The Great Lakes Bulk Carrier, “Henry Steinbrenner” 1907-1979
The Henry Steinbrenner had been plying the Great Lakes for over 60 years by the time I worked on her in the summer of 1969. I had landed a job as a galley porter. She was built in 1907 originally sailing as the George F. Baker with the Pittsburg Steamship Co. who in 1965 sold her to the Kinsman Marine Transit Co. She would then be known as the Henry Steinbrenner. Under the Kinsman flag, which was owned by the Steinbrenner family, she worked another 14 years, until sold for scrap in1979.
By the 1980’s it was inevitable that the boats of this era, powered by steam engines would be replaced by a newer generation of bulk carriers. These new boats were superior in every way and enormous in comparison; 1000 ft. vs. 600 ft. in length with triple the load capacity. They also had the ability to “self un-load” their cargo, thus reducing idle port time dramatically. Their technological, environmental and economical improvements were unimagined decades earlier. If you wish to see or explore one of the old steam-powered boats today, stop by the William G. Mather, which is permanently berthed in Cleveland, Ohio and operated as a museum.
Boats built in the early 20th century were typically powered by “triple expansion” steam engines, a power plant which hadn’t changed much since first invented in the 1880’s. At some point the boilers on the Henry Steinbrenner as with the other coal burners, were converted from manual stoking, that is hand shoveling coal into the boilers, to an automatic feed system. Besides eliminating a backbreaking job, the “stokers” portion of the crew could be eliminated thereby reducing overhead expenses for the owners.
Initial impressions when first working the boat were of bigger than life scale, stark graphic imagery, abstract industrial sites, and towering machinery; and everything about the boat itself. Below deck in the engine room, it was another world, alive with the steam engine that was the centerpiece. A room filled with hissing steam, oppressive heat, and loud vibrating noises, all bathed in an atmosphere of coolant mists and oils. Visually the engine is a mechanical marvel of bigger than life proportions; flailing parts, pistons, connecting rods all working together to drive the propeller shaft. It was fascinating to watch the synchronous movements as I thought; "surely this engine will tear itself apart". But of course, it ran as smooth as it had for the past half century.
The crew, from checking engine bearings, lowering deck hands over the side, balancing the 13,000-ton load or shoveling excess coal into the bunker, manually performed much of the boat’s operation. These were the days long before computers and monitors to watch. Staffing the boat were 3 separate divisions; the Engine Department with Engineers, Oilers and Wipers; the Deck Crew, comprised of Mates, Watchmen, Wheelsmen, and Deckhands and the Galley with a Steward, Second Cook and several Porters. Both the Engine and Deck departments worked “Watches “on rotating shifts; 4 hours on 8 hours off, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The galley crew also worked 7 days a week but on a meal based schedule.
Technical Data: Camera: Nikon FTN, Films Kodak Plus and Tri-X, processed in Kodak D-76