Detroit River, 2001.

Mike Nicholls  

Great Lakes Fleet Page Vessel Feature -- Saginaw (3)

By George Wharton

This Great Lakes self-unloading bulk carrier was built as hull #417 by the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Co., Manitowoc, WI for the American Steamship Co. (Boland & Cornelius, managers), Buffalo, NY. She was launched May 9th, 1953 as the John J. Boland (3) and is one of three near sister vessels built by this shipyard. The other two vessels are the John G. Munson built as hull #415 for the USS Great Lakes Fleet still actively sailing, and the Detroit Edison built as hull #418 also for the American Steamship Co. A grounding in northern Lake Michigan on December 22nd, 1980 ended the Detroit Edisonís career on the Great Lakes.

Burning heavy fuel oil, the vessel is powered by a De Laval cross compound steam turbine engine built by De Laval Steam Turbine Co., Trenton, NJ, normally rated at 7,000 s.h.p.  The self-unloader is equipped with double Helical gear reduction and two Foster-Wheeler water tube boilers and has a maximum service speed of 16.1 m.p.h. She is equipped with a bow thruster. Her 30 hatches service 6 holds where she is capable of carrying 20,200 tons (20,525 tonnes) at a mid-summer draft of 26'02" (7.98m). This vessel was one of the last to be built with telescoping hatch covers. A double bucket type self-unloading system feeds a forward mounted 250 foot (76.2m) discharge boom that can be swung 120 degrees to port or starboard.  The self-unloader is classified by the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) as a bulk carrier for Great Lakes service and displaces 7,740 tons (7,864 tonnes) lightweight.

This vessel was the third lake boat to carry the John J. Boland name. Mr. John James Boland was born in Buffalo, NY September 20th, 1875. He had developed a vessel brokerage business and in 1904, formed a partnership with Mr. Adam E. Cornelius resulting in the firm Boland & Cornelius which further resulted in the formation of the American Steamship Company in 1907. Mr. Boland died October 3rd, 1956.

The John J. Bolandís first cargo was a load of limestone on September 25th, 1953 from Port Inland, MI for a lower lakes port. Her cargoes remained focused in the stone and coal trades throughout her tenure with the American Steamship Co. Of note; on December 16th, 1973, her discharge boom fell onto the dock at the Pulliam Power Plant, Green Bay, WI and was completely destroyed. The cause of the incident was reported to have been broken support cables. The boom was replaced by Bay Shipbuilding, Sturgeon Bay, WI in March of 1974. The John J. Boland continued sailing through until the mid-eighties when she was laid up with an uncertain future.

In the early 1990ís; American Steamship Co. refit the John J. Boland including upgrading her instruments and remodeling her cabins. She was returned to service on her usual trade routes until she was laid up again at Superior, WIís Fraser Shipyards on December 27th, 1998. Her more modern and efficient fleet mate, the Adam E. Cornelius had been returned to ASC after coming off a long term lease with Central Marine Logistics. The Bolandís trade routes were to be taken over by the much newer Cornelius with the resulting announcement that the John J. Boland would not sail the 1999 navigation season.

On October 22nd, 1999; after 46 years of service to her original owners, Lower Lakes Towing Ltd., Port Dover, Ont. announced the purchase of the John J. Boland from American Steamship Co. The vessel was taken in tow from the Fraser Shipyards to the Government Dock, Sarnia, Ont. by the tug Roger Stahl owned by Detroitís Gaelic Tug Boat Co. She received a refit, upgrades, and a coat of Lower Lakes grey for her hull. The vessel was christened Saginaw (3) on November 20th, 1999 in honor of Michiganís Saginaw River; an artery leading to many of her new ownerís key customers.

Of note; in early 2000, the modern American Steamship Co. self-unloader Charles E. Wilson was renamed John J. Boland (4) to continue the name in the fleet co-founded by Mr. Boland nearly a century ago.

