SS Carl D. Bradley

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The SS Carl D. Bradley was a self-unloading Great Lakes freighter. Built in 1927 by the American Ship Building Company in Lorain, Ohio, the Bradley was owned by the Michigan Limestone division of U.S. Steel, and operated by the Bradley Transportation Line. The Bradley was the sister ship to the SS Cedarville, also owned by US Steel, which sank in 1965.[1]


The Bradley was named for Carl David Bradley, who was president of Michigan Limestone at the time. It was honored in 1943 by being the first Lake freighter to pass through the new MacArthur Lock, part of the Soo Locks.

At 639' LOA she was the longest freighter (and the largest self-unloader) on the lakes. Although later the AA class of U.S. Steel-owned freighters were roughly the same size she bore the title "Queen of the Lakes" until the launch of the 678' SS Wilfred Sykes in 1950. The Bradley's final season would be 1958--oddly enough the Edmund Fitzgerald's first season. Ironically, the 'Fitz' would later suffer a similar fate in a November gale.[2] Other Great Lakes freighters that have been lost in recent times under similar conditions were the Daniel J. Morrell and the Henry Steinbrenner.

The Bradley's registered port was New York City; however, her true home was Rogers City, Michigan, where Michigan Limestone was based. As the boats of the Bradley Transportation fleet were often out and back home every few days, many of the crews made their homes and raised their families in Rogers City.

The Bradley met its fate on 18 November 1958. The previous day, it had unloaded a cargo of crushed stone at Gary, Indiana. Northbound, it coasted along the Wisconsin shore in ballast as seas gathered strength from the southwest. It was the deadhead half of the boat's final scheduled voyage of the 1958 season, which was ending because of the deteriorating climatic conditions of late fall.

The Bradley was scheduled to head to Manitowoc, Wisconsin for repairs when laid up over the winter. A rusting cargo hold had been set for an $800,000 replacement in the prior year. However, its owner, Bradley Transportation Company (a U.S. Steel subsidiary) pushed back the repair. Meanwhile, a radio call from headquarters ordered one more stone delivery before the layup. This proved to be the demise of the Bradley. She encountered a storm with 65 mile per hour winds and 20-foot (6.1 m) waves. Despite these conditions, which "compelled other freighter captains to take shelter" along the shore, Captain Roland Bryan, known as a 'heavy weather man,' headed into Lake Michigan bearing northeast from the Door County Peninsula toward the Mackinac Straits.

Continuing on this course, by 5:35 p.m. the ship was about 12 miles (19 km) southwest of Gull Island. At this moment the hull of the vessel sagged alarmingly and began to break in two. The first mate managed to radio three separate transmissions of mayday before the power lines aboard the ship were severed. An order was given to abandon ship, but the Bradley sank before any life saving craft could be effectively launched.[3]

A German cargo vessel, the Christian Sartori, witnessed the sinking. However, the wind and waves were so fierce that it took her two hours to traverse the four miles that separated the vessels.[4]

The distress call was picked up by the Coast Guard. Despite grave peril, the USCG Cutter Sundew went forth out from a safe mooring in Charlevoix, Michigan into the open lake, still lashed by the teeth of an unremitting gale. Coast Guard Station Charlevoix also launched a 36 foot motor lifeboat in an attempt to reach the Bradley, but was ordered back after being mercilessly tossed about on Lake Michigan.

United States Coast Guard air and surface units and other commercial vessels searched for survivors throughout the night and into the next morning. At 8:25am on 19 November, the Sundew located the Bradley's forward life raft 5 miles (8.0 km) northeast of Gull Island with two survivors aboard — First Mate Elmer H. Fleming, 43, and Deck Watchman Frank L. Mays, 26. Another crew member from the Bradley, deckwatch Gary Strelecki was also found alive, but sadly died not long after being rescued. Throughout the night and the following days, the Sundew and other vessels recovered 17 more bodies, many of which were brought to Charlevoix City Hall for family identification. In all, 33 crewmen lost their lives. The bodies of the 15 men not recovered remain missing to this day.

