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Lafarge Dock at Saginaw, MI, Aug. 24, 2008..

Todd Shorkey

Great Lakes Fleet Page Vessel Feature -- E. M. Ford

By Brian Ferguson

Over one century ago the steel bulk carrier Presque Isle (Cleveland hull #30) slid down the ways at the Cleveland Shipbuilding yard in Cleveland, Ohio. It was May 25, 1898 and she had been built for the Presque Isle Transportation Company but was dressed in a fresh coat of Cleveland Cliffs black and green. Cliffs would be the company operating her in the ore and coal trades.

At 428-feet in length, 50-feet at the beam, and a depth of 28-feet she was a large steamer for the time although she was a full 22-feet shorter then American Steamship company's Superior City, which operated for the Zenith Transit Company, also know as the "City Line".

Although it took longer to walk the decks of the massive Superior City her shallow depth of 24' 7" earned her only a modest capacity increase. The Superior City could haul about 7,100 tons per trip and the Presque Isle had a capacity of about 6,200 tons. She also would see a better fate in her early years. On August 20, 1920 the Superior City was rammed in Whitefish Bay by the Willis L. King, sending her and 29 of her 33 crew to the bottom of lake Superior.

A revolution soon hit the lakes as Acme Steamship's Augustus B. Wolvin took to the waters off Lorain, Ohio in 1904. She was the first lake bulk carrier built with arch construction. This style of construction eliminated the need for vertical hold stanchions, which also made a increase in a vessels cargo capacity and made unloading easier. Without the vertical beams down the center of the cargo holds, clam shell buckets, and Huletts could unload a ships cargo faster, and with less damage. Although the Presque Isle was built with vertical hold stanchions Cleveland Cliffs saw the viability in the new construction method and in 1915 had her hull reconstructed at Great Lakes Engineering Works. At the same time she also had her "Flying Bridge" style pilothouse replaced.

She once again resumed her trade pattern of coal up to Lake Superior and ore down to Lake Erie until 1922 when her boilers were replaced by the Toledo Shipbuilding Company.

In 1956 the bulk trades saw a dramatic increase in ship size. 650' and even 700' vessels with beams of 70' and more became the standard around the lakes slowly one by one the early century 400' ships were being discontinued. Cleveland Cliffs realized the Presque Isle would soon become liability rather than a asset. In 1955 they announced the then 57 year old vessel was for sale.

The Huron-Portland Cement of Alpena Michigan saved the vessel from a date with the cutter's torch when they purchased the vessel. Huron-Portland was no stranger to converting older vessels. They had successfully converted the 308' Samuel Mitchell, and would later convert the E.C. Collins  (J.B. Ford) in 1958, and the Leon Fraser (Alpena) in 1991.

The Christy Corporation in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin was contracted to convert the vessel to a self-unloading cement carrier. Her durable and time tested coal fired 1,500 i.h.p quadruple expansion steam engine was retained.

In early 1956 the newly reconstructed vessel was christened E. M. Ford (U.S. 150786) in honor of Huron-Portland's chairman Emory Moran Ford. With Huron-Portland the vessel would call at several ports on all the lakes.

The vessel set out in her new trade early 1956. he year would prove to be far from uneventful. Upbound while in ballast, on the night of April 19, 1956 the Ford was fast approaching the stone laden self-unloader A.M. Byers just above light #37 near Harsen's Island in the St. Clair River. As the two converged the steering gear on the Ford failed and the two ships collided nearly head on. Extensive damage was inflicted to both vessels but the Ford managed to stay afloat. The Byers subsequently sank to her upper structures, but would later return to service. The Ford would also be repaired at Great Lakes Engineering Works, receiving a new bow and return to the lakes.

After the incident the Ford sailed 22 years without a major mishap and saw more upgrades. She put in during the winter of 1956-57 after her maiden season at the Christy Corporation yard and there she received her current triple deck pilot house. In 1960 her aft cabins we remolded by Fraser Shipyards giving her current appearance.

The Ford stayed idle in Toledo in 1971, only to return the next season. In 1975 her boilers were automated and converted to burn oil instead of coal at the Nicholson Terminal and Dock Company.

In late 1979 the Ford's luck ran out. On Christmas Eve the Steamer was tied up in Milwaukee when a violent storm hit. The Ford broke her mooring lines and her bow was driven into the dock by the wind and waves. Massive holes were torn into the Ford's Starboard bow and stern. Over the next few hours the Ford took on water and settled to the bottom. After a underwater survey crews had the ship finally raised and stabilized on January 20 1980. The ship was moved to the lower harbor where it was discovered that the 5,850 tons cements had formed a 3' thick wall where her storage cargo once was. Workers had to slowly chip away the cement over the course of several weeks to be able to ready her for the tow to Sturgeon Bay. Selvick Marine Towing Company was awarded the task of towing the badly damaged steamer to Bay Shipbuilding. March 5th the tow made it to Bay Ship and the crippled ship entered the dry-dock the very next day. While at Bay Shipbuilding the majority of her internal structures, including internal cabins, engine , and unloading system were either remodeled, rebuilt, or repaired and her bow and stern was permanently repaired (requiring more than 217 tons of new steal plating). The revived vessel was rededicated and blessed on July 31 and finally set sail for her home port of Alpena of August 7th 1980.

The eighties saw Ford active most of the time, only pausing when economic conditions slowed the construction market. In 1990 her ownership changed when Huron-Portland's ships came under management of Inland Lakes Transportation. The famous H logo and stack markings were replaced with her new operators logos.

