Philip R. Clarke

Philip R. Clarke


Philip R. Clarke on Lake Huron near Port Huron, Michigan, June 24, 2019. Photo by Isaac Pennock


Build Information

Year Built: 1952

Builder: American Shipbuilding Company, Lorain, OH

Hull #867

Registry: U.S. 263699

IMO #5277062

Laid Down: December 18, 1950

Launch Date: November 26, 1951

Commissioned: May 15, 1952


The Philip R. Clarke was constructed in 1952 as a gearless bulk carrier by the American Shipbuilding Company at their Lorain, Ohio, shipyard for the Pittsburgh Steamship Division of United States Steel Corporation. She was the leading member of the AAA Class, or the “Pittsburgh” Class. The AAA Class ships were designed with refined hull streamlining and an asymmetrical stern to help improve water flow to the propeller. Adding to this, the rudder was slightly offset for more efficiency. All vessels of the class were originally 647’ long, 70’ wide, and 36’ deep with a cargo capacity of about 21,000 tons. The AAA ships were outfitted with oil fired boilers that provided steam for a large Westinghouse geared steam turbine, giving them around 7,000 HP. These engines pushed the ships along at around 16 MPH, making a round trip in just over 5 days, an improvement over the 6-7 day passages by older vessels. There were also some minor differences between the American Shipbuilding and Great Lakes Engineering Works units, those being that the Great Lakes Engineering ships had a slightly larger pilothouse but a slightly lower gross registered tonnage.

The Philip R. Clarke was the first of eight ships built along the AAA class lines, the others being the identical Arthur M. Anderson, Cason J. Callaway, Reserve and William Clay Ford, and the near-identical Edward B. Greene, Armco, and J. L. Mauthe.

The Clarke was originally constructed as a gearless bulk carrier, being designed with large box holds to make her an efficient carrier in the iron ore trade. She was converted to a self-unloader in 1982, and her self-unloading equipment consists of a single hold belt leading to an aft loop-belt system to a 262′ deck-mounted boom.


  • Modified for saltwater operations, 1962.
  • Bow thruster installed, 1966.
  • Lengthened by 120′, Fraser Shipyards, Superior, Wisconsin, 1974.
  • Converted to self-unloader, Fraser Shipyards, Superior, Wisconsin, 1982.
  • Stern thruster installed, Fraser Shipyards, Superior, Wisconsin, 1988.
  • Self-unloading boom lengthened by 12′, Rogers City, Michigan, 1994.

General Stats

As Constructed

Length Overall: 647′

Length Between Perpendiculars: 629’03”

Breadth: 70′

Depth: 36′

Loaded Draft: 26’02”

Capacity: 21,000 Tons

Vessel Type: Gearless Bulk Carrier

Number of Cargo Holds: 3 [Hatch-Hold Arrangement: 6-7-6]

Number of Hatches: 19 [Dimensions: 46’x11′]

Primary Operations: Ore Trade

Propellers: 1

Rudders: 1

After Lengthening, 1974

Length Overall: 767′

Length Between Perpendiculars: 749’03”

Breadth: 70′

Depth: 36′

Loaded Draft: 27′

Capacity: 26,525 Tons

Vessel Type: Gearless Bulk Carrier

Number of Cargo Holds: 3 [Hatch-Hold Arrangement: 6-12-6]

Number of Hatches: 24 [Dimensions: 46’x11′]

Primary Operations: Ore Trade

Propellers: 1

Rudders: 1

After conversion to self-unloader, 1982

Length Overall: 767′

Length Between Perpendiculars: 749’03”

Breadth: 70′

Depth: 36′

Loaded Draft: 27′

Capacity: 25,300 Tons

Vessel Type: Loop-Belt Self-Unloader

Self-Unloading Boom Length: Aft-Mounted; 262′ [Lengthened from 250′ in 1994]

Number of Cargo Holds: 7 [Hatch-Hold Arrangement: 3-3-4-4-4-3-2]

Number of Hatches: 23 [Dimensions: 46’x11′]

Primary Operations: Ore, Coal, Stone Trades

Propellers: 1 Controllable Pitch Propeller

Rudders: 1

Engineering Equipment



Engine Type: Steam Turbine

Engine Manufacturer: Westinghouse Electric Co., Pittsburgh, PA

Engine Model: Double-Reduction Geared Steam Turbine

Number of Engines: 1

Rated HP: 7700 SHP


Boiler Type: Oil-Fired Water Tube Boilers

Boiler Manufacturer: Foster-Wheeler, Baar, Switzerland

Boiler Size: 15466 sq. ft.

