Bumboat Name

The name of our vessel is the "Bumboat". This name was selected based on three different family ties....

DEFINITION 1: "Bumboat", Linda's Dad

Linda came from a family of four sisters and five brothers. Her father and mother raised a family which resulted in 30+ grandchildren. Linda's Dad affectionately referred to all the grandchildren as "bums". Since Linda and I have four of the "bums", we thought the name would be appropriate.

Our Bums

DEFINITION 2: "Bumboat", My Great Grandfather

Around 1880 my great grandfather, John A. Robertson emigrated to Duluth/Superior from Scotland. He spent the majority of his life working on Lake Superior as the captain of the "Ernie B.", a marine supply vessel known in the business as a "bumboat". The bumboat would provide the necessary provisions to ships loading or unloading cargo in the port of Duluth/Superior. A bumboat would be a floating variety store providing essential supplies to sailors and the ship. Typical provisions carried on a bumboat would be groceries, beer, cigarettes, clothing, magazines, drugs, and other personal wares.

When an ore boat or other "laker" would arrive in port, the bumboat would motor out to meet the vessel. The sailors would climb down the side of the ship (as it was proceeding to the dock) and purchase goods or place orders with the bumboat. Due to the rigors of Great Lakes shipping, sailors rarely had any free time in port. While in port, they spent all their energy unloading/loading the vessel. The bumboats were an effective method of merchandising.

On June 10, 1931 my great grandfather was taking the Ernie B. out for a routine rendezvous with the steamer John A. Donaldson of the Midland Steamship lines. On that Wednesday afternoon, he was accompanied by my great uncle (13 year old Archie). Archie was promised a ride on the Ernie B. as soon as school ended for the year. The Ernie B. was loaded with two tons of coal and meat for the steamer. Lake Superior and the adjacent Superior Bay were raging that day. As my grandfather piloted the Ernie B. near the ship, a large wave struck the Ernie B. swamping the vessel. The loose coal, it was said, shifted and caused the Ernie B. to list to the port side.

Additional waves swamped the launch and in only a few seconds it started to go down, stern first. Sailors on the Donaldson tossed three life rings and two heaving lines. By the time some of them had climbed down the ladder from the fantail of the Donaldson, they found young Archie on top of the cabin. He said his grandfather had pushed him out through a small window in the side of the cabin. The Ernie B. sunk in seconds after Archie jumped off. My great grandfather went down with his ship into the cold waters of Superior Bay.

The following are some excerpts from the local Superior Evening Telegram.

Great Grandfather Goes Down with Ship

DEFINITION 3: "Bumboat", My Grandfather

In 1925 my grandfather, James A. Robertson moved to Cleveland from Duluth/Superior. "Jimmy's" first job was with Hausheer & Sons, a marine supply company furnishing the lake freighters and sailing vessels with provisions since the 1850's. Captain Jimmy was in command of one of the two bumboats operated by Hausheer. He spent the next 30 years navigating the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie servicing the shipping industry.

In the late 1950's Captain Jimmy severed his relationship with Hausheer & Sons and acquired his own vessel (entrepreneurship runs in the family). He purchased for $1.00 a 41 foot, 15 ton, 3/8 inch steel vessel suitable for launching his own bumboat operation. Capitalizing on 30 years of relationships on the river, he spent the next 15 years running his own bumboat. As a kid, I can remember weekends as "crew" aboard the bumboat. Cleveland was a busy laker port and there was plenty of ship traffic. Meeting the ships in the harbor, piloting alongside, and then receiving the crew via rope ladders was quite intriguing. During the shipping season (mid April through early January) my grandparent's house would be "port of call" for many an ore boat captain and crew. Their sea tales would always be tall after they downed massive quantities of scotch.

In 1965 my grandfather's bumboat, was struck by an ore boat navigating "collision bend" on the Cuyahoga. Now the second bumboat in our family went to the bottom. It was raised, repaired, and put back into operation within a short period of time. In 1970, after 45 years on the water operating bumboats, my grandfather sold out and retired. The following are a few pictures of Captain Jimmy and his bumboats.

Grandfather's Bumboat

  • Captain Jim

  • Inside of Bumboat

  • Entrepreneur

  • Built in 1923

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