In the Late 90's a major blow was dealt to the proud steamers that carved out there small niche in the cement trade when the Andrie Co. Constructed the self-unloading cement barge Integrity. Worst of all for the Inland Lakes Managed vessels the new ultra efficient barge would be trading under the Lafarge company the very same cement producer ILM's vessels hauled for. Instantly the steamers S.T. Crapo, and E. M. Ford became surplus tonnage. In September of 1996 both vessel have only been used in the capacity of storage/transfer barges at the Lafarge plants, with the Crapo in Green Bay WI, and the Ford in Saginaw MI.

The Ford celebrated her 100th anniversary with little fanfare in 1998 tied up in Saginaw. Rumors refuse to die. Every year word is passed that the Ford will once again fit out for service, but year after year she stays tied up. Demand for cement products would have to rise dramatically for the vessel to see service again. This vessel has proved to be a good survivor. She has endured a over a century of service and two major mishaps that should have finished her, but only time will tell if this classic will survive long enough to sail again.

After 12 years in Saginaw, word came in November of 2008 that the E. M. Ford had been sold for scrap.  The veteran steamer's days were numbered.  Indeed,  on November 10, 2008, the Canadian tug Avenger IV owned by Purvis Marine, Sault Ste. Marie, ON who were the buyers of the Ford, had arrived to tow the vessel back to Sault Ste. Marie for final disposition.  On November 11, the tow left the Lafarge dock heading back down the Saginaw River into Saginaw Bay   The Avenger IV was assisted by the tug Gregory J. Busch in negotiating the Saginaw River.  By 2:30 p.m. the tow had cleared the Saginaw River and was proceeding northwest in Saginaw Bay at 5.5 mph.  The E. M. Ford's final voyage had begun.  The short journey ended November 13, 2008 with the tow's arrival at Purvis Marine's facility in Sault Ste. Marie, ON.  The tow was assisted in its transit of the St. Marys River by Purvis tug W.I. Scott Purvis.

Overall Dimensions (metric)
 Length  428' 00" (130.45m)
 Beam  50' 00" (15.24m)
 Depth  28' 00" (8.53m)
 Capacity         7,100 tons (7,214 tonnes)
 Power (steam)  1,500 i.h.p. (1,103 KW)


The tow begins, Drifting away from the Lafarge dock,11:15AM, Nov.12, 2008.
Andy Severson

Heading for the turning basin.
Andy Severson

Reflection on the calm water.
Andy Severson

In the turning basin.
Stephen Hause

Starting outbound, 11:43 AM.
Stephen Hause

Gregory J. Busch connected to the stern.
Stephen Hause

At Veteran's Memorial Bridge.
Todd Shorkey

Clearing Liberty Bridge. Todd Shorkey

Below Lake State Railway Bridge.
Michael Koprowicz & Angela Messina

Heading for the Zilwaukee Bridge.
Stephen Hause.

Passing the Front Range into Saginaw Bay
at 2:32 PM. Stephen Hause

Upbound the St. Marys River, Nov. 13, 2008.
Teresa Parker

Nov. 10, 2008, last day at the Saginaw dock, tug Avenger IV just arriving. Todd Shorkey

Avenger IV along side. Todd Shorkey

Pilothouse profile. Dave Wobser

The passing Mississagi, Apr. 23, 2008.
Stephen Hause

Aug. 30, 2008. Matt Miner

Another view. Matt Miner

The passing James Norris, July 28, 2006.
Stephen Hause

The barge Integrity with tug G.L Ostrander alongside and the Calumet unloading behind.
July 31, 2006. Gordy Garris

Winter on the Saginaw River, Dec. 9, 2007.
Todd Shorkey

The approaching Alpena, Apr. 2, 2006.
Gordy Garris

Alongside. Gordy Garris

With the Tug/barge G.L. Ostrander/Integrity,
May 26, 2006. Gordy Garris

The Paul H. Townsend alongside, Aug. 8, 2005.
Gordy Garris

With the Alpena, Dec. 2005. Gordy Garris

Bow views, Dec. 2005. Todd Shorkey
Onboard by Matt Lemon

Looking aft.





Steering engine.

As the Presque Isle. Tom Manse from the Roger LeLievre Collection

Presque Isle at the Soo in the 1930's.
Ed Wilson photo / Tom Manse collection,
courtesy of Roger LeLievre

E. M. Ford at Mission Point in the 1950's.
Tom Manse from the
Roger LeLievre Collection

Sunk at the dock In Milwaukee, 1979. Gene Onchulenko Collection

Upbound passing under the Bluewater Bridge,
Sept. 16, 1986. Marc Dease

Saginaw River. Lon Morgan

MacArthur Lock at the Soo, 1988.
John Leindecker

On the Detroit River, July 8, 1989.
James H. Jackson

Departing Milwaukee, 1989.
Andy LaBorde

Port Huron, Mar. 1990.
Harold Fricke - Lake Huron Lore

Alpena, 1990. John Leindecker

Loading at Alpena.
John Leindecker

Nov., 1994 in upper Lake Michigan.
John Leindecker

Lake Michigan. John Leindecker

Stuck in ice with the S.T. Crapo at White Shoal, Lake Michigan. John Leindecker

Unloading. Mark Peabody

Unloading. John Belliveau

Alpena unloading, Dec. 20, 2000.
Stephen Hause.

Storage barge in Saginaw, Aug. 2001.
Todd Shorkey

Transfer passing, Aug. 2001. Todd Shorkey

Iglehart unloading. Stephen Hause

Bow view, Apr. 7, 2003.

Passing by on the Saginaw River,
June 18, 2003 Steve Haverty

Another view. Steve Haverty

Bow view. Steve Haverty

Saginaw, Jan. 27, 2004. Stephen Hause

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