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Full disclosure first, I met the author, Paul Strubeck, around 15 years ago, and he’s been working on this voluminous tome for almost a decade.  We met on a retired diesel railroad tugboat, of course, not either of the ones depicted below.  Over the years, Paul has shared photos and information on this blog.

I’ll tell you what I think about this book in a moment, but first, any guesses on the date, location, and info on the two tugboats depicted on this striking cover?

The rear cover has some Dave Boone art.  Anything look familiar in that painting?

Soon after Paul and I  met, we took this same WHC tour together.  I’m certainly not a packrat, but the fact that I still have the program attests to my sense that it was an extraordinary tour, much narration of which was prefaced “you can’t see any trace any more, but …” because rail marine in the sixth boro is mostly a thing of the past.  What’s not in the past but an immutable geographical fact is that the sixth boro surrounds an ever more densely-populated archipelago that still needs resupplying today, mostly provided by trucks and frustrated drivers clogging highways today, hence efforts like the recent beer run, to name but one.  

Contractors move carfloats today, but at one time rail lines built their own dedicated tugboats, steam and diesel, and the evolution of the latter type is what Paul’s book interprets for us.  These tugboats are mostly gone, and he tracks the disposition of each one, but a few still in use have been redesigned so successfully you might never guess their previous lives.

As I said earlier, Paul has worked on this book for the better part of a decade.  When he wasn’t employed on a  tugboat, he got jobs on the railroad, which employs him now fulltime.  But when he wasn’t scheduled by some employer, he traveled to places where he researched this book in harbors, photo archives, libraries, and museums.   To “unpack” this table of contents a bit, the “Oil-electrics” chapter focuses on  the railroads that switched from steam propulsion to diesel:  first in 1916 the Pennsylvania RR re-powering steam tug Media with a 4-cylinder Southwark-Harris heavy oil engine;  in 1926 NY Central RR built a pair of tugs on Staten Island and named NY Central’s No. 33 and No. 34, and Erie was next. 

Then next four chapters elaborate on the naval architects, the decisions they made, and the tugboats they built.

“What’s inside a tug?” includes nomenclature

 

and specialized information not commonly known to a layperson as well as to a mariner who works on non-railroad tugs.

Documents like this top one from August 1978 demystify the daily/hourly activity of tugboat crew, in this case,  the marine engineer.  Paul brings his tugboat/locomotive perspective to the page.

The book has 266 color photos and 131 black/white, for a total of 397, of which 342 have never been book/web published;  he scanned them from company records, trade literature, negatives, and slides.  Each photo has a detailed caption.  Further, the book has 4 original maps, 22 blueprints/drawings, and 17 documents/advertisements from vintage marine diesel magazines.

There are 11 appendices, including

 

17 pages of Appendix K listing all East Coast diesel railroad tugboats and their dimensions, designers and builders, engine specs, multiple names, and [what I find very helpful] their disposition, i.e., still in use, scrapped, reefed, or other.  A total of 23 railroad companies are mentioned.

On the last page, you learn a bit about the author.  He’s already working on a volume 2, focusing on railroad tugs of the Great Lakes and Inland Waterways.

To me, this book is a delight to read through and a reference for East Coast tugboats.  On my bookshelf, it goes next to Thomas R. Flagg’s book New York Harbor Railroads In Color, volumes 1 and 2, published in 2000 and 2002 but with most information cut off in 1976.  Paul’s book will be a delight for historians, aficionados of rail and marine technology, modelers, urban planners, and the general public with curiosity about how we get stuff from place of manufacture to place(s) of use.

As anyone who releases a book or other work knows, an author does not want to keep a pile of books like this at home.  For info on ordering your copy, click here.  This is not a “mainstream” book you’d see while browsing the all-too-few bookstores surviving these days.  Rather, it is published by an independent railroad-focused publisher called Garbely Publishing.

