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Chatter on the Yahoo tugboat group indicates interest in this vessel, Grouper. I took this foto six weeks ago at Erie Canal Lock 28B in Newark, less than five miles from where I grew up.

My sister-in-law Nancy took this foto yesterday. Thanks Nancy! Six weeks changes a lot.

What I’ve learned is that it’s 1912 vintage built by Charles Dimmer in Cleveland, Ohio. Other vitals include 73′ x 18′. And according to Carl Wayne’s fantastic database, Grouper’s engine generates 300 hp. but I’m guessing that was the original engine. Was that steam?

Formerly, it operated as Alaska for Florida Marine Terminal.


A power cord snaked into the skylight,

and still does, although the icicles have turned back into canal water.

But I can find nothing about Charles Dimmer or the Florida Marine Terminal. And I’m guessing that when I next get up to Newark in summer, Grouper will be gone, like the ice. Anyone know about modifications and dates and current engine? I’m sure the stack is not original.

When I was a kid and I’d see the Canal, I perceived of it as the biggest ditch around, a place to catch catfish. And since we weren’t a boat family, taking a rowboat or canoe across was just a fantasy. I’d no sense of the Canal, then called the Barge Canal, as a conduit to the sixth boro–or Canada, the Midwest. I paid more attention to train crews on the New York Central than crews on canal boats. If I’d have run away in those years, jumping from a low bridge onto a barge would not have been the way. I certainly had no idea that through these waters in 1960, 3.5 million tons of cargo (mostly fuel and grain) was shipped. See this 1961 “canal use” state report. Here’s the entire report. Oh the sights I missed. Who knows how my life would be different if tugs had gotten my attention then?

Note: Credit for the springtime fotos goes to Nancy Van Dorp.

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