#412 – Library of Congress Images – Ferris Ships, Western Marine & Salvage and the Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay

Western Marine & Salvage Co., Alex, VA
Western Marine & Salvage Co., Alex, VA 3One of the problems with the LoC archive is the erratic key wording and classification. Some pictures are done well, some poorly, some not at all. So it can be pot luck what a search comes back with, and when you are looking for something else a picture may turn up by chance that is of interest.

Such was the case with these. I think I was doing a search for ‘salvage’ and as these were titled Western Marine & Salvage (but totally bereft of keywords) up they came.

The pictures were of passing interest, but it was only when I pixel peeped at 100% did I notice something odd – planked construction, like a wooden sailing vessel. Hang on, steamships are made of riveted steel plate, aren’t they? Sure, the first ever steamboats were wooden, but the weight of the machinery and the subsequent advances in first wrought iron and then steel manufacture, meant that wood started to be superseded as a construction material for larger vessels from the 1840’s.

Or so I thought.

When America entered World War 1 in 1917, an urgent need was identified for a fleet of merchant ships to be built quickly and cheaply to support the allied war effort. It was decided to build a fleet of 1000 wooden cargo ships, using old technology reciprocating steam engines. This policy was adopted so that a more diverse selection of manufacturing sites could be used and allow the steel shipyards to concentrate on warships.

Western Marine & Salvage Co., Alex, VA 4

The Emergency Fleet Corporation (EFC) was set up, and a standard set of ship designs was prepared by maritime architect Theodore Ferris, after which the ‘Ferris Ships‘ took their name.

While there are clear parallels with the liberty ships of World War 2, including the use of prefabrication, the project was beset with problems and by the time the war ended in November 1918, only 134 had been completed, and none had yet crossed the Atlantic. In addition, there were another 263 under construction. But despite the end of hostilities, construction continued and by September 1919 263 were in use. But in 1920, the fleet was laid up and at the end of that year, the government looked to dispose of 285 ships.


Western Marine & Salvage Co., Alex, VA 2


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Western Marine and Salvage of Alexandria, Virginia bought 233 ships for $750000 and got permission to tow them from to where they were laid up on the James River to a site on the Potomac, where they would be moored until being towed individually to Alexandria to have the machinery removed. They would then be returned to the anchorage, burnt, and any additional metal released from the bring would be recovered before the remains would be dragged into a nearby marsh and buried beneath dredging material.


And so the story should have ended, but it didn’t. There followed a long sorry story which rather than me re-write, can be best read on one of the following websites.



Some more detailed history can be found here and here.

The remains of the fleet can be seen on Google Earth, here’s a couple of screenshots:

#411 – Library of Congress Images – A Princess Coronation in America


The Duchess of Hamilton with the Royal Blue on Thomas Viaduct

The 38 Princess Coronation class locomotives built by the LMS at Crewe works between 1937 and 1948 were some of the finest ‘top link’ steam locomotives built in the UK. For a while, no. 6220 held the world speed record at 113 mph although this did not last too long. The Princess Coronations power output of 3300hp was never surpassed in the UK though.

IN 1939, 6229 Duchess of Hamilton swapped identities with 6220 Coronation and was shipped off to the USA to attend the World’s Fair. Arriving in Baltimore, the loco and a set of articulated carriages were unloaded and dispatched to the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) depot at Mount Clare and used in a number of publicity films and photoshoots. The most popular ones were of her were on the Thomas Viaduct with her B&O Railroad contemporary the ‘Royal Blue’.

To allow her to run on American metals, Crewe Works had installed an American bell, head lamp and buckeye coupling, and after leaving Baltimore, the train went on a 3000 mile tour of that covered Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, Indianapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, Albany, Boston, Hartford and many others before arriving in New York to take it’s place at the World’s Fair.

During the time of the exhibition though, events back home took a turn for the worse and Britain declared war on Germany. It was decided to be too risky to send the train back, so the loco was stored by the B&O at its Fell’s Point facilities in Baltimore and the coaches were taken to Jeffersonville, Indiana where they were used as living quarters for the US Army Quartermaster Corps. The locomotive was returned to the UK in 1943 and on her return to Crewe, she swapped identities back to No. 6229.

Duchess of Hamilton is now preserved in fully streamlined condition at the National Railway Museum in York, and looks splendid! It is interesting to note how small she looks in comparison to the American loco, which by US standards, is not huge.

I can highly recommend ‘The Duchesses’ by Andrew Boden, a very readable account of the class, more so than most railway books.




