TWO HARBORS — A retired tugboat that once aided ore boats into and out of the harbor and ore dock berths at Two Harbors, was recently honored with a 125th birthday celebration.
The Edna G. was built in 1896 by Cleveland Shipbuilding, at the order of the Duluth and Iron Range Railroad, for assisting ore carriers of every description, into and out of the harbor at Agate Bay in Two Harbors, according to information found on the website of the Friends of the Edna G., a non-profit organization aimed at preserving the tugboat.
Named after Edna Greatsinger, President of the Duluth & Iron Range Railroad, the Edna G. is the last of the steam driven tugboats as noted on a plaque displayed on a pavilion on the shore overlooking the harbor.
The iconic tugboat is now a floating museum owned by the City of Two Harbors, and remains fully operational, while anchored near the ore docks at Agate Bay in Two Harbors.
A two-day 125th birthday celebration took place Aug. 28 and 29, and included live music, games, and tours, at the city park near where the Edna G. is docked, according to Kathy Glenn, Chair of the Friends of the Edna G.
Tom Koehler, a member of the Friends of the Edna G. who often volunteers at the tug, served as a tour guide for the event, and narrated a YouTube video of the 125-year old tug.
Koehler, in an interview after the celebration, shared a bit of the history of the Edna G., including her contribution to the mining industry, and was keenly aware of the tug’s link to the mining industry.
“Part of the history of iron mining in Minnesota is written in every crease and wrinkle in the tug’s hull,” said Koehler, who has called Two Harbors his home since 1971 after serving in the U.S. Navy.
Kohler’s said the tourists he guided at the birthday celebration weren’t disappointed.
“I think it was always smiling faces, walking away from the tug, and one man was so impressed with the tour that he dropped a nice, fresh, crisp $100 bill into the donation kitty,” Koehler said.
Koehler pointed out some unique features of the Edna G., including its steel construction, which he said was a rarity for tugs on the Great Lakes at the time it was built.
“It made the shipping newspapers in the 1890s,” Koehler said.
The only wood was in all window frames and the doors, the gunwales and fender strakes (rub rails), according to information found on the Friends of the Edna G. website. It goes on to state that shortly before the U.S. involvement in World War I, steel doors and windows were installed.
The Edna G.’s exquisite interior includes a passenger compartment described as “quite lavish” by the Friends group and includes polish birch paneling and brass fittings.
“That’s a feature most working tugs didn’t have,” Koehler noted.
A newspaper article from the early 20th Century tells of a senator, a congressman, and other high-ranking officials taking the tug for a weekend long junket on the North Shore aboard the Edna G., and the hiring of another tug to take her place as mentioned by Koehler.
Koehler said the railroad president was also known to take notable people for a harbor ride, including photographers to take glamor shots of the tugs and ore boats at work.
Here are some other facts compiled by the Friends of the Edna G. contained on the group’s website.
With a registry tonnage of 154 tons, the Edna G.’s deadweight is 300 tons, or about 272.15 Metric tons. She is 110 feet long, 23-foot beam and about 12-foot draft and has a single four-blade propeller of nine feet in diameter.
In 1949 the Edna G. had her boiler updated from 700 horsepower to 1,000 horsepower, to accommodate bigger ore boats.
While primarily used for helping ore boats in and out of the harbor and ore dock berths, the Edna G. has also been instrumental in many rescue operations after storms or collisions on Lake Superior. She has also been used for firefighting efforts on burning boats, burning sections of ore docks, and on rare occasions burning buildings on or near the waterfront.
At some point, the Edna G. was reinforced to serve as an icebreaker, which facilitated her involvement in firefighting operations.
For a two-year period during World War I, the Edna G. hauled coal barges along the East Coast, aside from that she remained in service at Two Harbors up until her retirement.
In 1976 during the Bicentennial celebration, a one-mile race was held involving the Edna G., a Coast Guard cutter, and a diesel-powered tug.
“She defeated them easily,” it states on the site.
Captain Adolph Ojard is credited with the following quote after the race, “Now, when the Edna G. retires, she can go with dignity.”
On Dec. 30, 1980, the Edna G. had its historic last tow, pulling the ore carrier Cason J. Calloway.
Glenn said the Friends of the Edna G. came about because the group of about a dozen members felt they should bring the Edna G. to the attention of people in town.
“People had just forgotten her,” Glenn said of the city-owned tugboat. “She just hadn’t crossed people’s minds anymore.”
In conjunction with the Edna G. Commission, the wood on the pilot house windows have been replaced, the whistle was repaired, and preservation work was done in the pilot house of the 125 year old tug, according to Glenn.
Northern Bedrock Restoration Corps, an Americorps program that partners young adults with professionals on preservation projects, was involved with the restoration process.
Koehler, a retiree of the DM&IR Railroad with 32 years of service, said his maritime experience in the Navy piqued his interest in the Edna G., leaving him to wonder if there was any type of preservation effort in place. He began volunteering at the tugboat a few years prior to becoming a charter member of the Friends group.
Tours of the Edna G. are offered on occasion, mainly during special celebrations like the 125th birthday event and the annual Heritage Days celebration in Two Harbors, Koehler said. Other tours are given from time to time, with permission by the city.
“The tug is city property, and there are issues to be addressed if it’s not for regular work,” he said.
More information on The Friends of the Edna G., is available on the group’s website at www.friendsoftheednag.org.