THE BUFFALO DRY DOCK

The S. S. Canadiana History Book

Appendix B

The history of the Buffalo Dry Dock begins before the War of 1812 with the men who were to establish it. ~ In 1808 Nathan Bidwell, a master shipbuilder who came from the east coast, established an operation at Black Rock in the Scajaquada Creek for the repair of ships. ~ During the War of 1812 he worked on building part of Perry's fleet but when the British came ashore they burned his yard.

After the war Bidwell joined forces with an in-law; Asa Stanard another shipbuilder and also James Carrick. ~ That trio formed another shipbuilding operation on Scajaquada Creek. ~ It was here in 1818 that the yard turned out the first steamship on the upper Great Lakes, the Walk-In-The- Water. ~ Stanard died and in 1834 Bidwell and Carrick, opened a yard on the Ohio Street side of the Buffalo River near Michigan Avenue. ~ Two years later, in a new venture, Bidwell left Carrick and together with a man named J. W. Banta, opened the Bidwell and Banta yard. ~ They started with an inclined marine railroad. ~ This method operated by going under ships in the water and hauling them up onto the land. ~ They then dug what was the first stationary dry dock on the Great Lakes. ~ It had 8 foot of water over the sill. ~ The sill being the bottom of the watertight gate and the maximum depth of hull able to pass over. ~ Inside the gate it was dug much deeper to accommodate blocking to hold the ship upright and the working area. ~ Bidwell and Banta added, lengthened, filled in and redug docks over the next twenty years as the grew to become a major shipbuilding and repair facility on the Great Lakes. ~ They turned out the lavish "palace steamers" and literally dozens of schooners and other steam boats such as the 170 ft St Joseph in 1846; the 192' bulk freighter SUN, #22281 in 1854 and the schooner Sophia Smith, hull# 22271, in 1855.

During this time, Frederick Nelson Jones arrived from what is now Lorraine Ohio in 1845. ~ He also started an operation on the Ohio Street side of the river but in 1853 moved across to a site north of and adjacent to the Bidwell and Banta yard. ~ This is the 191 Ganson Street location where our Canadiana was eventually to be built. ~ Over the next decade he built more than 100 ships along with a few side-wheelers that were the equal of those put out by Bidwell and Banta.

In 1866 he moved to North Tonawanda but sold the river location. ~ Robert Mills and Patrick Walsh had been operating a floating dry-dock in Buffalo. ~ They brought in a Mr. R. Rice, formed R. Mills & Company and bought the Jones shipyard. ~ They dug two docks over the next few years; one 280 ft long, 41 ft wide and 11-1/2 ft of water over the sill and the other being 370 ft long, 46 ft wide and 12-1/2 feet over the sill. ~ The building boom had ended in 1857 and so they continued on by doing repairs on wooden vessels. ~ In 1890 they got into steel hull repairs by adding shears, punches and rolls to their facilities. ~ Patrick Walsh died in 1875 and Mills in 1890. ~ A son then took over and continued operation until 1896.

Back at the Bidwell and Banta yards we find that in 1860 Banta had left to eventually wind up in Chicago. ~ A new partner by the name of Mason was taken on by Bidwell for yet another name change. ~ The yard also was carrying on with repair work but was finally sold to two men by the name of Taylor and Jewitt. ~ They took over sometime in 1870 but were merely interim owners. ~ Possibly a move designed to keep the price tag in line as on September 9th 1870 the yard was taken over again by a newly formed Union Dry Dock Company. ~ This company then performed work for the Union Steamboat Company which was owned by the Erie R.R. ~ In 1872 the Union Steamboat Company bought 25 percent of the Union Dry Dock and ultimately bought it all. ~ From 1872 to 1880 averaged building one freighter a year along with some tugs and repair work. ~ In 1880 the yard was begun to be equipped for iron but it was done slowly. ~ They had till then just put ships together but were supplied by others. ~ Steel plates, large castings, engines and boilers. ~ Some Buffalo suppliers were Delaney Forge; King Iron Works; H. G. Trout & Company, Shepard Iron Works and Lake Erie Engineering Works. ~ In 1898 an enlarged dry dock was completed and 400 foot vessels could be accommodated. ~ An electric traveling crane was also installed from Wellman-Seeaver Engineering Co of Cleveland. ~ Gantry cranes were a major improvement in reducing labor in the yards. ~ This one large crane allowed the elimination of unskilled labor costs and saved much time in the moving of material and placing material for riveting. ~ Larger plates could be used which cut down on the number of rivets and increased the strength of the hulls. ~ There were 700 men employed in the yard over that winter with wages in the 1.50 to 2.00 a day range.

In 1896, the Mills yard, now controlled by Edward Corbin, formed an alliance with the Union Dry Dock Co. and together became know as the Buffalo Dry Dock Company. ~ Reorganization in 1899 saw Corbin bought out and by 1900 the yard had been enlarged again to provide repair facilities for the grain fleet that was laid up in Buffalo each winter.

