James R. Barker

James R. Barker


James R. Barker on the St. Marys River, September 25, 2008. Photo by Roger LeLievre


Build Information

Year Built: 1976

Builder: American Shipbuilding Co., Lorain, OH

Hull #905

Registry: U.S. 573682

IMO #7390260

Laid Down: October 14, 1974

Launch Date: May 29, 1976

Commissioned: August 7, 1976


The James R. Barker was constructed as a self-unloading bulk carrier for the Interlake Steamship Company. She was the third 1,000-Footer built, and was the first built entirely on the Great Lakes. She was built under Title XI of the Merchant Marine Act of 1970 at a cost of $40 Million.

The Barker‘s hull was constructed at American Shipbuilding’s Lorain yard while her deck house was constructed at their South Chicago yard, being transported to Lorain on the deck of the George D. Goble.

The Barker was the first of four similar sister ships constructed by American Shipbuilding, the others being the Mesabi Miner, George A. Stinson [American Spirit, 2004;], and the William J. DeLancey [Paul R. Tregurtha, 1990;].

Her self-unloading equipment consists of a triple hold belt system leading to an aft loop-belt system to a 250′ deck-mounted boom.


  • New Propeller Blades, 2000.
  • Diesel Exhaust Scrubbers installed, Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, 2016.

General Stats

Length Overall: 1004′

Length Between Perpendiculars: 990’06”

Breadth: 105′

Depth: 50′

Loaded Draft: 29’01”

Capacity: 63,300 Tons

Vessel Type: Loop Belt Self-Unloader

Self-Unloading Boom Length: Aft-Mounted; 250′

Number of Cargo Holds: 7 [Hatch-Hold Arrangement: 5-5-5-5-5-5-6]

Number of Hatches: 36 [Dimensions: 65’x11′]

Primary Operations: Ore, Coal Trades

Propellers: 2 Controllable Pitch Propellers

Rudders: 2

Engineering Equipment



Engine Type: Diesel Engines

Engine Manufacturer: Pielstick, Beloit, WI

Engine Model: 16PC2V-400

Number of Engines: 2

Rated HP: 16,000 BHP



James R. Barker – 1976-1987

Owner: Interlake Steamship Co., Cleveland, OH [Pickands-Mather Co.]

Operator: Interlake Steamship Co.

Flag: United States

Home Port: Wilmington, DE

James R. Barker – 1987-Present

Owner: Interlake Steamship Co., Middleburg Heights, OH

Operator: Interlake Steamship Co.

Flag: United States

Home Port: Wilmington, DE

Her Story

On November 19, 1973, officials at Pickands Mather, then parent company of Interlake Steamship Company, announced a contract with the American Shipbuilding Company to build two 1,000′ ships at a cost of $75 Million. These two ships, the James R. Barker and Mesabi Miner, would be the first 1,000-Footers built entirely on the Great Lakes. The concept drawings for the ships initially portrayed them as having forward pilothouses, but the design was revised later on. The new ships were also equipped with C-Loop belt style self-unloading systems with a three-belt cargo hold arrangement, to help maximize cargo space for low density cargoes like coal while remaining efficient in the iron ore trade. The ships were also equipped with an elevator and air-conditioned cabins, and boasted luxurious guest quarters.

The keel for the James R. Barker was laid on October 14, 1974 at American Shipbuilding’s Lorain, Ohio yard. Meanwhile, the cabins for the Barker and Mesabi Miner were constructed at American’s South Chicago yard, being transported to Lorain in pieces on the deck of the George D. Goble. The James R. Barker was float launched on May 29, 1976, being christened at Cleveland on August 7, and entering service later that day.

When a steel strike hit during the summer of 1977, the James R. Barker laid up at Ashland, Wisconsin, before returning to service in January 1978. She laid up once again in August 1982 at the Pickands-Mather dock at DeTour, Michigan because of an economic recession. She returned to service in October or 1983. On October 27, 1986, the Barker suffered an engine room fire while inbound near the mouth of the St. Clair River in southern Lake Huron. The fire was extinguished quickly, and the ship lost power. The James R. Barker‘s fleetmate William J. DeLancey arrived shortly after, and towed her in a side-by-side fashion to Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, arriving on November 2, 1986 for repairs.

In 1987, Interlake Steamship Company was purchased from their parent company by James R. Barker, who thus became chairman of the board, remaining in that position today.

The Barker unloaded the final load of coal to the B.C. Cobb power plant in Muskegon, Michigan, on November 8, 2015. The plant closed down soon after. She loaded the first cargo of Cleveland Cliffs’ new Mustang taconite pellets in 2017.

The James R. Barker was outfitted with special diesel exhaust scrubbers as part of Interlake’s fleet improvement program. The work was completed by Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin in early 2016.

Shortly after entering service for the 2020 season, the James R. Barker laid up temporarily at the Superior Midwest Energy Terminal in Superior, Wisconsin on April 7 due to the economic slowdown because of the COVID-19 outbreak. She returned to service on May 27, 2020.

The James R. Barker continues to be an active member of the Interlake Steamship fleet, serving the iron ore and coal trades.

Compiled By Brendan Falkowski

Updated on May 14, 2020



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