Walter A. Sterling

Mobiloil – Samoset – USS Chiwawa [AO-68] – Chiwawa – Walter A. Sterling – William Clay Ford {2} – Lee A. Tregurtha

1942-Present

Lee A. Tregurtha on the St. Marys River, June 28, 2019. Photo by Sam Hankinson

Specs

Build Information

Bow & Stern Sections

Year Built: 1942

Builder: Bethlehem Shipbuilding & Drydock, Sparrows Point, MD

Hull #4378

Laid Down: —

Launch Date: June 25, 1942

Commissioned: [As USS Chiwawa] February 13, 1943

Cargo Section

Year Built: 1960

Builder: Schlieker-Werft, Hamburg, West Germany

Hull #554

Laid Down: —

Launch Date: September 21, 1960

Entire Vessel

Registry: US 251505

IMO #5385625

Launch Date: May 18, 1961

Commissioned: July 5, 1961

Construction

The USS Chiwawa was laid down as the T3-S-A1 tanker Mobiloil by Bethlehem Shipbuilding & Drydock at Sparrows Point, Maryland, for the Mobil Oil Company, but was acquired by the U.S. Maritime Commission, and later the U.S. Navy, during construction.

In 1961, the Chiwawa was rebuilt as a Great Lakes Bulk carrier by Schlieker-Werft of Hamburg, West Germany, and American Shipbuilding Company of Lorain, Ohio. She was renamed Walter A. Sterling. She was one of two T3’s converted into Great Lakes bulk carriers, the other being the Pioneer Challenger [Later Middletown, American Victory].

The Sterling 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-unloader in 1978, and her unloading equipment consists of a single hold belt and an aft loop-belt system feeding a 250′ deck mounted boom.

Modifications

  • Converted into a Great Lakes Bulk Carrier, Schlieker-Werft, Hamburg, West Germany / American Shipbuilding Company, Lorain, Ohio, 1961.
  • Bow thruster installed, American Shipbuilding Company, Lorain, Ohio, 1966.
  • Boilers automated, American Shipbuilding Company, Lorain, Ohio, 1968.
  • Lengthened by 96′, American Shipbuilding Company, Lorain, Ohio, 1976.
  • Converted to a self-unloader, American Shipbuilding Company, Lorain, Ohio, 1978.
  • Stern thruster installed, 1982.
  • Repowered with diesel engine, Bay Shipbuilding Corporation, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, 2006.
  • Diesel exhaust scrubbers installed, Bay Shipbuilding Corporation, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, 2016.

General Stats

As Constructed as T3-S-A1 Oiler

Length Overall: 501’09”

Length Between Perpendiculars: 487’06”

Breadth: 68′

Depth: 30’09”

Loaded Draft: —

Capacity: 10,278 Tons, 134,000 Barrels

Vessel Type: Tanker / Auxiliary Oiler

Number of Cargo Holds: 40 Tanks

Primary Operations: Navy oiler, East Coast Petroleum trade

Propellers: 1

Rudders: 1

After conversion to Great Lakes bulk carrier, 1961

Length Overall: 730′

Length Between Perpendiculars: 715’04”

Breadth: 75′

Depth: 39′

Loaded Draft: 27’10”

Capacity: 25,600 Tons

Vessel Type: Gearless Bulk Carrier

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

Number of Hatches: 21 [Dimensions: 48’x11′]

Primary Operations: Ore Trade

Propellers: 1

Rudders: 1

After lengthening by 96′, 1976

Length Overall: 826′

Length Between Perpendiculars: 811’06”

Breadth: 75′

Depth: 39′

Loaded Draft: 27’10”

Capacity: 30,592 Tons

Vessel Type: Gearless Bulk Carrier

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

Number of Hatches: 25 [Dimensions: 48’x11′]

Primary Operations: Ore Trade

Propellers: 1

Rudders: 1

After conversion to self-unloader, 1978

Length Overall: 826′

Length Between Perpendiculars: 811’06”

Breadth: 75′

Depth: 39′

Loaded Draft: 28’01”

Capacity: 29,300 Tons

Vessel Type: Loop-Belt Self-Unloader

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

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

Number of Hatches: 24 [Dimensions: 48’x11′]

Primary Operations: Ore, Coal, Stone Trades

Propellers: 1

Rudders: 1


Engineering Equipment

Original

Engine

Engine Type: Steam Turbine

Engine Manufacturer: Bethlehem Shipbuilding & Drydock, Sparrows Point, MD

Engine Model: Impulse Reaction Type, Cross-Compound Steam Turbine

Number of Engines: 1

Rated HP: 7700 SHP


Boiler

Boiler Type: Oil-Fired Water Tube Boiler

Boiler Manufacturer: Foster-Wheeler, Baar, Switzerland

Boiler Size: 14,978 sq. ft.

