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Detroit River.

Mike Nicholls

Great Lakes Fleet Page Vessel Feature -- Cuyahoga

By George Wharton

This "L6-S-A1" type (more commonly known as "Maritimer" class) steel bulk freighter was built in 1943 at an approximate cost of $1.97 million by the American Ship Building Co., Lorain, OH (hull # 828) as the Mesabi for the United States Maritime Commission. She was the 10th of 16 such vessels built in a 2-year period during World War II to carry much needed iron ore to the steel mills who were mass producing tanks, artillery, aircraft, and other supplies for the war effort. The "L6-S-A1" was a plan designation of the Maritime Commission meaning a Great Lakes vessel (L), 600-699 feet long (6), steam powered (S); the "A" being a specific design and the "1", a sub-design.

Of the 16 "Maritimer" class bulkers built, 6 were of the "A1" type built by the American Ship Building Co. in either Lorain or Toledo, OH.  The other 10 were type "L6-S-B1"'s and were built by Great Lakes Engineering Works in either Ashtabula, OH or River Rouge, MI.  Although all 16 were of identical dimensions, there were more subtle differences in the 2 types.  The A1's were the first boats on the Great Lakes to be built with a new cruiser stern design and the only lakers to be powered by a 2,500 i.h.p. four crank, double compound steam engine built by Lentz Standard Marine Engine with 2 coal-fired water-tube boilers made by Combustion Engineering Co.  This power plant was a German-designed engine (ironic during World War II) which was basically two separate engines placed end-to-end sending power to a common shaft.  The B1's, by contrast, had different sterns, larger stacks and more traditional 2,500 i.h.p. triple expansion engines.  The other 5 A1's included the Thomas Wilson, Sewell Avery, Champlain, John T. Hutchinson, and the E.G. Grace (listed in order of entering service).  The J. Burton Ayers was the 5th of the 6 A1's to enter service.

Under an arrangement with the U.S. Maritime Commission whereby obsolete tonnage was traded for new hulls, the Mesabi was delivered to the Great Lakes Steamship Co., Cleveland, OH and was immediately renamed J. Burton Ayers. The vessel's namesake, Mr. Joseph Burton Ayers, was born at Dayton, OH October 8th, 1881.  He began working for the Brown Fleet (Capt. W.W. Brown) in 1901.  This fleet merged with other fleets in 1911 becoming the Great Lakes Steamship Co.  Mr. Ayers rose to become general manager of the firm in 1934, president in 1937; then chairman of the board in 1955, retiring in 1957.  He died February 22nd, 1962.  The J. Burton Ayers sailed August 19th, 1943 on her maiden voyage for Great Lakes Steamship Co. in ballast to Duluth, MN to load iron ore for the lower lakes.

The J. Burton Ayers was capable of carrying 16,300 tons (16,562 tonnes) in 4 holds serviced by 18 hatches at a mid-summer draft of 25' 01/2" (7.63m).  The only notable incident while under Great Lakes ownership occurred on August 10th, 1954 when the Ayers grounded while loading iron ore at Superior, WI when fill from loose dock pilings lowered the water levels at the dock.  Indented bottom plates resulted with damage costs being approximately $38,700. 

On April 10th, 1957 the Cleveland Plain Dealer announced the sale of the J. Burton Ayers with her fleet mates J.H. Hillman Jr. and Richard M. Marshall to the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., Milwaukee, WI to be chartered for 15 years to and operated by Wilson Marine Transit Co., Cleveland, OH following the take over of Great Lakes Steamship Co. by Wilson Transit Marine Co.  The laker retained her name but only fit out in late 1958 (Sept. 26th, 1958 to Dec. 4th, 1958) due to a drop in demand for iron ore and the Ayers being too large to enter the many of the smaller port locations of Wilson's customers.  This size problem and their higher operating costs plagued the Ayers and her fleet mates throughout their tenure with Wilson.

Kinsman Marine Transit Co., Cleveland, OH acquired the J. Burton Ayers in 1973, selling the laker in 1974 to the Oglebay Norton Co., Cleveland, OH managed by Oglebay Norton's Columbia Transportation Division.  During the winter of 1973/74, the Ayers was converted to a self-unloader by the American Ship Building Co., Toledo, OH.  The self-unloading equipment consisted of a 2-belt gravity fed system with hydraulic gates and a forward mounted 250' (76.2m) discharge boom that can swing 100 degrees to port or starboard.  This conversion lowered her capacity to 15,675 tons (15,927 tonnes) at a revised mid-summer draft of 25' 05.5" (7.80m).  Her coal capacity is 12,900 net tons.  During the next winter's lay-up, the Ayers' boilers were converted to oil by G&W Welding Co., Cleveland, OH

There were several notable incidents while sailing under the Columbia Transportation of which 2 follow.  On September 10th, 1980, the J. Burton Ayers grounded at Stoneport, MI resulting in $737,000 of extensive bottom damage.  Following a 3-year lay-up, on September 23rd, 1989, the Ayers grounded  off Bois Blanc Island resulting in extensive bottom damage to 2 starboard ballast tanks.  Repairs were made at Toledo, OH.  During December of 1990, the J. Burton Ayers entered lay-up at Toledo's "Frog Pond" and was formally deactivated on August 5th, 1991 entering into a long-term lay-up status at Toledo.

