CARL D. BRADLEY           

In This Site



A Brief History of the Steamer Carl D. Bradley


By Gerald Micketti


The new Str. Carl D. Bradley, largest freighter of the Bradley Transportation Co. fleet, which has just been completed at the yards at Lorain, poked here big nose around Adams point this morning for a first sight of Calcite harbor and a short time later was given a warm welcome by hundreds of plant employees and hundreds from Rogers City, who came to the docks for a sight of the handsome new boat.

The community gave a warm welcome as the big boat drew into Calcite with President Carl D. Bradley and Vide-President John G. Munson on board.  The Rogers City military band went out on a tug and a tug bearing Mrs. Carl D. Bradley and a party of friends escorted the Bradley into the slip.  Hundreds of flags waved a gay welcome and whistles heralded the arrival.”

                                                                                    Advance, July 28, 1927

The Man

Very little is known about Carl D. Bradley prior to his coming to Rogers City.  He was born in Chicago, September 12, 1860.  He began working as an iron founder and in time he was managing several small foundries.  In the late 1890's he moved to New York City and became associated with a consulting firm.  The firm he may have been working for was the J. G. White Company, an engineering firm, which built trolley lines in major cities, power plants, hydroelectric dams and commercial buildings and other major engineering projects in various countries.  James Gilbert White was the brother of William Fullerton White.  Both James G. and William F. White were graduates of The Pennsylvania State University and stockholders of the Michigan Limestone & Chemical Company.  Carl D. Bradley was sent to Chicago in 1911 and became associated with the Michigan Limestone & Chemical Company.  In October of that year, Bradley was appointed general manager.  In that capacity he visited Calcite, but was not permanently residing in Rogers City.  He moved to Rogers City the following February. He served as general manager until 1924 and as president of the Michigan Limestone & Chemical Company since 1920.  He died in Pasadena, California, while on vacation, March 19, at the age of 68.  At the time of his death he was the president of the Michigan Limestone & Chemical Company and the Bradley Transportation Company.


The Carl D. Bradley was a self-unloading or “self-discharging” vessel delivering limestone for the   Michigan Limestone and Chemical Company.  When the Michigan Limestone & Chemical Company began operations, the Company recognized the need for the delivery of stone to its customers.  Prior to this time the consumers of limestone obtained limestone from the quarries near them.  If this was not possible then the stone had to be delivered.  If the customer was located near one of the Great Lakes, then a bulk carrier could be utilized.  Not all customers, however, had a dock or unloading facilities to receive the stone.  A self-unloading vessel could deliver the stone without the use of unloading facilities or docks.  All that is needed is a channel deep enough for a vessel to move in close to shore, perhaps tie up to a tree, swing out the unloading boom, and discharge the stone.  To unload the vessel the stone in the cargo hold is dropped through gates located in the bottom of the hold onto two conveyor belts running the length of the hold.  The belts carry the stone forward to bucket-type elevators, which lift the stone to another conveyor belt on the unloading boom.  The stone is then deposited where the customer wants it deposited.

The steamer Carl D. Bradley was ordered because the previous year the Michigan Limestone & Chemical Company agreed to deliver one million tons of stone to the Universal Portland Cement Company’s new harbor at Buffington, Indiana.  The contract for this self-unloading vessel was given to the American Ship Building Company.  The new steamer Carl D. Bradley was the second vessel with the name Carl D. Bradley.  The first Carl D. Bradley was constructed at Lorain, Ohio.  Construction started in 1917 and the vessel Carl D. Bradley (1) glided gracefully into the Black River when she was launched March 24, 1917.  Miss Louise Bradley, niece of Carl D. Bradley, broke a bottle of wine over the bow at the christening.  Prior to the launching of the new the second Carl D. Bradley, the Carl D. Bradley (1) had her name changed to John G. Munson (1). According to Lorain, Ohio, newspaper accounts, 4,000 persons witnessed the new steamer slide gracefully into the waters of the Black River amid the shrieking of whistles and clanging of bells on April 9, 1927.  Its immense size created a huge wave as it slid down the ways.  Mrs. Carl D. Bradley broke a red, white and blue ribbon-covered bottle of spring water from the Calcite quarry across the bow of the vessel.


