Joseph H. Thompson

USNS Marine Robin – Joseph H. Thompson


Articulated Barge, Self-Unloading Bulk Carrier; Paired with Tugboat Laura L. VanEnkevort

Joseph H. Thompson at the Soo Locks, September 29, 2019. Photo by Roger LeLievre


Build Information

Stern Section

Year Built: 1944

Builder: Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock, Chester, Pennsylvania

Hull #342

Registry: U.S. 245496

Laid Down: —

Launch Date: —

Commissioned: April 29, 1944

Forebody & Cargo Section

Year Built: 1952

Builder: Ingalls Shipbuilding Company, Pascagoula, Mississippi / Maryland Dry Dock Company, Baltimore, Maryland

Hull: Ingalls #572 [Forebody];

Laid Down: —

Launch Date: —

Entire Vessel

Registry: U.S. 245496

IMO #5175745

Commissioned: November 4, 1952

Paired Tugboats:


The USNS Marine Robin was constructed in 1944 as a C4-S-B2 cargo/troop ship by Sun Shipbuilding & Dry Dock at Chester, Pennsylvania, for the U. S. Maritime Commission for service in World War II.

In 1952, the Marine Robin was rebuilt as a Great Lakes Bulk carrier by Ingalls Shipbuilding and Maryland Dry Dock. She was renamed Joseph H. Thompson. She was one of two C4’s converted into Great Lakes bulk carriers, the other being the self-unloader McKee Sons. Another C4, the Marine Star, was converted to a passenger liner for Great Lakes service and renamed Aquarama.

The Thompson was originally converted to feature large box shaped holds to make her an efficient carrier in the iron ore trade. She was converted into a self-unloading barge in 1990, and her self-unloading equipment consists of a single hold belt and an bucket elevator belt system feeding a 250′ deck-mounted boom.


  • Converted into a Great Lakes Bulk Carrier, Ingalls Shipbuilding, Pascagoula, Mississippi / Maryland Dry Dock, Baltimore, Maryland / American Shipbuilding Company, South Chicago, Illinois, 1952.
  • Boilers automated, 1969.
  • Deck strapping fitted, 1974.
  • Bow thruster installed, 1975.
  • Converted into self-unloading barge, Upper Lakes Towing, Escanaba, Michigan, 1990.
  • Fitted with Bludworth-type Articulated Tug-Barge connection system, VanEnkevort Tug & Barge, 2019.

General Stats

As Constructed as a C4-S-B2 Cargo ship

Length Overall: 520′

Length Between Perpendiculars: 496′

Breadth: 71’06”

Depth: 43’06”

Loaded Draft: —

Capacity: 11,757 Gross Tons, 8182 Net Tons

Vessel Type: Cargo/Troop Ship

Propellers: 1

Rudders: 1

After Conversion to Great Lakes bulk carrier, 1952

Length Overall: 714’03”

Length Between Perpendiculars: 696′

Breadth: 71’06”

Depth: 38’06”

Loaded Draft: 27’04”

Capacity: 12,217 Gross Tons, 8469 Net Tons

Vessel Type: Gearless Bulk Carrier

Number of Cargo Holds: 4 [Hatch-Hold Arrangement: 5-5-5-5]

Number of Hatches: 20 [Dimensions: 45’06”x11′]

Primary Operations: Ore Trade

Propellers: 1

Rudders: 1

After Conversion to self-unloading barge, 1990

Length Overall [Combined Tug & Barge]: 690′

Length Overall [Barge]: 610′

Breadth: 71’06”

Depth: 38’06”

Loaded Draft: 27’04”

Capacity: 21,200 Tons

Vessel Type: Bucket Elevator self-unloader; Articulated Barge

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

Number of Cargo Holds: 4 [Hatch-Hold Arrangement: 5-5-5-4]

Number of Hatches: 19 [Dimensions: 45’06”x11′]

Primary Operations: Ore, Stone Trades

Engineering Equipment [Removed, 1989]



Engine Type: Steam Turbine

Engine Manufacturer: General Electric Co., Boston, MA

Engine Model: Double Reduction-Geared Cross-Compound Steam Turbine

Number of Engines: 1

Rated HP: 9900 SHP


Boiler Type: oil-fired Water Tube Boilers

Boiler Manufacturer: Babcock & Wilcox, Akron, OH

Boiler Size: 12,488 sq. ft.

Number of Boilers: 2



USNS Marine Robin – 1944-1947

Owner: U.S. Maritime Commission

Operator: Grace Line, Inc.

Flag: United States

Home Port: —

USNS Marine Robin – 1947-1951

Owner: U.S. Maritime Commission

Operator: —

Flag: United States

Home Port: —

Marine Robin – 1951-1951

Owner: Wisconsin & Michigan Steamship Co., Milwaukee, WI [Sand Products Corp.]

