Russel Brothers Limited   OWEN SOUND, ONTARIO   Steelcraft Boat Builders
Remembering the 'Hallett' - and the man
Provided by Arden Barnes of Rainy Lake. Taken from Fort Frances Times and Rainy Lake Herald, April 2003 Centennial Edition.
Hallett Boat Page   1940 Original Quotation   1975 Russel Valuation

Submitted by
Larry Fontana.

It was in November of 1946, the weather was turning cold, and it would not be long until the lake was covered with ice. Remembrance Day was fast approachingand we looked forward to the long weekend with eager anticipation. Long weekends always gave rise to some activity or adventurewhich added excitment to our teenaged lives.

This year it was an invitation to accompany my friend Billy, for a weekend on the Hallett. His father, Capt. William Martin, was going to freight a large load of horses to a logging camp being built by Bluch Kirk on the Seine River. I had no experience on the lake and here I was about to spend a weekend on the most powerful tug boat on Rainy Lake.

We boarded the Hallett at the O & M dock at the foot of Mosher Avenue, went up the river, crossed Sand Bay, and picked up the barge loaded with 10 or 12 large draft horses. We ferried across Seine Bay and up into the Seine River to where the camp was being built. We arrived after dark, unloaded the horses and settled in for the night. The journey back to town was uneventful but filled the spirit of this 14-year-old with adventure. I thought, "Wouldn't this be an exciting place to work." Fast forward to June of 1950. My high school career was over and I, like my classmates, looked for a summer job to help pay for our post-secondary education. Again, Bill came to my help, "Why don't you ask my dad for a job on the Hallett," he said - and so I did.

With that, I started the first of five consecutive summers of work on the Hallett. I was issued a "seaman's book" by the federal government (because we were on international waters), told where my bunk was, and advised that breakfast was at 6am, dinner at noon, and supper at 6pm - with generous lunches in between. My job was to be the "deckhand." I had to clean the boat, care for the tow lines, and do any other jobs I was told to do. The summer of 1950 was the year of high water - and the Ranier rapids were extremely treacherous and dangerous. The steel cable normally used for towing wood was exchanged for a hemp rope 2.5 inches thick and when working in the rapids, I was stationed beside the tow post with an axe and orders to chop the rope if the captain gave two blasts of the air horn.

Fortunately, that never happenned; however, the high water that summer destroyed the sidewalks of Pither's Point Park, flooded the mill yard, and did tremendous damage on both the lakes and river systems from here to Winnipeg. That summer, only the Mermaid's head was out of the water.

The crew of the Hallett - headed by Captain Martin - was composed of Chester George (first mate), George Martin (head engineer), Don Grouette (assistant engineer), Pete Seger (cook), Art Lee (bug operator) Bert Dandeneau (logman) and I (the neophyte deckhand). They were all experienced and skilled at their jobs, and under the captain's directions operated as a well-oiled machine. Their primary function was to tow pulpwood from Sand Island Falls and Crilly Dam to the mill in Fort Frances.

Occasionally they would bring a tow of sawlogs to Mathieu's sawmill or a tow of wood from Kettle Falls. 1950 not only was the summer of high water, it was also the summer in which water that was being pumped from Steep Rock Lake in Atitkokan and dumped into the Seine River system arrived at Rainy Lake. This water, which had spent two years in transit, was polluted with a colloidal suspension of clay and silt, giving it the appearance of coffee with milk in it. From the upper deck of the Hallett, you could see the polluted waters of the Seine River chain mixing with the clear water of the Quetico which was coming through Brule Narrows via Kettle Falls. The tools of the log men in those days were peeves, pickaroons, pike poles, and caulked boots. Their equipment was composed of a "bug" which was a small tug about 25 feet long with a winch and a cable inside it, ropes, clevises, cable snubs, and boom timber - the boom timber was about 30 feet long and chained end to end in a long string which at times could number up to 250 sticks of timber.

