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A Voyage into History with the Cyprus

By William Forsythe


Part 3: “A Good Ship And A First Class Company” 

Odanah launch on July 31, 1907 shows it's sister ship Cyprus to the left as she is being built. Probably the oldest known photo of the Cyprus. (William Forsythe collection)

Hull 353 thundered into the launch basin of the American Shipbuilding Company at Lorain, Ohio, on Saturday, August 17, 1907. Ms. Hazel Arnold of Marine City, Mich., daughter of a Pickands, Mather & Co. executive, christened the hull with the name Cyprus. The ship was named for one of the Mesabi Range ore mines and registered under Official Number 204527.

Postcard view of the launch of the Cyprus on August 17, 1907 (William Forsythe collection)

Cyprus was the fourth of eight ships to be constructed for the fledging Lackawanna Steamship Company. She measured 420 feet long, 52 feet wide and 28 feet deep. She was powered by two coal-fired Scotch boilers and a 1,500 HP triple-expansion steam engine with a 22-inch diameter high pressure, 35-inch diameter intermediate pressure and a 38-inch diameter low-pressure cylinder with a 42-inch stroke. Fleetmates and sisterships were Hemlock, Odanah, Calumet, Adriatic and Elba. Two slightly larger fleetmates were Crete and Verona. All eight ships were launched within a four-month span at four different shipyards.

That in itself was quite a feat, considering the economic conditions of the time. The Panic of 1907 was wreaking havoc with investments on Wall Street. The American Shipbuilding Company was in turmoil with labor strikes. The shipyard hired and boarded new employees at the yard to fill the dwindling ranks and keep the work progressing. Pickands, Mather & Company and three other investors were anxious to get their newly founded Lackawanna Steamship Company off the ground.

On Wednesday, September 18, 1907, the youngest member of the Cyprus’ crew mailed a letter to his aunt. In it, he described his duties during the final stages of fitting out his ship.

Nathan Lee Spencer was 17 years old and had spent the summer of 1907 living at the boarding house provided by the shipyard to its workers. Being an excellent musician, one of Nathan’s few complaints was the only music provided was by an aged gramophone for use by all the boarders.

He anticipated work in his new career choice as a ship’s fireman. “The boat will be easy to fire with her two Scotch boilers” he wrote. Nathan also stated that he was sure he could get his younger brother a job next summer “if he’s still on the boat.”

Born in 1890, Nathan was the eldest son of Port Colborne, Ontario, Postmaster John Spencer. Nathan attended business college, and filed for the civil service exam that would allow him to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, Nathan felt his calling wasn’t with a government desk job. His true love lay with machinery and marine engineering. In the spring of 1907 he worked many of the freighters along the Welland Canal as well as aboard the Port Colborne tug Alert.

In the early summer, he applied for a job aboard the Cyprus as an oiler, to be close to the massive engines and its auxiliaries. He was offered a job as a fireman, which he gladly accepted.

J. Murray Jordan, owner of the World Postcard Co., was in the Ohio area to locate subjects for his newest postcard series. The two hulls under construction, Odanah and Cyprus, were surrounded by wooden scaffolding and would be one to three weeks before their respective launches. He photographed two of the lesser known candid photos of the Cyprus during her construction in late July 1907.

To the right, Odanah had her forward deckhouses in place. The texas deck required her bulwarks and stanchions fitted. The forward mast would soon be installed. To the left, Cyprus, had her forecastle deck welded to the tops of the forward hull frames. The forward hull plates would be welded to the frames from the spar deck level upward to create the bulwarks of the forecastle deck. Two more deckhouses would be placed on the bow. The forward mast also needed installation.

One last time, J. Murray Jordan captured another ship launch on film July 31, 1907. The Odanah made her entrance to the Great Lakes, while spectators used the Cyprus and its construction scaffolding as a viewing platform. The Cyprus would follow it’s sistership into the launch basin August 17, 1907.

On Friday, September 20, 1907, the completed Cyprus was towed from the shipyard through the Black River and into Lake Erie. She applied steam to her engine and began her maiden voyage upbound to the head of the lakes to load ore. On Sunday, September 22, 1907, photographer Louis Pesha of Marine City, MI., took two of the most published photos of the Cyprus as she passed him upbound in the St. Clair River. She was photographed riding high in the water with her launch pennant snapping smartly in the breeze from the foremast.


