Group trying to purchase Ford

ALPENA – The 110-year-old J.B. Ford, the only remaining vessel of the W.A. Hawgood Fleet, could be facing the scrapyard in six months. This piece of maritime history last operated in 1985, and has since been used for cement storage at Lafarge North America in Superior, Wis., where she awaits her fate to this day.

The Great Lakes Steamship Society hopes to keep the Ford from the scrapyard. Society President Steven Haverty, along with other maritime historians and preservationists, want to buy the Ford and turn her into an interactive museum, forever preserving this rare and resilient ship for future generations.

“The more people that know about it, the better our chances are of saving the Ford,” Haverty said.

Alpena is the hopeful destination of the Ford, since she was primarily home ported here, but before she can be restored, the GLSS must own the ship.

“This is a huge undertaking,” Haverty said. “We are trying to gain support, donations, and funding from anywhere available, but restoring a ship of this size is costly. Dozens of people have offered to help restore the ship, but the first hurdle is actually obtaining it from Lafarge. The outpouring of community support is amazing, I just hope people don’t drop the ball and forget about the Ford.”

The most prominent problem surrounding the Ford is the environmental hazard the ship currently poses. Lafarge is willing to sell her, but she needs to be approved for sale by the marine group in Washington because of asbestos and lead paint still remaining all over the ship.

“Lafarge is responsible for the asbestos and lead paint being disposed of properly,” Mark Thomas, Lafarge marine manager, said. “If we donate it, the money for the proper hazard disposal would have to be provided within six months by whoever purchased it. Even though Lafarge would sell or donate the ship, they are grandfathered with it until the asbestos is properly disposed of.”

Thomas said the cost of this task will be enormously high.

If the Ford is approved for sale by the marine division, Lafarge can donate it to whomever has the money for the hazards removal. Thomas hinted that there are two parties besides the GLSS interested in the Ford, and one of them intends to sink the ship and use it as a diving exploration site.

The Ford was built in 1903 for the Commonwealth Steamship Fleet, one of the W.A. Hawgood Fleets. Originally named the Edwin F. Holmes, the Ford delivered iron ore with a 1,500 hp triple-expansion steam engine, fed by two coal-fired marine boilers.

She survived the “Mataafa Storm” of November 1905, and later the Great Storm of 1913 while sailing on Lake Superior. During the storm Lake Huron wind gusts reached 90 mph and the Holmes was hit by a wave over 70 feet high, which caused damage to the pilot house. This storm is remembered as the worst natural disaster in the history of the Great Lakes, claiming 12 ships without survivors, and running another 32 aground, taking 235 lives, 178 in Lake Huron, and three dozen more ashore.

The Holmes was sold to Pittsburgh Steamship Company and renamed the E.C. Collins. The Collins served the steelmaker into WWII. In 1944, as the result of an incident between the Pittsburgh and Kinsman fleet, the Collins was given to the Steinbrenner family’s Kinsman fleet where she carried grain.

In 1956, the Collins was sold to the Huron Portland Cement Company and converted to a self-unloading cement carrier and was renamed J.B. Ford in 1959. She was converted from coal to oil firing boilers, and hauled cement from the Huron Portland Cement plant for over 25 years.

In 1987, Huron Cement was sold to Lafarge and Inland Lakes Transportation managed the fleet. The J.B. Ford never sailed again.

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5687.