On August 1st, 1995; the J. Burton Ayers was sold Canadian to Lower Lakes Towing Ltd. (Black Creek Shipping Co.), Port Dover, ON who had her towed from Toledo to Sarnia, ON for repainting and refit. The self-unloader was the first laker of the newly formed company.  She was renamed Cuyahoga (her first renaming in 52 years) in November of 1995 and was formally registered Canadian on November  7th, 1995.  The proud laker's new name honors Ohio's Cuyahoga River, an Indian word meaning "crooked river"; a winding river where some of her new owner's customers are located.  The Cuyahoga left Sarnia in mid-November on her maiden voyage light to Meldrum Bay, ON for a load of limestone which was delivered to Cleveland on November 16th.

While at winter lay-up in Sarnia in 1999/00, the Cuyahoga had her original Lentz steam engine replaced with a new Caterpillar 3608 4-stroke cycle in-line 8 cylinder 3,084 b.h.p. diesel engine burning marine diesel oil.  This new engine has the basic overall dimensions of 18' 03" (5.56m) long x 5' 08" (1.72m) wide x 8' 08" (2.64m) high with a dry weight of 41,800 lbs. (19,000 kg).  During the winter lay-up of 2001/02 at Sarnia, a KaMeWa controllable pitch propeller was installed.  This combination gives the Cuyahoga a service speed of 12.4 m.p.h.  The self-unloader displaces approximately 6,130 tons (6,228 tonnes) lightweight.

On August 30th, 2002, the Cuyahoga delivered the first cargo of wheat by a self-unloader to the General Mills Frontier Elevator in Buffalo, NY.  The successful handling of these cargoes by self-unloaders spelled the end of the services provided by the Kinsman Independent, the last U.S. straight deck bulk carrier in active service on the Great Lakes.  The venerable self-unloader Joseph H. Frantz was chartered by Great Lakes Associates (Kinsman) to handle the trade replacing the Kinsman Independent..

The Cuyahoga is the second oldest Canadian registered lake boat still in active service on the Great Lakes; preceded only by her fleet mate Mississagi.  The Mississagi, also a "Maritimer" class vessel but a "B1" type, entered service only about a month ahead of the Cuyahoga.  The Cuyahoga however, is the sole survivor of the "A1" class of "Maritimers".

Overall Dimensions (metric)
Length  620 '00" (188.98m)
Beam  60' 00" (18.29m)
Depth  35' 00" (10.67m)
Capacity  15,675 tons (19,927 tonnes)
Power (diesel)          3,084 b.h.p.


Passing fleetmate Saginaw. C. Parker

In Toledo Ship repair Drydock, April 2001

Arriving Cleveland. TZ

Arriving in Cleveland. TZ

Close up of bow. TZ

Close up of stern. TZ

Stern view. TZ.

Close up. TZ

Bow profile in Cleveland departing salt dock. TZ

1st trip into Windsor. N. Schultheiss

Sarnia lay-up. N. Schultheiss

Backing down the Rouge River. N. Schultheiss

Welland Canal, St. Catharines 8/01. 
G. Wharton

Under Glendale Ave. bridge, St. Catharines 8/01.  G. Wharton

Approaching Lock 4W, Thorold 8/01. 
G. Wharton

Gaelic tug Shannon towing J. Burton Ayers outbound Maumee Bay, Aug. 1995 for Sarnia, ON. Jim Hoffman

Close up. Jim Hoffman

Tug Patricia Hoey on the stern.
Jim Hoffman

Click here for pictures of her fitout


J. Burton Ayers early in her career chartered to Wilson. Len Barr

J. Burton Ayers under way at Detroit.
Skip Meier

J. Burton Ayers approaching C&O Coal Docks at Toledo. Jim Hoffman

In Cleveland. TZ

St. Marys Riv
er.  Roger LeLievre

Aerial view. Don Coles

At speed on the Detroit River.
Mike Nicholls

Stern view.
Mike Nicholls

Rare trip to Duluth. Jan. 2004. Kent Rengo

Inbound Toledo. Jim Hoffman

Lake St. Clair. Jim Jackson

Emerges from the fog off Grand Haven. David Swain

Unloading stone in Cleveland. TZ

Departing Morton Salt, Windsor.
Mike Nicholls

Welland Canal, 2004. Bill Bird

The Caterpillar 3608 diesel.  G. Wharton

Another view.  G. Wharton

Port Stanley winter lay-up 2002/03.  G. Wharton

Cargill elevators, Sarnia, ON 8/02.  G. Wharton

Port Stanley, ON 7/99.  G. Wharton

Welland Canal, Port Colborne 8/99.  G. Wharton

"Stone Dock", Port Colborne 4/01.  G. Wharton

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