Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan has many interesting attractions, among them the Museum Ship Valley Camp, a retired Great Lakes freighter that is now a museum to the history of the shipping industry on the lakes.
Built in 1917, the 550 foot long ship was launched in Lorain, Ohio as the Louis W. Hill. In reporting on the launching, the Lorain Times-Herald newspaper described the ship as being “as modern as the genius of man can make her.”
From 1917 to 1955, she carried ore for a couple of owners, and in 1955 was sold to the Wilson Transit Company, which rechristened her the Valley Camp, to honor the Valley Camp Coal Company in Pennsylvania. She was the first ship to pass through the Soo Locks on their 100th Anniversary, June 18, 1955. The ship was in service on the Great Lakes until 1966, during which time she logged some three million miles, and carried over sixteen million tons of cargo.
During her long career the Valley Camp carried grain, coal, iron ore, and limestone across the lakes. One common cargo was taconite pellets. Taconite is an iron-bearing flint-like rock. To process taconite, the ore is ground into a fine powder, which is then combined with clay and limestone, and rolled into pellets with an approximate 65% iron content.
The Mesabi Iron Range of Minnesota is a major source of taconite, which is shipped on Great Lakes ships to ports where steelmaking centers are located. At one time, many of those ports were on Lake Erie.
The Valley Camp was a hand bomber, a ship whose boilers were hand fired. The boilers were essentially large barrels filled with water. Two firemen and one coal passer worked each four hour shift in the hot, dirty boiler room below decks, where temperatures reached 120 to 130 degrees. The ship’s coal bunker held 300 tons of coal, and she burned 50 tons of coal a day. Later, automatic stoking equipment was added.
Today, visitors can take a self-guided tour of the ship’s engine room, crews’ quarters, bridge, upper deck, and cargo holds, where exhibits cover everything from shipbuilding to navigational aids to shipwrecks.
One display is an old Coast Guard motor lifeboat, built in 1937, that saw service for over thirty years.
By today’s standards, the Valley Camp isn’t a very big ship, but when you are standing on the main deck looking aft, it sure is a long way back!
The 29 member crew lived in two to four man staterooms that were not fancy, but perfectly adequate. The ship’s officers enjoyed a somewhat better standard of living, with meals in a paneled dining room, and sleeping in slightly bigger quarters.
But no matter what one’s station in a ship’s hierarchy, life on the Great Lakes can turn deadly in minutes, and when the big waves start crashing over the bow of a ship, everybody works together just to survive!
The most famous Great Lakes shipwreck is the Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in a storm off Lake Superior’s Whitefish Point, on November 10, 1975, and is eulogized in Gordon Lightfoot’s haunting song, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The museum has a display on the Edmund Fitzgerald that includes a movie and artifacts recovered after the ship mysteriously disappeared. A lifeboat from the ship, which washed ashore at Mamainse Point, in Canada, the day after the Edmund Fitzgerald sank, is on display, along with the remains of a second lifeboat, which was torn in half in the storm.
Many think of lighthouses as something found near oceans, but numerous lighthouses make navigation safer and easier throughout the Great Lakes. The museum includes displays of a number of Fresnel lighthouse lenses, as well as radio beacon transmitters, lighted buoys, and other tools used to safely bring ships back to port.
The ship museum has four 1,200 gallon aquariums, with aquatic life common in the Great Lakes. The total combined weight of the aquariums is 26 tons, and water is constantly circulated in the aquariums to sustain life.
Having gone to high school in Toledo, Ohio, which is a major port on Lake Erie, I have been fascinated with the big ships that work the Great Lakes for years, so I found our tour of the Valley Camp fascinating. But even if you are a dedicated landlubber, the ship will have plenty to interest you, and you will learn a lot about life on the lakes.
The Valley Camp is located on Sault St. Marie’s waterfront at 501 E. Water Street. The museum is open daily from May 13 through October. Call (888) 744-7867 for hours and admission prices. The large parking lot will accommodate any size RV. Since the tour includes climbing up and down several steep ladders, the entire ship is not handicapped accessible.
It’s Thursday, so it’s time for a new Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an RV camping journal donated by Barbara House. Barbara makes several variations of these, and they all have pages where you can list the date, weather, where you traveled to and from that day, beginning and ending mileage, campground information including amenities at RV sites, a place for a campground rating, room to record activities, people met along the way, reminders of places to see and things to do the next time you’re in the area, and a page for notes for each day.
To enter, all you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.
Thought For The Day – If a clown farts, does it smell funny?