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 (2) was similar to that on the T.W. Robinson which was built two years before the Carl D. Bradley (2).  The boilers on the Bradley were water tube boilers instead of fire tube boilers.  The fuel used in the boilers was coal.  The method of propulsion, moving the boat through the water, was provided by the use of turbo electric drive.  The steam generated in the boilers was directed into a steam turbine.  The steam turbine turned a generator to generate the electrical power.  The power from the generator was used in the main motor, which was directly connected to the propulsion shaft.  By adjusting the speed of the main motor the speed of the propeller was controlled, thus controlling the speed of the vessel.  This operation was like controlling the speed of a ceiling fan in a house.  The Robinson was the first vessel on the Great Lakes to utilize this form of propulsion and the Carl D. Bradley (2) was the second vessel to utilize this method of propulsion.  There was a third vessel on the Great Lakes which used turbo electric drive and that was the large sand sucker J. R. Sensibar.     This method of propulsion did not prove to be popular.  The turbo-electric drive system was not installed in other Great Lakes bulk carriers.


There were other innovations on the Carl D. Bradley (2).  The auxiliary machinery, the unloading equipment and galley are powered with electricity, with the power coming from the main motor.  The vessel was equipped with the latest navigational devices such as the gyro compass and gyro pilot (metal mike) radio direction finder.  For its day the Bradley was the most update and largest steamer on the Great Lakes and she was recognized as the Queen of the Lakes.


The Bradley arrived at the Port of Calcite under the command of William MacLean and chief engineer John Sparre at 8 o’clock in the morning of July 28.  Carl D. Bradley was on board and both he and the new steamer received a joyous welcome.  Operations at the Calcite Plant were suspended for several hours to give all employees the opportunity to witness the arrival of the new boat.  Flags were placed on buildings, locomotives and trucks.  Mrs. Bradley and the Rogers City Community Band were on the new steel harbor tug Rogers City to welcome the vessel and her husband.  The next day the Bradley received her first cargo of 14,627 tons of limestone for delivery to Buffington.  From that first trip until November 1958, through the depression, the war years, and the years of prosperity, the Carl D. Bradley (2) sailed the Great Lakes delivering stone and other bulk material as she was designed and built to do.


The year 1958 was not like the previous years.  First of all the season started later than the previous year. The Calcite and Cedarville were scheduled to be the first loaded; but the possibility of unionizing the deck officers almost jeopardized that.  Two unions - the Masters, Mates and Pilots Association and Marine Engineers Beneficial Association - had conducted a campaign to unionize the Bradley fleet officers following the successful organization by these unions of the Pittsburgh Steamship Division licensed officers in the summer of 1956.  The Michigan Limestone Division officers agreed to meet with the representatives of the Masters, Mates and Pilots Association, which seemed to feel the Bradley fleet officers wanted a union.  The result of this meeting was an election conducted by the American Arbitration Association.  The 27 licensed officers voted for no union representation.  The steamers did begin operations on April 21.  All were placed in commission except the W. F. White, because business conditions did not warrant fitting her out.


Business did not improve.  July 1 the Carl D. Bradley was decommissioned and placed in the lay-up basin at the Port of Calcite to retard limestone deliveries to a rate in keeping with the then current consumption of limestone.  This would also permit stone producing operations to continue through the shipping season at a normal level.  It was anticipated that the Bradley would return to operation later in the season.  In October both the Bradley and White were fitted out and placed in service.


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.


In those first minutes Elmer Flemming realized he did not have a life jacket.  He went to his stateroom two decks below to get the life jacket and returned to the deck of the pilothouse where the life raft was located.  He saw Captain Bryan and other crewmembers pulling themselves along the boat’s railing to the high side of the bow.  The forward section was listing (leaning) to the port side.  Suddenly the bow lurched and he was thrown into the water.  When he came to surface, the forward section was gone and he saw the after section swing to the port side.  With the propeller high in the air, the stern plunged to the bottom with lights burning.  As the stern section plunged there was an explosion and a flash of flame - the water had reached the boilers.


Four men made it to one of the life rafts: Flemming and deckhands Frank Mayes, Dennis Meredith and Gary Strzelecki.  They clung for dear life as the raft was tossed about by the waves.  The night was long, filled with terror, mountainous waves, howling wind and bone-numbing cold water.  Some of the men had very little or light clothing.  Dennis Meredith had no shoes, only pants and sweat shirt.  The raft was upset several times.  Flemming could not remember how many times he was washed off.  He and Frank Mayes hung on.  Dennis Meredith and Gary Strzelecki did not survive.  Frank Mayes remembered thinking that someone would find them if they could last through the night.  He also remembered ice forming in his hair and ice encrusted on his life jacket.  He laid face down on the raft and gripped the sides of the raft to hold on.


