Calumet River, S. Chicago, IL, June 14, 2009.

Lou Gerard

Great Lakes Fleet Page Vessel Feature -- St. Marys Challenger

By Brendan Falkowski

In mid-1905, Shenango Furnace Co. of Pittsburgh, PA, contracted Great Lakes Engineering Works of Ecorse, MI, to construct the company's first ship. The keel for Hull #17 was laid down on October 16, 1905, and was christened William P. Snyder and launched into the waters of the Detroit River on February 17, 1906. The new bulk carrier was similar to most at the time, except for her luxurious guest quarters, something that the ships of the Shenango Fleet would become famous for. She was 552' long, 56' wide, and 31' deep, and had a cargo capacity of 10,900 tons. She was originally powered by a pair of coal-fired scotch boilers and a shipyard-built 1665 IHP Triple-Expansion Steam Engine. William P. Snyder sailed on her maiden voyage on April 26, 1906.

William P. Snyder was reboilered with a pair of new water tube boilers in 1924. She was sold to the Stewart Furnace Co. of Cleveland, OH, in 1926, and renamed Elton Hoyt II on June 26, 1926. The Hoyt was sold again in 1929 to Youngstown Steamship Co., with Pickands Mather & Co. taking over as managers. Youngstown Steamship was absorbed into Pickands Mather's Interlake Steamship Co. in 1930.

In 1950, Elton Hoyt II was repowered with a Skinner Marine Unaflow reciprocating steam engine and reboilered by Christy Corp. at Sturgeon Bay, WI. She collided with the Enders M. Voorhees in the Straits of Mackinac on November 24, 1950, in a snowstorm. She suffered heavy damage to her bow, and proceeded to Great Lakes Engineering Works for repairs.

Elton Hoyt II was renamed Alex D. Chisholm in early 1952 to free her former name for a new vessel constructed for the fleet. The Chisholm sailed steadily for Interlake until 1962, when she was laid up at Erie, PA.

In 1966, the Cement Transit Co. subsidiary of Medusa Portland Cement purchased the Chisholm for conversion to a self-unloading cement carrier. Medusa was preparing to complete their new cement plant at Charlevoix, MI, the next year, and was in need of a vessel to distribute product throughout the Great Lakes region. Alex D. Chisholm was towed to Manitowoc, WI, where she was converted into a self-unloading cement carrier by Manitowoc Shipbuilding. A conveyor and airslide system were installed in her cargo hold, and a bucket elevator was installed in her forward end, leading to a 48' long airslide boom. Her boilers were converted to oil-firing while in the shipyard. Her cargo capacity was slightly reduced to 10,250 Tons.

The "new" cement carrier was christened Medusa Challenger in early 1967, and began serving the cement trade, loading at the Medusa Cement plant at Charlevoix, MI, for delivery to terminals at Chicago, IL, Green Bay, Manitowoc and Milwaukee, WI, Detroit and Ferrysburg, MI, and Cleveland and Toledo, OH. During her early years as a cement carrier, she served the Chicago Terminal up the Chicago Sanitary & Ship. Medusa Challenger was nicknamed the "jinx" ship when she traveled up the Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal, as many of the downtown bridges regularly got stuck in the up position when she passed through. A few years after she entered service, a new terminal was opened on Lake Calumet in South Chicago, and passages up the Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal were discontinued.

Medusa Challenger was the first vessel to unload at the new Medusa Toledo terminal on May 22, 1987, and at the Miller Paving terminal at Owen Sound, ON, on November 20, 1990. On October 5, 1997, the Challenger was hit by a waterspout on northern Lake Michigan, escaping without any major damage.

Medusa Cement was bought out by Southdown, Inc., in 1998. The Challenger was renamed Southdown Challenger in April 1999. Southdown was bought out by Mexico-based Cemex in 2000, and the Challenger was sold to Wilmington Trust in order to keep the vessel's Jones Act status. Management of the vessel was contracted to HMC Ship Management, a subsidiary of Hannah Marine Corp. The vessel was operated under a cargo contract charter to Southdown.

In 2005, the Great Lakes operations of Cemex were purchased by Brazilian-based Votorantum Cimentos, with ownership of the facilities being placed under their subsidiary St. Marys Cement US of Detroit. Southdown Challenger was renamed St. Marys Challenger prior to entering service for the 2005 season.

St. Marys Challenger celebrated her centennial season in 2006, sailing from April 4 to December 11, 2006. Her Texas deck gunwale was adorned with the phrase "Still Steamin' ".

In early 2009, Hannah Marine Corp. went out of business, and the St. Marys Challenger was purchased by Port City Steamship Services, a subsidiary of Sand Products Corp. Her stack colors were changed to black with an orange "PC" lettering. She continued to serve St. Marys Cement under cargo contract charter.

By the end of the 2013 season, the Challenger was up for renewal of her 5-Year Inspection Certificate. The decision was made to convert her into an articulated barge at this time, as it was becoming too costly to maintain her old steam power plant and crew to accompany it. St. Marys Challenger laid up at Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding on October 11, 2013, on her final trip as a powered steamer. Over the winter, her forward pilothouse was replaced with a small lookout tower, and her aft accommodations and engine room cut down and removed. A notch for the tugboat was fabricated and welded onto her stern while in the drydock. The tug Bradshaw McKee sailed to Sturgeon Bay to pick up the St. Marys Challenger, and the pair entered service on June 3, 2014, continuing normal trading.

