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Inbound the Burlington Ship Canal, July 31, 2008.

John McCreery 

Great Lakes Fleet Page Vessel Feature -- Robert S. Pierson

By George Wharton

This "river class" self-unloading bulk freighter was built at a cost of $14.1 million by the American Ship Building Co., Lorain, OH. Her keel was laid June 1, 1973 with the vessel being launched September 9, 1974 as the Wolverine for the Union Commerce Bank, Cleveland, OH with Oglebay Norton Company as managers sailing under the colors of Oglebay Norton's Columbia Transportation Division.  She was originally laid down for the Kinsman fleet but was sold to these owners while under construction.  The Wolverine was named after the small North American mammal and mascot of the State of Michigan; the state of origin and destination of many of Oglebay Norton's cargoes. She was the second vessel to have carried the Wolverine name in this fleet.  The Wolverine was built under Title XI of the Merchant Marine Act of 1970 for the U.S. shipping companies. She and her fleet mate near sister-ships William R. Roesch (now sailing as the Calumet) Paul Thayer (now sailing as the Manitowoc) were designed specifically for carrying cargoes up Cleveland's winding Cuyahoga River; thus the designation "river class". The Wolverine departed light from Lorain October 15, 1974 on her maiden voyage to load limestone at Stoneport, MI for delivery to Huron, OH.

Burning marine diesel oil, the Wolverine is powered by two V-16 cylinder Alco 16V251E four stroke cycle, single acting diesel engines built by the Alco Engine Division of White Industrial Power Inc. of Auburn, NY, each rated at 2,800 b.h.p. (2,059 kw). The power is fed through a Lufkin reduction gear box with reverse gearing to a fixed pitch propeller giving her a service speed of 17.8 m.p.h. She is equipped with a bow thruster. Her 17 hatches service 4 holds where she is capable of carrying 19,650 tons (19,966 mt) at a mid-summer draft of 26' 00" (7.92m). The Wolverine's holds have the cubic capacity to carry up to 14,700 net tons of coal.  The stern mounted 260' 00" (79.2m) self-unloading boom can discharge at a rate of up to 3,571 tons (3,629 mt) tons of ore or stone, or 4,000 net tons or coal per hour and can be swung 90 degrees to port or starboard.  Other capacities include 50.15 tons (50.96 mt) of fresh water, 287.72 tons (292.34 mt) of fuel oil and 10,575 tons (10,745 mt) of water ballast.

The Wolverine is noted to have grounded at the channel entrance to the Connor's Creek Detroit Edison power plant on May 18, 1982; being released with no apparent damage the next day with the aid of two tugs.  On April 27, 1993, the vessel grounded on Surveyors Reef near Cedarville, MI damaging her hull. After refloating, the Wolverine was drydocked at Toledo, OH on April 29 returning to service on May 22, 1993.  On April 18, 1994, the self-unloader grounded on a sand bar outside the Muskegon, MI pierheads and was refloated with tug assistance.  Later that year, on August 15, the Wolverine was in contact with 2 small pleasure craft on the Cuyahoga River while leaving Cleveland, OH.  There was no reported injuries or serious damage and the vessel continued outbound.  She also collided with the Shell Fuel dock at Corunna, ON on November 9, 1997 causing approximately $15,000 damage to a 3' x 8' (.91m x 2.44m) section of starboard forepeak shell plating at the 26' (7.92m) waterline.

The self-unloader's cargoes have been focused in the taconite pellets, coal, stone, and aggregates trades with her trade routes primarily on the lower Great Lakes. This includes the one short-haul route for which she was designed: from Lorain to Cleveland, OH and up the Cuyahoga River. Oglebay Norton Company assumed out-right ownership of the vessel in October 1994 after the dissolution of the Columbia Transportation Division name.

