CITY OF ANGELES
Shaw Island ferry dock
San Juan Archipelago, WA.
Barlow Elevator aboard.
Click image to enlarge.
original photo from the archives of
the Saltwater People Historical Society©
"Freight handling on Puget Sound was transformed in the early 1920s by the introduction of a freight elevator that could be installed on either a dock or a ship.
The Barlow Marine Elevator made possible the loading or unloading of a vessel at a dock during any stage of the tide.
Captain Harry Barlow had invented the elevator in 1910; some were in use prior to 1920, but sales really took off after Capt. Barlow joined forces with the Colby Steel & Electric Co., in 1924.
In Nov. 1926, more than a hundred Barlow elevators were in service on ships, on docks, and in warehouses. In 1930, the familiar four posts of the Barlow Marine Elevator could be seen on nearly every freighter or freight and passenger vessel in the Mosquito Fleet.
Harry Barlow was born at Barlow Bay on Lopez Island in the San Juan Islands, on 1 January 1876. He was the younger brother of the well known Capt. Sam Barlow, who had been born on the same spot, 3 April 1870.
Their father was the pioneer Lopez settler, Capt. Arthur (Billy) Barlow, builder, operator, and owner of the schooners Henrietta and Port Admiral.
Both boys were experienced seamen by the time they were in their teens.
In 1905, Capt Barlow transferred to the Merchants Transportation Co., as master of the A.W. Sterett. On 30 Nov 1906, however, he joined William A. Marmont, a pioneer marine engineer, in purchasing the freighter Transport.
In 1909, the partners purchased the Starr Steamship Co., and thereafter operated a fleet of freighters. One of the vessels acquired was the Fidalgo, and in 1910, Capt. Barlow installed his first elevator on that vessel.
The years of freighting and freight handling had provided the captain and former deckhand with ample opportunity to experience the joys of wrestling sacks of wheat from ship to dock at low tide. The docks always remained at the same level, while the ship deck could drop a distance of 12 feet in six hours. In another six hours, it could return to maximum height, as the cycle was completed.
Unfortunately, ship operators couldn't wait for a favorable stage of the tide. To facilitate the movement of freight, inclined planes, called freight slips, were set into the faces of most docks. These extended from dock level to low tide, and deckhands were expected to haul freight up these incline on hand trucks.
Few slips were on a slope of fewer than 30 degrees, and owing to the tide, the lower half was made underwater during a part of every day. Bathed twice daily in seawater, the portion of the slip was as slick as ice and twice as nasty.
On some docks, the distance from the top of the slip to the warehouse was not great, and it often appeared that deckhand, load, and all would go clear through and out the back wall.
Capt. Barlow may or may not have been concerned about the discomfort of deckhands, but whatever his motive, someone was later to estimate that the Barlow elevator saved 50 percent in loading time. This attracted wide attention.
Like most inventions, however, the Barlow elevator had to prove itself before it was adopted. For two years, the only one in existence was on the Fidalgo.
T. W. LAKE
with Barlow Elevator
Built in 1896 for the
LaConner Trading & Transport
under Joshua Green and associates.
Undated original photo from the archives of
the Saltwater People Historical Society©
Since the elevator supplied such a basic need on tidal waters, the business was bound to prosper, and in 1924, Barlow turned over exclusive manufacturing rights to the Colby Steel & Engineering Co., Seattle. The company then had an office in the Central Building, then later on Harbor Island.
Once the elevator was installed on a steamboat, there was no longer a need to drag freight up inclines. All movement was on the level, or horizontal. On the freight dock of a vessel, hand trucks were pulled onto the elevator platform at deck level. The platform was then raised to dock level, or just high enough to lift the outer end of a freight plank, extending out from the dock. The deckhand then pulled the hand truck across the plank, to the wharf.
Advertising in the Marine Digest in 1927, the Colby Crane and Engineering Co., invited ship owners to write in, describing their freight handling requirements. The company would then build an elevator to the requirements of the particular vessel. Thus, the elevators were tailored to fit vessels of the Mosquito Fleet, regardless of size or characteristics.
On the freight and passenger steamer Virginia V, a steam winch in the hold provided the necessary power for the elevator. The steam was piped from the source that supplied the main engine.
When the steamer Arcadia was launched in 1929, the engine from a Stanley Steamer automobile was installed in her to power the freight elevator. Steam, of course, was always available from the boiler, on steamboats. On diesel-powered freighters, however, power for the elevator was another problem.When a Barlow elevator was installed on the motor vessel F. H. Marvin, power was supplied by the main engine, through a system of gears and a clutch. On the Sea Tac, the elevator was driven by compressed air. This proved to be far more satisfactory than the system of gears.
On the Sea Tac, too, the Barlow elevator brought about another innovation in freight handling. In 1927, Fred H. Marvin, head of the Merchants Transportation Co, put a Hood tractor and five trailers aboard the vessel to replace the old hand trucks pulled by deckhands. Used with the elevators, this equipment was highly successful. So, without realizing it, perhaps, the company was moving in the direction of palletized loads.
In 1928, Capt. F. E. Lovejoy, of the rival Puget Sound Freight Lines, put Elwell Parker lift trucks aboard the freighter Skookum Chief.
These lift trucks were the forerunners of the modern forklift. A lifting platform slipped under a flat skid or loading platform. The skid and load were then lifted and wheeled aboard the vessel.
Three men could now handle 100 tons of freight per hour; one operating the Barlow elevator, the other two driving lift trucks. In 1929, the PSFL merged with the Merchants Transportation Co., and palletized
freight handling became standard throughout the combined fleets.
At the time of Captain Harry Barlow's death, in 1945, Barlow elevators were in use on the Pacific, Gulf, and Atlantic coasts, as well as in Canada, South America, and on the Mississippi River. Companies that had installed them included: the Erie Railway, the Union Pacific, the Munson Steamship Lines, Moore McCormack Lines, American President Lines, Canadian National Steamship Co., Crowley Tugboat Co., and Carnation Albers Co. A truly remarkable invention!"
Text by author/historian Roland Carey.
Published by the good people at Marine Digest, Seattle, WA.