#410 – Library of Congress Images – Mackinac Dock

Arnold's Dock, Mackinac, Michigan pano

More steamers! This is a join up of two images to create a small panorama. It’s a bit distorted as the photographer perhaps didn’t reposition his camera too well between frames, but that’s always a problem if you’re photographing things close to the camera. I’ve had to crop quite a bit off the top and bottom to compensate, but it’s not come out too badly – you can see the curved horizon though where Photoshop has had to compensate.

I like the genteel feel of all these photographs of the steamers – the crisp white ship, the well turned out people on the dock all contribute to creating an impression of what it was like to travel on these ships at this time.

The Dock at Mackinac Island, Mich.-Edit

This one is taken a little closer up (and could have done with some straightening), and I’m intrigued by the huge stack of chopped wood on the dock. I thought that the steamers were coal fired, so I’m unsure if this is for fuel or for cargo.

The location is apparently Mackinac Dock, which I presume is on Mackinac Island, Lake Michigan. This became a popular holiday destination for residents of the cities of the Great Lakes from the 1880’s, and is still reached by ferry today. It’s not a steamer these days though, it’s a high speed catamaran.



#409 – Library of Congess Images – SS Majestic Outward Bound


The SS Majestic was launched in 1889 and so was maybe 12-15 years old when this photograph was taken. She held the Blue Riband for a brief 2 weeks in 1891 with an average speed of 20.1 knots.

She was taken out of service in 1912, replaced by Titanic. She was placed in reserve in Birkenhead, but then brought back into service after her replacement sank in April 1912. Following another years service, she was sold for scrap, and was broken up at Thomas Wards yard in MorecambeS.S. Majestic, outward bound, clearing the dock

As is often seen in these old liner photographs there is a definite sense of occasion – there’s not too much of the crowd in the dock visible, but the all the bowler and boater hats suggest a very middle class audience – I’m not sure whether it’s because it was a fashionable thing to do, or whether it was because of the travelling clientele they were waving off.

I like this little sequence of images, the sense of recession, of departure as the ship gets smaller in the scene. I’ve had to heavily crop the last one below due to the negative being heavily damaged, but the files are so big and with so much detail, it really doesn’t matter.


#408 – Library of Congress Images – Cramp’s Shipyard

Newport News Waterfront

I’ve posted a few pictures of American naval ships and naval yards over the last year or so, so here’s a slightly different perspective on the subject. William Cramps shipbuilding yard in Philadelphia was a long established, privately owned shipbuilders that built ships for three major conflicts fought by American forces (the Civil War, World War 1 and World War 2) as well as ships for the civilian market.

Started by William Cramp (Cramp being an anglicised version of his great grandfathers German surname Kramp) as a builder of wooden sailing ships, the yard evolved over time to produce steam powered ships, ironclads, and then finally all iron ships by the 1870’s. This was clearly a period of great change and innovation in shipbuilding as it was in many industries at that time – if nothing else, the actual industrialisation of shipbuilding itself is worthy of note. William’s son was made a partner in 1870 and the company name was changed to William Cramp and Sons’ Ship and Engine Building Company.

Cramps Shipyard from Retvizan

The yard started to build warships for foreign powers in the 1870’s, breaking into a market dominated by British, French and German yards. The picture above was taken from the deck of the Russian battleship Retvizan, which was launched in 1900.

Cramps Panorama1
Building a warship, Cramp's shipyard, Philadelphia, Pa

As can be seen from these pictures, output was a mixture of warships and commercial shipping of various types. So while notable liners of the time were built, slipways were also filled with warships, and the US Navy’s first true ‘dreadnought’ type battleship, the USS South Carolina, was built by Cramps and launched in 1908.4a23110a


Although the US navy had extensive shipbuilding capacity of its own, it still relied heavily on private shipbuilding operations such as Cramps, especially in wartime. It was estimated that in WW1, a quarter of the tonnage of ships built for the war was built at Cramps.


A post war decline in shipbuilding, not helped by the Washington Naval Treaty in 1921 which limited the construction of battleships, battle cruisers and aircraft carriers, culminated in the yard closing in 1927. I can only presume the yard was mothballed as in the late 1930’s, the U.S. Government initiated a naval building program and moves were made by the U.S. government to re-open the yard. This was not a straightforward affair as the old company owed money to the U.S. Navy as well as the local authority. Once this had been resolved extensive refurbishment and re-equipping of the yard could begin. But going from a standing start was no simple affair as although 1000 or so workers who lost their jobs in 1927 were taken back on or came out of retirement, thousands of new people needed training up. Thankfully, there was an available pool of labour, as the local textile industry had run down due to the war, so training schools were set up to retrain these workers. By 1944, the yard employed 14000 people, doing a 53 hour week. Over 40 ships, mostly light cruisers, ocean tugs and submarines were built for the navy.

