Wrecking the Wrecker: The loss of the barge Industry

Lost Ship of the Month


The wrecking barge Industry lies on the bottom of Lake Michigan near Lansing Shoals where she has rested since October 5, 1953.  Despite a concerted salvage attempt by her owners, she has never been located by divers.  Her story is an interesting one, showing her multiple uses over the years and revealing the dramatic accident that ended her career.  

The Ship

The barge Industry began her life in 1905 as the steel hulled propeller C.H. Conover.  She was built at the Empire Shipbuilding Yard at Buffalo, New York for the Merchant’s Lighterage Company of Chicago.  Being built as a Lighter, she was specially equipped for removing bulk cargoes from vessels that were stranded, wrecked or needed manual unloading, but she was primarily intended to unload package freight boats at Chicago.  

Launching Tomorrow – The new steel steam lighter C.H. Conover, building at the Empire Shipyards for the Merchants Lighterage Co. of Chicago will be launched tomorrow afternoon at 4 o’clock.  The lighter is 125 feet in length, 30 foot beam and 12 feet deep.  The vessel is equipped with a Trout engine, made in Buffalo.  The Conover will depart for Chicago in about a week. – Buffalo Enquirer, July 5, 1905

The Conover was enrolled at the Buffalo, New York Customs House on August 16, 1905 at 203 gross tons with register dimensions of 99 feet x 30 feet x 12 feet and was awarded official number 202323.  The Conover’s steam plant was rated at 100 horsepower and she carried a crew of seven.  By all accounts, the Conover had a long and successful career as a lighter, working primarily on Lake Michigan.  In 1924, Merchant’s Lighterage decided to change her name and she was re-enrolled with the name Industry.

In 1940, she was sold to Hoskins Coal and Dock Corporation of Chicago who continued to use her as a lighter for their coal shipments, which were in high demand due to World War II.  With the war drawing to a close in 1944, Hoskins sold the Industry to the Marquis Roen Steamship Company of Sturgeon Bay.  Roen purchased the vessel specifically to use in the salvage of the big freighter George M. Humphrey, which had been sunk by collision near Graham Shoals in the Straits of Mackinac.  The Industry was consequently refitted with deck cranes and was enrolled as a wrecking barge.  Roen was able to raise the Humphrey at great cost and return her to service as the steamer Captain John Roen.

Captain Roen continued to use the Industry as a wrecking barge, but mostly employed her in the bulk cargo trade between Lakes Michigan, Superior and Huron, variously towing her with cargoes of pulpwood, lumber, stone, iron and even Sulphur.  She was often towed in rafts with other Roen barges and generally wintered at Sturgeon Bay.


The Wreck

The Industry’s last voyage began on Monday, October 5, 1953 when she departed from Sturgeon Bay for Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan in a tow behind the tug John Roen IV, the barge Maitland and ahead of the tug Spuds.  The two barges were reportedly light and were heading to Lake Superior to begin additional salvage work. 

The tow proceeded slowly down the Lake, as heavy weather was building.  The next day, the wind had increased to a gale out of the southwest, causing the towline to break between the barge Maitland and the Industry while off the Lansing Shoal Light.  The Industry was cast adrift and she soon fell into the trough of the waves.  The seas sweeping over her soon swamped her and the two crewmen were taken off by the tug Spuds, which was able to maneuver alongside her. 

Barge Industry Sinks in Straits - Battered by heavy seas, the 120 ft. barge Industry owned by the Roen Salvage Co., sank Monday night in the Straits of Mackinac, 9 miles east of Lansing Shoal.  No one was aboard at the time so there was no loss of life in the incident.  The barge and the tools she was carrying went down in 85 ft. of water. According to John Purves, Roen Manager, no salvage will be attempted.  The Industry left Monday morning from its repair work on the railroad bridge.  In train were the tug Roen V, pulling the barge Maitland, then the Industry with the little tug Spuds behind.  The Soo was the destination.  From there the Industry was to go to another repair job.  She apparently broke loose from the Maitland and when it was seen on the Spuds that the barge was going down, the connecting line was thrown off.  Roen had had the barge 10 years. – Door County Advocate, October 6, 1953