Upbound in the St. Clair River on September 22, 1907 (Photo by Louis Pesha, William Forsythe collection)


Close up port bow view of previous image (Photo by Louis Pesha, William Forsythe collection)


Freighter Entering Maumee Bay" A colorized 1913 postcard of the above image of the Cyprus (William Forsythe collection)


Stern view of Cyprus. September 22, 1907 (Photo by Louis Pesha, John Belliveau collection)

Commanding the new vessel was Captain Frank Brainard Huyck. At age 48, he had 28 years of seafaring experience earned by coming up the hawse pipe, eight years of those as captain. Between 1879 and 1903, he sailed with the Corrigan and Union Steamship companies.


Portrait of young Captain Frank B. Huyck portrait (Betty Cornwell collection)


Captain Huyck aboard the Chemung 1896-1903 (Betty Cornwell collection)


Captain Huyck and family on the stern of the Chemung 1896-1903 (Betty Cornwell collection)


Captain Huyck with his cigar (Betty Cornwell collection)

Cargo hold of the Edward Y. Townsend in 1962 showing the "cone shaped deposits after loading". (Photo by Russ Plumb)

In 1903, Captain Huyck had been in command of the Union Steamship Companies passenger freight steamer Chemung for seven years. In September, the American Association of Masters and Pilots called a strike against a group of shipowners. Grievances included working hours, wages, hiring and authority practices on the boats.

The union lost the strike in October, and the ship owners demanded a rigid adherence to non-union policy. The sailors not in compliance were listed as agitators and summarily blacklisted from employment. The Chemung's crew, including the Captain fell into this category. By years end, Captain Huyck found himself unemployed and spending an extended stay “on the beach”.

In 1906, Mr. Huyck got his foot in the door at Pickands, Mather & Co. His friend, Captain William Reed offered Mr. Huyck a position as First Mate of the one year old steamer Amasa Stone. The Stone was a member of the newly formed Mesaba Steamship fleet which was managed by Pickands, Mather and Company. The company promised Mr. Huyck would receive command of the next new ship for Pickands, Mather, which was the Cyprus. Upon receipt of his ship, the Captain was a proud and happy man. He stated to a friend that he “had a good ship and a first class company to work for”.

The Cyprus’ second trip transported ore downbound to Fairport, Ohio. She arrived at the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie ore dock October 1, 1907. On trip number three, her second upbound voyage, she transferred over to Toledo Lorain & Fairport to loaded coal. She delivered her load at the Zenith Furnace Company in Duluth, MN on October 7th. After offloading, the Cyprus transferred to the Great Northern Docks at Allouez Bay in Superior, WI, for another load of mesabi ore. Mesabi ore has been described as being soft and piles itself into cone form when loading.

Part 4: “I’ll Never Make Another Trip Without Tarps”!

Captain Huyck had brought his family aboard the second upbound trip as guests of the company. The Captain's wife of 18 years, Helen, was accompanied by their 16 year old son Ansel and 12 year old Franklin Samse Huyck (Samse was Helen's maiden name).

The family planned to leave the Cyprus before her departure to meet relatives in St. Paul, MN, but not until 12 year old Franklin heard a foreboding comment made by his father.

While loading at Allouez Bay, Captain Huyck was in conversation with First Mate John Smith about an annoying circumstance on his new ship. “I’ll never make another trip without tarps!” the Captain exclaimed to the Mate while pointing out areas where water could find easy access past the telescoping hatch covers to the cargo hold without the use of canvas tarpaulins. Old time skippers like Frank B. Huyck had no understanding why his newly completed ship had not been equipped with such a vital piece of equipment as a canvas tarpaulin for each of the ships hatches. A curious Franklin was able to fit his 12 year old fist between the top of the hatch and the hatch cover!

A more ominous way to interpret Captain Huyck’s statement could be “I’ll never complete another trip without the tarps aboard”.

Film and still photos of the spar deck taken during the 2007 GLSHS expedition on the Cyprus showed an unusual hatch design. What type of hatch would annoy a Captain so much and look so unusual as to defy operational description? After an intensive search, it was found that the system was patented by a Harry Brousseau.

Patent No. 477041 - Valveless Steam Engine

Mr. & Mrs. Harry Brousseau circa 1903 (William Forsythe collection)

Mr. Brousseau was born October 8, 1867 in Quebec, Canada. In 1878, Harry’s family moved to Newberry, MI. Young Harry had little chance for a formal education, but, studied heavily at home. At 13, he was hired at the Newberry Furnace Company where he learned the trades of both engineering and machining.