On August 2, 2006, Oglebay Norton Marine Services Co. completed the sale of the Wolverine and her 2 "river class" fleet mates David Z. Norton and Earl W. Oglebay to the Wisconsin and Michigan Steamship Co. of Lakewood, OH for $18.7 million.  With this sale, Oglebay Norton Co. phased out its subsidiary Oglebay Norton Marine Services Co. and removed itself from the marine shipping industry thus bringing to a close a long tradition of service on the Great Lakes.  The Wisconsin and Michigan Steamship Co. is a subsidiary of Sand Products Corp. owned by the McKee family.  The vessel was commercially operated by Lower Lakes Transportation Co. of Williamsville, NY under a time charter agreement with her new owners with an option to buy the vessel off charter being extended to Grand River Navigation, the U.S. vessel-owning affiliate of Lower Lakes Transportation.  Her trade routes have remained essentially the same. 

The Wolverine was the first of the 3 sisters to have her hull painted the Lower Lakes grey, emerging from her winter lay-up at Sturgeon Bay, WI March 27, 2007 in her new colors although her superstructure was still in Oglebay Norton livery.  The versatile self-unloader opened the port of Stoneport, MI for the 2007 season, arriving there on March 28, 2007 to load.  Some of the ports visited during the 2007 season include the Michigan ports of Marquette, Grand Haven, Calcite, Muskegon, Holland, Saginaw, Bay City, Alpena and Stoneport; Sturgeon Bay, Green Bay and Superior, WI; Lorain and Sandusky, OH, Chicago, IL, Duluth, MN as well as the Ontario ports of Sault Ste. Marie, Hamilton and Sarnia.

On February 13, 2008, Rand Logistics of New York, NY, the parent company of Lower Lakes Towing, Lower Lakes Transportation and Grand River Navigation, announced that Grand River Navigation had exercised its option to buy the Wolverine from the Wisconsin and Michigan Steamship Co.  Also purchased were the Wolverine fleetmates David Z. and Earl W. as well for an "all in" sum of $20 million.  The Wolverine was then resold to Lower Lakes Towing, Port Dover, ON, the Canadian affiliate of Grand River Navigation and Lower Lakes Transportation. 

The vessel was officially registered with Transport Canada under the new name Robert S. Pierson (2) on February 14, 2008 out of the port of Nanticoke, ON.  The Robert S. Pierson is the first vessel in the Lower Lakes fleet to honor an individual. Mr. Robert Scott Pierson, who died December 23, 2007 at age 71, was very active in the Canadian shipping industry.  First working for Misener Transportation, in 1975 he started his own firm, The Soo River Company. More recently and until his passing, he worked for Lower Lakes Towing/Grand River Navigation Co. The formal christening ceremonies were held at Sarnia, ON on March 22, 2008, the vessel's sponsor being Sandra Mathies, partner in life of Mr. Pierson.  The first vessel to carry Mr. Piersonís name was the 1925-built Reiss Brothers and carried the Robert S. Pierson name from 1980-82, eventually being scrapped as Spruceglen (1) at Thunder Bay, ON in 1985 as the last Canadian-registered coal-fired bulker.  On April 1, 2008, the newly christened Robert S. Pierson commenced sailing under her new name when she left winter lay-up berth down the St. Clair River a short distance to Imperial Oil for bunkers then proceeded upbound into Lake Huron bound in ballast for Meldrum Bay, ON.


Overall Dimensions (metric)
 Length  630' 00" (192m)
 Beam  68' 00" (20.73m)
 Depth  36' 11" (11.25m)
 Capacity (mid-summer)  19,650 tons (19,966 mt)
at a mid-summer draft of 26'00" (7.92m)
 Power (diesel)  5,600 b.h.p. (4,118 kw)

Unloading limestone at Kingsville, ON,
June 14, 2008. Erich Zuschlag

Upbound the St. Clair River, July 9, 2008.
Bill Bird

Entering Lake Huron at Point Edward, ON,
July 20, 2008. John McCreery

Outbound the Saginaw River, June 12, 2008.
Todd Shorkey

Stern view. Todd Shorkey

Lake Erie approaching Kingsville, ON harbor,
June 14, 2008. Erich Zuschlag

Entering the MacArthur Lock at the Soo,
May 25, 2008. Roger LeLievre

Off of Lake Ontario entering the Burlington Ship Canal with canola from Thunder Bay, ON,
May 27, 2008. John McCreery

