Northlandians, thank you for a warm welcome after last week’s debut. Your questions, musings and comments have been energizing. Keep them coming! Let's delve.
Next week, we’ll tackle two (!) of your questions. Meanwhile, this week’s topic comes from my newsroom colleagues.
Question: What’s the oldest ship in service on Lake Superior?
The oldest laker still steaming across our Great Lake is probably the Alpena, which was first launched in 1942 as the Leon Fraser.
However, when I asked Roger LeLievre, editor and publisher of the annual Know Your Ships field guide, he reminded us that the J.A.W. Iglehart is older, launching in 1936 — but these days the Iglehart serves as a storage barge for cement in Superior, so it doesn’t really count.
LeLievre also said the barge Pere Marquette 41, which was built in — you guessed it, 1941 — might on very rare occasions end up on Lake Superior, but he couldn’t remember when. He noted that a number of tugboats probably are older, too.
So, let’s talk about the Alpena.
According to BoatNerd.com, a fantastic source on all things Great Lakes shipping, the Leon Fraser was built at Rouge River, Mich., as the first of five “supers” for the Pittsburgh Steamship Co. of Cleveland, and it’s the only one left in service. (The rest were scrapped in the ’80s.)
That first year, the Leon Fraser actually broke Duluth’s ore-loading record — 17,033 tons — distinguishing itself from the other “Tin Stackers” in the fleet.
The Leon Fraser continued in active service until 1982 before it went into layup at the American Ship Building yard in Lorain, Ohio, where it remained until Fraser Shipyards bought it and moved it to Superior.
Inland Lakes Management bought the Leon Fraser in 1990. The vessel was shortened by 120 feet, modified to carry cement and renamed the Alpena, returning to service in June 1991. The Alpena carries cement to this day and remains a frequent visitor to the Twin Ports.
The Alpena’s future was threatened after a 2015 fire in drydock at Sturgeon Bay, Wis. However, Inland Lakes Management opted to repair rather than scrap the Alpena, and the vessel returned to service the next year.
The Alpena might be the oldest ship in service on Lake Superior, but it’s not the oldest on the Great Lakes.
That distinction goes to the St. Marys Challenger, which launched in 1906 as the William P. Snyder. The vessel carried cargo for more than a century before being converted to an articulated barge.
The St. Marys Challenger made its final delivery to Chicago on Nov. 11, 2013, “blowing salutes on her steam whistle and flying a white flag, indicating surrender – however reluctantly – to her fate,” BoatNerd.com reported.
From there, the ship went to Sturgeon Bay to be converted to an articulated barge, and it continues to operate in that capacity today, mostly on Lake Michigan.
At the time of its retirement as a steamer, the St. Marys Challenger was one of the oldest ships on the Great Lakes, if not the world, LeLievre said.
Steep at any address
A number of you wrote in to share your stories of steep-street living and driving, and while they might not be quite as steep as the block we highlighted last week, they’re definitely worth a mention.
Next time you’re in the mood for a vertical venture, readers suggest Minneapolis Avenue in Woodland (which, can confirm — I drove it this week); Rose Street in Morley Heights; Tyrol Street in Piedmont Heights; 17th Avenue West above Third Street in Goat Hill; 22nd Avenue West above Piedmont Avenue; and 24th Avenue West in Lincoln Park.