When the Great Lakes Towing Company was formed in 1899, it acquired a large fleet of harbor tugs, many of which were nearing the end of their useful lives. A construction program was soon put into place at the firm's Cleveland shipyard to replace the aging fleet with large modern steel hulls, built to a design that has become famous as the "G-tugs" that still make up the bulk of the Great Lakes harbor tug fleet today. Hull no. 24, a heavy steel "Type 2" tug, was launched in 1913. She was christened Q. A. Gillmore, and entered service in April of that year.
Many of these new steel tugs received secondhand engines salvaged from the old wood hulls they were replacing. The Gillmore was no exception and found herself powered by a Hodge Company fore & aft compound steam engine, which was taken out of the large wooden tug Monarch. There is some speculation as to the true origin of this 450-IHP engine. Sources indicate that it was built in 1884, a full five years before the Monarch was launched. It is unclear whether the engine spent those years in another vessel, or perhaps on a showroom floor at the Hodge Company’s Detroit headquarters.
The Q.A. Gillmore spent her first 19 years assisting ships in and out of her home port of Cleveland. In addition to her day-to-day work, the she was also involved in several daring rescues over the years. During the "Great Storm" of 1913, the seven-month-old Gillmore was called out along with sister tug John M. Truby (still in service today as Great Lakes Towing's North Dakota) to retrieve the barges Alexander Holley, W. LeBaron Jenney, and Sidney G. Thomas, which had broken loose from their moorings and run aground on the Cleveland lakefront. In 1921 the Gillmore was involved in the search for the wrecked wooden tug Cornell, which sank on Lake Erie enroute to Buffalo. No survivors were found, but the Gillmore's crew did manage to recover an ice-encrusted lifeboat with the body of one fireman floating in the Lake. Eight years later the Gillmore and Virginia were called out to assist the sidewheel passenger steamer City of Buffalo, which had lost power in a storm on Lake Erie. Difficult sea conditions prevented the tugs from getting a line onto the helpless steamer, and after an unsuccessful attempt to bring her into the shelter of Ashtabula harbor, the City of Buffalo rode out the storm at anchor in the lake, with the tugs standing by to render what assistance they could. The following day, the passengers and some crew were transferred to the steamer City of Erie, and the tugs escorted the City of Buffalo back to Cleveland. The crews of the Gillmore and Virginia received a commendation for their efforts and their devotion to duty.
During the depression years, Great Lakes Towing sold off several of their surplus tugs. The Gillmore was purchased by the Reiss Steamship Company in 1932 and renamed Reiss. She went into service at Green Bay, assisting ships into the coal dock, joined two years later by the smaller GLT City-class tug Gary (renamed Green Bay). The sale to Reiss allowed these tugs to remain unaffected by Great Lakes Towing's rebuilding program of the 1950's, which transformed their fleet of classic steam tugs with new diesel engines and modernized superstructures. While the Green Bay was later re-powered, the Reiss remained a coal-fired steamer to the end of her career.
By the late 1960's the tug was declared surplus and offered for sale at Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Mr. R.J. Peterson and Mr. C. Patrick Labadie of the Saugatuck Marine Museum (owners of the former Canadian Pacific passenger steamer Keewatin) negotiated a deal to purchase the tug. She departed Manitowoc under her own steam, bound for her new home in Douglas, Michigan.
She has been on display in Douglas since 1969, a landmark in this small port, tied alongside the Keewatin. Her steam engine, with 16 & 30" cylinders and a 28" stroke, remains in excellent condition and has been operated, under steam, several times over the years.
In May 2004 the Reiss was donated to the Northeastern Maritime Historical Foundation. This tug is significant as the last of the ubiquitous Great Lakes Towing Company tugs to survive in her original configuration, and the Foundation plans to commemorate this by returning her to her original name and GLT livery. In the longer term, a full restoration to working order is being considered for this historic steam tug. If you would like to support the restoration of the Q.A. Gillmore, please visit our Donations page, or contact us for more information.
The Foundation would like to thank Roland J. Peterson of the Keewatin Maritime Museum, and Ronald Rasmus of Great Lakes Towing for making this project possible.
Tour the Gillmore
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