Number of Boilers: 2



Philip R. Clarke – 1952-1967

Owner: Pittsburgh Steamship Division, United States Steel Corp., New York, NY

Operator: Pittsburgh Steamship Division, United States Steel Corp.

Flag: United States

Home Port: New York, NY

Philip R. Clarke – 1967-1981

Owner: USS Great Lakes Fleet, New York, NY [U.S. Steel Corp.]

Operator: USS Great Lakes Fleet

Flag: United States

Home Port: New York, NY

Philip R. Clarke – 1981-1988

Owner: USX Great Lakes Fleet, Duluth, MN

Operator: USX Great Lakes Fleet

Flag: United States

Home Port: Duluth, MN

Philip R. Clarke – 1988-2004

Owner: USX Great Lakes Fleet, Inc., Duluth, MN [Blackstone Capital Partners]

Operator: USX Great Lakes Fleet

Flag: United States

Home Port: Duluth, MN

Philip R. Clarke – 2004-Present

Owner: Great Lakes Fleet, Inc., Duluth, MN [Canadian National Railway]

Operator: Key Lakes Inc., Duluth, MN

Flag: United States

Home Port: Duluth, MN

Her Story

In the summer of 1950, the Pittsburgh Steamship Company announced plans to construct three new ships. Two of the ships, the Philip R. Clarke and the Arthur M. Anderson, would be built by American Shipbuilding Company of Lorain, Ohio, leaving the final ship, the Cason J. Callaway, to be built by Great Lakes Engineering Works of River Rouge, Michigan. These ships were designated the AAA Class, which was a continuation of Pittsburgh Steamship’s class system for differentiating ship size. Nicknamed the “Pittsburgh” Class, eight vessels total were constructed to the lines of the AAA class plans.

The keel for the first of the new AAA class ships, the Philip R. Clarke, was laid on December 18, 1950, at American Shipbuilding’s Lorain, Ohio, shipyard. The new hull was launched on November 26, 1951, and was tied up for final fit out. She was delivered to Pittsburgh Steamship after undergoing sea trials on May 10, 1952, and entered service five days later, departing Lorain bound for Duluth, Minnesota, to load iron ore for Conneaut, Ohio.

Starting in 1962, the Clarke and a dozen of her fleetmates carried ore from the Labrador Mines to the U.S. Steel mills on the lakes. Minor modifications to the vessels were made in order for them to run in saltwater, such as the installation of extra water tanks for the crew. Mates were assigned to sail on Canadian ships to become familiar with the eastern part of the Seaway system so they could apply for Coast Guard pilot licenses for the region. The Seaway runs continued until the early 1970’s.

In 1966, the Philip R. Clarke was fitted with a bow thruster to increase her maneuverability. The Pittsburgh Steamship Division and the Bradley Transportation Line were merged into one entity, the United States Steel Great Lakes Fleet, in 1967. The Clarke‘s operations remained the same.

She was used as a test vessel at the then-new Poe Lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, when she locked through on October 30, 1968, to ensure the lock operated correctly. The Clarke passed through again on June 26, 1969, officially opening the lock to traffic.

During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the Philip R. Clarke participated in U.S. Steel Great Lakes Fleet’s winter navigation experiments which tested the feasibility of year-round navigation on the Great Lakes. This project ended in 1979 with the implementation of an annual closing and opening of the Soo Locks.

The Philip R. Clarke struck an obstruction near the Snell Lock and ran aground in the St. Lawrence Seaway on October 1, 1972, requiring drydocking at The Canadian Vickers shipyard in Montreal, Quebec. She returned to service on November 8, 1972. On January 11, 1974, while operating in heavy ice in the Straits of Mackinac, the Clarke was rammed by her fleetmate Roger Blough, which was behind her in their convoy.

In early 1974, U.S. Steel approved plans to lengthen their AAA class vessels by 120′ feet. Contracts for lengthening all three ships, as well as the John G. Munson, were awarded to Fraser Shipyards of Superior, Wisconsin. The Philip R. Clarke was placed in drydock in October of 1974, being the second vessel to undergo the lengthening process.