After nine years at the furnace company, Harry left to work at numerous jobs for the next two years. A 24 year old Harry joined Gilbert Patterson, a Chief Engineer with the American Steel Barge Company to submit Patent No. 477041 on October 17, 1891. The patent made improvements to Valveless Steam Engines. It was a reversible engine that converted steam driven linear power to rotary power. It was adopted June 14, 1892. In the fall of that year, Harry entered the employ of the American Steel Barge Company. Within two years, Harry became foreman of the machine shop, reporting directly to the Superintendent of the yard Captain Joseph Kidd (see Part 8). In 1900, The American Steel Barge Company was sold to the American Shipbuilding Company. The yard was renamed Superior Shipbuilding. In that same year, Mr. Brousseau transferred to the Engineering Department as its Superintendent with 130 people under his authority.

January 3, 1903, Harry Brousseau filed a patent that significantly changed the way deckhands do their work on the boats. Patent No. 736357 was promptly adopted August 18, 1903.

The patent introduced a new style of hatch cover made up of a total of ten inverted U-shaped steel plates per hatch opening. Five overlapping plates would open and close on the portside and five overlapping plates would open and close on the starboard side. Each of the five plates were equipped with a downward facing flange on the inboard edge of each leaf that pushed against each other while opening. A pair of link chains attached to each leaf flange dragged all five leaves to their closed position. In the patent, no mention is made of using the tarps or even clamps on the hatches.

One photo I was shown of the John Stanton in 1951 showed the inboard leaf flanges and link chains when the hatch covers were photographed open.

Patent No. 736357 - Telescoping Hatch Cover

The patent also describes an ingenious mechanism for opening and closing the hatch covers. Outboard of the starboard hatch coamings is a line shaft (Part #13) that is made up of segments coupled together. Their combined length is slightly longer that the distance of all 23 hatches located on twelve foot centers. The shaft segments are supported near the fore and aft edge of each hatch coaming by a pillow block bearing. Near each bearing is a roller (bicycle) chain sprocket (Part #12). A roller (bicycle) chain (Part #11) follows a figure-eight pattern to mesh with another sprocket connected to another shaft located at the portside of each of the 23 hatch coamings (Part #13) that the Cyprus carried and a set of pillow block bearings supporting each of these shafts. Tabs (Part #14) welded to the fore and aft edges of each inboard hatch leaf were connected to a roller chain link. Rotating the starboard-side drive mechanism in one direction would open the hatch leaves, opposite rotation would close the leaves.

At three places on the starboard side of the spar deck, the patented Valveless Steam Engine (located between hatches 4 and 5, hatches 12 and 13 and hatches 19 and 20) were connected to the drive shaft measuring a total of 290 feet in length . The shaft described as Part #13 on the Hatch patent is the same as Part #12 described on the Valveless Steam Engine patent.

Harry Brousseau simplified his patented hatch drive when he mounted three of his Valveless Steam Engines on the spar deck as the prime mover. He was able to eliminate the bevel gears (Parts #13a and 15a), countershaft (Part #15) and the line shaft (Part # 17). Part #13 hence became the line shaft. Both patents authored by Mr. Brousseau would have far reaching effects on the life and demise of the Cyprus four years later.



Underwater Cyprus wreck showing one Valveless engine with it's weather cover still on. (Photo by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society)


Underwater Cyprus wreck showing one Valveless engine with it's weather cover torn off. (Photo by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society)

Exactly 104 years to the day that the Hatch patent was adopted, the GLSHS’s ROV filmed, although post mortem, the best record of the two Brousseau patents put into actual practice.

In January 1904, Harry Brousseau resigned from the shipyard and accepted a position with the Standard Oil Company of New York. He was to author three more patents over the years. His last was a return to marine engineering entitled “Steering Gear for Ships”. Patent No. 1392394 was filed October 23, 1920 and adopted October 4, 1921 from his last known residence in Bath, ME.

Sketch done by the author of the structural angle style hatch leaf clamp on Cyprus. (William Forsythe)

Photos taken by the GLSHS’s ROV in the vicinity of the Valveless Steam Engines showed an interesting debris field around the hatch coamings. The debris consisted of a structural steel angle. Through a hole drilled in the angle passed a threaded rod with a wing nut attached. A few of the John Stanton photos from 1951 showed the spar deck mounted threaded rods and wing nuts passing through the “angle clamps”. Strongbacks, made up of structural steel channels, were used at every other angle clamp. This may well have been the original hatch leaf clamping system for the Brousseau-type telescoping hatches that were used on the Cyprus.

By 1951, the John Stanton had a method rigged to attach tarps to the Brousseau-type telescoping hatch covers. A method the Cyprus had no chance to try, since the tarps never existed on the ship.



Series of photos onboard the S.S. John Stanton in 1951 with Brousseau-style (Cyprus) hatch covers showing underslung link chains separating hatch leaves when closing, the downward facing flanges space the hatch leaves when opening and structural angle, threaded rod and wing nut style hatch leaf clamps (Photos by Dave Edwards)

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