The Cuyahoga brings a nostalgic look to the great waterway . . .

Seventy-seven years on the waterway . . .

Source: (edited) - by George Wharton


     The Great Lakes freighter Cuyahoga, is an ‘L6-S-A1 Maritimer’ class steel bulk carrier, built in 1943 at an approximate cost of $1.97 million by the American Ship Building Co. of Lorain, OH. Originally christened the Mesabi for the United States Maritime Commission, she was the 10th of 16 such vessels built in a 2-year period during World War II, and was intended to carry much needed iron ore to the steel mills. The mills were mass producing tanks, artillery, aircraft, and other supplies for the war effort. 

     Of the 16 ‘Maritimer’ class bulkers built at the time, 6 of the ships were of the ‘A1’ type.  The other 10 vessels were type ‘L6-S-B1’s and were built by Great Lakes Engineering Works in either Ashtabula, OH or River Rouge, MI.  

     Although all 16 ships were of identical dimensions, there were more subtle differences in the 2 types.  The A1's were the first boats on the Great Lakes to be built with a new ‘cruiser stern’ design and were the only lakers to be powered by 2,500 i.h.p. four crank, double compound steam engines. These power plants were built by Lentz Standard Marine Engine with 2 coal-fired water-tube boilers made by Combustion Engineering Co. The German-designed engine was basically two separate engines placed end-to-end and sent power to a common shaft.  

     The B1's, by contrast, had different sterns, larger stacks and more traditional 2,500 i.h.p. triple expansion engines. Another 5 A1's included the Thomas Wilson, Sewell Avery, Champlain, John T. Hutchinson, and the E.G. Grace (listed in order of entering service). The J. Burton Ayers was the 5th of the 6 A1's to enter service.

     Under an arrangement with the U.S. Maritime Commission whereby obsolete tonnage was traded for new hulls, the Mesabi was delivered to the Great Lakes Steamship Co., Cleveland, OH and was immediately renamed J. Burton Ayers. 

     The vessel's namesake, Mr. Joseph Burton Ayers, was born at Dayton, OH, on October 8th, 1881.  He began working for the Brown Fleet (Capt. W.W. Brown) in 1901. The Brown fleet merged with other fleets in 1911, becoming the Great Lakes Steamship Co.  Mr. Ayers rose to become General Manager of the firm in 1934, President in 1937, then Chairman of the Board in 1955, retiring in 1957.  He passed away on February 22nd, 1962.  

     The J. Burton Ayers sailed August 19th, 1943, on her maiden voyage for Great Lakes Steamship Co. in ballast to Duluth, MN, to load iron ore for the lower lakes. The J. Burton Ayers was capable of carrying 16,300 tons (16,562 tonnes) in 4 holds serviced by 18 hatches at a mid-summer draft of 25' 01/2" (7.63m).  The only notable incident while under Great Lakes ownership occurred on August 10th, 1954, when the Ayers grounded while loading iron ore at Superior, WI. Indented bottom plates resulted with damage costs being approximately $38,700. 

     On April 10th, 1957, the Cleveland Plain Dealer announced the sale of the J. Burton Ayers with her fleet mates, J.H. Hillman Jr. and Richard M. Marshall to the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., Milwaukee, WI. The ships were to be chartered for 15-years and operated by Wilson Marine Transit Co., Cleveland, OH. The laker retained her name and eventually fit out in late 1958. The late start was due to a drop in demand for iron ore and the Ayers being too large to enter many of the smaller port locations of Wilson's customers. This size problem and their higher operating costs plagued the Ayers and her fleet mates throughout their tenure with Wilson.

     Kinsman Marine Transit Co., Cleveland, OH, acquired the J. Burton Ayers in 1973, selling the laker in 1974 to the Oglebay Norton Co., Cleveland, OH, which was managed by Oglebay Norton's Columbia Transportation Division.  During the winter of 1973/74, the Ayers was converted to a self-unloader by the American Ship Building Co., Toledo, OH. During the next winter's lay-up, the Ayers' boilers were converted to oil by G&W Welding Co., Cleveland, OH.

     There were several notable incidents while sailing under the Columbia Transportation flag, of which two are listed here.  On September 10th, 1980, the J. Burton Ayers grounded at Stoneport, MI, resulting in $737,000 of extensive bottom damage.  Following a 3-year lay-up, on September 23rd, 1989, the Ayers grounded off Bois Blanc Island, resulting in extensive bottom damage to 2 starboard ballast tanks. Repairs were made at Toledo, OH.  During December of 1990, the J. Burton Ayers entered lay-up at Toledo's "Frog Pond" and was formally deactivated on August 5th, 1991, entering into a long-term lay-up status at Toledo.

     On, August 1st, 1995; the J. Burton Ayers was sold to Canadian Lower Lakes Towing Ltd., (Black Creek Shipping Co.), Port Dover, ON, who had her towed from Toledo to Sarnia, ON, for repainting and refit. The self-unloader was the first laker of the newly formed company.  

     The vessel was renamed Cuyahoga (her first renaming in 52 years) in November of 1995 and was formally registered Canadian on November 7th, 1995.  The proud laker's new name honors Ohio's Cuyahoga River, an Indian word meaning "crooked river"; a winding waterway where some of her new owner's customers are located.  The Cuyahoga left Sarnia in mid-November on her maiden voyage, to Meldrum Bay, ON, for a load of limestone, to be delivered to Cleveland on November 16th.

     While at winter lay-up in Sarnia in 1999/00, the Cuyahoga had her original Lentz steam engine replaced with a new Caterpillar 3608 4-stroke cycle in-line 8 cylinder 3,084 b.h.p. diesel engine burning marine diesel oil.  During the winter lay-up of 2001/02 at Sarnia, a KaMeWa controllable pitch propeller was installed.  This combination gives the Cuyahoga a service speed of 12.4 m.p.h.  

     On August 30th, 2002, the Cuyahoga delivered the first cargo of wheat by a self-unloader to the General Mills Frontier Elevator in Buffalo, NY.  

     The Cuyahoga is the second oldest Canadian registered lake boat still in active service on the Great Lakes; preceded only by her fleet mate Mississagi.  The Mississagi, also a "Maritimer" class vessel but a "B1" type, entered service only about a month ahead of the Cuyahoga.  The Cuyahoga however, is the sole survivor of the "A1" class of "Maritimers". 

     Today the Cuyahoga presents herself beautifully on the St. Lawrence Seaway, her nostalgic appearance and stylish lines incredibly eye-catching over her entire length, 620 '00" (188.98m) and beam 60' 00" (18.29m). She boasts a capacity of 15,675 tons (19,927 tonnes) and is powered by a 3,084 b.h.p. plant.