Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Wreck of the City of Bangor



In November 1926, the Walter Chrysler Corporation, then just two years old but already approaching fifth place in sales among the 50 American auto manufacturers then in operation, consigned 248 cars for ship transport through Lake Superior. These cars incorporated his latest improvement:  adjustable front seats. The vessel chosen was the City of Bangor, built in 1898 as a bulk cargo carrier but convered to an auto carrier in 1925.  Problem was, she was both underpowered and, given the small weight of the cars, too high in the water.  The storms on Superior that week were fierce, but the captain of the ship decided to risk the voyage. He didn't make it:  the ship lost power to the steering engine, iced up and ended up beached near to Copper Harbor.  The crew had a rough time of it, but no one died.  Some of the cars loaded as deck cargo had been washed overboard during the storm.  After the ship was beached, the remaining cars were unloaded but had to stay at a nearby farm until February when, after three weeks of grueling effort, a road was finally opened through 10 foot snow drifts between Copper Harbor and the rail junction at Calumet, 29 miles away.  As Dwight Boyer relates in Ships and Men of the Great Lakes (New York:  Dodd, Mead & Co, 1977), "Then, in an unprecedented but sporadic parade, the automobiles, chugging along between tremendous snowbanks, moved  triumphantly to Calumet.  Underwriters offered cash money for drivers--and found them, albeit many were under age, untested and absent from school.  Predictably, too, one or two cars managed to become misplaced.  Some say they were legally purchased from the underwriters at bargain prices.  Others, recalling oft-repeated yarns, seem to remember that they just became 'lost' in the confusion."  As for the City of Bangor, she was left where she was until World War II, when the price of scrap justified the cost of cutting her up.

Too bad the cars weren't the next year's model, the 1927 Imperial "80", which apparently would have made short work of the winter roads, especially with the top down!

National Geographic, February 1927

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