Legacy and memorial

Of the 33 men who died in the sinking, 23 were from Rogers City, Michigan. The effect on the town and its people is documented in the film November Requiem.[5]

In August 2007, divers John Scoles and John Janzen removed the Bradley's bell and returned it to Rogers City, where it was restored and unveiled in a ceremony held the weekend of the 49th anniversary of the Bradley sinking. Curators planned to toll the bell again on the 50th anniversary of the sinking. A memorial bell of similar dimensions, engraved with the names of the lost crew, was placed on the Bradley two days after the original bell was removed. Janzen and Scoles utilized heliox breathing gas and closed circuit rebreathers to complete the work. This was the deepest artifact recovery mission ever performed in the great lakes by autonomous divers. All decompression was completed in the water, without the aid of diving bells, surface support vessels or decompression chambers.

Memorial events in Rogers City were held for the 50th anniversary of the loss.[6] On 17 November 2008, a 50th Anniversary Memorial was held at the Great Lakes Lore Museum in Rogers City.[7] At the time of the disaster, Life Magazine ran an "expose." The documentary movie, November Requiem which explored how the Northern Michigan community coped with the disaster, premiered at the Rogers City Theater during the ceremonies.[8]

Despite the loss, Rogers City continues to be a busy port, shipping upwards of 300,000 tons of limestone each year, about 500 boatloads, "Hundreds of millions of tons of limestone" have been shipped from the quarry located at the Port of Calcite, Michigan, making it "the busiest bulk cargo port in Michigan's Lower Peninsula."[9]


The following men were lost in the sinking. Unless noted, all resided in Rogers City, Michigan. † denotes body not recovered.

File:Card D Bradley Pilot house door.jpg
SS Carl D. Bradley Pilot House. Depth here is approx. 315 feet (96 m).
Name: Carl D. Bradley
Owner: Bradley Transportation Company Duluth, Minnesota 1927–1952
United States Steel Corporation Cleveland, Ohio 1952–1958
Operator: Bradley Transportation Company Duluth, Minnesota 1927–1952
United States Steel Corporation Cleveland, Ohio 1952–1958
Port of registry: Flag of the United States.svg United States
Builder: American Shipbuilding, Lorain, OH
Yard number: 00797
Launched: April 9, 1927
Christened: July 28, 1927
Completed: Early summer 1927
Maiden voyage: July 27-28th 1927 Lorain, OH to Rogers City, MI
In service: July 28, 1927
Out of service: November 18, 1958
Identification: Registry number US 277437
Fate: Lost in a storm on November 18, 1958
General characteristics
Class and type: Lake freighter Self-Unloader
Tonnage: 10,028 tons
Length: 639’
Beam: 65.2’
Depth: 30.2’
Installed power: 4,800hp
Propulsion: General Electric high and low pressure Steam Turbines turning electric motors to a single fixed pitch propeller
Speed: 14-16mph
Capacity: 14,000tons (stone) 12,000tons (coal) largest cargo 18,114 tons (stone)
Crew: 35
Notes: Second vessel to carry this name. The first SS Carl D. Bradley was renamed SS John G. Munson in 1927 and SS Irvin L. Clymer in 1951.
  • Paul R. Horn, 21; Oiler
  • Dennis M. Joppich, 19; Wiper
  • Raymond J. Kowalski, 31; Wheelsman
  • Joseph Krawczak, 35; Wheelsman
  • Floyd A. MacDougall, 26; Oiler †
  • Dennis B. Meredith, 25; Metz Township, Michigan; Deckhand †
  • Melville W. Orr, 35; Watchman †
  • Alfred G. Pilarski, 30; Second Cook
  • Gary N. Price, 21, Onaway, Michigan; Deckhand
  • Leo J. Promo, Jr., 21; Asst. Conveyorman
  • Bernard J. Schefke, 19; Porter
  • Keith H. Schuler, 34; Third Assistant Engineer
  • James L. Selke, 18; Porter †
  • Gary L. Strzelecki, 21; Deckwatch
  • Earl P. Tulgetske, Jr., 30, Wheelsman †
  • Edward N. Vallee, 49; Conveyorman
  • John Zoho, 63; Clairton, Pennsylvania; Steward

See also


Additional reading


External links

fi:SS Carl D. Bradley