We’ve previously written about the history of the Portland Shipbuilding shipyard that was run by the Dyer family in Ferry Village. I thought it might be interesting to follow the life of one of the ships built there, the tug Pejepscot. We have a particular interest in the Pejepscot, as its half hull model, still mounted on the original back board, is now part of the collections of the South Portland Historical Society.

The wooden tug Pejepscot was launched from the Portland Shipbuilding shipyard in Ferry Village in 1907. South Portland Historical Society photo

The half hull model was provided to Portland Shipbuilding in 1906 by the Bay Shore Lumber Company of Brunswick, Maine. They requested a tug be built using the dimensions from this model. Construction began in 1906 and proceeded quickly. The 109-foot tug was launched on Jan. 14, 1907, with officials from Bay Shore Lumber looking on.

One unusual detail of the launch was that the tug was christened by a man, Mr. Hancock of Trenton, New Jersey, rather than by a woman, which was customary in that time.

The tug Pejepscot was then put into service by a subsidiary of Bay Shore Lumber, initially intended to be used to tow barges loaded with pulpwood from New Brunswick to the Pejepscot Paper Company in the Bath/Brunswick area. As we continue to follow the tug Pejepscot’s history, however, we see the tug went through many accidents, storms, owners and other changes throughout her years in operation. Some of the highlights include:

In September, 1907, off of Seguin Island, the Pejepscot was towing the steam lighter Hercules in a storm and the hawser (the thick rope used for towing) broke. Luckily, they were able to rescue the lighter.

On May 31, 1910, a near catastrophe occurred when the Pejepscot was towing two Pejepscot Paper Company barges in the Bay of Fundy. A heavy gale came up, and she went aground at Cape Spencer. Although at least six ships wrecked and eight lives were lost in the two-day gale, the 11-man crew on the Pejepscot and the crews on its barges were all saved. However, the Pejepscot had struck so hard that they were unable to get her back afloat.

Although the tug was expected to break up, about a month later the wrecking tug Tasco was able to haul the Pejepscot back to St. John, New Brunswick, where they began repairs.

The half hull model of the tug Pejepscot is in the collections of the South Portland Historical Society. South Portland Historical Society photo

In January of 1918, the Pejepscot was first stuck in St. John for about five days due to ice, then steamed to Belfast where she had to cut her way through ice to get to her wharf, sustaining about $500 in damage to her copper plating. While in Belfast, she remained for a time and was used to keep the harbor channel open and to clear ice from around the wharves. The Pejepscot then headed to Camden for repairs before continuing on to New York.

In 1927, the Pejepscot had her original steam engine removed and replaced by a 360-horse-power diesel engine. The contract was awarded to Boyce and Rutledge Machine Co. (owned by local machinists Fred F. Boyce and Charles B. Rutledge. Both had previously worked at Portland Shipbuilding.

Rutledge was a volunteer at the Willard Hose Company and served as its captain in 1928. The details of the engine installation were documented in a Portland newspaper at the time. Even stripped of all removable parts, the diesel engine weighed 30 tons and it was deemed an engineering feat to do the installation. The engine arrived by rail and Phil Doyen’s steam lighter, Ajax, was employed to help move it. They situated the Ajax between the wharf and the tug and waited until low tide so that the two vessels could settle down into the mud for stability. Then the giant boom of the Ajax was used to first help lower the engine from the flat car onto the deck of the lighter.

Although the boom was more than a foot thick, it “bent like a bow” as it then lifted and swung the engine over the Pejepscot and lowered it into place. The installation was described in the paper as “the biggest operation of its kind ever to take place along this coast.”

During the Depression years, the Pejepscot was idled, but she was later sold and moved to New York.

In January, 1939, the Pejepscot was towing a barge from Elizabethport, New Jersey, headed for Brooklyn, when she was struck by the Barbara Ruxton, which was loaded with 38,000 gallons of oil. In the ensuing case in the U.S. District Court, Capt. Hansen, who was at the wheel of the Pejepscot, said that he first spotted the Ruxton when it was about a mile away and just leaving its dock. The two ships were on parallel courses and as the Pejepscot overtook the other vessel, the Ruxton veered to port suddenly and struck the Pejepscot.

According to Capt. Hansen, the ships were about 100 feet apart when he began passing; Capt. Duncan of the Ruxton claimed that the Pejepscot was only 15 feet off his port side and the suction of the passing vessel caused his ship to sheer. In the judge’s summary, he stated that “it appears that the Ruxton was difficult to steer and that, taken in consideration with the circumstance that it was Duncan’s first assignment on the boat, plus the fact that there was some evidence of his having imbibed liquor, may readily account for the sudden port sheer.”

He found some mutual fault, however, so awarded only half damages to the Pejepscot.

In February, 1949, while owned by the John Frederick Barge Corp., the Pejepscot hit the tug Catherine McAllister in the Newark Bay, New Jersey, channel. In an ensuing court case, it was determined that the Catherine McAllister had been waiting for the bridge draw to open so that she could pass through, when the Pejepscot came steaming at full speed on a course that was dangerously close to the other tug. The Catherine McAllister then began backing up, into the line of the approaching Pejepscot which, because it was too close and moving too fast, was unable to avoid the collision. Both parties were found at fault.

The Pejepscot was sold to the Moran Towing Company, New York, in 1951, then sold again in 1952 to the Ross Towboat Company, Boston.

Note: As you are looking into ways to buy local for your holiday gift giving, please consider the South Portland Historical Society’s ornament fundraiser. All eight of the ornaments, including this year’s Memorial Junior High/Middle School ornament, are available at Drillen Hardware, Broadway Variety and Embers Stoves & Fireplaces. Please plan to use cash or check for your ornament purchase as these businesses are very generously selling the ornaments on our behalf. All proceeds go directly to the historical society. If you’d like to use a credit card, if you’d like to make a purchase of a large number of ornaments, or if you’d like to have an ornament shipped (for an additional $6), please call the society directly at 207-767-7299. Thank you.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of the South Portland Historical Society. She can be reached at [email protected]

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