Stern view into Hamilton, ON harbor.
John McCreery

Waiting at Marquette, MI, Apr. 21, 2008.
Rod Burdick

Another view at the other side of the dock,
Apr. 21, 2008. Lee Rowe

Into Lake Huron at Point Edward, ON,
May 9, 2008.
Click image at right for photos of
the Christening Ceremony held
at Sarnia, ON, Mar. 22, 2008.
Picture-034.jpg (58508 bytes)
Christening Ceremonies of the
Robert S. Pierson (2)

Robert S. Pierson (1)
Historical Perspectives Gallery

Flying the University of Michigan flag, on the
St. Clair River, Oct. 2007. Matt Lemon

Loading at Marquette, Dec. 5, 2007.
Rod Burdick

Arriving at Marquette, Jan.10, 2008.
Lee Rowe

Approaching downtown Detroit, Aug. 26, 2007.
Alex & Max Mager

Upbound at Port Huron, Aug. 31, 2007.
Alex & Max Mager

Stern view into Lake Huron.
Alex & Max Mager

Entering Sarnia's North Slip, May 10, 2007.
Marc Dease

Stern View. Carrie Lanz

Passing under the Bluewater Bridges,
Aug. 23, 2007. Michael Hurd

Into Lake Huron, Port Huron, MI, Mar. 31, 2007.
Alex & Max Mager

Saginaw River, Apr. 10, 2007.
Gordy Garris

Stern view, Saginaw River with the Olive L. Moore and barge Lewis J. Kuber in background, Apr. 7, 2007.
Gordy Garris

Arriving at Stoneport, MI, Apr. 9, 2007.
Ben & Chanda McClain

Crewman over to the dock.
Ben & Chanda McClain

Turning the corner, David Z. departing in the background. Ben & Chanda McClain

First boat of the season at Stoneport, MI,
Mar. 28, 2007. Ben & Chanda McClain

Another view. Ben & Chanda McClain

Bow profile and loader at Stoneport.
Ben & Chanda McClain

Finished unloading at Erie, PA, May 2006.
Carrie Lanz

Departing Erie, May 2005. Carrie Lanz

Squeezing between the dock and barge Joseph H. Thompson at Erie, PA, July 28, 2006. Carrie Lanz

St. Marys River, Jan. 2004. Roger LeLievre

Loading at Marquette, MI, Dec. 2004.
Lee Rowe

Winter lay-up at Toledo, OH, Jan. 2005.
Mike Nicholls

Stern view. Todd Shorkey

On board. Scott Best

Pilot house. Scott Best

Windlass room. Scott Best

Chart table. Scott Best

Engines. Scott Best

Lorain, OH 1978. David Sulewski

Lake St. Clair, July 2001. Don Coles

Lake St. Clair Crib Light. Don Coles

Maumee Bay. Jim Hoffman

Saginaw River, Oct. 22, 2002. Todd Shorkey

Stern view. Dave Merchant

Winter lay-up Toledo, Feb. 2, 2002.
Mike Nicholls

Detroit River, Aug. 4, 2004. Mike Nicholls

Stern view. Mike Nicholls

Saginaw River, Dec. 24, 1999.
Stephen Hause

Erie, Pa, Aug. 17, 2002. Jeff Thoreson

Saginaw River, Apr. 26, 2001. Todd Shorkey

Cleveland, Nov. 17, 2001. Rex Cassidy

Manistee. Chris Franckowiak

Saginaw River, July 2, 2002. Todd Shorkey

Saginaw River, Oct. 22, 2001. Todd Shorkey

Saginaw River, Oct. 2003. Todd Shorkey

St. Clair River. N. Schultheiss

At the Soo, Nov. 2003. Scott Best

Close up of bow lay-up 2001. N. Schultheiss

Close up of stern. N. Schultheiss

Stern view 2002 Rouge River. N. Schultheiss

Arriving Erie, PA, July 28, 2006.
Carrie Lanz

Lake St. Clair, Aug. 26, 2007.
Alex & Max Mager

Outbound the Saginaw River, June 12, 2008.
Todd Shorkey

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