The two timer

In this issue the author writes of Captain Dan Rooney and his LUFF and his early passages through the Murray Canal to get to Quinte ports; also mentioning the Eliza Fisher, Annandale, Picton, Annie Falconer and Jessie Drummond.

Toronto Telegram, April 1, 1944
Schooner Days DCXXXV (635)
By C.H.J. Snider

THE quiet gentleman with the grizzled moustache and puckered eyelids and strangely hard brown hands wore the well cut clothes of a traveling buyer, and always sat as though poised for a quick takeoff. No passengers on the K&P., B.R.& W., N.Y.C., D.L. & W., G.T.R., C.P.R., or whatever else had we in the railway initials which rollicked through 1905 ever guessed that he was sailing two three-masted schooners with twenty-one sails between them, and his own suit of oilskins hanging in the cabin of each, while he sat on the edge of the plush seat of the day coach, with his handbag handy.

The conductors, to whom he was as well known as the yard whistle, might have told them. But even so, who would have believed? Ride two horses at once? Yes, circus stunters and politicians got away with that. But sail two vessels at once, and on a railway track? Quit your kidding. It couldn’t be done.

That's exactly what Capt. Dan Rooney – "Little Dan," to distinguish him from his uncle Dan, also a captain – was doing when the quiet gentleman with the brown hands was seen so often on railway trains and steamboats that summer.

"He sailed the biggest three-master through the canal under her double raffee" – the dark bat-winged sails in the upper corner.

Seeing that this Capt. Rooney is fighting Irish stock, born in Corktown, Cobourg, and still going strong, though nearly eighty, one wouldn't like to call him a two-timer to his face. Nor even behind his back, unless one had roller skates and the width of Cobourg Harbor between you. But at this distance, sixty-five miles up the lake, and thirty-eight years after the event, it may be safe to say that he is the only man Schooner Days ever heard of who could and did sail two vessels at one time and made a good job of it.

In Chicago in 1881, the Luff, ripe but still serviceable, was 140 feet long, 26 feet beam and 10 feet deep in the hold and registering 252 tons. The Marshall, a shorter, shallower vessel, registered 219 tons and was 122 feet long, 26 feet 6 inches beam and 9 feet deep. They were both good craft for either coal or grain on Lake Ontario, shallow enough to get into the shallower harbors and large enough to earn a profitable freight.

This was before the Great War, in the first decade of this century, when the schooner trade had a reviving spurt on Lake Ontario. "Little Dan" as he was still known, had been sailing since 1880, when he went through the great November gale in the Hannah Butler. He had risen to be master in turn of the Eliza Fisher, Annandale, Picton, Annie Falconer and Jessie Drummond. All his work had been for other people, though the others were sometimes his uncles.

In the first ten years of the 1900’s Lake Ontario was buying schooners from "Up Above," that is, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, as the Michigan lumber trade had vanished, leaving a surplus of tonnage. Among these imports was the Sophia J. Luff, a fine big white three-master with a raffee on her square-sail yard, that had been built in Marine City, Mich., in 1866. Another was the Charlie Marshall, a smaller three-’n’-after, built by J. B. Bates in Chicago in 1881. The Luff, ripe but still serviceable, was 140 feet long, 26 feet beam and 10 feet deep in the hold and registered 252 tons. The Marshall, a shorter, shallower vessel, registered 219 tons and was 122 feet long, 26 feet 6 inches beam and 9 feet deep. They were both good craft on Lake Ontario, shallow enough to get into the shallower harbors and large enough to earn a profitable freight.

The Richardson firm of grain merchants in Kingston were the owners of both vessels. They had first got Capt. Rooney to bring the Luff down from Lake Michigan and sail her for them, and then, having great confidence in his judgment, had sent him back to buy the Marshall when they learned she was on the market. They were quite pleased to have him invest all his spare cash for a quarter interest in the Marshall, for it assured them of the services of a successful master, and one who, for his own sake, would keep expenses down. It was no novelty for thrifty owners to "give," (at a moderate figure) a share in the vessel to a competent captain, and let him work it out in the wages they would not have to pay, or in his share of the season's profits. Capt. Rooney, equally thrifty, had stipulated that he should be allowed to buy the rest of the Marshall at an agreed price. She just suited his ideal of a strong handy schooner that could be worked with a small crew, and he saw a future for her in the flourishing coal business which he and his were building up with George Plunkett in Cobourg. The Rooneys had been sailors and vessel owners out of Cobourg all his lifetime and that went back far into the 1860s.

