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Unloading: 1900

Buffalo, New York, circa 1900. "Thornberger hoist unloading ore at Lackawanna docks." 8x10 inch glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.

Buffalo, New York, circa 1900. "Thornberger hoist unloading ore at Lackawanna docks." 8x10 inch glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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Alva Sunk 1895

According to Great Lakes Maritime History Vol 1. Chapter 41
(1895) "August: Steamer Alva sunk by collision with whaleback barge 117 at the Sault." Unless the ship being unloaded is a different Alva, this picture has to have been taken before then.

Janey Couplers & Brakes

It is interesting to note that all the freight cars (drop bottom gondola type) are equipped with Janey style knuckle couplers. Car 18440 is marked as having air brakes but the others are not and do not show any air hoses next to the couplers. These cars must have been assembled into very interesting trains with air brakes on some cars and hand brakes on others. This picture was taken during that transition time. I think air brakes were required by law on all interchange cars (those cars passed from one railroad to another) by 1906.

Other unloading cranes

Here's a link to the development and photos of much larger buckets and cranes as the industry evolved. Visit each of the sites in the left navigation page for a overall history.

Unloading Iron ore


On the link kindly provided by stanton_square showing the other end of these hoists, one can see a shaft extending from the last hoist and being supported by a sawhorse and a bearing block being positioned by tapered wedges or shims. Such a block, probably wooden, properly oiled provides a surprisingly good bearing surface and placed to keep the shaft from whipping and damaging the inboard bearing. This shaft extension leads me to believe that indeed this set of hoists is powered by a line shaft from the shed. All of the hoists probably have these shaft extensions for connection to each other and rather than cut off the last one, it is usually left in place for future expansion or to move to another position should one hoist be destroyed or go out of service.

A Powerful Idea

The power to these hoists perhaps is provided by a line shaft from the shed on the left, which happens to be inline with the hoists. There appear to be two steam exhaust stacks from the roof, which could indicate a large twin cylinder or tandem steam engine with a boiler elsewhere. A line shaft could exit the end of the shed and run through near the base of each hoist much like an old time machine shop providing power to each hoist, and each of course being individually controlled by an operator. Also note, the counter balance weights on each hoist that look like lumber planks stacked three or four, hooked to cable running over pulleys and guided by round bar. I think rather than wood planks, they are large steel flat bar counterweights to assist in moving and/or balancing the load of the booms as they swing back and forth. A second set of weights are certainly on the other side of each hoist out of view. A line shaft providing power to the cable lifts for the ore buckets and also the booms, which being relieved by the counter weights would require less power.

Electric or steam

The building in the foreground with the large stack and the 2 smaller stacks appears to be a stationary steam plant. I do not see any wires or typical electric infrastructure going to the hoists. On the other hand I also do not see any evidence of steam operation on the hoist mechanism. If they were in operation at the time of the photo you would see exhaust steam coming off of the steam powered winches.

Steam or electric?

I'd say steam from the steam plant on the left. the venting out the top is a tell tale of steam pressure venting from an engine. I imagine the steam is produced there and vented there (no venting on the rig itself it seems) and supplied under the track it traverses on. I just wonder if they had some kind of flexible piping to allow the thing to move or if they hooked it up after setting it in place.. it doesn't look like it has to travel far.

One more possibility is that they were powered hydrolically from the steam plant. that would solve a lot of problems bringing steam out to the units. the other post mentions 2000t over 10 hours so I don't imagine each of the units had to deal with a lot or weight in a shovel full. I think it was built for speed over capacity and hydrolic would make sense and is about right for it to be tried in 1900 for a job like this

Medieval ore loaders

Looks like a bunch of trebuchets to me. Look at all of those barges waiting to go back up the Erie Canal.

Six-Rig Thornburg Hoist

I believe the correct spelling is Thornburg, though their are several variants: Thornberg, Thornburgh, and Thornberger. A reverse view of the same machines is at Hydra: 1901. An earlier year of the Blue Book referred to them as Excelsior Hoists. I can't find out much information on either Thornburg or Excelsior Hoists and whether they were one and the same. Also, I still can't figure out how these things were powered: electric or steam?

Blue Book of American Shipping, 1909.

Railway Terminal Facilities for Ore and Coal Traffic on Lake Erie.

Buffalo, N.Y.

Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Co., (Docks in Erie Basin), W. E. Dowle, assistant general freight agent — Six-rig Thornburg hoist, capable of unloading 1,500 gross tons in ten hours. All rigs can be worked on any vessel having hatches of 24 feet centers or less. No storage room.

Flat bottom gondolas

I never thought about how the unloaded those cars -- hole in the middle, so men have to push the coal to the opening, eh? I had wondered. Labor was all American back then.

The American Flyer train set I had as a kid had cars that tilted to dump.

That's a load?

Note the gondolas with a pile of ore in each end of the car. These cars are loaded. Ore is much heavier, by volume, than coal. To load one of these cars with ore like the coal load in the foreground, would cause the car to collapse. Coal hoppers are loaded with iron ore exactly the same way today.

Also note the old boxcar sitting on the ground at right. It has been demoted to yard shanty status. This car is about 34 feet long, and was likely built in the 1880's.


I hope those 2 guys standing in that open boxcar were getting hazardous duty pay.

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