The MASCO II. (Dan Owen Boat Photo Museum photo)
Old Boat Column

The North Star Was An Early Diesel Towboat

Two weeks ago, this column looked at a boat built by the Nashville Bridge Company, and last week we looked at a boat built at St. Louis. While this might have honored the hometown of The Waterways Journal as well as the location of its Inland Marine Expo (IMX) event held in Nashville May 31–June 2, this week we want to look at another significant vessel built by Nashville Bridge.

The Nashville Bridge Company (known throughout the river industry as simply Nashville, or Nabrico) was founded in Nashville, Tenn., in the 1890s, and as the name implies, was originally engaged in the design and construction of bridges. According to an article by Capt. Robert Reynolds that appeared in the September 2012 issue of the S&D Reflector detailing the history of Nabrico, the first marine equipment fabricated by the firm was a small floating derrick hull for the U.S. Engineers in 1915. In 1921, Nashville built a new steel hull to replace the original wooden hull of the steam sternwheel snagboat Kentucky, also for the Engineer Department. The steam sternwheel packet George Prince was launched in 1922, followed by the steam sternwheel towboat J. N. Pharr (WJ, June 27, 2022) in 1923.

The Fairbanks-Morse front cover ad of the April 6, 1935, issue of The Waterways Journal.  (David Smith collection)
The Fairbanks-Morse front cover ad of the April 6, 1935, issue of The Waterways Journal.  (David Smith collection)

The Dillman Egg Case Company (also known as Dillman Industries Inc.), Caruthersville, Mo., operated a fleet of 10 barges, three derrick boats and the sternwheel steamer Metropolis engaged in delivering logs to the factory at Caruthersville. On February 1, 1925, the Metropolis burned at Caruthersville, and Dillman promptly contracted with Nashville for a new towboat. This new boat would have a 110- by 26-foot steel hull with twin props of 64-inch diameter, powered by two Fairbanks-Morse diesel engines totaling 480 hp. The name selected for the new vessel was North Star.

The North Star continued in service to Dillman and was often featured in the WJ on front cover ads for Fairbanks-Morse. Dillman Industries also had small ads in the WJ from time to time, mentioning the North Star and indicating that they performed “General Towing.” In 1935 the boat was repowered with new F-M diesels of 1,000 hp. This work was performed at Paducah, Ky. Late that same year, the North Star sank on the Upper Mississippi about 50 miles below Cape Girardeau but was raised and placed back in service.

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In 1938, the North Star was sold to The Ohio River Company of Cincinnati. Capt. Bill Judd has written several pieces detailing the history of this concern, noting that it has origins back to 1915 when A.C. Ingersoll Sr. was delivering coal by horse and wagon in the Cincinnati area. This operation grew into the Philadelphia & Cleveland Coal Company, which chartered towboats and barges, then purchased their own towboat in 1923. After gaining new investors, The Ohio River Company (ORCO) was incorporated in West Virginia as a wholly owned subsidiary of West Virginia Coal & Coke Company on April 17, 1925.

In 1937, ORCO secured some large contracts with Commonwealth Edison to supply coal to Chicago area power plants. After purchase, the North Star was taken to ORCO’s Addyston Terminal below Cincinnati, where it was extensively rebuilt for this new service, including removing the upper cabin and installing a retractable pilothouse.

The North Star was the first diesel vessel owned by ORCO, which had exclusively operated steam towboats. It was also their first boat to be equipped with a retractable pilothouse, though as the years went on they would build several of these for Illinois River service.

After 10 years of faithful service to ORCO in this trade, the North Star was sold in 1948 to Material Service Corporation, Chicago. The name was soon changed to MASCO II. In 1956, it was again sold to Daniel J. Gilbert, Jennings. La.

The 1960 edition of the Inland River Record shows the boat in the Off The Record section as having been sunk and lost in the Mermentau River in 1959.

Caption for top photo: The MASCO II. (Dan Owen Boat Photo Museum photo)