The yard closed for good following the cessation of hostilities in 1945, and the land was sold for use by other industries and businesses. Gradually, all evidence of the areas historic past disappeared, and the last building was finally demolished in 2013, the land being required for a motorway junction (or interchange in American parlance).

An excellent history (which I used in the writing of this blog post), as well a list of ships built by the yard can be found in this PDF.

#407 – Steam on the River Dart


OK, time for a few holiday snaps, but mine consist of paddle steamers, factories and steam locomotives;)

The River Dart runs through 18.5 miles of Devon countryside and is navigable from Dartmouth to Totnes. Dartmouth is best known for its Regatta and the Naval College, but is also a deepwater harbour, although it sees little commercial shipping these days (aside from an occasional cruise ship visit). However, given the county’s popularity as a holiday destination, the river is home to hundreds of leisure craft as well as car and passenger ferries and tourist boats. The most significant of the latter is the Kingswear Castle, once one of several paddle steamers that were built on the river, for service on the river with the River Dart Steamboat Company. The Kingswear Castle is the only survivor and while it isn’t the only paddle steamer in the country, it is the last coal fired one.


 The remains of the original (1904) Kingswear Castle


 The 1924 Kingswear Castle in Dartmouth


 Making her way up the river

The current Kingswear Castle was built to replace an earlier ship that carried the same name, as well as the same engines. Built in 1904, she was withdrawn from service in 1924, her engines were donated to her successor and her hull left to rot at the side of the river where the last remains can still be seen today (just). The current Kingswear Castle was built in Dartmouth in 1924 for service on the Dart between Dartmouth and Totnes, a job it did until 1965. By then, it was more economic to use diesel powered / screw driven boats, so the steamers were withdrawn. Kingswear Castle is the only survivor. It ended up being bought by the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society, who also own PS Waverley, who took her to the Medway and over many years restored her to working condition. She re-entered service on the Medway in 1985 and returned to the Dart in 2013.

It was interesting to see how small she was compared to the steamers I’ve seen and blogged about on Lake Lucerne. Kingswear Castle is just shy of 35m in length, whereas the Swiss ones are around 62m. Interestingly Waverley is 73m long, but was designed as a sea-going ship rather than a lake / river steamer.

Also on the river is Philip and Sons shipyard where the Kingswear Castle was built. In its 141 year history, the yard built hundreds of vessels including the lightship Edmund Gardner that can be seen in the Albert Dock in Liverpool). This was the last industrial shipyard on the Dart and closed in 1999 but is still in use as a marina.




Finally, any visit to the area would be incomplete without a visit to the Dartmouth Steam Railway. This is a bit of a misnomer as the railway actually runs into Kingswear, which is on the opposite bank of the river to Dartmouth. Confused? You will be – there was actually a Dartmouth Railway Station on the quay in Dartmouth – passengers had to buy tickets there and cross the river by ferry to catch the train from Kingswear Station. Dartmouth station still exists but is now a cafe and I forgot to take a picture of it.

The railway itself was of course once part of the Great Western Railway network and was part of the Beeching cuts.

The railway, while a ‘heritage’ line in the sense that it runs steam trains along a former GWR branch, runs 7 days a week and is employs by full time staff rather than volunteers. It has also provoked anger amongst some of the railway enthusiast community by naming all of its locomotives (not all of the engines would originally have been named when in GWR / BR service). None of this particularly bothers me – it is a well run line with good facilities that is hugely popular with the many tourists to the area.


 7827 Lydham Manor





#406 – Shadows of the North Exhibition opens at Queen Street Mill, Burnley


I am pleased to announce that my Shadows of the North exhibition has moved to Queen Street Mill Textile Museum in Burnley, the last steam powered weaving shed in the world.

This is the same exhibition that was up at Helmshore earlier this year, but reduced to 15 photographs due to space constraints. If I’m being pedantic, I’d describe it as more of a display than an exhibition due to its location on the wall in the cafe area, but let’s not get bogged down in semantics, eh?

Due to a change in management at the museum, no end date has yet been agreed, so the exhibition will be on until further notice, so why not nip in for tea and a bun and see the fabulous mill engine ‘Peace’ while you’re at it!