November 8, 1921: Steamer nearly collides with Aerial Bridge’s Gondola Car

This day in Duluth in 1921 the steamer Joshua Rhodes nearly collided with the gondola car of the Aerial Transfer Bridge. While the Transfer Bridge never had an accident with a vessel navigating the canal, there were many close calls. Operators liked to say that sometimes the car came so close to a vessel, there would certainly have been a collision “if the boat had been covered with one more coat of paint.” Hyperbole aside, the near-collision with the Rhodes was the closest recorded call, coming within fifteen feet of the gondola car, according to the Duluth Herald. With about fifty passengers aboard—plus a full load of cars, trucks, and coal wagons—trouble with the trucks that moved the ferry car stopped it about two-fifths of its way south across the canal as the Rhodes approached. Its operators leaped into action: one rang the emergency signal on the bell—five loud clangs—while another climbed atop the ferry car and waved his arms, trying to get the attention of the Rhodes’ captain. Nearby the captain of the tug Ellen D. blew her whistle and waited in case it was needed to help push the Rhodes away from the ferry car. Luckily, officers on the Rhodes were paying attention and were able to steer the ore boat just in time to allow it to pass safely. On November 10 the Duluth News Tribune reported that the Herald—despite photographic evidence supplied by noted Duluth photographer Perry Gallagher—had blown the story way out of proportion, and that the Rhodes was never closer than fifty feet from the ferry car. The News Tribune quoted bridge superintendent Leonard Green, who said, “The story about the danger to the gondola car and its passengers is exaggerated.”

The steamer Joshua Rhodes. (Image: great Lakes Vessel Index)