About 110 - 120 boom timber were required to surround a tow of wood, although it was usual practice to use twice that amount so that the tow could be double wrapped. This provided some insurance in the event that a chain broke or a toggle slipped through the ring. In 1950, the assistance of high water and favourable currents enabled Capt. Martin and his crew to move larger tows than normal from Sand Island Falls to the mill. The challenge and satisfaction of bringing in an exceptionally large tow in record time was an accomplishment in which he took great pride. This was probably a carry-over from the days when contract towing was in force and compensation was relative to the amount of wood delivered. In addition to the added revenue, it also established "bragging rights" - at least until their record was broken. Under those circumstances, a tow of 6,500 cords would carry the day. Under normal circumstances, tows of 4,500 - 5,000 cords were delivered in seven days - winds and weather permitting.

Guiding a large tow of wood over submerged rocks and around points of land was a formidable task, indeed. These rocks and points stood as bastions of resistance which seemed designed by nature to impede his progress. Bear Pass narrows was one of the most difficult areas to negotiate. From the upper narrows in Red Gut Bay through the restriction caused by the railroad bridge and the close restrictions of the channel leading to Swell Bay, he and his crew laboured mightily for up to 18 hours. By applying cable snubs at the rear of the tow and using the power of the Hallett to squeeze the tow against one shoreline while at the same time causing a rolling action against that shoreline, he would slowly move the wood forward.

The cable snubs were attached to large trees or ring bolts which were embedded in the rock at strategic locations. As the wood moved forward, the cable snubs were released and moved forward with the tow. Many times the cable and winch on the bug was used as the snub. The bridge was a different problem. Capt. Martin compared it to trying to pull a bag of sand through a knothole.
"It is impossible to do," he would say, but you can slowly and patiently work it through. Likewise with a tow of wood at the bridge. Pulling on it would just cause a choking action, whereas, with the help of the current and the wind, you can slowly and surely work it all through.

The Hallett was one of the largest Warping Tugs Russels made. The "bug" was known as an
Alligator or Winch Boat. Both shared the front mounted anchor and attached winch.
Videos courtesy of the 1957 short entitled "Log Drive".
Portaging the Alligator
overland VIEW   1:15
Assembling and moving
a log boom VIEW   3:28
Cleaning up after
the drive VIEW   1:13
It was always a relief when the last of the wood exited the narrows and was in Swell Bay. He would pull the wood into a large bag of boom timber, wrap the slack or surplus timber around the tow, and start down Swell Bay to the next set of narrows. this often required a full night at the wheel after a long exhausting day. If the winds were calm, he could move the tow at about half a mile an hour and if there was a fair wind, as much as one mile per hour. headwinds often dictated that you dropped anchor and waited for fairer winds.

Depending on the situation, Capt. Martin sometimes would overcome the problem of headwinds by "running a cable." This was a process in which he would detach from the tow and run out roughly one mile, drop his anchor, and then let his cable or anchor line play out as he returned to the tow. This mile of 5/8" steel cable was attached to the headworks and driven by a diesel engine. The anchor would then attach to the bottom and the tow slowly move forward as the cable was retrieved. This process was repeated as long as it was determined necessary to make gains against the wind. Throughout all of these processes, the bug operator, bugman, and deckhand had to be alert for pulpwood that escaped from the tow. These had to be retrieved and returned to the tow both for the value they represented and to ensure they would not be a hazard to recreational boaters.

Capt. William Martin, Sr.

What about the man who came to the border area from Prince Edward Island by way of Boston? A man who in his youth gained a reputation of doing everything with gusto - regardless of whether it was gambling, drinking, fighting or working. A man who saw opportunity where others only saw problems, a man who would take a risk while others stood idly by, a man who revelled in the beauty and the challenge presented by the untamed nature of the border area.

This was a person whom I came to know in his later years as a person who was gruff but not mean, harboured a subtle kindness, had uncanny judgement of wind and currents, and read the Bible daily as he believed all God-fearing men should.He had little formal education but applied his knowledge of physics with expertise on a daily basis. His memory was amazing, especially as it applied to the lake bottom, towing channels, and to the river pchannel that lies beneath the waters of the five shallow lakes between Crilly Dam and Rainy Lake.