The Coast Guard Radio Station WAD, Port Washington, Wisconsin, heard the Bradley’s Mayday. Radio silence was ordered except for emergency messages, and rescue operations were begun.  Lieutenant Commander Harold Muth, commanding officer of the Coast Guard cutter Sundew, got the cutter under way and into Lake Michigan.  The weather was fierce.  Captain Muth in a video recording said the waves were twenty feet high, and the winds were out of the south-southwest 50-55 miles per hour with gusts up to 65 miles per hour.  Visibility was about 75-100 feet.  The forecast indicated the storm would be strengthening.  The cutter Sundew arrived at the scene of the last reported location of the Bradley around 10:45 pm and began the search using the searchlight.  As the search continued the seas increased to 25 feet with the winds increasing to 65 miles per hour rolling in the heavy seas.


One of the vessels joining the search was the German cargo ship Christian Sartori.  This vessel had recently passed the Bradley and was four miles away when the distress signal was sounded.  Despite the raging storm, Captain Paul Mueller, master of the Christian Sartori, changed course and headed back to join in the search.  The turning around and returning to the scene took an hour.  The crew of the German ship searched for survivors using flares.  Captain Mueller signaled that they spotted only a tank and a raincoat.  Mayes and Flemming later indicated that the Christian Sartori passed by them about one half mile away.  That tank may have been their raft.  Flemming tried desperately to light the last flare as the Sartori neared. The wet flare would not ignite.  The Sartori at the request of Captain Muth assisted in the search until about 1:30 am.  Sometime after the German ship left the scene, the steamer Robert C. Stanley had joined in the search.  The Coast Guard cutter Hollyhock had also joined in the search operation.  Coast guard aircraft were dropping flares, but the flares were not effective because of the poor visibility.


Around 8:00 am a lookout on the Sundew told Captain Muth that he saw something ahead on the water.  That something turned out to be a raft with two men on it.  When the cutter pulled alongside the raft, two crewmen jumped to the raft to assist Mayes and Flemming onto the cutter.  The survivors were stiff and cold, unable to stand and needed assistance to get aboard the Sundew.  Warren Toussaint, the cutter’s corpsman, said the survivors had icicles in their hair.  The men were taken to the Chief’s quarters on the cutter, wrapped in blankets and their vital signs checked.  The corpsman fed them a little beef broth every half hour.  The rescue party continued to search for survivors.  Mayes and Flemming requested to stay on board the cutter Sundew during the search for shipmates. Around noon the cutter Hollyhock found bodies.  In late afternoon, the cutter returned to Charlevoix with the two survivors and eight bodies covered with a tarp.  In the early evening the Hollyhock arrived in Charlevoix with nine bodies. Corpsman Toussaint remembered that the atmosphere in Charlevoix was silence.  People waited silently with expectation in Charlevoix.  The 17 bodies were taken to the Charlevoix High School where a temporary morgue was set up.  The body of Gary Strzelecki was recovered by the freighter Transontario and taken to Milwaukee.  His body was later flown to Rogers City.  The Coast Guard continued to search for survivors or bodies until November 21.  Search parties went ashore on the islands looking for survivors.  There were none.


What happened?  Why did the Carl D. Bradley sink?  The Coast Guard began an inquiry to answer those and other questions.  Rear Admiral Joseph Kerrins, commander of the Ninth Coast Guard District was in Rogers City three days after the vessel sank to begin the investigation.  After completing his investigation in Rogers City, Admiral Kerrins traveled to Charlevoix to listen to the testimony of Elmer Flemming and Frank Mayes.  When the interviews were completed, Admiral Kerrins indicated that the formal inquiry was ended.  Additional information was to be collected, checked and assimilated.  This process would take about 30 days.


There was speculation, of course.  Initial newspaper reports stated that the evidence pointed to an explosion.  This idea was probably based on the testimony of Captain Paul Mueller of the Christian Sartori.  He testified at the Coast Guard inquiry that a violent explosion preceded the sinking of the Bradley.  After Mayes and Flemming told their story, speculation shifted to the vessel breaking in two.  Frank Mayes was adamant in his story.  He stated that he “saw the Bradley break in half.  I saw two distinct pieces of her hull.  I saw severed electrical wiring flash when it broke in half, and I saw two separate pieces of the hull go down.”  Letters By Captain Bryan seemed to support Frank Mayes.  He wrote, “This boat is getting ripe for too much weather....  I’ll be glad when they get fixed up....”  He wrote in another letter, “the hull is not good... have to nurse her along... ‘take it easy’ were my instructions... the hull was badly damaged at Cedarville....”


Retired master Forrest F. Pearse of Rogers City expressed another possible theory of the loss of the steamer.  He was master of the Bradley for 16 years.  His theory was that metal fatigue combined with effects of a tidal wave may have led to the loss of the steamer.  He described a tidal wave this way: “On the Great Lakes there are certain small areas during a storm that have a lower barometric pressure than the surrounding area.  Because of these differences a few waves often build up to twice the height of other waves.  Usually there are two or three such giant waves in succession.  We were told that waves out there were 25 or 30 feet high.  The tidal waves might have been from 45 to 60 feet high.  The ship might have been caught on two or three of these waves, with the bow and the stern high on the waves and the amidships just hanging in the air.  That could have caused the breakup.  I’ve experienced those tidal waves many times in the fall.  They are just there.  There’s nothing to be done about them.  You just have to weather them.”