Number of Boilers: 2


Repower – 2006

Engine Type: Diesel Engine

Engine Manufacturer: Rolls-Royce Bergen, Hordvik, Norway

Engine Model: B32:40L6P

Number of Engines: 2

Rated HP: 8,040 BHP


History

Lineage

Samoset – 1942

Owner: U.S. Maritime Commission

Operator: U.S. Maritime Commission

Flag: United States

Home Port: —


USS Chiwawa [AO-68] – 1942-1946

Owner: U.S. Navy

Operator: U.S. Navy

Flag: United States

Home Port: —


Chiwawa – 1946-1947

Owner: U.S. Maritime Commission

Operator: U.S. Maritime Commission

Flag: United States

Home Port: —


Chiwawa – 1947-1960

Owner: Cities Service Oil Co., New York, NY

Operator: Cities Service Oil Co.

Flag: United States

Home Port: New York, NY


Walter A. Sterling – 1961-1985

Owner: Cleveland-Cliffs Steamship Co., Cleveland, OH

Operator: Cleveland-Cliffs Steamship Co.

Flag: United States

Home Port: Wilmington, DE


William Clay Ford {2} – 1985-1989

Owner: Rouge Steel Co., Dearborn, MI [Subsidiary of Ford Motor Co.]

Operator: Rouge Steel Co., Marine Division

Flag: United States

Home Port: Dearborn, MI


Lee A. Tregurtha – 1989-2014

Owner: Lakes Shipping Co., Cleveland, OH [Interlake Steamship Co.]

Operator: Interlake Steamship Co.

Flag: United States

Home Port: Cleveland, OH


Lee A. Tregurtha – 2015-Present

Owner: Interlake Steamship Co., Middleburg Heights, OH

Operator: Interlake Steamship Co.

Flag: United States

Home Port: Cleveland, OH


Her Story

The Lee A. Tregurtha started her life looking quite a bit different than she does today. She was laid down as the Mobiloil by Bethlehem Shipbuilding & Drydock at their Sparrows Point, Maryland shipyard as Hull #4378 in 1942. Her contract was taken over by the Maritime Commission while partially completed, being renamed Samoset. She was launched on June 25, 1942, being designated as a T3-S-A1 oiler. She was originally 501’08’’ long, 68’ wide and 30’08’’ deep. She had 40 tanks, 8 centerline and 16 port/starboard wing tanks, and was powered by a yard-built cross compound steam engine rated at 7700 SHP, fueled by 2 Foster-Wheeler oil-fired water tube boilers.

She was acquired by the U.S. Navy on December 24, 1942, being renamed USS Chiwawa [AO-68] under the command of Cmdr. H. F. Fultz. She was the first of 5 Chiwawa class auxiliary oilers acquired by the Navy, with another notable ship of the class being the USS Neshanic [AO-71], which was later rebuilt for Lake service as the Pioneer Challenger [Middletown, American Victory]. The Chiwawa was deployed on February 13, 1943. She sailed as part of several convoys that crossed the Atlantic in 1943-1944, as well as serving as an oiler on the U.S. East Coast. She was transferred to the Pacific fleet on July 18, 1945 after a refit. The Chiwawa was present at the Japanese Surrender at Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, and continued Pacific service through December 13, 1945. She was decommissioned on May 6, 1946 after almost four years of service and earning multiple battle stars. The Chiwawa was sold to Cities Service Oil Company of New York in 1947, serving East Coast Ports.

On February 12, 1960, the Chiwawa was purchased by the Cleveland-Cliffs Steamship Company for conversion to a Great lakes bulk carrier. She was the final T3 tanker-Laker conversion to join the U.S. fleet. The Chiwawa was taken to American Shipbuilding Company’s Lorain, Ohio shipyard where her bow and stern were removed and her midbody scrapped. A new 510’ midbody was built by Schlieker-Werft of Hamburg, West Germany in 1960 as their Hull #554. The midbody was launched on September 21, 1960 and immediately towed across the Atlantic, arriving on November 7, 1960. The bow and stern sections of the Chiwawa were joined with the new midbody in drydock at Lorain, making her 730’ long, 75’ wide, and 39’ deep with a 25,600 ton capacity at a 27’10’’ draft. The midbody featured 21 deck hatches that accessed 4 cargo holds.

The converted Laker was christened as Walter A. Sterling on May 18, 1961 in honor of the president and board member of Cleveland-Cliffs. She sailed on her maiden voyage on July 5, 1961 as the flagship of the Cleveland-Cliffs Steamship Co. fleet. The Sterling was equipped with a bow thruster in 1966 and her boiler and burner controls were automated in 1968 by American Shipbuilding Company’s Lorain yard.

