Photo courtesy of the St. Paul District of The Army Corps of Engineers
In the 1930s and 1940s, tasked by the US Government, The Corps of Engineers took on a project to create and maintain a channel depth of nine feet on the upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. The nine foot channel project would require new modern equipment to be built for the Corps fleet, including a new dredge (William A. Thompson), as well as new support equipment. Built in 1939 at Bayport, Minnesota by the St. Croix Shipbuilders, the Joseph Throckmorton (now named Elizabeth Lea), was one of three identical dredge tender towboats used in conjunction with the dredge William A. Thompson. The three tender's primary job was to move the large (20” diameter) silt discharge pipeline and its barges around for the dredge. Just as the Throckmorton and her sisters had replaced aging equipment in the early 1990s she was replaced with newer equipment and put up for auction.
The Restoration project:
In late 2004 the third owner of the boat decided that he was either going to scrap it or find a home for the boat and someone willing to restore it. By this time the Throckmorton was the last of the three identical sister boats. As fate would have it the current owners intervened and the boat was saved from the cutters torch. In October of 2004 the pilothouse was removed and the rest of the boat prepared for the journey overland on a trailer to Indiana. The pieces of the boat came back together just before Halloween and by November the boat was launched into the Ohio River, where she stayed at Lamb, Indiana. By the end of 2005 the decision was made that it was time to get the boat out of the water for hull repairs and so she was towed to Cincinnati and hauled out. Over the course of the next ten years the boat was restored including replacing hull plate, scraping, painting, cleaning, repairing, and re-engineering the mechanicals until finally in late 2014 she went back into the water.
A new job in retirement:
Today Elizabeth Lea serves as a reminder and steward of river history from the 1930s and 1940s. She travels to river towns to allow people to see what a boat of this era looks like and how she differs from today’s towboats. She is an excellent example of an early all welded steel towboat with the first such towboat of this kind being built just eight years before her in 1931. The boat now makes her home port in Aurora, Indiana.
Powered by a single Detroit Diesel 8V71 model making 265 horsepower
Single 36” left hand three blade Nibral propeller
Weighs 56,000 pounds and has a top speed of about 8 mph
October 2004 on the banks of the Mississippi River Louisiana Missouri
June 1939 Article in Motorboating Magazine
One of the over 50 drawings by the St. Croix Shipbuilding Corporation - Bayport, Minn., for the 42' work boat - U.S. Engineers Hull # 205 Dated: 1 -12- 39 by G.B.H.
Courtesy of the St. Paul District of The Army Corps of Engineers