In early 2015, the tug Bradshaw McKee switched out with the Prentiss Brown. St. Marys Challenger continues to sail actively in the cement trade, being pushed by the tugboat Prentiss Brown.

Overall Dimensions (metric)
 Length  551 01" (167.97m)
 Beam  56 00" (17.07m)
 Depth  31 00" (9.45m)
 Capacity (mid-summer)  10,250 tons (10,415 mt)
 at a draft of 21'09" (6.63m)
 Power (steam)  3,500 i.h.p. (2,611 kW)

Special Gallery featuring pictures
from her last trip before Conversion


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Unloading at S. Chicago, IL, June 15, 2009.
Tom Kort
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Turning at Muskegon, MI, June 17, 2009.
Nathan Leindecker
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At the Mart Dock, Muskegon, MI.
Nathan Leindecker
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Towed by John M. Selvick arriving at Sturgeon Bay, WI for dry docking, Mar. 26, 2009.
Blake D. Kishler
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Along side the American Century at Sturgeon Bay,
Apr. 9, 2009. Dick Lund
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Contrast in sizes! Dick Lund

At winter lay-up at S. Chicago, IL, Jan. 27, 2008.
Tom Milton

Looking aft, Jan. 26, 2008. Kent Retzer

Looking forward with the John Sherwin in the
background. Kent Retzer

Downbound at Port Huron July 26, 2007.
Bruce Hurd

Passing under the Bluewater Bridges.
Bruce Hurd

Approaching the Great Lakes Maritime Center at
Port Huron, MI, July 26, 2007. Frank Frisk

On the St. Clair River, May 13, 2007.
Wayne Brown

Approaching Windmill Pointe, Lake St. Clair,
May 15, 2007. Alex & Max Mager

Stern view. Alex & Max Mager

On the Detroit River taken from the mailboat
J.W. Westcott, May 11, 2007. Jeff Mast

Stern view. Jeff Mast

At the former Lafarge dock, Cleveland, OH.
May 12, 2007. David Scali

New markings on wheelhouse to mark her centennial year of sailing the Great Lakes.

Milwaukee, April 23, 2006. Paul Erspamer

Loading at Charlevoix, MI, June 11, 2006.
Mike Nicholls

Inbound Grand Haven. Todd Davidson

Unloading in Detroit.

Looking forward.

Docking in Detroit.

Grand Haven. Steve Vanden Bosch

Milwaukee. Andy LaBorde

Franz VonRiedel

Downbound Lake Huron. Andy LaBorde

Loading in Charlevoix. Sean Whelan

Another view. Sean Whelan

Detroit River. Mike Nicholls

Unloading in Ferrysburg, MI, Aug. 10, 2005. Rod Burdick
Steaming north on Lake Michigan for Charlevoix
North on Lake Michigan, Aug. 2005.
Rod Burdick
Stern view in Manitowoc
Stern view in Manitowoc, Aug. 8, 2005.
Rod Burdick

Manitowoc, Aug. 29, 2005.

Skinner Unaflow steam engine.

Inbound Milwaukee. Andy LaBorde
Challenger inbound.
Passing under the Hoan Bridge.
Passing through the rail road bridge.
Tug Virginia on the bow.
Approaching the dock.
Tight fit.
At the dock.


The Southdown Challenger departing lay-up 2001. Andy LaBorde
"A team" deckhand Bonita Vinyard & watchman Mike Cushman.
Dave Jarvis 1st assistant engineer at the throttle.
3rd Mate Bill Kishel (L) and 1st mate Rocky Groh (R).
warming up Milwaukee's Heavy Lift dock.
Chief Engineer Mike Laituri.
Captain George Herdina.
Skinner Uniflow Engine.
Engine camshaft.
one of the main boiler gauges.
Backing out.

More pictures from our archives

As the Medusa Challenger. -John Vournakis

Aerial view. Don Coles

Another view. Don Coles

Detroit River. Mike Nicholls

Unloading in Detroit. Mike Nicholls

Stern view. Mike Nicholls

Grand Haven. Steve Vanden Bosch

Underway. David Swain

Milwaukee. Andy Laborde

Underway. Mike Nicholls

Toledo. Jim Hoffman

Docked Mike Nicholls

Stern view. Mike Nicholls

In ice. Don Coles

Passing the Algowest

St. Clair River. Don Coles

Another view. Don Coles

Meeting the Calumet at Cleveland, OH,
Sept. 1, 2004.

Wheelhouse, Aug. 2005. Rod Burdick
Close up bow view at the loading dock
Bow view at Charlevoix,  Aug. 2005.
Rod Burdick

Stack colors, Aug. 2005. Rod Burdick

Loading at Charlevoix, MI, Aug. 2005.
Rod Burdick

Leaving Milwaukee, WI, June 2006.
Greg Stamatelakys

Click here to view
a mail delivery to
the Challenger

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