To answer the questions about cover “photo,” the front cover shows Erie tugs Elmira and Marion  in Hoboken in March 1975. Marion was launched at Jakobson’s  in Oyster Bay NY in 1953 and is being prepared for reefing at this very moment in 2022.  Anyone know details?  Elmira was launched the same year on Staten Island and was scrapped in 1984 after an engine room fire.  The Dave Boone painting shows New York Dock Railway tug Brooklyn southbound on the North River.  Notice the Colgate clock along the right side.  Brooklyn (now Florida) is currently a rebuilt but active boat in the Crescent fleet in Savannah GA.  My image of the boat as I saw it in 2014 is below;  that day I took another shot of the tugboat which appears on page 190 of Paul’s book.

Previous book reviews I’ve posted here can be found at these links.

2021

2020

2017

2014

2012

2012

2010

 

 

 

Here are the previous 61. 

A novel idea is floating in the East River, or was.

My spin on it is this.  Name three of your favorite “maritime” books, or works, to put into a maritime collection of books . . .  Don’t overthink it . . . they can be obvious or obscure or a combination of both.  They can be books for kids or adults.

And my three are:

The Lost Sea, Jan de Hartog.

We the Drowned, Carsten Jensen

Maqroll the Gaviero, Álvaro Mutis

Photos, WVD.  Thx, Nate Austin. 

Take all the photos you like, but if you just sit on a dock by the bay watching the ships roll in and out, you’ll only know so much and nothing more.  If you suspected I was hinting at something in yesterday’s post, it was this review.

If you want to know more about working on a tugboat, you can get a job on a tugboat.  Of course, you’d have to survive the gauntlet of training, interview, application, physical, drug tests, etc.

Or you can pick up Tom Teague’s book, where among many other things he explains how he got hired for his first full-time tugboat job:  he got a telephone call from a tugboat captain the day before he was scheduled to meet with the US Navy recruiter.  The captain asked if he could start right away.  That night.  He did.  It was 1974.  The author was 20, and as he lets the reader know several times, he had good hair.

Teague describes how the towing business has changed in some significant ways since 1974.  Think about the photo below; “just having a beer” on a towing vessel today would trigger immediate firing.

Yet the same perils lurk whenever you work with powerful machines on the water in all kinds of weather.  A chapter entitled “Danger” illustrates the unforgiving environment of a workboat.  This chapter, framed by incidents involving unfortunate fellow crew and friends, makes the point that even knowledgeable, professional mariners might pay heavily for failing even for a second to pay attention.

By the way, if you’re a regular reader of tugster, do you recognize the tugboat on the cover?

You may have heard the aphorism “moments of terror interspersed by hours, days, etc. of boredom” in relation to a variety of fields.  It certainly applies to working on tugboats.  Boredom and dealing with it gets a whole chapter.  And Teague gets hilarious about creative attempts to alleviate boredom, without doing harm or damage.  Well, some coffee gets spilled, er… sacrificed.

Capt. Teague navigates story telling quite well, alternating, as he must have to aboard his boat, between abundant, straightforward explanation for a non-mariner reading the book and straying into the tales you’d expect of a mariner with many nautical miles under his keel.   He’s enlightening when recounting ordeals with weather and clarifying towing jargon.  Salty humor and fascinating characters abound when he catalogs nicknames–and their derivations–of fellow mariners he’s met over the decades.

Doing paperwork, I’m told, makes every captain’s eyes cross, but when Tom writes, not at all cryptically “Stay tuned for the next installment.  I’m still typing,” I suspect he’s going above and beyond the usual wheelhouse reports and confirmations.  There’s another book just over the horizon, and I for one am eagerly awaiting it.