Operator: —

Flag: United States

Home Port: —

Joseph H. Thompson – 1951-1984

Owner: Hansand Steamship Co., Cleveland, OH [Owned equally by Sand Products Corp., Detroit, MI & Hanna Mining Corp., Cleveland, OH]

Operator: M. A. Hanna Co., Cleveland, OH

Flag: United States

Home Port: Wilmington, DE

Joseph H. Thompson – 1984-2015

Owner: Upper Lakes Towing, Escanaba, MI [VanEnkevort]

Operator: Upper Lakes Towing

Flag: United States

Home Port: Escanaba, MI

Joseph H. Thompson – 2015-Present

Owner: VanEnkevort Tug & Barge, Escanaba, MI

Operator: VanEnkevort Tug & Barge

Flag: United States

Home Port: Escanaba, MI

Her Story

The USNS Marine Robin was constructed in 1944 by Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock of Chester, Pennsylvania, as a cargo/troop ship for the United States Maritime Commission for service in World War II. She was completed on April 29, 1944, and soon entered service under charter to Grace Line, Inc. Marine Robin participated in the invasion of Southern France during the period of August 25 to September 25, 1944. She earned two battle stars for her service. Marine Robin was laid up in the James River Reserve Fleet on March 10, 1947.

With the onset of the Korean War, the need for new capacity in the Great Lakes fleet increased. Great Lakes shipyards were booked solid, and shipping fleets had to look to other sources to find new vessels. On December 29, 1950, Sand Products Corporation, through their subsidiary Wisconsin & Michigan Steamship Co., entered talks with the U.S. Maritime Commission to purchase three C4 cargo ships from the James River Reserve Fleet that were made available through the Great Lakes Vessel Sales Act of 1950. The sale was completed on June 29, 1951, and the Marine Robin was held under the custody of the Maritime Administration for the time being.

In late 1951, ownership of the Marine Robin was transferred to Hansand Steamship, a 50/50 partnership between Hanna Mining and Sand Products Corp., sailing under the management of the M.A. Hanna company. On October 22, 1951, the Marine Robin was towed out of the James River to the Maryland Dry Dock shipyard in Baltimore, Maryland, to begin her conversion. She was then placed in drydock, where she was cut in half just aft of her midship pilothouse and accommodations, where her forebody was removed for scrapping. Her after cargo section was then reconstructed for Great Lakes service, and her stern and engine room were refurbished. A new midbody and bow section were constructed in two parts by Ingalls Shipbuilding of Pascagoula, Mississippi. The midbody section was towed to Baltimore, where it was welded on to the stern. The deckhouses and stack were placed on the spar deck for her trip up the Mississippi River. Her forebody and afterbody sections were individually towed up the Mississippi and Chicago Rivers to American Shipbuilding’s South Chicago shipyard on Lake Michigan, where the hull was put together and her deckhouses assembled. After final fit-out, the new ship, renamed Joseph H. Thompson, sailed on her maiden voyage on November 4, 1952, bound for Escanaba, Michigan, to load iron ore.

In 1974, deck strapping was fitted on the Joseph H. Thompson to increase her load lines, and in 1975, a bow thruster was installed. After the steel market crash in the early 1980’s, many members of the Hanna fleet went into layup at Detroit, Michigan. The Joseph H. Thompson laid up at the Nicholson’s Terminal in Detroit on October 9, 1982, never to operate as a powered vessel again.

The Thompson was sold in late 1984 to Upper Lakes Towing of Escanaba, Michigan. Over the next five years, the Thompson underwent a major project, being converted into a self-unloading barge. Her old fore and aft cabins were cut down, and a notch for a tugboat was cut in her stern section. Her old cargo hold bottom was removed and conveyor belts were installed running lengthwise of the ship with a new sloped hopper type cargo hold bottom. Her new self-unloading equipment featured an aft-mounted bucket elevator system feeding a 250′ unloading boom. A tugboat, the Joseph H. Thompson Jr., was constructed by building the tug around the existing propeller and rudder and cutting the hull out of the stern of the barge. The barge was fitted with a Hydraconn Articulated Tug-Barge system rack to connect with the tug. The pair entered service for Upper Lakes Towing in 1991.

In 2015, the Joseph H. Thompson and Joseph H. Thompson Jr. were acquired by VanEnkevort Tug & Barge of Escanaba, Michigan. The pair’s operations remained the same.

In early 2019, Joseph H. Thompson was retrofitted to be equipped with both a Hydraconn and a Bludworth type Articulated Tug-Barge system, allowing her to operate with her tug Joseph H. Thompson Jr. for the remainder of the season. In September of 2019, the Thompson was paired with VanEnkevort’s new tugboat Laura L. VanEnkevort, with the pair entering service on September 11, 2019. The Joseph H. Thompson Jr. soon sailed to Erie, Pennsylvania to undergo a refit, after which she will be paired with the new barge Michigan Trader.

The Joseph H. Thompson / Laura L. VanEnkevort continue to be an active member of the VanEnekvort Tug & Barge fleet, serving the ore and stone trades.

Compiled By Brendan Falkowski

Updated on April 14, 2021


Ahoy & Farewell Revised Edition, Marine Historical Society of Detroit, 2001. Pp. 38.

Berry, Sterling P. “Thompson, Joseph H.”. Great Lakes Vessel History: Vessel Histories of Sterling P. Berry. N.d. Accessed 6 July 2020.

Ferguson, Brian. “Joseph H. Thompson”. Great Lakes and Seaway Shipping Online. N.d. Accessed 6 July 2020.

Greenwood’s Guide to Great Lakes Shipping 2016, Harbor House Publishers, 2016. Pp. 4.16.

Thompson, Mark L. Queen of the Lakes. Wayne State University Press, 1994. Pp. 151-156.