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Jim Hoffman

Great Lakes Fleet Page Vessel Feature -- Pathfinder

By Jody Aho

The Pathfinder began her career as one of the members of the "AAA" class of vessel originally designed for Pittsburgh Steamship Company. Other fleets adopted variations of the original plans for their needs, and Interlake Steamship Company developed what was probably the most scaled down version of the class for the J.L. Mauthe, now the Pathfinder.

The J. L. Mauthe was built as Hull #298 of the Great Lakes Engineering Works, River Rouge, Michigan. The vessel was noticeably different from the other members of the class with its small after deckhouse and a slightly different arrangement for the forward cabins. She entered service on April 2nd, 1953 and fell into Interlake's typical iron ore trade routes between Duluth-Superior and various lower lake ports.

This vessel, as years passed, distinguished herself, not for any records set for cargo or speed, but due to the lack of modifications which were done to the other members of her class. All of the other members of the "AAA" class had been lengthened 120 feet, to 767 feet overall, by 1979, and all but one (the William Clay Ford) was converted to a self-unloader. Even most of Interlake Steamship Company's other 1950's-era vessels had been lengthened and/or converted to self-unloaders by that time. By the early 1980s, the iron ore trade was less favorable to vessels such as the Mauthe. While the Mauthe continued to carry occasional loads of iron ore, she found herself more regularly involved in the grain trade.

The grain trade was not enough to sustain this vessel's activity for much longer. As the 1980s and early 1990s progressed, fewer vessels were being used in this trade, and on July 5th, 1993, the J.L. Mauthe laid up for the final time in Superior, not far from long-time inactive fleetmate John Sherwin. Her future looked uncertain.

A developing trend during the early 1990s was the conversion of former straight-deck bulk carriers and some older, small self-unloaders to barges, with powerful tugs fitted into a notch at the stern of the vessel. The Joseph H. Thompson was one example of a successful conversion project, as she ended eight years of inactivity as a straight-decker with her conversion in 1990. Similar plans were being considered for the Mauthe. In 1996, these plans were completed, and on December 31st, 1996, the J.L. Mauthe departed Duluth-Superior for a late-season trip to Bay Shipbuilding Company in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Work was underway on the vessel during most of 1997, and in March, 1998, the resulting self-unloading barge was completed with a new name on the bow, reviving a name from Interlake's past--Pathfinder.

Pathfinder's cargo handling efficiency was further improved over the winter of 1998 - 1999 by the installation of new cargo side slope plates, facilitating the carriage of new cargoes in a wider range of sizes than other lakers. This reduced the amount of cargo the barge could carry but the vessel can now unload cargoes faster with this all-gravity system at 6000 tons per hour.

The J.L. Mauthe's trim lines and distinctive profile for her class made her a favorite among boatwatchers, particularly in the later years. The vessel now finds herself in a revived career in the newest trend in Great Lakes shipping.

Overall dimensions
Length 606'02"
Beam 70'00"
Depth 36'00"
Capacity (tons) 21,260

More J. L. Mauthe Pictures

St Clair River Spring 1984. Rudi Rabe

At the Soo. Luke Collection

Duluth. Gene Onchulenko

Port Huron. Rod

Loading, Jon LaFontaine.

J. L. Mauthe docked and loading. R. Burdick

Aerial view.

Loading in Superior. Richard Jenkins

Independent passing in Buffalo

Mauthe towed from Duluth for conversion by the tug John Purves 12/31/96. Al Miller
More Pathfinder Pictures

Cleveland Huletts Mark Cowles

Cleveland. The Interlake Steamship Company

Rouge River. N.S.

Saginaw. Todd Shorkey

Rouger River. Mike Nicholls

Another view. Mike Nicholls

J.L. Mauthe on Lake St. Clair, July 14, 1991. Skip Meier

J.L. Mauthe Toledo Jim Hoffman

J.L. Mauthe at Marquette, MI in 1992.
Rod Burdick

Pathfinder at Marquette in 2006.
Rod Burdick

Aerial view.  Don Coles

Tug aerial view.  Don Coles

Downbound on Lake Huron. Larry Leverenz

First trip loading in Escanaba. Rod Burdick

Passing the E.M. Ford in Saginaw 5/98. R. LeLievre

At sunset. Dave Merchant

Detroit River. Mike Nicholls

Stern view. Mike Nicholls

Stern view. Mike Nicholls

Eire, Pa. Jeff Thorsen

Indiana Harbor. Gary Clark

Detroit. Mike Nicholls

Saginaw River. Todd Shorkey

Stern view. Todd Shorkey

One time trip up the Seaway Welland Canal on 6/17/00

Pictures from the Christening Ceremony

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