The Crooked Lake Review

Fall 2003

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Augustus Hinckley

Lake Ontario Mariner


Richard Palmer

Augustus Hinckley, Part 1


After a number of financial setbacks, John S. Parsons, the noted Oswego ship chandler, ran the "Hinckley Line" for two or three years until Hinckley got back on his feet. "He didn't handle money too well," remembered Jack Donovan of Oswego, who worked for Parsons in his store, referring to Hinckley.

Donovan said, "I remember him as a little withered old man who used to come into the store to pay off Mr. Parsons with a gallon of maple syrup or a dozen eggs. Mr. Parsons was always willing to help down-and-out sailors," Donovan said. He added that one of Hinckley's problems with boats was that he would load them so heavy there wouldn't be a foot of freeboard.

The last cargo carrier Hinckley owned was the steamer Harvey J. Kendall (US#96166) built in Marine City, Michigan, in 1892. He purchased her in 1930 from the George Hall Corp. of Ogdensburg to replace the Hinckley. At the time, the Kendall was about at the end of its days and its hull was badly deteriorated. The following story was written in1973 by the late Theodore Hinckley of Cape Vincent, who sailed on the Kendall during her last trip before it sank in the Cardinal Canal.

This is what I remember of my trip on the Harvey J. Kendall under Capt. Gus Hinckley. This was the last contract he had to pick up Coast Guard buoys under civilian contract. The Coast Guard took over the following year. Uncle Gus stopped at the Cape about the middle of December. Some of his crew had quit and gone home, and he lacked a couple of deck hands and a coal passer (fireman). So George Cody, Earl Snyder and myself hired on to go down river with him and pick up buoys as far as Waddington, which were the last in American waters.

Cody was fireman, Snyder and I deckhands. The old Kendall was about 400 tonnage.…[S]he had a high-steeple compressed steam boiler which had a lot of leaks around about, here and there, but still worked. The engineer's name was Woods, of Alexandria Bay. He was a big, fat guy, took about a 52" waist. Cody's relief coal passer was called "Pipe Boiler" Paddy, from Oswego, built like Cody, tall and lean, waist about 32", he wore a pair of overalls the engineer had discarded, but wrapped around once again. We all got a bang out of seeing him with that outfit on. He was almost as dirty as the overalls with coal dust.

The hoist man was Jimmie Cree, an Indian from Morristown, hard worker and drinker, too. The mate was from Alex Bay—forget his name—Aunt Lydia was the cook and Captain's wife. He couldn't find a cook for the trip and was cutting expenses as much as he could because he had bid too low on the contract.

Uncle Gus had tied up at the depot dock in Cape Vincent, so as I said before, about Dec. 15th we shoved off and sailed to pick up buoys. Earl Snyder could not go as his father, J. P. Snyder, refused him permission. So I was deckhand and coal passer combined. We picked up buoys all the way down the river and unloaded them at Ogdensburg. Then we got buoys from the harbor there and went on down river to Waddington and got the last of the buoys. It had turned very cold the night we left the 'Burg and was making ice in the canals and bays, so we ran the river and with the current made good time to retrieve the last buoys at Waddington.

My duties were to work on deck while we were taking buoys aboard and pass coal on the fire room floor (deck) while underway. The meals were nothing to talk about with any praise, and Auntie did the best she could—a roast beef went a long way; first roast beef, then hash and finally soup, everything else the same, a ham served about four different ways and the bone ending up in pea soup. I don't think anybody undressed fully at night. I know I didn't. Our quarters were too damn cold, but that didn't freeze the bugs out. They were in full power.

The blankets and bunks were sure loaded. I left my socks and underwear on, so only got hit around my wrists, ankles and neck, little red spots showed up good every morning, but I was so damned tired at night I slept anyway. We had seven spar buoys, three nun and two big flasher buoys on board when we finished up at Waddington and started back for the 'Burg about the middle of the last day. Uncle Gus figured he could make it back by working the eddies along the shore out of direct current, and he was right only for one thing. Some how and some way the draft damper in the stack had come loose. The outside balance arm showed draft wide open. But it was only half. Guess the set bolts had slipped, as we discovered later.

We knew it was making ice in the canal and as the Kendall was wood, we didn't want to chance it. So we started up river bucking the current. It seemed to go pretty good as I was passing coal and couldn't look out the ash chute hole and get a sighting on shore. Cody was fireman and Woods kept at him for more steam and Cody kept after me for more coal. Finally I told Cody get a sight on the shore, as we were just holding our own and that was all.