It was this man, who in his youth, gained a reputation for his skill and ability as a boat captain. With a leased steam tug and three barges,he moved sand and gravel from Reef Point to the mill site for the building of the international dam. For three seasons, he freighted sand and gravel with one barge while the second was being unloaded and the third being loaded. Loading was accomplished with horses pulling on scoops or dippers through a snatch block. These were guided by men who forced the scoops into the high banks and deposited their loads of sand and gravel into the barges.

During the first half of the 20th century, the river above the dam was a hive of activity. The Shevlin-Clarke sawmill, The Ontario Pulp and Paper mill, McCarthy's Fishery, Preston's Machine Shop, Russel Brothers Boat Builders, and Lloyd's Tourist Emporium were but a few of the businesses that flourished during these times.

It was also in this milieu that Capt. Martin thrived. He bought and worked a number of smaller steam tugs, and in the late '30s he acquired the George-Mac - an alligator style tug with two Russel Brothers six cylinder gasoline engines. These engines were 60HP each and the starboard engine could be engaged to power the headworks. It housed a crew of six and towed a bug alongside. He also leased the Bustikogan and with its operator, Borden Parker, towed sawlogs and pulp to all of the mills.

Due to the fact that Capt. Martin excelled as the foremost contractor towing wood, his expertise was recognized and his advice sought by the mill owners of the day. Plans for the construction of a new tug for use on Rainy Lake were being formulated and his input regarding size, power, and crew capacity were implemented in the design.

The Hallett

The Hallett was constructed in 1940 by Russel Brothers Boat Builders, which by this time had moved from Fort Frances to Owen Sound. It was shipped by rail on two flat cars to Fort Frances where the final assembly took place. It had two Cummins 180HP diesel engines driving two large propellors and a 50HP diesel engine attached to a headworks with one mile of cable. An engineer was scheduled to be on duty at all times the engines were operating so as to respond to the bell and clocks system which gave directions from the wheelhouse.

This was similar to systems used on large ships of the day. After its arrival and assembly, Capt. Martin took command, took it through trial runs, made modifications, and inaugurated it as the primary vehicle for towing operations on Rainy Lake. He took his own steam tug, which had exhausted its servicable life, and scuttled it in a deep hole in the lake. During the next 20 years, Capt. Martin and his crew towed wood and hauled freight to all parts of the lake. As recreational boating increased and tourists from various areas arrived, he became a foremost ambassador for the paper company. he would invite them on board, tour them through the glistening cleanliness of the engine room, and patiently explain to them how he could bring a large amount of wood through narrow restrictions.

The crew of the Hallett always looked forward to their arrival at the outlet of Sand Bay. It meant a day in town with family and friends, and an opportunity to shop, answer amil, and take care of other tasks. However, arrival with a tow also meant a night of hard work - sometimes under difficult and treacherous conditions. The exit from Sand Bay and the river could only be blocked by wood during the hours of 11pm and 7am. During these eight hours, most in darkness,the wood had to be sluiced through the Ranier Rapids and put into storage in the river.

This was accomplished in two ways. During times of high water and strong current, a string of boom timber would be fastenedto the point on the US shore (adjacent to where the buoys are now located). The other end of the string of boom timber was attached to a piling in the river on the Canadian side. The current then allowed the boom timber to form a large bag. The tow of wood, still located above the Ranier bridge, was cut, allowing the pulpwood to flow freely downstream to be caught in the "bag."

The other method was one which required the boom timber to encircle the pulpwood, but with roughly double the number of boom sticks which would normally be used to encircle the tow. This proved a lot of slack timber, which was pulled through the bridge opening into the river. The wood encircled by the boom timber flowed in the current or was pulled through the bridge opening into the river.