Once in drydock, she was then cut in half just aft of midship, and her stern section floated out of the drydock. The new mid-body was floated in and lined up with the bow, followed by the stern section. The sections were then welded together and a new, larger rudder was installed to handle the vessel’s larger size. The project was complete soon after and the Clarke was floated from drydock in late November, and she returned to service on December 4, 1974.

Four days after returning to service, the Philip R. Clarke collided with the steamer Merle M. McCurdy while attempting to pass her on Lake St. Clair. The incident resulted in only minor damages.

In Fall of 1981, the Clarke entered the drydock at Fraser Shipyards for a conversion to a self-unloader. Prior to her arrival, 23 sloped cargo hold bottom sections were prefabricated with the conveyor structure and utilities in place to be installed. Once in drydock, her cargo hold bottom was removed and the new sections were lowered through her cargo hatches and welded together. Her above-deck equipment was installed just forward of the aft deckhouse with a 250’ cargo boom to deliver the cargo to the dock. The Clarke was the second of the trio out of the yard at the beginning of the 1982 season, departing on April 21 to test her unloading system at the ore docks across the harbor. After testing she finished loading and headed on her way. The estimated cost for the project was $11 Million. The conversion cut her unloading time from 17 hours using shoreside gear to 6 hours using her own equipment.

On May 11, 1983, the Philip R. Clarke became the first freighter to enter Ontonagon, Michigan, in over eight years, delivering a cargo of stone. When arriving at the C. Reiss coal dock at Superior, Wisconsin, on August 30, 1983, the Clarke was forced to drop an anchor to maintain control. When the anchor was pulled up, it was found that the anchor hooked a car containing two bodies, that had been reported missing exactly five years prior. The Clarke was noted to have collided with the Shell Fuel dock at Corunna, Ontario, on December 20, 1983, damaging about 75 feet of the dock.In 1988, a stern thruster was installed on the Philip R. Clarke by Fraser Shipyards.

In June 1988, USS sold the majority stake of the Great Lakes Fleet to Blackstone Capital Partners. Diagonal black and gray strips were added to the ships in 1990 to signify the change in ownership. Over the winter of 1989-1990, her cargo holds were rearranged, giving her seven cargo holds to increase flexibility when carrying different cargoes. Her unloading boom was lengthened by 12′ in 1994 while in winter layup at Rogers City, Michigan.

While on Lake St. Clair in foggy conditions on May 9, 1995, the barge Sea Barge One, pushed by the tug Atlantic Hickory, rammed the Clarke on the port side, requiring drydocking at Fraser Shipyards in Superior, Wisconsin, for repairs.The Philip R. Clarke suffered an issue with her unloading boom while unloading salt at Sandusky, Ohio, on September 2, 2000, requiring repairs to her boom at Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

In late 2003, Canadian National Railway purchased Great Lakes Fleet from Blackstone for $380 Million. The fleet would continue to operate as U.S. flag vessels under the direct ownership of Great Lakes Fleet, Inc. Management of the ships was taken over by Key Lakes, Inc.

The Philip R. Clarke entered long-term layup at Toledo, OH, on July 2, 2020, due to economic conditions. She fit out in the summer of 2022, returning to service on July 30, 2022.

Compiled By Brendan Falkowski

Updated on July 30, 2022


Bawal, Raymond A., Jr. Twilight of the Great Lakes Steamer. Inland Expressions, 2009. Pp. 26-30.

Berry, Sterling P. “Clarke, Philip R.”. Great Lakes Vessel History: Vessel Histories of Sterling P. Berry. N.d. Accessed 30 June 2020. <>

Devendorf, John F. Great Lakes Bulk Carriers, 1869-1985. John F. Devendorf, 1996. Pp. 169.

Greenwood’s Guide to Great Lakes Shipping 2016, Harbor House Publishers, 2016. Pp. 4.8.

Miller, Al. Tin Stackers: The History of the Pittsburgh Steamship Company. Wayne State University Press, 1999. Pp. 164-167, 216, 221-222, 224, 245-248, 256, 273.

Petill, Jerry. “Philip R. Clarke”. Great Lakes and Seaway Shipping Online, N.d. Accessed 30 June 2020. <>