The Bradley may have experienced “hogging” or “sagging.”  “Hogging” applies to vessels when the bow and the stern are drooping.  “Sagging” is the opposite.  It refers to the condition when the midship section has fallen.  Both “Hogging” and “sagging” cause stress on the hull of the vessel.  There were hairline fractures in the bottom plates.


In the course of its inquiry the Cost Guard learned that the Bradley was scheduled for extensive maintenance work on her cargo hold during the winter of 1958-59.  The investigation also learned that the Bradley had run aground twice during the 1958 season and may have experienced hull damage.  The two groundings were not reported.


When the Coast Guard issued its report one of the conclusions was that the steamer must have developed an undetected structural weakness or defect.  Another conclusion was to blame the vessel’s master Roland O. Bryan with exercising poor judgment in making the decision to cross northern Lake Michigan from Cana Island toward Lansing Shoal.


The commandant of the Coast Guard, Vice-Admiral A. C. Richmond disapproved the conclusion of the board regarding Captain Bryan.  He also disapproved of the board’s conclusion implying that the cause of casualty resulted because the steamer encountered an unusual wave condition while in ballast.  In other words the Bradley may have been supported by heavy waves in the middle but not at the forward and after ends of the boat (called hogging).  The pressure at the middle would cause the vessel to break as the ends sag.  Commandant Richmond stated the unexplained presence of hairline cracks, two unreported groundings, and extensive renewal of the cargo hold planned by the company for that winter led inevitably to the conclusion that the vessel had developed an undetected structural weakness or defect.


Since the Bradley disaster underwater searches have located the hull.  In 1959 the Army Corps of Engineers verified the position, size and shape of the hull believed to be that of the Bradley.  Sonar equipment aboard the survey boat M. S. Williams confirmed that the Bradley was lying on the bottom of Lake Michigan 53 and one-quarter miles northwest of Boulder Reef.


Another search conducted later appeared to dispute the findings of the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation, which concluded that the Bradley had broken in two before sinking.  Through the use of an underwater television system, the vessel Submarex established that the sunken steamer “as it lie, apparently has continuity of the lower cross section of her hull structure confirming” an earlier sonar finding - that the vessel lay in one piece.


Another attempt to locate the wreck of the steamer was moderately successful in August 1995.  An expedition spearheaded by Fred Shannon made several dives to investigate and document the wreck.  Frank Mayes, the only living survivor of the Bradley, was on the expedition, too.  He was to have the privilege of diving in the two-man submarine Delta to look again at the vessel he escaped in November 1958 as she was going to the bottom of Lake Michigan.  Several dives were made but were not successful due to weather conditions and poor visibility below the surface of the water.  Frank Mayes and Delta pilot Chris Ijames did go down in the mini-sub Tuesday, August 15, but visibility suddenly became poor at 300 feet.  They did, however, reach their target.  They landed on the stern section, port side, of the Bradley. When they landed, Chris Ijames announced that the Bradley name had been spotted.  A plaque engraved with the names of the Bradley crew and members of the expedition was released from the mini-sub near the engine room of the hull.  With the limited visibility no videotapes could be made of the condition of the wreck.  The question was left unanswered - was the Bradley in one piece or two?


The answer came two years later.  Another Fred Shannon expedition with Frank Mayes and James Clary dove to the hull of the Bradley in May 1997.  She was found in two pieces on the bottom of a trench about 370 feet below the surface of Lake Michigan.  The two pieces are upright and remarkably about 90 feet apart, nearly in line with each other.  The stern and bow are free of mud but the midsections are buried in mud.  The forward section is separated from the stern at about number ten hatch.  The A-frame that supported the unloading boom is intact and surprisingly the unloading boom was still cabled to the saddle down the center of the spar deck.   A remote controlled submarine was used to provide video images of the pieces lying on the bottom. According to newspaper reports, the pieces are only slightly damaged with zero damage at the bow.  It seems Frank Mayes was right, when he testified that he saw the Bradley sink in two pieces November 18, 1958.


Just exactly what happened that November 18, 1958 may never be known.  The Coast Guard Marine Board of investigation in its final report put forth 23 opinions.  Other people have indicated still more theories or opinions.  Perhaps a combination of foul weather, structural weakness and poor judgment were responsible for the loss of the Bradley.



S/S Carl D. Bradley


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