In 1976, the Walter A. Sterling was pulled into drydock at the American Shipbuilding yard at Lorain to be lengthened by 96’. She was cut in half, with one section of hull being floated out to place the new hull addition in the drydock. After the new section as aligned, the other hull section was floated back in and the three sections were welded together. The entire project cost about $3.5 Million, and increased her carrying capacity to 30, 592 tons, making her the largest steamer on the Great Lakes.

In 1978, she went back to the American Shipbuilding yard at Lorain for conversion to a self-unloader. The project consisted of the installation of an aft-mounted C-Loop self-unloading system with an aft-mounted 250’ boom. Her old cargo hold bottom was removed and replaced with a hopper-type hold with hydraulically controlled gates that lead to a conveyor belt tunnel beneath the hold. Her cargo capacity was slightly reduced to 29,360 Tons at a draft of 28’01’’, but it increased her efficiency and opened up the opportunity to operate in the Western low Sulfur coal trade. A stern thruster was installed in 1982.

On April 6, 1983, the Walter A. Sterling struck an unidentified object in the St. Marys River, being holed in her forward compartments. To prevent sinking, she was beached. She lightered into the Henry Ford II before proceeding for repairs.

At the end of the 1984 season, the Cleveland-Cliffs fleet was dissolved. The Walter A. Sterling and her fleetmate Edward B. Greene were sold to Ford Motor Company’s Rouge Steel Company. The Sterling was renamed William Clay Ford {2} and immediately became flagship upon joining the fleet. She departed Duluth on April 16, 1985 on her maiden voyage for her new owners. Over the winter of 1985/86, the Ford’s electrical system was converted from DC to AC. On March 31, 1989, Ford announced intentions to sell the Rouge Steel fleet. That April, Interlake Steamship Company successfully outbid Oglebay Norton for the three remaining Rouge Steel boats.

To accommodate for different unions, Interlake formed the Lakes Shipping Company to manage the ships with a union agreement to integrate. The William Clay Ford was rechristened Lee A. Tregurtha in a joint ceremony with the Kaye E. Barker on May 13, 1989 at Cleveland, Ohio. The Tregurtha was named in honor of the wife of the vice-chairman of Interlake Steamship. The Lee A. Tregurtha loaded the last cargo of taconite pellets shipped out of LTV Steel mining Co.’s Taconite Harbor, MN dock on June 23, 2001.

On January 9, 2006, the Lee A. Tregurtha laid up for the final time as a steamer at Bay Shipbuilding’s yard at Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. That winter, she was repowered with 2 new automated Rolls Royce Bergen diesel engines and fitted with a new controllable pitch propeller. She returned to service on September 29, 2006.

Over the winter in 2016, the Lee A. Tregurtha was fitted with diesel exhaust scrubbers by Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. This was part of Interlake’s fleet modernization project. Now the Tregurtha displays a signature steam plume to show Interlake’s commitment to the environment.

The Lee A. Tregurtha continues to be an active carrier for Interlake, hauling ore, coal, and stone. She continues to sail 78 years after her initial launching; now displaying her WWII battle ribbons on her forward cabins.

Her Story article written by Brendan Falkowski, from #50 Freighters, March-April 2020


Compiled By Brendan Falkowski

Updated on August 18, 2020


Gallery


Sources

Berry, Sterling P. “Sterling, Walter A.”. Great Lakes Vessel History: Vessel Histories of Sterling P. Berry. N.d. Accessed 18 August 2020. <https://www.greatlakesvesselhistory.com/histories-by-name/s/sterling-walter-a>

Devendorf, John F. Great Lakes Bulk Carriers, 1869-1985. John F. Devendorf, 1996. Pp. 181.

Falkowski, Brendan. “Vessel of the Month-#49 Freighters March-April 2020: Lee A. Tregurtha”. Shipwatcher News. 9 March 2020. Accessed 18 August 2020. <https://glshipnews.files.wordpress.com/2020/05/50-freighters-mar-apr-2020.pdf>

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

“M/V Lee A. Tregurtha”. Interlake Steamship Company. N.d. Accessed 18 August 2020. <http://www.interlake-steamship.com/our-fleet/m-v-lee-a.-tregurtha/>

Thompson, Mark L. Queen of the Lakes. Wayne State University Press, 1994. Pp. 173-174.

Wharton, George. “Lee A. Tregurtha”. Great Lakes & Seaway Shipping Online. N.d. Accessed 18 August 2020. <http://boatnerd.com/pictures/fleet/leeatregurtha.htm>