Wisconsin's Great Lakes Shipwrecks - Explore Shipwrecks - Frank O'Connor
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The Frank O'Connor is a product of one of the most remarkable shipyards on the Great Lakes . Between 1870 and 1903, well after most major shipyards had made the inevitable transition to steel hulls, Captain James Davidson's yard in West Bay City, Michigan, stretched the limits of wooden boat technology, eventually making some of largest wooden ships on the Great Lakes and some of the longest ever intended for deepwater navigation (see, for example, the Pretoria ).

davis2.gif (33946 bytes) Captain James Davidson

Davidson's long preference for wooden hulls was due less to a reverence for tradition than to simple economics. Davidson's competitors faced huge capital outlays as they retooled their yards and retrained their workforces to build steel ships. Most, in fact, did not survive the transition.  Davidson, however, spared himself the jolts of converting to steel. He exploited the supply of prime oak in the nearby Saginaw River area, stuck with his well-trained work force and well-equipped facilities, and pushed the art of wooden boat building to its limits. For many years, the strategy paid off. Davidson's inexpensive but efficient wooden boats continued earning him large profits until the Great Depression.

The Frank O'Connor represents one of Davidson's many technological advances. Originally called the City of Naples, it was built in 1892 with two sister ships, the City of Venice and the City of Genoa. These three ships were the first of Davidson's 300-foot wooden bulk carriers. To reach these lengths, Davidson devised innovative ways to strengthen the hulls with iron and steel strapping. The City of Naples measured 301 feet in length, 42 feet 6 inches in breadth, and 21 feet 3 inches in depth of hold. It had a gross tonnage of 2,109 and, as originally configured, could carry nearly 2,600 tons of coal or 100,000 bushels of grain. Despite their anachronistic building materials, the "Italian city" boats were driven by state-of-the-art, triple-expansion steam engine .

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