The Wreck of the Goodyear


By James Donahue


The ore carrier Frank H. Goodyear was the flagship of the Buffalo Steamship Company fleet. Named for the man who developed the famous Pullman railroad car, the Goodyear was distinguished because it carried an ornate Pullman car bolted to her deck.


That railroad car, complete with luxury living quarters and even a grand piano, went to the bottom of Lake Huron with the Goodyear and 17 terrified sailors after a collision in fog with the freighter James B. Wood off Point aux Barques, in Michigan’s Thumb District, early on May 23, 1910.


The Goodyear was laden with iron ore and the ship was steaming toward its home port of Cleveland when the collision occurred. It was early in the morning and the cooks, Frank H Bassett and his wife, Lillian, of Algonac, were busy fixing a hearty breakfast for the crew. Their three-year-old son, Harry, was with them in the mess hall nearby.


At 5:45 a.m., just before the change of the watch, the Bassetts issued a call to breakfast. Many of the sailors were already gathered in the mess when they heard a ship’s whistle that sounded very close.


Almost immediately after that the 416-foot-long ship lurched so violently that it knocked men off their feet. The Wood’s bow had slammed hard into the side of the Goodyear, almost amidships.


The first thing the sailors in the mess did that morning was the wrong response. They ran out on the deck to see what happened. Unfortunately, nobody realized how little time they had to save themselves. The Goodyear was virtually cut in two and was already starting its fall to the bottom of Lake Huron.


Bassett, perhaps prompted by the fact that he had his family on board, took immediate steps to save his wife and son. He put life preservers on them. About the time he was doing this he said the boat jerked under him and something struck him in the back of the head, knocking him unconscious.


He came to, floating in the water. Bassett was one of only five survivors.


Another survivor was Frank’s mother, Emma Bassett, the boat’s porter. She said she was scrubbing the cabin floors when she heard the whistles of both ships. “The fact that we were so close attracted my attention, and I went on deck. A moment later the crash came and I grabbed one of the life preservers.”


Mrs. Bassett said she slung the preserver crudely over one arm and jumped over the rail. She went under water for a long time, then came back to the surface, only to sink again. Finally she said she came to the top again and this time managed to hang onto some floating debris until sailors in a yawl boat from the Wood pulled her out of the water.


“It was awful. While I was probably in the water for but a few minutes, it seemed like hours,” she said.


One unidentified member of the Wood’s crew said he watched the sinking from the deck of his ship. It was a scene of horror.


“Standing amidships on the Goodyear were the entire crew, all huddled together, and I could see first one and then another jump overboard. But suddenly the Goodyear made a lurch to one side and went down out of sight, leaving a big hole in the water. The suction carried the crew down with it.


“The next I saw was a woman come to the top with a child in her arms. One of the hatches then bubbled up and struck her. I was forced to turn my head from the sickening sight,” the sailor said.


That woman and child, undoubtedly Lillian and John Basset, were killed by the crushing blow of the big wooden hatch cover as it rose from under them.


Other witnesses said the air pressure from the inrushing water blew some of the hatch covers high in the air moments before the Goodyear sank. They believed other crew members were killed as the big covers fell on top of them.


The other survivors included fireman Frank Mollick of Chicago and engineer George Grant of Carsonville, Michigan. Both men said they ran from the engine room after the crash and just jumped overboard. Also surviving was Capt. F. R. Hemenger of Algonac. Hemenger declined comment about the wreck and about his personal experience.


The master of the Wood, a Captain Gibson, said he was too upset to talk about the accident. He ordered lifeboats lowered, and his crew spent about seven hours searching the area for survivors. After that he turned the Wood back to Port Huron.


The steamer William Siemens, commanded by Capt. William McElroy, arrived on the scene shortly after the sinking and stood by for several hours. McElroy said he heard the whistles of the two boats and then the crash from almost a mile away.


The Goodyear was found a few years ago by divers.


More Ship Stories


Return to The Mind of James Donahue

Great And Lost Ships Of The World