The Captain was whistling for more steam, but we just couldn't make it. So he swung in nearer the shore to catch an eddy and hit bottom just like three steps—bump, bump, bump, and there we stayed. Tried to reverse and everything else, but no good so Capt. Gus had the idea to put the hatch cover across the Jolly boat and have myself and Jim Cree take it out in the river astern to act as a kedge anchor. But this didn't pan out because the mate and I both rebelled. If the life boat tipped over when we were to dump anchor we would both be goners as the water was ice cold. So we sent the word by having a farmer call Kingston, Ontario, and contact the Salvage Queen to come and get us off.

Next morning the Salvage Queen arrived and dropped anchor above the Kendall, then payed out cable till we got cable from her stern. Then she winched up on the prow winch till she was half way to the upper anchor. Then she started both winches and using herself as a big winch, she pulled us off the rocks. All the power the Queen had was in the winches, her motor was not very much, and she couldn't buck the current, so we both dropped and entered the canal below Cardinal. We tied up there to inspect the hull but no bad leak showed where we were on the rocks. Uncle Gus said it was ledges and no boulders, so just the keel forefoot was hit, not damaging the hull.

The two captains talked things over and decided the Queen would lead, the Kendall to follow as there was about three inches of ice in the canal. Meanwhile, Uncle Gus had engineer Woods, and Cody checked the damper in the stack, and they found the set bolts had loosened. So the damper showed full outside and only half full inside. It was adjusted and okayed. The Salvage Queen started out but couldn't make it as the ice was too thick, even though she had a steel hull. But new ice was tough so she called Kingston for the Salvage Prince, as it had lots of propeller power and had an ice breaking bow. But it couldn't get there until the following day.

Well, Gus didn't want to wait and said we'd try it as the Kendall had power enough but was only ironed part of the way on the bow which he figured was enough. So we started out of the lock. For a ways, it was okay, but then new ice started. We'd make 200 or 300 feet, then back and ram again. The poor old ship took a beating when we hit the ice, but would go good, deck humping up and down like an ocean roll, then stop, back, and hit again. Finally, about a quarter of a mile outside of Cardinal. Cody the fireman called me to pass more coal. I stepped off the fire room floor into about four inches of ice water in the coal bunker. I hollered to Cody, "Better get me a pair of rubber boots as there is water in the bunker." The engineer and Cody both came in with a lantern and you should have seen the engineer's face when he showed the light in the bunker.

The coal bunkers were in the stern near the fan tail and every time we backed, the stern would hit hard in the ice, and that had started the seams leaking. It was spouting pretty good into the coal bunkers. He notified Uncle Gus so we stopped and he held her into the ice. But nothing could be seen above water, the bilge had already been sounded and was gaining at a good rate even though we had two pumps going. Capt. Gus decided if we could get to Cardinal we would stop and lay up as it was getting dark at that time of day.

We made four more lunges at the ice and came to Dodge's coal dock outside of Cardinal. Capt. Gus called for me and I jumped onto the dock. It was icy, but I hung on. He whistled to go ahead and I thought he had left me, but it was just to break ice up so he could get closer to the dock. Finally he backed up and I took in line and made fast fore and aft. By this time the old Kendall was taking water pretty good and it took a lot of coal to make up steam. We had a four inch bilge pump and two 2" steam siphons going full blast besides generator and steam for the engine boiler.

The only way I got coal on the fire room floor was to rake it out of the bunker with a big fire rake. After we tied up, water was sounded for depth in the canal and we found if she did sink the upper works and top of spray rail between for and aft would be out of water, even though the keel was on the bottom. Well, Gus had the engine shut down and he told Woods to keep the pumps going full. He would be back inside of an hour and away he went into the night. It was really dark by this time. I got a pile of coal ready for Cody and he said to me, "It won't be long now." Even though there were still rats in the galley, we wouldn't go under, being tied to a dock.

I couldn't help but laugh even though it was bad luck for poor old Uncle Gus. The water started to creep up on the fire room floor. Woods told Cody to pull the fire as ice water would blow up the boiler if it was hot. So Cody dumped the fire and we climbed topside. Everybody got their gear together and were standing by as pumps and generator started slowing down for lack of steam, when we heard a team of horses on the run coming down the road. A couple of people were yelling. Into the coal shed and onto the dock came Uncle Gus and a farmer riding a wagon of horse and cow manure straw mixed, just as the lights dimmed and the steam siphons quit. It was kind of gruesome, the Kendall groaning and settling and the only light was from the flashing top of the buoys which stuck out of the hatchways on deck.