The first vessel to carry the Saginaw name was a wooden steamer built in 1866 by Thomas Arnold of Marine City, MI. Her dimensions were 194.42í (59.26m) long x 27.66í (8.43m) wide x 11.58í (3.53m) deep, and 707.47 gross tons (718.83 tonnes). The vesselís enrollment was surrendered November 4th, 1913 at Rochester, NY as ďabandonedĒ. The second Saginaw was ironically built by the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Co., Manitowoc, WI in 1919. The steel hulled vessel was launched as the Coperas for the U.S. Shipping Board but entered service too late for service in WWI. The vessel was named Saginaw (2) following her acquisition by Saginaw Dock & Terminal Co., Cleveland, OH in 1937. She sailed under this name until being sold to the U.S. Navy September 27th, 1941 when she was renamed USS Matinicus (AG-38). She was renamed Saginaw in 1946, then renamed Ramsdal in 1948 after being sold and registered in Finland. She was scrapped in Finland in 1967 bearing the name Transdal.

The Saginaw (3), now registered Canadian, departed Sarnia on her maiden voyage for her new owners in December 4th, 1999 sailing light for the Lafarge Construction Materials quarry at Meldrum Bay, Ont. where she loaded stone destined for Marysville, MI. The Saginawís cargoes now could include stone, aggregates, coal, wheat, or salt.  Much of the 2004 season was spent trading on Lake Superior with cargoes of coal from Thunder Bay, Ont. to Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (Algoma Steel) and wheat cargoes from Thunder Bay, Ont. to ports such as Owen Sound and Goderich, Ont..

Of recent note, on December 6th, 2002; the Saginaw damaged her rudder in the channel above Lock 7 of the Welland Canal in Thorold, Ont. while attempting to turn and dock to unload at the Welland Canal's Wharf 6 in Thorold.  After unloading, the Saginaw proceeded under her own power with the assistance of Nadro Marine's tug Miseford to Heddle Marine in Hamilton, Ont. for repair.  On April 4th, 2003; the vessel became stuck in ice outside Marquette, MI's harbor and was not freed until April 7th with the assistance of CCGS Samuel Risley.  The Saginaw was the last commercial vessel to transit the Soo Locks thus closing the locks for the 2003 navigation season on January 23rd, 2004.  She had a cargo of coal from Duluth, MN bound for Nanticoke, Ont.

The Saginaw laid up at the north slip in Sarnia, Ont. for the last time as a steam powered vessel on December 31, 2007. Over the next several months, her steam plant was removed and replaced by a new MaK 6M43C 6-cylinder 8,160 BHP diesel engine. Combined with a newly installed controllable pitch propeller, this new powerplant is capable of pushing her at upwards of 16 mph and has resulted in better than expected vessel performance and fuel consumption. Returning to service in June 2008, this substantial upgrade ensures the Saginaw will be an efficient, productive asset as part of the Lower Lakes fleet for many years to come.

Of recent note, the Saginaw suffered a boom collapse on December 31, 2011 while loading coal in Thunder Bay, Ont. destined for Essar Steel Algoma in Sault Ste. Marie. Repairs were completed at the dock in Thunder Bay and she arrived at Essar to unload on January 20, 2012.

Overall Dimensions (metric)
Length 639'03" (194.84m)
Beam 72'00" (21.95m)
Depth 36'00" (10.97m)
Capacity 20,200 tons (20,525 tonnes)
Power (steam turbine) 7,000 s.h.p.

Winter lay-up, Sarnia 2003. N. Schultheiss

Name board looking aft to the Sarnia harbor.


Saginaw Pilothouse.


Steering pole.

Another stack view.

Spare unloading elevator bucket.

Logo on stack.

Engine room controls.


Chief Engineer (left) and 2nd Engineer Smith.

Passenger lounge.

Passenger state room.

Another view.

Another view

Passenger state room.

Full size tub in bathroom.

More pictures from our archives

As the John J. Boland by Grassy Island, Detroit River,
May 20, 1992. Skip Meier

Aerial view. Don Coles

Loading at Algoma Steel. Lock Tours Canada Boat Cruises

Visor above the pilothouse painted black in late 2001.
Mike Nicholls

Stern view Mike Nicholls

Backing down the Calumet River in South Chicago heading for the KCBX coal dock. Gary Clark

Unloading in Thunder Bay. Rob Farrow

Arriving Cleveland. TZ

Close up. TZ

Cleveland. Rex Cassidy

Docked in Sarnia. Luke Collection

Arriving on her name sake river. Stephen Hause

Saginaw River, 2001. Todd Shorkey

Unloading in Marysville. Don Coles

Click on image to view pictures of the Saginaw's tow from Superior to Sarnia

Click on image to view pictures of the Saginaw's Dry Docking in 2001
(Includes onboard pictures)

As the John J. Boland. Al Hart

John J. Boland. J. Service

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