Huron Cement and LaFarge

J.B. Ford in serviceJ.B. Ford in service for Huron Cement, 1972 - Roger LeLievre photo.

After spending 1957 and 1958 laid up in Buffalo, the E. C. Collins was taken to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, where she was converted to a self-unloading cement carrier by the Christy Corporation (now Bay Shipbuilding).  The hold was reconfigured with hopper bottoms, and unloading machinery was added consisting of a pair of screw conveyors under the hold, and blowers to pump the fine powdered cement into shoreside silos through a system of pipes and hoses.   New machinery spaces were carved from the ends of the cargo hold for the unloading gear, with the electric blowers and conveyor motors at the forward end, and a Nordberg diesel generator installed back aft to provide the power.

During the conversion, her spar deck hatches and coamings were removed, with the hatch openings plated over flush with the deck.  In their place, new small circular hatches were added for cement loading.  Where the rearmost (#12) cargo hatch had been, a small extension was added to the front of the aft cabin, above the new generator room.  The doghouse was also removed from the spar deck and replaced by a new structure aft on the boat deck.  Apart from these modest changes, however, her outward profile remained very much unchanged from her U.S. Steel and Kinsman days.

Renamed J. B. Ford, she emerged from her rebuild in 1959, and went to work hauling dry powdered cement from the Huron Cement plant in Alpena, Michigan to their distribution terminals around the Great Lakes.  In 1965, Huron Cement became a unit of the National Gypsum Company, and the Ford’s hull color was changed from Huron Cement green to the beige color she still wears today.

Unlike her older Huron Cement fleetmate the 1898-vintage E. M. Ford, which had her accommodations extensively rebuilt over the years, the J. B. Ford was not heavily modified during her time in service for Huron Cement.  She received a recessed anchor pocket on her starboard side early on in her cement-hauling career so that the anchor wouldn’t snag on the dock while maneuvering into the loading berth in Alpena.  Over the winter of 1975-76, her boilers were converted from coal to oil firing. Finally, in the early 1980’s, a boxlike new cabin was added to the rear of the pilothouse.

The J. B. Ford served the Huron Cement fleet for over a quarter century, before being sidelined with engine problems in the mid-1980’s.  She last operated under her own power on November 15th, 1985, and was laid up in Milwaukee, relegated to spare boat status.  In 1987, Huron Cement was acquired by the LaFarge Corporation, and a new subsidiary, Inland Lakes Transportation was formed to manage the fleet.  The J. B. Ford never sailed under the new ownership, but the old steamer would prove that she still had some useful life left in her by serving as a cement storage barge, first at the LaFarge terminal in South Chicago, then from 2001 onwards in Superior, Wisconsin.

In 2008, the new self-unloading cement barge Innovation went into service for LaFarge, and their 1936-vintage steamer J.A.W. Iglehart became excess capacity.  The Iglehart was moved to Superior to take over the storage role from the smaller J.B. Ford.  After serving her various owners well for over 104 years, the J.B. Ford's long career had come to an end, and she was moved to the nearby Municipal Terminal dock to await a decision on her fate.  She remains there to this day.