The Lake Ormoc was built by the Detroit Ship Building Company, Wyandotte, Michigan. Yard No.228, being launched in 1918. It was powered by a 1 x 3 cylinder triple expansion engine. One of the companies that featured in the history of the shipbuilder, Detroit Dry Dock had employed Henry Ford as an apprentice machinist from 1879 to 1882.
The ship was known as a 'laker', one of many ships built on the Great Lakes in response to the shipping losses sustained by the Allies during World War One. Nations such as Norway and the United Kingdom had turned to US shipbuilders to provide replacements, those intend for the United Kingdom were allocated 'War' names. However the entry of the USA into World War One in April 1917 and the US takeover of ships in August 1917 saw those currently under construction being requisitioned and given 'Lake' names. These smaller size ships were required to navigate the lock & canal systems between the Great Lakes and the North Atlantic. The Emergency Fleet Corporation authorised the continued building of these cargo ships during 1918 & 1919 for use by the United States Shipping Board.
During 1919 the Lake Ormoc was noted in use carrying passengers & cargo between New York, Guantanamo and the West Indies.
The depression of 1921 and lower officer payrates on foreign ships saw the 'lakers' quickly idled. By early 1925 the United States Shipping Board owned more than a thousand such merchant ships with at least 800 laid-up, slowly rusting away at various locations. In April 1924 a decision was made to hold in reserve 400 and scrap about 400, most of which were the lakers. Early in 1925 a group of 200 vessels, including 150 lakers were offered for sale. The Ford Motor Company eventually bid on 199 ships for a total of $1,697,470 (an average of $8,530), the contract was signed in August 1925. The conditions imposed by the sale allowed for dismantling to the point where they could never be reused for navigation and all items salvaged from the ships could only be reused by the Ford Motor Company. Dismantling was to be completed by the end of February 1927. To restore a vessel to navigable condition a payment of $16,470 was due to the government, in addition to any costs incuured by Ford in restoring the vessel. The ships had been sold as-is and where-is condition and were unable to move under their own power without substantial refurbishing.
The ships were towed to Dearborn and initially stripped of brass, copper, piping, wiring and wood. The hulks were then processed through a ten stage dismantling line, each stage saw a different part of the ship removed, with as much recycled as possible. Railcars took the scrap steel to the Rouge's blast furnaces in the pig-cast building before moving to the foundry.
In total Ford scrapped 189 vessels, with 216,532 tons of steel recovered (144,532 tons at Rouge & 72,000 at East Coast Yards - the latter location mostly subs and one laker). Three lakers were refurbished for the overseas shipping of auto & tractor parts. Seven were gutted to become barges on the New York State Barge Canal, to deliver parts from Rouge to Chester PA, Kearny NJ & Norfolk VA. These would later deliver raw materials from Great Lake ports to Rouge. The peak of the scrapping occurred during the summer of 1926 with dismantled ship sections stored until the furnaces could accommodate them. Many of the ships boilers were salvaged, cleaned and repaired and later utilised in the Ford plants. It would take about a week to scrap a ship.
When built the lakers were not designed for regular operation through the Great Lake locks, apart from their one-time eastward journey to reach the Atlantic. They had been built with a fantail that would foul the locks if they travelled westbound into the Great Lakes. For the condemned lakers headed for Fordson the fantails were cut off at Montreal before continuing westwards. However the reconditioned Lake Ormoc (one of three so reconditioned at New Orleans) was backed up through the locks in order to reach Fordson for its Brazilian refit in 1928.
The Lake Ormoc was one of two lakers destined for use at the 2.5 million acre Fordlandia rubber plantation on the Tapajos River, tributary to the Amazon in Brazil, 700 miles from the ocean. The Lake Farge was reduced to a barge, carrying literally everything necessary to build a rubber plant, including a tug boat. The Lake Ormoc became a base ship, equipped with a diesel power plant, machine shop, hospital, laboratories, refrigerators and provide all services until the shore headquarters facilities were established. Later the Lake Ormoc would carry crude rubber from Brazil to Fordson, the new tire plant having been built on the site of where the ships were scrapped earlier.
During the 1928 (?) rebuild the superstructure was considerably enlarged. Enhancements to the ship saw its crew size reduced from twenty four to six. Some of the internal fittings were salvaged from scrapped sister ships, such as the captain's desk, dining table and shower.
During July 1928 the Lake Ormoc and the barge (ex-Lake Farge) were loaded at Rouge with everything necessary to establish the beginnings of Fordlandia. This included such things as steam shovels, a sawmill, pile drivers, stump pullers, a diesel tug, an entire disassembled warehouse, a complete railroad including a locomotive, rails and sleepers (ties) from Ford's Upper Peninsula sawmill operations.
About July 21st 1928 the Lake Ormoc made a trail run down the Rouge River and into Lake Erie, onboard were Henry Ford and son Edsel.
On July 26th 1928 Captain K F Prinz and the Lake Ormoc departed Rouge dock, en-route to Brazil, its departure being well reported in much of the press. A stop was made at Kearny NJ to join up with the slower moving Lake Farge, being pulled by the tug Bellcamp. Additional supplies and fourteen passengers joined here. The ships would average about 100 miles per day, several days were spent in Belem, before arriving at Santarem in mid-September. Santarem was at the point where the Tapajos river joined the Amazon. The dry season that year had been exceptional, so a known rock ledge forced the ships to halt before higher water levels would allow the final one hundred miles to be completed to Boa Vista.
With an expected two month delay before the water level rose enough to accommodate the two ships, Captain Einar Oxholm who had replaced Captain Prinz, decided to tranship the cargo to small launches and lighters hauled by the tug Bellcamp. this was no small task, the Lake Farge contained 3,800 tons of cargo and the cranes required to unload the heaviest of the equipment had been packed first! It would take the tug two days to make a round trip. It would not be until the end of January 1929 when the two ships could reach Boa Vista and be fully unloaded.
On June 8th 1930 the Lake Ormoc arrived at Baltimore (?) from Para, Brazil.
August 1930: Lake Ormoc used in inter-coastal trade, taking motor car and tractor parts from the River Rouge & Newark plants to Los Angeles.
October 5th 1945 Lake Ormoc at Sydney for northern destinations.
Built: Detroit Ship Building Company, Wyandotte, Michigan. Yard No.228
Page added March 12th 2018