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Alligator Tug

October 20, 2022

Hamilton H at Norland

When large-scale timber exports began in the Kawarthas, the crews were getting the sticks from the bush to Quebec City, for shipment across the Atlantic using only gravity, wind and muscle power. In hindsight seems remarkable that wood could be felled, hauled out of the bush, towed across lakes, floated down rivers, assembled and disassembled as cribs countless times, run through rapids and sailed to Europe, to be sold at a profit. It was certainly very laborious.

Initially capstan cribs were used to move booms of timber (a boom was a series of logs connected by chains that surrounded many timbers, so they could all be towed or stored together). The capstan was a raft that had a large horse-powered winch on it. By attaching a chain or cable to a tree or anchor, the winch could pull the raft across the lake, as the horses walked in a circle, drawing in the cable. By holding the raft stationary with an anchor or tree, the winch could pull logs across the lake. On rivers, generally logs were moved individually with a current, often using dams to manipulate the rate of flow.

The Alligator tug was essentially a steam-powered capstan. It was a paddlewheel steamer, so it was self-propelled, and could tow a boom much like a capstan. It was amphibious, because it could also tow itself across land, attaching the cable to a tree at the next lake (typically rolling on logs to save the hull). They were so much faster and more convenient, that when introduced in 1889 they quickly made capstans obsolete.  They were also a spectacle wherever they went.

The first alligator in the Kawarthas was the 20 hp Hamilton H., operated by J.W. Howry & Sons, costing $800 in 1894. Mossom Boyd Company bought one to ship out west as the business moved to British Columbia. All alligators were made by West & Peachey of Simcoe, Ontario and were numbered.

The remains of a few Alligator Tugs can still be visited in Algonquin Park, including Alligator #49, on Burntroot Lake.

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