Click on image for a full screen view
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
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.