They bumped the deck as the old ship went down, but stayed in the hold. Of course Uncle Gus was mad as a hornet, but Woods told him he was afraid of blowing the boiler if ice water hit the hot grates. The engineer knew what to do as he came off the ship all dressed up and had his bag packed in ten minutes. He had been ready long before.

Maybe I better explain the load of straw and manure that Uncle Gus got. In the old days of wooden vessels if a bad leak developed in the seams under the water the caulking loosened or was pushed through. If the vessel wasn't in too much current or under way, sometimes wet sawdust or manure with lots of straw mixed in it would, when dropped over the side, settle along the hull and be sucked into the seams which were leaking. This would lessen or stop a leak so that temporary repairs could be made. But I don't think 40 loads would have saved the old Kendall. Uncle Gus had me swing down to the galley wall through a hole topside by the top of the boiler, to retrieve a clock. We had handlights [flashlights] and also went forward and got Aunt Lydia out of the Captain's cabin where she had been all this time.

We went on the dock and into the coal shed where we called Cardinal and had cars come and get us.Uncle Gus did not have much cash on him, but borrowed some from Mr. Dodge who owned the coal dock and he gave us each $20 on what he owed us. The spar and nun buoys were floating on deck, held there by the fare board which was just out of the water. When the ship settled on the bottom the lights flashing were on big gas buoys and that's how we left the Harvey J. Kendall.

We, the crew took a bus to Prescott and then Ogdensburg. We had to wait in the station at the 'Burg for a train to Watertown. Cody and Paddy disappeared but showed up back in a half an hour. Both were pretty well fixed. so I butted in "where and how?" Paddy said, "My boy, if you get stuck in a strange place and need anything, don't go to the police or anyone else, but ask the fire department. They know everything."

So he and Cody found some booze that way. Well, we all chipped in and got some more except for Uncle Gus and Auntie. They had rented a room in a hotel for a day to rest up. Paddy still had on those overalls Woods gave him and a great big overcoat donated by the same Woods. He was sure a sight, but good natured and we had a time—everybody singing and laughing—we took over the smoker on the train to Watertown, even the conductor joined us after hearing out the story.

Cody and I left Watertown for Cape Vincent and the others went home. When I got home I told Laulie, my wife, that I had better strip off my clothes on the outside porch, and while I did that, to start the tub running, as I needed a bath real bad. It was cold that day, but we had to fumigate my clothes and other gear just the same. I got home three days before Christmas, 1930.

The only lives lost in the sinking of the Harvey J. Kendall were a lot of bed bugs. The Light House Service which had charge of all navigation aids at that time got the buoys and took them to Ogdensburg. The following spring, Uncle Gus, Jim Cree and a couple of other men sealed off the leaks with canvas and lumber and pumped the Kendall 'til they had raised her so that she could be beached and repaired. She was brought to the break wall at Cape Vincent, but the steamboat hull and boiler inspectors of Oswego would not give Capt.Gus clearance papers to sail the lake (river only).

At the same time the engineer, Woods, put a mechanics' lien against her for past wages, so Uncle Gus gave up. She was stripped of most of the removable things of any value, and Wilfred Dodge towed her to Button Bay where he ran her up in the south corner in the marsh. That winter and the following spring, the Kendall started drifting out and down the bay. It got as far as Perch Cove out from Horne's cottage and dropped there and sank. And there lays the Harvey J. Kendall in 15 feet of water, and she's still there.

In 1917 Captain Hinckley purchased a run-down old farm in the foothills of the Adirondacks, about three or four miles south of the village of Parishville, St. Lawrence County, N. Y., from the Jules Brown estate. He spent thousands of dollars renovating the house and it was a show place for those days. The farm included 100 acres of hardwoods that he expected to cut and use in his marine work. He finally moved there from Oswego in the early 1930s. "I'm keeping the farm for my old age," he used to say, "but Mrs. Hinckley asks me when does old age begin?"

About 1930-1931 he dug the Reed Canal at Henderson Harbor, and the "Cut" across Association Island Road to Lake Ontario. Claude Reed paid him $3,000 for this job.

The old mariner died on June 25, 1935, at the age of 78 and is buried in Hillcrest Cemetery in Parishville, along with his daughter, the late Isabelle Hinckley Place. Thus ended 66 illustrious years in the career of one of the most noted personalities on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.

2003, Richard F. Palmer
Augustus Hinckley, Part 1
Index to articles by Richard F. Palmer
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