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 Underway

Mark Shumaker

-- Joseph L. Block --

by George Wharton

With the keel being laid down in July of 1975, this Great Lakes self unloading bulk carrier was built by Bay Shipbuilding Co., Sturgeon Bay, WI as hull #715. The new hull was launched February 26th, 1976 and was christened June 29th, 1976 as the Joseph L. Block for the Inland Steel Co., Chicago, IL. Built at an approximate cost of $17 million, the self unloader was built specifically for the Lake Michigan iron ore trade carrying this product from Escanaba, MI to Inlandís mills located on the southern Lake Michigan shores. The Joseph L. Block was expected to carry 2 million tons of iron ore annually. This self unloader was the first diesel powered vessel to belong to the Inland Steel fleet; her addition leading to the eventual retirement of the Clarence B. Randall (2).

The new vesselís namesake was Mr. Joseph Leopold Block. Born in Chicago on October 6th, 1902; Mr. Block joined Inland Steel in the 1920ís becoming an assistant vice president by 1927 rising to Inland Steelís president in 1953. He became Inlandís CEO in 1956 and served as their Chairman of the Board until May 1st, 1975. Mr. Block died November 17th, 1992.

The Joseph L. Block is powered by 2 General Motors EMD 20-645-E7 two stroke cycle; single acting, V-20 cylinder 3,600 b.h.p. diesel engines burning marine diesel oil; the power being fed to a single controllable pitch propeller. The vessel is equipped with both bow and stern thrusters. Seven holds being loaded through 24 hatches are capable of carrying 37,200 tons at a mid-summer draft of 30í11Ē.  The vessel's self unloading equipment consists of a conveyor belt system feeding a loop belt elevator to a stern-mounted 250' discharge boom and has an unloading rate of up to 6,000 tons per hour.

The Joseph L. Block departed Sturgeon Falls on August 15th, 1976 on her maiden voyage in ballast to Escanaba, MI where 32,607 tons of iron ore pellets were loaded on board bound for Indiana Harbor (East Chicago), IN. Of note; In May of 1985, the vessel loaded stone at Port Inland, MI for Superior, WI becoming the largest vessel to load at that port.

The vessel has been plagued with engine problems at various times during her career. Late in June of 1979, the Joseph L. Block was experiencing engine and vibration problems resulting in her propeller blades being replaced in July of that year. During the following winter lay up, tests were done on the propeller shaft. In June of 1993 while at full speed on Lake Michigan, the vessel suffered a turbocharger failure on the port main engine causing extensive damage. Then, on December 18th, 1997; there was a crankcase explosion on the port main engine. The Joseph L. Block was permitted to use its starboard main engine only and restricted to its dedicated Lake Michigan activity (Escanaba to Indiana Harbor) until repairs were completed.

The self unloader has also experienced its share of other recordable incidents on the Great Lakes. On January 6th, 1990; the vessel grounded in Escanaba causing holing of bottom plating in the forepeak. After unloading at Indiana Harbor, it proceeded to Sturgeon Bay for repairs. Then on October 12th, 1990; the Joseph L. Block grounded in the St. Marys River (Neebish Channel) causing bottom shell plating damage by the #ís 1, 2, and 3 port ballast tanks including a hull puncture. The carrier proceeded in ballast to Fraser Shipyards, Superior, WI for repairs. March 18th, 1993 saw the vessel receive stern shell plating damage (indents but no fractures) while backing in ice near Escanaba. Further ice damage was suffered on March 15th, 1996 to the #3 starboard wing tank while the vessel was in transit from Escanaba to Indiana Harbor. Low water level in the St. Marys River caused the Joseph L. Block to scrape bottom on May 12th, 1999. After inspection, no damage was found and the vessel was permitted to continue its voyage.

Following the purchase of Inland Steel by the Netherlands based Ispat International N.V.; the three vessels of the Inland Steel fleet were sold in late July, 1999 to a newly established U.S. firm Indiana Harbor Steamship Co. to comply with the Jones Act. A second new company, Central Marine Logistics of Highland, IN was created to manage the fleet. The other two fleetmates sold to the new company were the Edward L. Ryerson and the Wilfred Sykes. Following the sale, the ďInland SteelĒ name was removed from the sides of the hulls. The trade routes for the fleet with Ispat Inland Inc. remain essentially unchanged.


Overall dimensions
Length 728' 00"
Beam 78'00"
Depth 45'00"
Capacity (tons) 37,200
Diesel engine horsepower (2 combined) 7,000


Unloading in Hancock, Mi. Jim Noetzel

St. Marys River. Scott Best

Tug Shannon assisting. Bill Hoey

Early in her career. Bruce Paquette, courtesy Tony Paquette

Bow look out.

Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal.
Vic DeLarwelle

Close up.
Vic DeLarwelle

lay-up. Todd Davidson
Ride along on a trip
and take a look inside



St. Marys River. Jim Hoffman

Green Bay. Wendell Wilke

Underway. Glenn Blaszkiewicz 

Unloading in Indiana Harbor. Gary Clark

Unloading limestone at Duluth, MN.
Kent Rengo

Soo Locks. Dave Marcoux

Outbound Sturgeon Bay.
Orrin Royce

Rare trip to the lower lakes. Todd Davidson

Loading in Duluth. Andy Eckroth

Arriving Duluth. Steve Haverty

Soo Locks. Roger LeLievre

Unloading in Hancock, Mi. Jim Noetzel

Above the Soo Locks. Roger LeLievre

Close up. Roger LeLievre

Heading into Green Bay. Orrin Royce

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