American Ship Building Company was formed in 1900 by bringing together nine major yards on the great lakes including the Buffalo Dry Dock. ~ The shipping industry on the Great Lakes was entering a period of rapid growth. ~ Only a few years earlier in 1882, the first all-steel vessel, the Frank E. Hamilton had been built by the Union Dry Dock portion of the current Buffalo Dry Dock Company. ~ In 1908 the two dry docks on the 191 Ganson site were filled in and a single dry dock was put in on a diagonal across the original two. ~ The new dry dock was 600 ft long, 79 ft. wide at the bottom and had 14 1/2 ft of water over the sill. ~ The American shipyard at Buffalo in the period through 1910 turned out a number of small to large passenger vessels, Erie Beach boats, Fort Erie ferries, the Americana in 1908 and the Canadiana in 1910.

Buffalo however had been bypassed as upper great lakes iron shipbuilding progressed. ~ Detroit and other western cities took over the major portion of available building. ~ The Canadiana was the last passenger vessel built in Buffalo. ~ During World War I the yard turned out many of the famous "Liberty Lakers" and continued to provide a repair facility for the lower-lake boats. ~ Between the war years repairs were the order of business. ~ In 1949 the Buffalo Dry-dock undertook a 100,000 improvement program. ~ World War II saw a boom in construction of new freighters and the conversion of two passenger vessels, The Greater Buffalo and the largest ever lake passenger vessel, The Seeandbee, to aircraft carriers for use in training pilots here on the Great Lakes prior to combat. ~ Previous superstructures were entirely removed and replaced with the flat aircraft carrier landing strip and conning tower.


By 1962, due to larger ships and the seaway, the yard had become uneconomical to operate and was closed. ~ The closing marked the end of an era begun in 1808 and became part of Buffalo's industrial decline. ~ The massive concrete abutments and dry dock entrance points still visible along the river give testimony to Buffalo's great 150 year maritime history.

In the building of the Canadiana as with the other wooden vessels; carpenters and joiners prepared all the wood pieces right in the mill at the yard. ~ Everything was cut and shaped on site from the main floor joists to the finer items such as staircase spindles and the mahogany panels and moldings used throughout the ship. ~ It was like a giant puzzle where the pieces were shaped, some quite intricately for a specific location. ~ Some unusual shapes came from the need to create the rounded corners of the salons and elsewhere or the three dimensional blocks that were cut into intriguing shapes with holes and protrusions to be used as locks for tying other large pieces together. ~ All would be penciled with location specifics, carried aboard and put in place. ~ One particular piece we had the occasion to remove in the restoration effort was a flat thin piece of mahogany with the scrawled notation on the back, "Do not throw out". ~ We were merely amused when we first saw it but now we can connect a deeper meaning to this 80 year old message from the past being received by us in the restoration group.

There were a few exceptions to this "on site" assembly. ~ One of note were the capitals mounted atop the columns of the grand stairways. ~ These were obtained from a business that is still in existence; The Decorators Supply Company of Chicago.

In earlier days there were dozens of rivet teams. ~ These teams consisted of a heater, a holder-on and two riveters. ~ The heaters would fire up the rivets till they glowed red hot and toss them to the holders-on. ~ They caught and placed the rivet with tongs then held it and backed it up with a large suspended sledge-hammer while two riveters peened over the other end. ~ One rivet took about a minute and cost about 3 cents. ~ The gang made about ten dollars among the four for the day. ~ Because they were needed and the work was difficult they were usually a group that was hard to please. ~ The Chicago rivet crews were described as such: "The riveters have always been a troublesome element in the ship yards and have been at the bottom of nine-tenths of the strikes we have had.... they did about as they pleased and we had to put up with them."

Pneumatic riveters became the thing by 1900. ~ Various yoke and other styles allowed work on girders and brackets, deck, bulkheads and hull work. ~ There were also pneumatic drilling machines, caulker hammers, chipping hammers and reamers in use by then. ~ These allowed for unskilled manual labor and less of it for a savings to the owners of the yards.

The Canadiana was built using many of these more modern pieces of equipment. ~ It was of butt plate construction as opposed to the overlap method. ~ The plates were arranged in horizontal rows called strakes from the keel, upward to the deck. ~ The plates of each strake extended from rib to rib. ~ Two plates butted together over a rib to which they would be riveted. ~ The seams of the strakes running horizontally were tied together by placing backing plates over the seam inside the ship between each rib and riveting the plates to it. ~ The finishing touches to constructing a steel hull consisted of chipping at the steel along overlays and seams with a hammer and chisel or chipping tool so that they were impacted even tighter together. ~ With the launching, water would start to seep through all over. ~ As it worked through the hull with bilge pumps working to remove it, rust, mineral and other buildups between the plates were soon formed which totally sealed it against further intrusion. ~ One extra touch was for the steel particles produced from filing and grinding to be mixed with grease and wiped on the ribs before riveting the plates in place. ~ These small pieces of steel converted to rust much quicker than the plates themselves.

Contests were held during the war in 1918 to increase riveting speed and the awareness quality work. ~ One Baltimore Dry Dock team drove 1414 3/4 inch rivets in nine hours. ~ Two weeks later at the Buffalo Dry Dock, a gang drove 1624 7/8 inch rivets. ~ Top honors went to Wyandotte when riveter John Corrigan, heater John O'Donnell and holder-on Jack Roiski drove 3415 3/4 inch rivets in nine hours.

Read:

Fresh Water Whales.

History Of The Gt. Lakes Fresh Water Press

Our Inland Seas, Their Shipping and Commerce for Three Centuries pub 1910 James Mills reprint 1976 by
For  now, that brings us to the end of Chapter 4

 Copyright SS Canadiana  and Mr. Lee Online