There is a long history of logging
throughout most of the north central and north east US and Ontario,
Quebec and the Maritime provinces in Canada dating back to colonization
times. As demand increased and logging proceeded further and further
into the interior and away from large shipping points, most logs
were sent to market via waterway systems. Where there were good
water levels and a good flow rate, it was relatively easy to guide
logs or timbers through in large booms or rafts. However, problems
arose when long runs of shallow and slow moving water were encountered.
One of the most common answers was to use a Crib and Cage (see
image at right). A Crib and Cage was a human or horse powered
winch mounted on a raft. The raft was harnessed to a log boom,
a large anchor attached to a long cable or rope in was rowed out
as far as possible, dropped and then the men or horses began walking
around the winch to draw this cable in. It was slow work at best,
almost impossible in even slight winds and frequently resulted
in large losses of logs.
In 1878, Joseph Jackson, a North
Ontario country logging businessman approached the firm West &
Peachey Company of Simcoe Ontario, manufacturers of boilers, engines
and logging equipment, to help him solve a problem with hauling
large log booms across quiet waters by Crib and Cage. Mr. West
travelled north to see the Crib and Cage at work and began to
sketch and develop a plan. West & Peachey presented their
idea to Mr. Jackson who then commissioned the building of a prototype.
Thus West & Peachey invented
the Alligator*; a steam
powered amphibious warping tug. Alligators were scow-shaped, shallow
draft boats, fitted with side mounted paddle wheels, powered by
a 20 horsepower steam engine and provided with a cable winch and
large anchor. By using the winch Alligators could pull themselves
over land, around portages and up as much as a 20 degree incline
at the rate of 1 to 2 1/2 miles per day. And they could haul a
boom of some 60,000 logs across water against all but the strongest
winds. They were heavily but simply built, making rebuilding and
repair easy. A perfect and elegant answer to the logging industry's
problem with moving log booms across still lakes and slow-flowing
Jackson's Alligator was the first
of 230 built by West & Peachey between 1889 and 1932. Alligators
of different sizes were eventually used all over Ontario, Quebec,
Manitoba, the Yukon and the northern United States from Maine
to Wisconsin. One was even shipped in pieces to Columbia, South
America and assembled there by West & Peachey engineers.
West & Peachey may have been
the inventors of the Alligator, but they weren't the only people
who built them. Many others were built by individuals and lumber
companies. And Alligators weren't small boats. The "Mistango"
built by Captain John A. Clark for service on Lake Nipissing and
later to be shipped to northeast Ontario and "rebuilt",
was 66.8 feet in length and had a registered tonnage of 39.37.
She used a double crew of nine, not including the cook and captain!
On long hauls Alligators could
be "under tow" constantly for several days warping log
booms across the bigger lakes. Scows loaded with cordwood for
fuel accompanied them. Even so, on long passages, when the wind
came up from the wrong direction, they could be out longer than
a few days. Sometimes fuel (and even food) would run out before
the end of the tow and they would be stuck on the lake until relief
While Alligators were built to
warp log booms, they did other duties too. As well as assisting
in putting booms together for towing, they towed supply barges
and some served double duty as supply boats in between big jobs.
When roads in the North were still unheard of, these tugs would
also provide some shipping and passenger services to remote areas.
I interviewed a man who met his wife-to-be on an Alligator that
was taking him to his new job as a teacher in a Northern Ontario
At first Alligators used side mounted
paddle wheels. Later, Alligators used conventional screw-type
propellers. As time went on many were built or converted over
to diesel fuel. However their days were numbered. Continuing settlement,
establishment of more remote mills, the growth of railways and
increased use of trucks and logging roads after World War II soon
made Alligators less necessary and, by the late Fifties, most
were gone, often ingloriously, by simply being left on remote
lakeshores or stripped for parts and then burned.
However, thanks to the efforts
of a few people, Alligators have not entirely disappeared.
The Logging Museum in Algonquin
Park has a full sized replica, the "William M." This
"side wheeler" Alligator was reconstructed from one
left up in the Park many years ago. Only the boiler, engine, winch
and other metal fittings including the paddle wheels and rudders
were salvageable. A new "boat" was built and these parts
were installed. I use quotes around "boat" because this
replica was never intended to float, much less go along under
her own power. Nevertheless she is an excellent example of the
smaller paddle wheel Alligators used in the Park at one time.
For a real working Alligator you
have to travel a little further to the Town of Simcoe, the home
of West & Peachey. There, in 1991, a "Great Alligator
Hunt" was launched by the Norfolk Historical Society. After
a long search, the remains of a surviving Alligator were found
on Clearwater West Lake in Northern Ontario. A team of men went
to retrieve the decaying hull and with great effort, the hull
was returned to Simcoe.
As with the "William M."
none of the original hull or superstructure of this Alligator
was usable so a new boat was built. This would be a real boat
and fully functional as an Alligator. Thanks to generous service
clubs and private donations, lumber and tools were purchased.
Many volunteers provided the manpower. Work in earnest, began
in 1993 and after four years of effort, the newly rebuilt Alligator,
now called the "W. D. Stalker" was launched in the Lynn
River at Simcoe in July of 1997. In the spring of 1998, the Norfolk
Historical Society turned the Alligator, now a fully licensed
and inspected steam vessel, over to the town of Simcoe to serve
as a tourist attraction.
NB - There is a third restored
Alligator, the Fairy Blonde, located at Wakami Lake Provincial
Park near Chapleau Ont.
Copyright, Bryant Owen 1999 Alligators
Steam Powered Amphibious Warping Tugs