Thomas Teague is still working in the wheelhouse as a tugboat captain after having started as a hawsepiper back in the 1970s.  With Tales from a Tugboat Captain, he seems to have gotten the call and jumped aboard writing about work with the likes of Studs Terkel and John McPhee.  There’s a whole genre here–Harberger’s Seized comes to mind as does Moynihan’s Voyage of the Rose City— waiting to be picked up and read on a cold winter’s day, or taken to the beach or on a cruise when the sun is hot.  And finally, I’m hoping that other mariners, upon completing their on-vessel reports, contribute to this genre.

Click here to order your copy of the book.  For additional photos and videos obviously not in the book, check out Captain Tom Teague on FB.  I’m told a book signing is planned for spring in Brooklyn and will post details about that when available.

See previous tugster reviews here.

Tangentially related, twelve years ago I posted this, which ends with a quote from Franz Kafka revealing how he imagined paperwork on boats.

And the boat on the cover, you may know it today as the “red” Cornell.

Two words juxtaposed in this headline from May 1914 NYTimes  are not ones I expect to see . ..  “Roosevelt” and “tug.”  Click on the image and (I hope) you’ll get the rest of the article.

0aaaatrreturn

Below is Aidan, the Booth Line steamer which returned the former President from Belem, near the mouth of the Amazon.

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On October 4, 1913, Roosevelt boarded the vessel belowS. S. Van Dyck-for Brazil.  Departure was from Brooklyn

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Pier 8, to the left below.   Click the foto to see the source.

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What’s driving this post is Candice Millard’s 2005 The River of Doubt:  Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, which I just finished reading.  Learning about the namesake–Candido Rondon— for the vessel in foto 8 here while in Brazil last summer prompted me to finally read this book.  Ever know that the ex-US President was stalked by invisible cannibals as he and Rondon led a joint Brazilian/American group down a 400-mile uncharted tributary of the Amazon, now referred to as Rio Roosevelt  (pronounced Hio Hosevelt).

Well-worth the read!

I’ve used the “trawl net” or “line locker” concept to catch up on odds and ends.

 

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The above foto shows Minerva scrawling her wise prose high atop Grand Central Terminal, the house the Vanderbilts constructed. So what might she write? Anyone interested in collaborating on a new blog called “Minerva’s blog?” Details below.

His hairy-cheekedness stands atop the Terminal also, his Elvis phase. Book recommendation: Commodore by Edward J. Renehan Jr. I just finished it: what I enjoyed was the detail-over half the book–deals with the cutthroat business of running ferryboats in the “sixth borough” in the early days of steam. Vanderbilt actually started the business with a sailing craft called a periauger. Is there a historically minded group in the northeast planning a replica periauger? Maybe a fitting enterprise with some Vanderbilt cash? I know Cornelius would love it!

 

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Below is a closeup of some reefers and some info. Here’s some eco-container news.

 

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Finally, these sacks of cocoa beans (or coffee or styrofoam peanuts??) evidence that the set and props are nearly ready for opening night of Il Tabarro. Can there be a better example of merging industrial and cultural use of the waterfront and access? Ticket purchase info at the link two lines up.

 

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So here’s the concept of Minerva’s blog: she’s angry because unlike was the case in 1914, the East River and its passing ship traffic are no longer visible. In her anger, what perspective might she take on what she now sees daily? We could hold annual “Minerva awards” parties for blogs capturing some aspect of commercial water life! This excites me. Minerva Maids with magnificent plumes marching in the Mermaid parade!!

 

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Second idea: Since Minerva would choose to read to catalyze her writing, what would she have on her bookshelf? I owe this idea to Adam, who put together a fabulous CD of sailing music this summer.

Please send in your favorite reading (fiction and non-fiction) using near coastal or harbor setting or themes, commercial water, and let’s limit suggestions to works written in or about the past 100 years only, i.e., Whitman and Melville are out.

My preliminary suggestions, in no particular order:

Tugboats of New York George Matteson

Fugitive Deckhand Fred Godfrey

Looking for a Ship John McFee

Grey Seas Under Farley Mowat

Captain Jan Jan de Hartog

??others??

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