' 00" (21.34m)
Depth  37' 00" (11.28m)
Capacity (mid-summer)  22,300 tons (22,658 mt)
 at draft of 27' 06.5" (8.25m)
Power (steam turbine)  7,700 s.h.p. (5,744 kW)


First visit to Owen Sound, ON, Sept. 14, 2007.
Ed Saliwonchyk

Another view, Sept. 15, 2007. Wayne Brown

Loading oats at Owen Sound. Wayne Brown

Marquette, Apr. 9, 2007. Rod Burdick

Upbound the St. Clair River, May 5, 2007.
Marc Dease

Downbound off of Lake Huron at Point Edward, ON,
Sept. 11, 2007. Marc Dease

Arriving at Duluth, MN Aug. 3, 2006.
Glenn Blaszkiewicz

Another view. Glenn Blaszkiewicz

St. Marys River, Aug. 14, 2006.
Stephen Hause
Loading at Marquette July 5, 2006.
Rod Burdick

Another view. Rod Burdick

At Fraser Shipyards, Superior, WI, June 7, 2006
with name removed. Glenn Blaszkiewicz

Courtney Burton with her new stack logo.
Franz VonReidel

Name removed. Franz VonReidel

Big Brother passes Little Bro'. Columbia Star leaves the Poe Lock as the Courtney Burton approaches the MacArthur lock, Nov. 3, 2005. Dave Wobser

Courtney Burton's distinguished bow. Dave Wobser

In the lock. Dave Wobser

Downbound the Welland Canal on Sept. 9, 2006.
Bill Bird

Another view. Bill Bird

Approaching the Welland Canal's "Flight Locks" on Sept. 9, 2006. Brian Wroblewski

Upbound the Welland Canal passing under Bridge 21 at Port Colborne, ON Sept. 7, 2005. Paul Beesley

Passing Robin Hood Floor at Port Colborne.
Paul Beesley

Stern view at Ramey's Bend.
Paul Beesley

Arriving Duluth, May 2005.
Glenn Blaszkiewicz

Unloading at Buffalo, NY May 21, 2005.
Brian Wroblewski

Upbound at the Soo, May 2005. Rod Burdick

Toledo Lay-up. Mike Nicholls

Docked, R. Burdick

Toledo lay-up. Mike Nicholls

Stern view. Mike Nicholls

Lorain Pellet Terminal. TZ

At Cutler Stone Duluth. Susan Rummery

Ashtabula. TZ.

Close up. TZ

Inbound Duluth. Al Miller

Toledo lay-up. Mike Nicholls

Unloading. TZ

Close up. Al Miller

Deck view. Joe Barr

Stern view. N.S.

Stack. Al Miller

Ernest T. Weir underway, James R. Hoffman

The Weir wore a new coat of paint for her first trip of the season in 1971. Roger LeLievre

Downbound the St. Marys River at Mission Point in the late 1970's. George Thompson

Ernest T. Weir in June, 1978.
Roger LeLievre

Inbound Maumee Bay with a load of ore bound for the C&O Ore Docks. This view was taken shortly after Columbia purchased her from the National Steel Fleet (Hanna) Jim Hoffman

Detroit River, 1990. Mike Nicholls

Arriving at the Shell fuel dock along the St. Clair River, Sept. 1, 2007. Bill Bird

Laid up at Toledo, Sept. 2004.
Bob Vincent

Toledo lay-up Oct. 2003.
Mike Nicholls

Stern view, Sept. 2003.
Mike Nicholls

Aerial view. Don Coles

Thick sea smoke, air temp of -25 below. Todd Davidson

Detroit River. Mike Nicholls

Stern view. Mike Nicholls

Another view. Mike Nicholls

Loading, G. Blaszkiewicz

View from atop the unload boom. S. Meier

preparing to unload in Munising, MI. Rod Burdick

Lorain, Oh. TZ

Close up. TZ

Detroit River, May 30, 2005.
Mike Nicholls

Stern view. Mike Nicholls

Heading to the Buffalo River canal entrance,
Aug. 7, 2005. Brian Wroblewski

Stern view, lining up for the Ship Canal.
Brian Wroblewski

Detroit River. N. Schultheiss

upbound Detroit River, J. H. Neumiller

Marquette. Lee Rowe

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