The SS Pumper: A Historical Perspective

From Horse Power to Steam Power
With the dawning of the steam age in the 1820's the convention of towing boats along the banks of the waterways quickly began to change. The large sail boats would arrive in ports all along the great Lakes and unload their precious cargo. Niagara on the Lake was one of these Ports of Call, in fact Navy Hall was the very place that cargo was unloaded for Fort George and the Niagara area. Newark, as Niagara on the Lake was originally called, was burned to the ground by the American Army during the war of 1812. The Americans retreated to Fort Niagara across the Niagara River, in December of 1813, but left behind a re-fortified Fort George. British soldiers returned to Fort George and then launched an attack on Fort Niagara, capturing the Fort and entrenching control of the Niagara Frontier. During the late 1800's Steam Power really came into its own, it was a common site to see the Tall Ships unload their wares and transfer them to small Steam Ships very similar to the SS Pumper. By the time she floated off the production line in 1903 the Fishing industry was just in the process of changing from Sail to Steam.

The Scoundrel Ship
Just six short years after her launch in 1903 at Buffalo, New York where she began her life as The SS Planet she was seized for "Running the Line" a practice that was common in those days. Border disputes over fishing rights and the starting of Prohibition caused the seizure of many a vessel in the early 1900's and in 1909 she was seized by the Canadian Coast Guard. The SS Vigilant escorted the scoundrel ship to her new home in Port Dover. She was purchased at auction by James Lowe and renamed the Racey because her fine lines and power made her the fastest ship on the Great Lakes. She was resold a scant four years later to Harry Ansley and over the years became quite renowned as it was a common site to see her lead the fishing fleet out of Port Dover breaking the ice. In 1910 she was credited for carrying the fireworks display out into the lake so all could see. A Postcard of her on a search and rescue mission in 1929 shows her climbing out of the water and crushing the ice with her doughty steel hull, that enabled her to outlast all her wooden fleet mates. Revenge was served up cold and sweet when she towed the SS Vigilant to the scrap yard - the very ship that had captured her so many years before with a forbidden cargo.

Our Highways of Days Past
For over a hundred years Steam boating on Lake Ontario and the Niagara River was as common a sight as the cars, trucks and buses are on our highways today. They ranged from crude freight bearing rigs to elegant multi-decked overnight palaces. The canals and lakes made transportation possible, and when the final days came in 1941 it was thought that a steam powered passenger vessel would never again grace the Niagara River. But now, North America's only wood fired steam screw vessel is back where she belongs after a seven year sojourn on the Rideau Canal. How was this made possible you might ask, well with a little luck and a lot of hard work the Racey was taken out of mothballs by her present owners the Pettit family and refit to original standards over the winter of 1990. An original Doty Steam Engine from 1895 and a Scotch marine boiler that used to power the SS Islanda in 1941, were carefully refitted and resurrected in the Racey's hull. The original Steam Engine rails and the classic lines of a typical fantail steamboat made the Racey a perfect choice to bring back the thrill of steam boating to another generation. In 1989 she was reconverted to Steam Power in Port Dover, and sponsons were added in 1994 for stability and to increase passenger capacity.

Raise Your Glasses
So we raise a toast to "The SS Pumper", North America's only wood fired, steam screw vessel in her new home at the historic Navy Hall, situated at Fort George on the Niagara River, where the picturesque town of Niagara on the Lake beckons you, your friends and family to take a voyage back in time. Come aboard and smell the hardwood burning, feel the passion as the water boils and generates steam from the antique boiler, listen to the gentle rhythmic pumping of the Doty steam engine as it quietly propels you along on your scenic journey up the mighty Niagara River. She has steamed almost a hundred years now, may she sail another 100!!

Historical Technical Details
61' x 14' x 5.5'
1903, Buffalo, NY
Straight stem, fantail classic hull
Built as "SS Planet" - name changed to "Racey" in 1929 - changed to "Paul Evans" in 1957 at Owen Sound - sold to Owen Sound Historical Society in 1975 - sold to H. Gamble, 1980 and name changed back to "SS Racey"
Rebuilt, replated, and refitted with 6 Cylinders, - Cummings in 1957
Used as harbor launch, fishing boat, tugboat and ice breaker
Plated 5/16" steel and 2" x 2" x 1/4" frames with 19"

Steam Equipment - Steam Engine
Doty fore and aft marine compound steam engine
Cylinder sizes 7" x 14" x 9"
75 H.P. - drives 48" x 60" propeller at 150 RP
Steam pressure - up to 195 PSI steam
Jet condenser with vacuum pump, bilge and feed pumps running off L.P. crosshead
Built in 1895 in Goderich, Ontario
Most famous marine engine in Ontario
Only one other steamer - "SS Segwun" - has two Doty engines
Installed in the "SS Islinda III", Young's Point, Ontario
Decommissioned in 1941 - removed from vessel, 1952
In storage until 1990
Classified as "priceless and irreplaceable"

Steam Equipment - Boiler
Original Boiler
Scotch marine type (one of 3 in Canada) br> 325 sq. ft. heating surface
100 2" tubes
Built in 1900 for Icelly's Sawmill, Bridgenorth, Ontario
Installed in "Lady of the Lake" but found to be too powerful with 200 PSI pressure
Reinstalled in the "SS Islanda" in 1918
Decommissioned in 1941 - removed from boat in 1952 by Earl Blewett
Purchased by Joe Calverly in 1975 and kept in storage until 1990

New Boiler
Scotch marine type wood-fired with Beckett CF 1400 number 2 oil burner backup
326 sq.ft. ASME fireside heating surface
(89) 2" diameter ASME SA178-A boiler tubes
Shell ASME SA285-C boiler plate - 3/8" thick
Furnace ASME SA285-C boiler plate - 1/2" thick
Turnaround wrapper and top plate ASME SA285-C boiler plate
3/4" thick - Tubesheets ASME SA285-C boiler plate - 5/8" thick
Built in 2000 for Niagara Steamships by Boilersmith Ltd. of Seaforth, Ontario

In the Fall of 1999 Mid October when we were shutting down the ship we noticed that there was a wet spot in the Flame tube or Combustion Chamber. We immediately contacted Marine Safety Canada and had a Boiler inspection carried out.

Alas, we discovered that the main fire tube plate in the Chamber was cracked! We had a couple of choices;

1) Fix the existing 1910 Boiler and perchance risk a failure sometime next year if something else went wrong (as the steamship inspector pointed out could be a strong possibility)
2) Try to find someone to build us a replica Steam Boiler that burned Wood!

So we tried to find out how bad of shape our Boiler was and ordered sonar testing of all the metal on the Boiler. We discovered that the main plates were very close to being too thin to function. Very soon we would have to completely rebuild certain sections and we still could have a failure from a 90 year old boiler at anytime.

Instead of the $10,000.00 - $15,000.00 fix, we decided to get quotes on replacing the Boiler. So we contacted everyone we knew and asked for recommendations. Again the most valuable resource was the Marine Safety Inspector we deal with to insure our vessel conforms to Canadian standards.

We contacted all the Boilermakers and the best response we got was from Boilersmiths. They were able to give us a quote on what we wanted a replica that would burn wood during the day and oil at night when not running.

So folks, come on down and see our new "Wood Burning Steam Boiler" powering the only "wood burning steam screw vessel" in North America, The SS Pumper.

Thanks, and we hope you enjoy the ride.

Yours Truly,
The Pettit Family