By Todd Davidson
Great Lakes Fleet Page Vessel Feature -- HAMILTON TRANSFER
Launched as the J.H. Hillman Jr. in September of 1943, she was the 13th of the 16 original Maritime Class vessels built for the WWII effort. The Hillman Jr., built by Great Lakes Engineering Works in Ashtabula, Ohio, was delivered to her owners Great Lakes Steamship Company. She was purchased by the Wilson Marine fleet in 1957 and eventually sold to Columbia Transportation Division in 1972. Renamed the Crispin Oglebay (II), she was converted to a boom-forward self unloader in 1974 by AmShip, Toledo. The Oglebay was a busy steamer for the fleet until the recession of the early 80's. She layed up in August of 1981 and spent 8 years at the wall in Toledo. In 1989, she resumed her duties, but soon again, due to lack of cargo, the Crispin Oglebay was back in her dock tied up at the end of May, 1991.
Much to the surprise of many, most of whom thought that she was headed for the scrapyard, in 1995 Upper Lakes Shipping Company purchased the vessel and towed her dead-ship to the Port Weller Dry Docks to be converted to a self unloading barge to "lighter" boats of their ore cargos. She would be docked at the DeFasco Steel Mill in Hamilton Ontario. Appropriately renamed the Hamilton Transfer, a moving deck crane was constructed and mounted on her spar deck, where utilizing a single clam-shell bucket, straight deckers would be unloaded of their taconite pellets, and then dropped into the cargo hold of the barge and later discharged via her conventional self unloader system. This "transfer station" idea never really took off, and hinted to the possible return of the classic steamer to powered service on the lakes.
With many boatwatchers hopeful for the return of the Transfer to active trading on the Great Lakes, all hope was lost December 18th, with the collision of the Canadian Explorer and the salty "Island Skipper" near the Beauharnois Lock on the St. Lawrence Seaway. Damage to the Explorer was minor enough in nature, (some bent plates and ribs, vents and gangway) but due to the poor extent of her cargo hold, she was immediatly layed up in Hamilton.
ULS is known for their "recycling" of vessels within the fleet, and with the excess capacity of the Transfer and the "out-of-service" Canadian Explorer, history was made with the conversion/combination of the two vessels. The PWDD won the contract to combine the aft engine room portion of the Explorer to the cargo hold and bow of the Transfer.
Click here for pictures of the conversion