A tale of two ships
History of the Two Vessels
By Roger Tottman and Wayne Farrar
The CRISPIN OGLEBAY was launched in September of 1943 as the J.H. Hillman Jr. She was built as part of the Great Lakes shipbuilding effort for World War Two. Of the 16 Maritime Class vessels built the J.R. Hillman was the 13th ship to be built. Designed and built by Great Lakes Engineering Works in Ashtabula, Ohio. The ship was delivered to the Great Lakes Steamship Company. In 1957 she was purchased by the Wilson Marine fleet. In 1972 the ship was acquired by Columbia Transportation Division and renamed the Crispin Oglebay, the second ship of that name.
Columbia had her converted to a boom-forward self unloader in 1974. The work was carried out by American Shipbuilding of Toledo, Ohio. For the next six years the Crispin Oglebay was an active ship in the Oglebay Norton fleet. However, the recession of 1981 brought hard times to Great lakes shipping and with new 1,000 footers many companies had to much capacity and older less efficient ships went to the wall. The Crispin Oglebay was laid up in August of 1981 and spent the next 8 years on the wall in Toledo. In 1989, she returned to the fleet as an active ship again but by the end of May, 1991 the recession of the ninety's was just beginning and she was once again laid up again due to lack of cargo.
Upper Lakes Shipping Company purchased the vessel in 1995 and had her towed to the Port Weller Dry Docks. At the time it was rumored that she would be re-engined to create a new self- unloader. However a crane accident in Hamilton had created a need for a self unloading barge that could be used to transfer bulker ore cargo's from the flat backs to the dock. A moving deck crane was mounted on the existing rails on the spar deck. Then utilizing a clam-shell bucket, the straight deckers could be unloaded of their ore, which was then dropped into the cargo hold of the barge and later discharged via her conventional self unloader system. Renamed the Hamilton Transfer, She was docked at the DeFasco Steel Mill in Hamilton Ontario. This transfer station was a stop gap until new shore unloading facilities could be constructed.
The new thoughts of using the Hamilton Transfer as a ship again came after the sinking accident to the James Norris in Colborne in 1995 when heavy winds slammed her hull against the dock. It was feared the there was considerable engine room damage but after extensive refit at Port Weller during the winter of 1995-96 the Norris returned to service. Thoughts then turned to utilizing the capacity of the Transfer in another way.
The CANADIAN EXPLORER is a good example of the way Upper lakes recycles ships. The story of the EXPLORER began in 1944 at the Kaiser Shipyard in Portland where the T-2 class tanker VERENDRYE was built. Sold for commercial work after the war the ship was known as the EDENFIELD.
Upper Lakes Shipping purchased the ship in 1960. The ship was then sent to Hamburg, Germany where the bow section was removed and scrapped. A new bow and mid-section were added to the stern creating a new 222.5 meter (730ft.) Great Lakes bulk carrier. The new ship was named NORTHERN VENTURE served on the lakes until 1983.
In 1983 Upper Lakes purchased the CABOT a package freighter which had been built in 1965. The stern of the of the NORTHERN VENTURE was cut off and the bow was mated with the stern of the CABOT to take advantage of the modern diesel engine and better accommodation. This fourth ship was named CANADIAN EXPLORER and sailed for Upper Lakes carrying grain and ore on the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River from 1983 until 1998 when she entered Port Weller Dry Dock to once more metamorphosis into a new ship.
The Canadian Explorer was in collision with a salty "Island Skipper" near the Beauharnois Lock on the St. Lawrence Seaway in December 1997. By this time the decision to combine the two ships had already been made and although there was only minor damage. The Explorer went immediately to laid up in Hamilton. History is to be made with the conversion/combination of the two vessels. This is the first time a bulker and a self-unloader have been joined to create new vessel.