November 18, 1958: The Wreck of the Carl D Bradley

Steamer Carl D Bradley Rodgers City Mich

Steamer Carl D Bradley Rogers City Mich, photo by UpNorth Memories/Don Harrison

Every year, I revisit the story of the Edmund Fitzgerald on November 10th. I do this because I remember the ferocity of the winds on the day of the wreck vividly from my childhood, because as a Michigander Lightfoot’s song is probably coded in my DNA by now, and also because it’s very popular with readers. Nonetheless, the feature Should musicians decide the shipwrecks we know? from IPR News Radio by Peter Payette & Morgan Springer definitely struck a chord. There are thousands of ships that have gone down the world’s eighth sea, and so many families that have felt the loss when a sailor doesn’t return from one of the most dangerous jobs there is. We’d do well to remember some of the others as well!

On this day in 1958, my vote for the most devastating Great Lakes shipwreck of the modern era took place. 33 of 35 crew members perished in the wreck, and 23 of them were from the town of Rogers City that boasted a population of less than 4000 people. The Presque Isle County Historical Museum’s website for the Steamer Carl D. Bradley tells the tale of the wreck of the Bradley:

The steamer was 638 feet long overall, with a 65-foot beam, a depth of 33 feet and a cargo capacity of 14,000 tons of crushed stone. The unloading boom was 160 feet long. The engineering and propulsion plant on the Carl D. Bradley was similar to that on the T.W. Robinson which was built two years before the Carl D. Bradley.

…The Carl D. Bradley, traveling light departed Buffington, Indiana around 9:30 pm, Monday, November 17, and headed up Lake Michigan bound for the Port of Calcite. Roland Bryan, a sailor since age fourteen, was the master. This trip was the last for the season and the steamer was going home. The Bradley never made it. In less than 24 hours the Carl D. Bradley was on the bottom of Lake Michigan and 33 of the 35-man crew were dead or missing.

When the vessel left Buffington, the winds were blowing up to 35 miles per hour from the south. The storm that was about to engulf the Bradley was developing over the plains when a cold front from the north met a warm front over the plains. The temperature in Chicago had dropped about 20 degrees that day. The forecast warned of gale winds. The crew prepared for severe weather by securing the unloading boom and the hatches. The steamer followed the route up the Wisconsin shore to Cana Island then changed course and cut across Lake Michigan toward Lansing Shoal. As the wind velocity increased, the crew filled the ballast tanks to maximum practical condition. By 4:00 pm of the next day, the 18th, the winds had reached 65 miles per hour. Even though the lake was rough and the winds high, the boat rode the heavy seas with no hint of the laboring.

Captain Bryan had asked the cooks to serve an early dinner. He knew the turn from Lake Michigan toward Lake Huron would put heavy weather broadside of the vessel. He wanted to give the mess crew the opportunity to clean up and secure before turning. The mess room was full of crewmembers anticipating going home.

About 5:30 pm First Mate Elmer Flemming radioed Calcite that the Bradley would arrive at 2:00 am. Then a “loud thud” was heard. In the pilothouse Captain Bryan and Flemming looked aft and saw the stern sag. Flemming immediately sent a distress signal over the radio. “Mayday! Mayday! This is the Carl D. Bradley. Our position is approximately twelve miles southwest of Gull Island. We are in serious trouble! We’re breaking up!” Captain Bryan sounded the general alarm, signaled the engine room to stop the ship, and blew the whistle to abandon ship. The power system failed and the lights in the bow section went out. The Bradley heaved upward near amidships and broke in two. The forward section rolled over and sank. The stern end plunged to the bottom. Within a few minutes the Carl D. Bradley was gone.

Read on for much more including theories of how the ship sank and the story of how deckhand Frank Mays & Elmer Flemming survived the wreck. At the website you’ll also find some cool old photos of the ship, newspaper clippings and photos of the crewmen lost at sea. The Wikipedia entry for the Carl D Bradley is particularly good as well with a lot more details!

This trailer for November Requiem, a DVD about the Carl D Bradley, the impact on Rogers City and the dive to the Bradley:

View Don’s photo big as the Bradley, check out more of his freighter postcards & pics, and friend him up on Facebook for lots more great old photos of Michigan.

PS: I added a new category that I somehow didn’t have already: Michigan shipwrecks – enjoy!

PPS: Apparently great minds this alike – check this out from today’s Interlochen Public Radio!

#TBT: Wreck of the Carl D. Bradley

Carl D. Bradley

Carl D. Bradley, photo by John Rochon

If you know of any shipwreck on the Great Lakes, chances are it’s the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald. While that was no doubt a terrible tragedy, my vote for the most grievous loss is the S.S. Carl D Bradley which sank 56 years ago next Tuesday on November 18, 1957. I found a really excellent article on the ship and shipwreck at Lake Effect Living titled Lost To The Lake: The Wreck of the Carl D. Bradley:

Known as ‘Queen of the Lakes’, the Carl D. Bradley was the largest ship on the Great Lakes from 1927 to 1949. At 639 feet, it was the longest freighter on the Lakes until the launch of the SS Wilfred Sykes twenty-two years later. The largest self-unloading ship for its time, the Bradley was the Bradley Transportation Company’s flagship. Named after the president of Michigan Limestone, Carl David Bradley, this state of the art freighter had its maiden voyage in the summer of 1927. Since Michigan Limestone’s company base was in Rogers City, Michigan, the freighter drew most of its crew from this small community.

