Fire Claimed Lake Freighter Frank L. Vance
By James Donahue
After 23 years the wooden hulled steamship Frank L. Vance took fire and burned to ruin on Lake Michigan, 25-miles off
Ludington, Michigan, on October 4, 1910. The 257-foot-long bulk freighter, under the command of Captain L. A. Rand, was laden
with coal, bound for Milwaukee from Lake Erie ports when the fire broke out.
The ship and its cargo were lost in the fire, but all 16 members of the crew were rescued by the propeller Maggie Marshall
while a second passing vessel, Pere Marquette ferry No. 19, stood by with the crew playing a fire hose on the burning ship.
The Vance had taken shelter at Ludington just prior to the fire because of bad weather.
From the day the Vance was launched at Cleveland, Ohio, in 1887, the Vance maintained a quiet and mostly uneventful
career. There was a small fire at Buffalo in 1897 that apparently broke out in the cargo. The blaze was extinguished with
damage only reported in the cargo.
The ship’s original owner was the Milwaukee Steamship Co. A news clipping describing the Vance on the day of
its launch stated: “She carries three masts and is fitted out with all the modern improvements.” These included
steam powered steering, a steam windlass and capstan and an iron boiler house.
The boiler house was apparently an iron lined boiler room designed to help prevent this part of the vessel from catching
fire. It measured 24 by 25 feet, and 18 feet in height and was made of No. 10 plate.
Fires on wooden steamships commonly broke out in the oil and grease that accumulated on the boiler room floor or in
the wooden frame above the extreme heat of the fire box. While it is obvious the builders of the Vance took steps to prevent
loss by fire, in the end, the ship burned anyway. The cause of the fire was not available and may not have been known.