Not long after the sinking, word came that a daring rescue was also involved:

Barge Breaks Loose from Tug; Two Saved – The Charlevoix Coast Guard reported that two unidentified seamen were rescued Tuesday from a 190 foot barge that broke loose from its tow-tug in heavy seas and sank in Lake Michigan 34 miles northwest of here.  The tow-tug was the John Roen IV of Sturgeon Bay, Wis., the Coast Guard said.  A second tug, the Spud reportedly rescued the two sailors. – Manitowoc Herald, October 7, 1953

The Industry went to the bottom soon after and the three remaining vessels continued on toward the Straits.  The next day, the Roen company located the hull in 85 feet of water, but given the vessel’s age, it was initially decided to leave her on the bottom.  The next week however, Roen had a change of heart and set out to see what could be recovered:

Will Salvage Sunken Barge – Charles Asher, general manager of the Roen Salvage Co, has reported that an attempt will be made to salvage the barge Industry, which sank October 5th in the Straits of Mackinac, about nine miles east of Lansing Shoal.  An underwater investigation by Marvin Boes, Sturgeon Bay, a diver with the Roen company has revealed that the Industry is lying in about 85 ft. of water and on an angle of 45 degrees.  The salvage crew will leave Sturgeon Bay Friday night with the barge Hilda and the tug John Roen V to make an attempt to salvage whatever is possible – Door County Advocate, October 13, 1953

Salvage work seemed to be going well with unseasonably fair weather and Roen decided to attempt to completely raise the vessel using the same technique that had been successful on the Humphrey ten years earlier:

Roen Reports Barge Righted – Captain John Roen has reported that salvage operations on the sunken barge Industry are going according to schedule.  The Industry was found in an almost bottom side up position and the salvage crew has succeeded in righting the vessel.  The next step will be to fasten cables to the Industry and to the barges that will be used to raise her and then bring the boat to the surface.  The diving operations are being done by Marvin Boes and Louis Suess, Sturgeon Bay, and a number of divers from the upper peninsula.  An unconfirmed rumor concerning an accident at the salvage site was squelched last week by John Purves.  It has been rumored that the little tug Spuds had gone aground and had been wrecked.  Purves stated that the tug had broken away Friday but that it had been recovered immediately and that to the best of his knowledge no damage had been done – Door County Advocate, October 27, 1953

All seemed to be going well when Roen crewman Mickey Larson developed appendicitis while at the site.  Due to the remoteness, the tug Roen had to be dispatched immediately to Frankfort, Michigan, carrying the ailing Larson who underwent an emergency appendectomy.  Things went from bad to worse after this delay, as the weather started to worsen and the crew had to run for shelter.  To make matters worse, tug John Roen IV went aground in November and shortly after, the Roen’s steamer Resolute ran on the Sturgeon Bay breakwall while trying to enter in a storm with a load of coal, tearing a large hole in her side.  By early December, Roen called a halt to salvage operations in order to tend to other priorities.  Other opportunities and “paying jobs” occupied Roen for the next few years and it was decided to leave the Industry where she lay.


The Shipwreck

The barge Industry was reported to have foundered 9 miles east of Lansing Shoals in 85 feet of water.  This places her roughly northeast of Garden Island Shoal.  The course-line the vessels were on is well-established so it should be possible to relocate the wreck of the Industry with modest effort.  It is noteworthy than an obstruction is shown on modern NOAA charts just north of the Industry’s likely position at 45.54.646 / 85.24.967 in approximately 70 feet of water with 23 feet of water over it.  To date, the Industry’s remains have not been relocated by divers, primarily due to their remoteness. 



1 Comment

anonymous by Kai on 11/1/2022

This wreck has been found. Ken Merryman made an excellent 3D model of her wreck.

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