…On Monday, November 17, 1958, the steamer left Buffington, Indiana bound for Port of Calcite harbor in Rogers City, Michigan.

The Bradley’s captain was 52-year old Roland Bryan, a veteran seaman. Manned by a crew of thirty-five and carrying a light cargo, the Bradley headed out onto Lake Michigan at 9:30pm. But signs of severe weather were already in evidence when they left Buffington, where winds gusted at more than 35 miles an hour. It was the first ominous indications of an extreme cold front forming over the plains. Temperatures in Chicago plummeted twenty degrees in one day, and thirty tornadoes were sighted from Texas to Illinois.

Aware that gale winds were forecast, the crew readied the steamer for bad weather. They traveled along the Wisconsin shore until reaching Cana Island, where they shifted course for Lansing Shoal which lay across Lake Michigan. The winds on the lake reached 65 miles an hour by 4pm the following day. Still, the Bradley seemed to be weathering the gale force winds and heavy seas with little problem. This changed at 5:30pm when the Port of Calcite received a radio message from First Mate Elmer Fleming informing them that the Bradley, approx. twelve miles southwest of Gull Island, would arrive home at 2am. As soon as this message was sent however, a loud thud or bang was heard on the ship.

When the day was done, 33 of the 35 member crew were dead, 23 of the from Rogers City, Michigan. For a town of less than 4000, it was a heavy blow. Read on for much more and also see Seeking Michigan: The Wreck of the Carl D. Bradley on Absolute Michigan and the tribute site at carldbradley.org.

John Rochon shared this photo of the Bradley was taken from the Blue Water Bridge by Schjelderup Marine Studio and shows the ship heading towards the mouth of Lake Huron. View it big as the Bradley and see more in his massive Great Lakes Ships & Shipping slideshow.

More shipwrecks on Michigan in Pictures.

One of many at Forty Mile Point

EDIT: WOW!! Check out the video that Tudor did at Forty Mile Point, The Grand Hotel and Fort Mackinac!

2013_10_11-WTA-5DM3-4448

2013_10_11-WTA-5DM3-4448, photo by Tudor ApMadoc

Wikipedia’s U.S. Lighthouses entry says that the United States has had approximately a thousand lights as well as light towers, range lights, and pier head lights. With the second longest coastline in the U.S. and a history of vibrant trade across the Great Lakes, it makes sense that Michigan has the most lights of any state with over 150 past and present lights (166 by their count and as many as 247 by some). While the current number varies depending on who you talk to, 115 seems to be the accepted number.

Terry Pepper’s Seeing the Light is a fabulous guide to the lighthouses of the Great Lakes and definitely a resource to review before you visit a Michigan lighthouse. The Forty Mile Point Light entry in explains:

While the Presque Isle Peninsula had been lighted since 1840, and the entrance to the Cheboygan River fifty miles to the north had been lighted since 1851, the New Presque Isle Light’s range of visibility of 19 miles and the Cheboygan Light’s visible range of 13 miles left an unlighted 18 mile intervening stretch of coastline along which mariners were forced to navigate blind. In it’s annual report for fiscal 1890, the Board recommended that $25,000 be appropriated for the construction of a new light and fog signal at Forty Mile Point near Hammond’s Bay, at the approximate mid point between the two lights.

(the project languished for nearly 60 years until…)

Eleventh District Engineer Major Milton B. Adams selected and surveyed the site for the new Light. With an offer of $200 for the property accepted by the owner, Adams approved the plans and specifications for the station in February 1896. Contracts for the ironwork for the lantern, gallery, boilers and fog whistles were awarded soon thereafter, and with receipt of the materials at the Detroit depot, were loaded aboard the lighthouse tender AMARANTH and delivered to the site on July 5, 1896. Work at the site began with the construction of a wood-framed building, which would be used by the work crew as a temporary dwelling during construction, and converted into a barn for the keeper’s horses on the completion of the work.

Adams’ plan for the main lighthouse structure was a virtual duplicate of that simultaneously under construction at Big Bay Point on Lake Superior. Consisting of a duplex dwelling with a tower incorporated into the center of one side-wall, the structure stood 35 feet by 57 feet in plan. Erected on a 20″ thick cut limestone foundation, the brick walls featured double walls with an air space between to provide insulation. The integrated tower stood twelve feet in plan, and fifty-two feet in height. The apartments on each side of the dwelling were exact mirrored duplicates and were set-up to afford complete privacy. Each apartment featured its own main entry, cellar, kitchen, parlor, tower entry door and stairway to the bedrooms on the second floor. Indicative of Adam’s thoughtfulness in designing the structure, each of the stairways incorporated a skylight in its ceiling through which the lantern could be observed, thereby allowing both keeper and his assistant to verify the correct operation of the light from within the warmth of their apartment without having to leave the building or climb to the top of the tower itself to see the light. The brick tower was capped by a square gallery with iron safety railing, and a prefabricated octagonal cast iron lantern erected at its center.

Read on for more at Seeing the Light and also check out this shot of the construction crew posing in front of the lighthouse in 1896. Forty Mile Point Light is now a museum, click here to visit their website for more including directions.

Check this photo out bigger, have a look at this panoramic shot of the light and see more in Tudor’s 2013-10 Fall Trip slideshow.

Many more Michigan lighthouses on Michigan in Pictures.