We thank Donald Partrick, 35 Argyle Crescent, Bramalea, Ontario, Canada L6T 1M9, Editor of Boiler Bulletin, the publication of Ontario Steam & Antique Preservers Association for sending us the following article. We're sure it will be of interest to our readers.
Many people have seen the remains of the old scow about a thousand feet above the Horseshoe Falls and about eight hundred feet off shore, when visiting Niagara Falls. There is little or no information about it, and few people know what happened and how it got there. In response to a few requests from some of our members, I dug up the following story.
The scow, a large flat bottomed barge, 80' long and 30' wide had six hoppers in it to carry material that had been dredged from the river bottom, and was owned by the Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company, Buffalo. These hoppers had large doors in the bottom so the dredge spoil could be dumped in special dumping areas in the river. The scow would stay afloat, as it was built with air-tight compartments which would keep it afloat when its cargo was dumped. Two men comprised its crew. They opened the doors to dump the scow and then wound them back up again, a slow and tedious operation.
On the afternoon of August 6, 1918 about 3:00 P.M. the tug 'HASSAYAMPA' had the scow in tow near the American Hydraulic Power Company intake, Niagara Falls, New York when the tug ran aground. The scow breasted in the current and the cable holding it to the tug snapped. On board the scow were Gustave Loftberg a 51 year old Swedish sailor and James Harris, 51 of Buffalo.
The scow was swept across the river by the fast moving current to the Canadian Side and began heading towards the rapids above the Horseshoe Falls. The two crew members worked frantically to try to curtail its rush towards the thunderous waterfall. They threw overboard an anchor, but with the rocky bottom, it afforded no holding. They opened the doors on the scow, hoping that they would become | lodged on some rock and stop or slow the scow's headway. They also opened the seacocks to the air-tight compartments to allow the scow to sink. She started to, but not fast enough. Only a few thousand feet were left now, time was running out, the situation appeared hopeless. Then the half-forgotten anchor snagged on a rock and held. The scow settled on the bottom, 850 feet from the Canadian shore, directly abreast of the Toronto Electrical Development Powerhouse.
News of the men's plight spread quickly. The first to get there was the Niagara Falls Ont. Fire Department. The buildings of the power company were guarded as the First World War was still on, and the Army arrived on the scene. One man related years later that he arrived on his bicycle following the horsedrawn fire engine. Nobody had the slightest idea what to do. They tried shooting a line out, but it fell short by about 500 feet. Somebody had the bright idea of floating a wooden object out to the scow from up river, but that also failed. Shortly after 4:00 P.M. a call for aid was telephoned by Ross Coddington, Supt. of construction of the Hydraulic Power Company, to the lifeboat station at Fort Niagara, New York. At 4:15 the Lifesaving Company comprised of five men left the station and made the trip by motor truck the 25 miles in less i than half an hour. You couldn't do that today in August around Niagara Falls! Arriving at the scene with a , Breeches Buoy Rescue Equipment, they quickly set it up and the first line they fired to the scow landed on board.
The men on board had rigged up a winch from the door-closing arrangement of the scow and now they used this to drag a heavier rope out to the scow through the turbulant rushing waters. The fact that Loftberg had been a salt water sailor before the mast, accounts for the knowledge the two men displayed in this life or death emergency.
Under the directions of Captain Nelson of the lifeboat station, the shore end of the rescue rope was taken to the top of the Toronto Powerhouse. This gave it less tendency to sag into the river on the way out and made it easier to pull on board the scow. Hundreds of volunteers assisted with the heavy rope on shore, but on the scow only Loftberg and Harris were there to drag it out, with the aid of their improvised winch at about three inches per turn.
By 2:00 A.M. the line was out, and the shore end was made fast to the street car tracks that ran along the river then. When the Breeches Rescue Buoy was set up, the lines fouled. William 'Red' Hill, a famous Niagara riverman, who had just returned from France where he had been wounded and gassed, volunteered to go out to untangle the lines. He succeeded in partially untangling them, but darkness handicapped his efforts, and it was decided to leave things until daylight. The whole area had been lit up with searchlights and printed cardboard messages with letters a foot high had been displayed to the men on board telling them of the rescuers' plans.
Although the temperature was 100 degrees, the men on board spent a harrowing night, being continually drenched by spray and thinking that at any time the scow might break loose and go over the Falls. At that time there were only five plants on the Niagara River generating electricity. That night all plants were working to capacity in order to use as much water as possible so the river would be kept down. They were afraid if the water rose, the scow would be dislodged.
At daylight, 'Red' Hill went back out to clear the lines. He was successful and was able to get within 120 feet of the scow and shout instructions. By 9:00 A.M. the Buoy was working well and was sent out. Harris got in first. He was so exhausted that he could not pull himself up and several times watchers saw him sink in the river when the Buoy hit the water. He stayed with it and landed on the powerhouse roof. Loftberg stood on the Buoy's side and was easily pulled ashore. He landed on the roof at 10:24 A.M.
Neither man had suffered physically. They were taken to the Cataract House, a Niagara Falls hotel where, according to a local newspaper 'they bathed, ate hearty breakfasts and enjoyed good cigars, and had a good sleep.' According to a newspaper report they were both back at work the following day.
However, time took its toll. Harris it seems was deathly scared of the River and shortly thereafter quit his job for one ashore. He refused to go near the River or the Falls again and never wanted to talk about it. He died in Buffalo in 1939.
Loftberg on the other hand, capitalized on his experience. He gave lectures on it in local theatres for a period afterward before disappearing from the headlines. It is believed he went back to sea. One newspaper account states he died in the early years of the Second War when his ship was sunk on the Mormans run. If this was true, he would be over 70, as he was 51 when he was on the scow.
No attempt was ever made to try to salvage the scow because no one knew what to do. The Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company valued the scow at $60,000 according to one U.S. paper, but abandoned her to the underwriters as a total loss. Rewards were offered for its recovery, but none were ever claimedso there it still sits almost exactly where it lodged nearly sixty years ago despite many predictions at the time that it would soon go over the Falls. Sometime in the mid-fifties an ice jam moved it a few feet.
Today it is a landmark of the area; trees are growing out of its hold having taken root perhaps from some of the old dredge spoil remaining in the scow. Some of the deck and side plates have disappeared due to the pounding of the elements. How many more years pounding it will take before it finally breaks up is anyone's guess. After almost 60 years 'The Defiant Scow' is still quite a tourist attraction, and a reminder of one of the River's greatest rescues.
Captain John Leonard wishes to express his special thanks to the Niagara Falls, Ontario Public Library, the Niagara Falls, New York Public Library and the Kalmback Publishing Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, publishers of 'Trains Magazine' for information obtained for this article.
We wish to express our sincere appreciation to Captain John Leonard for the effort he has gone to in compiling this interesting and most informative addition to our Boiler Bulletin.