Polson Iron WorksP.W.D. 117 scow

R.W. Rick Redmond, the son of the Hercules' Fireman Rick Redmond, is building large scale models of the Tug Hercules, the PWD-117 and 2 of the scows. If any one has colour pictures of them, or additional details, Rick would be most appreciative in hearing from you; rick.redmond@telus.net.
Our thanks to R.W. Rick Redmond for the narrative and photos, below.

"Construction of Sir Wilfrid was completed in October, 1902. She was being towed to Montreal, when, on 07-October-1902, in a bad storm off of Port Hope, her boom broke and she sank in 80 - 100 feet of water. She could not be found.

In 1905 Sir Wilfrid was found. Once found, her registry was closed.

In August, 1907, she was raised and towed into Port Hope Harbour. On October, 1907 she was then taken to Polson's Yard in Toronto. (Franklin Bates Polson died several days after Sir Wilfrid arrived back at his yard.)

Sir Wilfrid was reconstructed in 1908, but sat in Polson's Yard. In 1909 she was sold to Public Works Canada and re-registered as PWD-117." PWD stands for Pubic Works Dredge.


Tug, Hercules, and dredge P.W.D. 117                                               Details of deck, P.W.D.117

Scow in the foreground, PWD 117 beyond                 Scow pocket airgun

"The scows were dump scows. There was a lever on each of the winches for each of the 5 v-hopper pockets on the scows. These levers were tripped and the v-hopper pocket bottoms swung open. The v-hopper bottoms then were winched back up and closed. I am not sure who the scow builder(s) were.

The v-hopper pocket bottoms were V-shaped trap doors. The winches were driven closed using an air gun (photo above). Each of the 5 pockets, per scow, held 120 cubic yards per each pocket."

Hercules and PWD 117 side-by-side             

The sinking of P.W.D. 117

After a long life, a terrible accident occured in 1952.

Here is a quote from the St. Thomas Times-Journal of Friday, 30 May, 1952.

"Dredge Sinks Off Breakwater After Mishap

Captain John Howell, Aged 68, and William Sweet, 18, Carried to Their Deaths: Piece of Machinery Breaks Loose and Goes Through Bottom of Vessel; Other Members of Crew Escape in Nick ofTime as Tragedy Happened Quickly Despite All Efforts to Plug Hole.

PORT STANLEY, May 29 [1952] (Staff). - Another grim chapter was added to Port Stanley's long roll of lake tragedies this morning when the Department of Public Works' dredge, PWD 117 sank at the harbor mouth, off the end of the west breakwater, better known as the lighthouse pier, carrying the veteran skipper, Captain John Howell, aged 68, Port Stanley; and William Sweet, aged about 18, a firemen's helper, from Saint John, New Brunswick, to their deaths.

The tragedy was due to a brake on the main drive wheel of the dredging machinery breaking off and crashing through the bottom of the dredge. Captain Howell was last seen at the controls, endeavoring to lower the spuds, or anchors, and would have held the dredge and prevented it foundering.

The last man to see the Captain was Harold Brisseau of Port Burwell, who was with George Peaker, another engine room man, trying to plug the big hole in the bottom of dredge with sacking, held in the opening with pike, poles.

"We saw it was no use trying to prevent the dredge foundering and Peaker went out and I followed him," Brisseau told The Times-Journal. "I hollered at the Captain and I went out through the doors to leave before it was too late, but apparently he couldn't get out in time. He was still at the controls, amidship, when I left."

Went to Rescue of Another Fireman

Young Sweet, spending his second year on the dredge, was on deck when the accident occurred. He lost his life going to the rescue of another fireman, Aubrey Redmond, who was reported to be sleeping in the firemen's bunk on the dredge. Sweet got to Redmond and the latter got off the dredge on the tug, and he returned in an effort to rescue young Sweet, but was unsuccessful. Unable to swim, Sweet jumped in the water and was floundering there when Redmond jumped off the tug to rescue him. All Redmond could do was grasp Sweet's sweater which came off as Sweet sank out of his grip. The youth's body was recovered about an hour after the dredge floundered. The dredge went down at about 8:45 o'clock this morning; Sweet's body was recovered by dragging crews at 9:40 o'clock. A call had been sent out for a diver and diving equipment before nine o'clock, in order to go down into the sunken dredge and recover Captain Howell's body. The dredge sank in about 20 feet of water. Only the upper structure or living quarters and the upper parts of the dredging machinery are out of the water.

A woman was among the dredge crew who escaped fates similar to Captain Howell and young Sweet. She is Mrs. George Allward, cook on the dredge and wife of George Allward. Mr. and Mrs. Allward have been in charge of the kitchen and dining-room on the dredge for some years. With other members of the dredge crew, they were able to get off the dredge on to the tug, Hercules.

The others who escaped from the dredge were Peter Solomon, assistant runner; Leonard Brisseau, brother of Harold Brisseau, the last man to see Captain Howell, both of Port Burwell; Marvin Smythe, deckhand; George Peaker, Deckhand; Arthur Townsend, machinist; James Williams and Aubrey Redmond, firemen; Peter Solomon, assistant runner. Those who escaped are from Port Stanley, Port Burwell and other local areas.

Dredge Went Down Very Quickly

Captain A. Bartlett of Straffordville, in charge of the tug, Hercules, gave a graphic account of what occurred. The dredge had been towed out to the dredging grounds in the outer harbor entrance and was waiting for a scow to start dredging operations. The dredging machinery had just been started when a coupling on the brake drum of the main drive wheel crashed down through the bottom of the dredge.

Captain Howell rushed to the controls in an effort to lower the anchors while Captain Bartlett gave orders for the dredge to be towed in to the west breakwater.

"I thought we could get the dredge in to shallower water and up to the pier before it foundered, but it went down so quickly that we had to cut the tug loose and get away to prevent the tug from being dragged down also.

"Everything occurred so quickly that it is hard to describe what did happen," Captain Bartlett added. "We were getting the survivors off the dredge on to the tug, and we had to hustle before we were forced to cut away from the dredge ... I think we got them all off but the Captain and young Sweet."

George Brown, who lives in the Odeon Theatre second floor apartment, reported that he looked out of a window and saw the dredge started to list. He ran downstairs and out on the street and by that time the dredge had foundered.

Think Water Swept Captain Off Feet

Harold Brisseau wasn't certain how large a hole was smashed through the bottom of the dredge.

"I know it was too large for us to plug and prevent the water from pouring in," he said. "Water was rising rapidly around us and also around Captain Howell when Peaker and I went out through the doors. I think the water must have swept the Captain off his feet, possibly as he was trying to follow us."

Crew members said that young Sweet and Aubrey Redmond got out of the firemen's bunk section on the dredge, but apparently Sweet (unable to swim) was swept off his feet. Redmond went back to the rescue of the lad and made a courageous attempt to get to him, but was unsuccessful. He was hit pretty hard by the tragedy, with the knowledge that he owed his life to his friend, William Sweet.

The dredge is one of the last of its kind in service on the Great Lakes. It had operated at Port Stanley and Port Burwell for many years, usually laying up for the winter in Port Stanley harbor. Captain Howell had been in charge of the dredge for at least a quarter of a century.

"I know I have been in charge of the tug, Hercules, for 22 years and Captain Howell was on Dredge PWD 117 all that time," Captain Bartlett said.

Other tragedies that have occurred [out] of Port Stanley were recalled by lakemen. The grim record goes back a century.

See the vessel registrations for Sir Wilfrid and P.W.D. 117.

Photos and commentary courtesy of R.W. Rick Redmond, Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, rick.redmond@telus.net