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Loading at Port Stanley, ON Sept. 2004.

Roger LeLievre

Great Lakes Fleet Page Vessel Feature -- Joseph H. Frantz

By Brian Ferguson

On October 18, 1924 Great Lakes Engineering Works launched its first vessel at the new River Rouge, MI shipyard. Hull #248 would be christened the Joseph H. Frantz (U.S. 224409) as the flag ship for the Columbia Steamship Company of Cleveland OH. The new ship was the first of a quartet of vessels to slid down the ways at the new facility.

Shortly after the Frantz, The Edward J Berwind was launched. She would operate for the Hanna Mining Company. In 1925 the John A. Topping was also constructed for the Columbia Steamship Company. The final ship of the 4 came in 1925 in the shape of Cleveland Cliff's new flag ship, the William G. Mather (2).

The Frantz and Mather shared the same dimensions of 618' long, 62' wide at the beam, and a molded depth of 32'. The two ships also shared a similar appearance, the only major differences being the Frantz triple deck pilot house and enclosed stern cabins.

Although smaller in length to the 625' Canadian "Queen of the Lakes" W. Grant Morden and her fleet mate the 621' Topping she was still one of the largest ships for the time, and boasted a larger capacity then the Morden due to her wider beam and deeper depth.

The Frantz would carry close to 14,000 tons of ore on each trip down from the lake head, and close to that number if not a little more in coal on the way up. She was propelled in the early years of her life by a 2,500 ihp Triple expansion engine. In 1944 management of the Columbia vessels was transferred to the Oglebay Norton Co. In 1955 her original power plant was removed in favor of a 5,323 hp Skinner Uniflow steam engine.

During period of 10 years, from 1955 to 1965 ore demand increased at a dramatic rate. Rather then invest money in aging fleets the trend was to build larger faster vessels. Rather then increasing length by inches shipbuilders stretched there vessels by the yard. The Frantz was soon out paced by the new AAA class with there 70' beams, and then the even larger 730'/75' Standard Seaway vessels. Through out the cold war period ships the Frantz size were reduced for late season surplus or were one by one retired to the salvage yard.

However the Frantz escaped this bleak future. In 1965 Oglebay Norton company contracted the Christy Corporation of Sturgeon Bay, WI. to perform a much needed career saving "face lift". The Frantz's Skinner engine was replaced with a less powerful but more efficient 4,000 bhp General Motors, Enterprise diesel. Despite the reduce of power she can still cruise at the respectable speed of 14mph when loaded.

She was also rebuilt as a Self-Unloader, receiving a 250-foot boom mounted on a trunk deck just aft of the forward cabins (much like the conversion of the Nicolet). The vessel is now able to load 13,500 gross tons of stone and ore, or 15,100 net tons of coal, through her 19 hatches that empty into 6 holds, and in turn unload it all at a rate of 4000 net tons per hour Also her original triple deck pilot house was reduced to 2 levels giving her the appearance she carries today.

After all the reworking and refitting the ship proudly etched herself a spot in the stone and coal trades. With her shorter length and shallow draft the Frantz thrives on the smaller river ports of Manistee, Saginaw, and Bay City, and can also be spotted routinely in Muskegon, Burns Harbor, Alpena, and Marine City.

The Frantz for the most part has been a safe vessel over the years. Due to her work in the tight confines of rivers and shallow harbors she is subject to grounding and she touched the Veterans Memorial Bridge in Bay City June 16, 1997 when the east span failed to raise. Damage was strictly cosmetic.

The Frantz spent the 2002 season tied up at the Hocking Valley dock in Toledo, Ohio. Several other vessels spent extended periods of time at the wall in 2002, including her fleet mate the Buckeye. While most of the laid up ships saw late season service the Frantz did not, spawning several rumors of a possible sale, or retirement.

Retirement was the fate of another vessel as the last operating American flagged straight deck bulk carrier Great Lakes Associate’s Kinsman Independent entered lay up for the last time in Buffalo at the end of the 2002-03 season. With installation of self-unloading hoppers at the elevators where she unloaded, it was deemed uneconomical to continue operating her.

In early 2003 it surfaced that the Frantz would be chartered to Great Lakes Associates (Kinsman Lines Managed) for the 2003 season. By Mid April the idled vessel became the center of activity as Kinsman crewmembers began paining and preparing the vessel for a short tow to the dry dock at Toledo Ship Repair for inspection. Later she was moved to the old Interlake Iron dock to finish the fit out process.

With Kinsman the Frantz will see service on Lakes Superior for the first time in many years. Her trade route will consist of grain from Duluth, MN to Buffalo, NY and stone and coal cargoes to other ports. As a self-unloader this will allow her to operate more efficiently than the traditional straight deck freighters that were the backbone of the grain trade for more than a century.

On May 9, 2003 the Frantz departed Toledo headed upbound to load at Cedarville, Mi (Port Dolomite) for Muskegon and Holland. She loaded a cargo of agricultural lime and block mix.

On December 16, 2004, the Joseph H. Frantz completed her 2004 navigation season laying up in Buffalo, NY as normal for Kinsman boats of recent years.  The advent of the 2005 navigation season however, saw this laker remain tied up at her Buffalo lay-up berth. 

On April 29, 2005 the Frantz was towed by the tugs Ecosse and the Seahound to International Marine Salvage in Port Colborne, Ontario for scrapping.

For the previous two seasons the Frantz had been operating under charter from Oglebay Norton Marine Services to Great Lakes Associates (Kinsman), which used her mostly in the grain trade. However the Frantz, built in 1925, was in need of a five-year hull and machinery inspection and reports indicated she needed more work than could be financially justified on such an old vessel of this size.


Overall Dimensions (metric)

Length 618' 00" (188.37m)
Beam 62' 00" (18.90m)
Depth 32' 00" (9.75m)
Capacity 13,600 tons (13,818 tonnes
Power (diesel) 4,000 b.h.p.

Onboard March 2003. About 1 month before charter to Kinsman. N. Schultheiss

Telescoping hatch covers.

Trunk deck.

On the trunk deck.

Trim gauge

Unloading elevator access


Windless room.


Control room

Cargo hold tunnel.

Cargo hold gate

Rock Cut June, 2004.  R. LeLievre

Detroit June, 2004.  Mike Nicholls

Fitout at Toledo, May 2003.  Jim Hoffman

Port Stanley Sept. 2004.  R. LeLievre

Detroit River Oct. 2004.  Mike Nicholls

Stern view.

Milwaukee Aug. 2004.  Andy LaBorde

As a straight decker in the 1940's. At the Soo Locks, John Manse, from the Roger LeLievre Collection

Marquette 1984.  Rod Burdick

Stern view, May 7, 2003. Jim Hoffman

Lake St. Clair - June, 2003. Don Coles

On the Detroit River  Mike Nicholls   

Stern view  Mike Nicholls   

Loading in Superior. Rod Burdick

Another view. Glenn Blaskiewicz

Unloading in Buffalo. Brian Wroblewski

New stack markings, May 2003. Bob Densic

Another view. Bob Densic

On the Detroit River  Mike Nicholls   

On Lake Huron. Don Coles

Upbound from Lake Erie.  Mike Nicholls

Stern view.  Mike Nicholls

Saginaw River.  Stephen Hause

Passing Sarnia.  Clayton Sharrard

Profile of bow. Clayton Sharrard

Sunrise on the Detroit River. Mike Nicholls

Turning in the Saginaw River. Todd Shorkey

Unloading in Saginaw. Todd Shorkey

St. Clair River. Don Coles

In Conneaut. Tom N.

Saginaw River. Dan Maus

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