But when Little Dan came in, bubbling with enthusiasm over his new command, the Charlie Marshall, the firm made the discovery that it was not easy to find as good a master as he had been for the remaining Sophia J. Luff. Capt. Dan could make money with her in the Bay of Quinte trade, for instance, by sailing her through the Murray Canal, where anyone else would curl up and die if asked to do so – or ruin the firm with tow-bills and damages.

Above - the SOPHIA J. LUFF getting under weigh while the CHARLIE MARSHALL (to the right) fits out in Cobourg astern of the rebuilt steam barge RALPH CAMPBELL of the Rooney-Plunkett fleet. Note: this caption slightly modified to suit the vagaries of the original Telegram layout. Ed.

The Murray Canal, giving access to the Bay, saves a hundred-mile sail around Prince Edward County if you are bound to Trenton from the west, but to get a schooner laden with 600 tons of coal through its six-mile length without employing a tug or teams of horses, or wrecking the four bridges that cross it, takes some doing. Capt. Dan did it by squaring his raffees to a fair wind above the treetops and praying that the bridge tenders would look lively or his numb on the bank would hold if they didn’t. His prayers had always been answered and the Luff would float gently through, the squaresail and yard spreading her bats-wing raffles fifty feet clear above the bridge spans. The tenders were in continuing terror that she would take bridges and everything else with her, but Capt. Dan was not that kind. As said elsewhere, he never cost either the insurance companies or his owners $10 damage, in his sixty years of sailing.

The firm told him they would have to lay the Luff up if he couldn’t find a master for them.

Capt. Dan might have retorted that that would be her funeral, not his, but he is a polite man, and wouldn’t think of doing that. Instead he said: "I’ll sail both vessels for you, on master’s wages for each, and my share of the Marshall’s earnings."

"Can you do that?" they asked.
"Try me," he said.

And they did.

Capt. Dan would sail the Marshall down from Cobourg to Oswego to load coal, and as soon as the lines were out on the trestle he would rush for the steamer for Kingston, to find there the Sophia J. Luff ready loaded with feldspar, say, for Charlotte. He would batter his way up the lake in her, leave her loading at Charlotte, and hop the train for Oswego. By this time the Marshall would be loaded for Cobourg, and he would take her out and across, moor her at the Plunkett yard, run around to the Grand Trunk car ferry, and off for Charlotte and the Sophia J. Luff again.

She, meantime, would have unloaded her feldspar and loaded coal, for Kingston or Toronto or even some corner of the Bay of Quinte, and out he would go with her and crush her through, and leave here there, unloading, to get back to the Marshall at Cobourg by the time she was ready for him got taken her out.

The only sleep the man got must have been in the lake, and that would be broken with the knowledge that while he slept not one vessel but two might be waiting for his washing. He lived so much on trains and steamers he never had time to eat, or they never had anything ready for him before he came to his stop.

With unified management and simplicity of control the Charlie Marshall and the Sophia J. Luff earned dividends that surprised the owners. But Capt. Dan drew nothing but his care fare. He let his double wages lie, $60 a month for sailing each schooners, master's wages as times went for a small vessel like the Marshall, but he thought he should have $75 a month, like anyone else, for sailing the larger Sophia J. Luff. When the owners showed a disposition to pay the difference between $60 and $75 in compliments, he said gently, "Make me out a bill of sale for the other forty-eight shares of the Marshall. I've a mind to be sailing her only next season," and they couldn't budge him from that. He was in the driver's seat, for with his undrawn double-time and what was coming to him from her earnings he was now able to buy the Charlie Marshall outright.

So she was his very own, all of her, and he could sleep once more in peace in his own stateroom, instead of cat-napping on trains.

He had good luck with her – a steady trade into his home port, for the coal firm in which he had an increasing share. He sold her at a profit when the Great War created such a demand for tonnage that lake vessels were being lashed together and towed down the St. Lawrence river three abreast, to be ready loaded with feldspar, say, for coarse-freight barges on salt water. He would batter his way. His firm had already bought and rebuilt the steam-barge Ralph Campbell, knowing that the days of schooner coal were numbered. To complete the happy-ending motif, the Sophia J. Luff was not left to wear the broom at her masthead, which means "For Sale" in waterfront language. She became the property of the Minister of Public Works, doubtless at a figure satisfactory to all concerned. In 1914, in the forty-eighth year of her age, she was registered as a construction barge in the harbor of Quebec.




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