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Departing Gladstone, Mich. 2005

Scott Best

Great Lakes Fleet Page Vessel Feature - Cason J. Callaway

By Jody Aho

The Cason J. Callaway was one of the eight "AAA" class vessels which entered service during 1952 and 1953. She was the last of the trio of vessels in this class (the Philip R. Clarke and Arthur M. Anderson were the first two) built for Pittsburgh Steamship Company, who originally developed the blueprints used for all eight members of this class.

The Cason J. Callaway was Hull #297 of the Great Lakes Engineering Works at River Rouge, Michigan. She was the only one of Pittsburgh Steamship Company's trio in this class to be built by GLEW; the other two were from American Ship Building Company in Lorain. There were minor differences between the Callaway and the two AmShip units; the Callaway has a slightly larger pilothouse but has a smaller gross registered tonnage. Nonetheless, the Callaway and the other seven members of the class all had the same original overall dimensions: 647 feet long, 70 feet wide, and 36 feet deep. At the time, it was believed to be the largest sized vessel which could be turned around inside the harbor at Conneaut, Ohio, a common U.S. Steel ore unloading port.

The Callaway sailed on her maiden voyage September 16, 1952 light for Duluth to load iron ore. The vessel was involved in a notable accident in the St. Mary's River on August 21, 1955, when the Callaway collided with the B.F. Jones (I) of the Wilson Transit Company. Both vessels suffered major damage, although the empty B. F. Jones fared worse. The Jones was considered a total loss and was scrapped shortly thereafter, while the Callaway was repaired.

By 1957 the Pittsburgh Steamship Division billboard lettering was gone from the side of the Callaway, marking the last significant change in the vessel's appearance for over fifteen years. In 1974, the vessel was lengthened 120 feet at Fraser Shipyards in Superior, a career-extending move which was carried out on most of the other vessels in that class. Eight years later, the vessel was converted to a self-unloader at the same shipyard. This conversion ensured that the Callaway would remain competitive for years to come.

Initially, the Callaway was used almost exclusively in the iron ore trade. In the early 1960s, the Callaway occasionally visited the St. Lawrence Seaway, often hauling grain from Toledo to ports on the St. Lawrence River and returning with iron ore. By the end of the 1960s, the Callaway returned to the traditional U.S. Steel iron ore trade route. She remained on this route regularly until her conversion to a self-unloader. After the conversion, the vessel began loading a wider variety of cargoes and visiting an even greater variety of ports. Ports such as Ashland and Green Bay, Wisconsin and Ontonagon and Dollar Bay, Michigan would occasionally become part of the Callaway's trade route. By the late 1980s, the Callaway fell into a somewhat regular trade route, including a trip from either Duluth or Two Harbors with iron ore to a Lower Lakes port, often Lorain; one or two intermediate trips between ports on Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Erie; and a limestone load from quarries at Rogers City (Calcite) and Cedarville (Port Dolomite), Michigan back up to Duluth. An occasional odd cargo or port remains a possibility. The vessel has remained on a similar pattern during the 1990s.

The Callaway has also regularly been involved in extended season navigation. The vessel operated through the winter a couple of times in the mid-1970s, and in the 1990s she has been among the first to fit out and last to lay up most seasons. Oddly, in 1998, she was among the first vessels to lay-up, and plans began to surface about her possible conversion to diesel power.

The Cason J. Callaway remains an active member of USS Great Lakes Fleet. With various modifications, the vessel has always remained useful in her trade route, emphasizing iron ore in the first few decades and a greater variety of cargoes and ports in the last fifteen years.

Overall Dimensions (metric)
Length  767' 00" (233.78m)
Beam  70' 00" (21.34m)
Depth  36' 00" (10.97m)
Capacity (tons)  25,300 tons (25,706 tonnes)
Power (steam turbine)  7,700 s.h.p.

Stern view. Mike Nicholls

Foggy loading. G. Blaszkiewicz 

Detroit River. Mike Nicholls

Detroit River. Mike Nicholls

Detroit River. Steve Haverty Collection.

Ice covered decks in 1966. T. Naykki

Unloading at Gladstone, MI Jan./05.  Scott Best

Bow profile.  Scott Best

Leaving Gladstone with tug assist.  Scott Best


More pictures
from our archives

Upbound the Maumee River as a straight decker loaded with ore.
She is heading for the old Cargill grain elevator for temporary lay-up due to a strike called for by the various sailors unions during 1982. She will spend several weeks in lay-up at this dock site. Jim Hoffman

1983. Rudi Rabe

Aerial view Don Coles

Detroit River. Mike Nicholls

Stern view. Mike Nicholls

Duluth. Al Miller

Zug Island Detroit. Mike Nicholls

Life boat drill. Mike Nicholls

Departing Murphy Fuel Dock, Duluth. Al Miller

Arriving. Don Lee

Detroit River. Mike Nicholls

Soo Locks.  Rod Burdick

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