Tuesday morning, Port City’s articulated tug/barge Prentiss Brown/St. Marys Challenger came into port with a load of cement for the St. Marys Cement terminal in Ferrysburg. They had unloaded in Chicago before coming to Grand Haven.
The 110-year-old St. Mary’s Challenger used to be a steamer and was converted over the 2013-14 winter to a self-unloading cement barge. It was the oldest operating steam boat on the lakes up until then.
It was built in 1906 by the Great Lakes Engineering Works in Ecorse and christened as the bulk iron ore carrier William P. Snyder for the Shenango Furnace Co. of Cleveland, Ohio, in 1906. When the Snyder was launched, it was one of the larger boats on the lakes. It was renamed the Elton Hoyt II in 1926 and the Alex D. Chisholm in 1952. It was operated during those years by the Interlake Steamship Co.
The boat was converted to a self-unloading cement carrier at Manitowoc Shipbuilding and entered the cement trade as the Medusa Challenger in 1967. As a part of that conversion, it was switched from coal to fuel oil to fire the boilers. It was steam powered by a 3,500-horsepower Skinner Uniflow Engine that had replaced its original 1,350-hp triple-expansion engine in 1950. All of its winches were also steam powered. When it was converted to a cement carrier, a Caterpillar diesel engine was installed to power the generator that provides the electricity to run the cement handling system and the electric bow thruster.
It was given the name Southdown Challenger in 1999, CEMEX Challenger in 2004 and its present name in 2005. This vessel is currently managed by Port City Steamship Services of Muskegon.
The tug Prentiss Brown was built in 1969 by Gulfport Shipbuilding of Port Arthur, Texas. It was christened the Betty Culbreath and renamed the Michaela McAllister when it was acquired by McAllister Towing and Transportation, an off-Lakes firm. It was subsequently purchased by Port City Tug and completely refitted at Bay Shipbuilding at Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. It is 123 feet, 5 inches long; 30 feet wide; and 19 feet deep. It is powered by two GM diesel engines.