A three engine installation on the warping tug "Hallett". Two main engines are Cummins diesels used only for the tug propulsion. An auxillary Cummins diesel drives the warping set. It will be noticed that plenty of room is available in the engine room. Photo from Company Brochure Circular 46A, Steelcraft Warping Tugs
Both of these methods - although sounding simple - were difficult to execute. The darkness and unpredictability of problems that could arise always made the completion of this operation a relief. The workers had to be on full alert at all times, not only to ensure their own safety but to respond to emergencies and to ensure the operation was being executed in a timely way.

On some occasions, the storage areas in the river were filled with wood waiting to be used in the mill. At these times, tows of wood were put into storage at two locations on Rainy Lake. One was at the site of Lochart's Mill which is now known as Rocky Inlet. The other was in a large bay on the west side of Sandpoint Island. Both of these locations provided shelter from the wind, were within one day of transit to the mill, and could be contained with a minimum amout of boom timber.

The memories of those summer days of hard work, good food, and skilled logmen reoccur like they happened yesterday. It was the beginning of the end of an era. Soon the river would be empty of wood, the pilings gone, and the tugboats sold or put on shore. The time had come for change. Wood could be more efficiently transported by truck with no loss from sinking or hazard to the ever growing population of boaters. I was fortunate having had the opportunity to do every job from wheeling the boat to answering the the bells in the engine room and, yes, much to the dismay of the crew I even evoked for one trip.

However, the most treasured times were when Capt. Martin would share his knowledge of the history of this lake country. He could point out locations of sawmills, mine shafts, and old logging camps that nature had reclaimed. He would point out the location of whiskey stills that were located on the US shore during the Prohibition years and the growth of palatial summer homes that were built by US industrialists between the two great wars. He spoke of the buildings that made up the sites of Mine Centre, Belle City, and the Foley mine located on the shore of Shoal Lake. He truly was a foundation of historical knowledge.

In his retirement, Capt. Martin was not one to remain idle. At "three score and 10," he bought another boat - a small diesel tug about 30 feet long, complete with headworks. He continued to ply the waters of Rainy Lake towing small tows of wood and freighting goods and supplies as needed. He took his tug to Lake of the Woods and transported a large barge from there to the mill in Fort Frances to be used in pollution control studies. He then accepted a challenge from Inland Steel to keep channels of water ice free during the construction of dams on Bruce Lake.

Hallett c. 1980 (with Patric Ryan)
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This was accomplished even though temperatures dropped to minus 40 below zero and equipment could not be shut off with the expectation that it would start again. His persistance and success in keeping these channels open contributed to the development of a large body of iron ore at Ear Falls, Ont. He seemed to have an unboundable store of energy which inevitably gave way to the ravages of time. It was in the summer of 1970 at the age of 85, while he was guiding a team of etymologists doing studies of our lakes and forests, that he stood up in the boat, surveyed the lake, and died.

There were those who followed Capt. Martin - men like Chester George, Carl Anderson, George Tucker, and others - honourable men of quality who were both skilled and consumate in their duties. Men whose knowledge of the towing channels and leadership of their crews were beyond reproach. However, in my estimation, Capt. Martin was the trailblazer.

Now the Hallett sits on shore, her powerful engines no longer give out a staccato of rhythmic beats - a testimony of times gone by and a monument to its first captain. She brought about the end of an era when wood was moved by water and the shouts of logmen echoed through the trees.

Postscript: To compare the past and present methods of moving wood to the mill, one could make the following comparison. Ten trucks making two trips each day with loads of 20 cords of wood on each truck would require 12.5 days to equal the 5,000 cord tows the Hallettwould bring in from Sand Island Falls - a distance of 45 miles - in seven days. However, this does not compare to the true cost of transport.Wood transported by water suffers loss from sinking, liability hazards, and the fact that the wood may be in the water for two years prior to use. Just-on-time delivery, with no loss of product, provides distinct economic gains.


Hallett, Fort Frances, Oct. 2007. Photos courtesy Arden Barnes.
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Russel Engine
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Winch Assembly
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For more Russel exhibits visit Owen Sound Marine & Rail Museum 1165 1st Ave West, Owen Sound, ON N4K 4K8
(519) 371-3333