Tug John Purves (Butterfield, USAT LT-145)
Type: Ocean-going Tug, Design #1035, Army Classification: Large Tug (LT)
Length: 149 feet
Built in 1919 for the U.S. Shipping Board in response to the needs of WW I, she was originally named Butterfield. Constructed for ocean service as a steel-hulled, single screw steam tug, she began her life as a temporary floating radio station for the U.S. Navy in the Caribbean. In 1922, the Butterfield was acquired by the Newaygo Tug Line of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and began her long, proud history of service on the Great Lakes. In 1937, she again traded hands and became the property of the Consolidated Water Power & Paper Company of Wisconsin Rapids, towing barges of pulpwood on the storied waters of "Gitche Gumee", a.k.a. Lake Superior.
She returned to salt water during WWII, pressed into war service by the U. S. Army as USAT Butterfield, LT-145 in 1942. Surviving both a dedicated enemy and the infamous weather of the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea, she served as a floating weather station and supplied Army garrisons in the Aleutian Islands throughout the war. With the coming of peace in 1945, she traded in her haze gray war paint for civilian colors and returned to the Great Lakes for Consolidated as Butterfield.
In December 1956, Roen Steamship Company of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin acquired ownership in a trade that saw Roen get the Butterfield plus $175,000 for the tug John Roen III. The exchange was made with the understanding that Consolidated would pay for the conversion of the vessel's steam power plant to diesel. The conversion was completed in 1957 at Sturgeon Bay Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company with the installation of two 900 horse power 12 cylinder General Motors engines, twin screws, and new auxiliaries. She was renamed John Purves in honor of the firm's general manager.
The Purves became a workhorse of the Roen Steamship fleet, completing towing and salvage jobs on all five lakes. The mighty Purves was arguably the most powerful tug in the Roen fleet and was well known throughout the Great Lakes for her strength and towing capabilities. When the St. Lawrence Seaway (connecting the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean) opened in 1959, the tug made a good living rescuing many a foreign-flag, saltwater vessel that had grounded in new and unfamiliar waters. Roen sold the ship in 1974 to Eder Barge & Towing Company, after which she worked for a succession of companies until acquired in 1988 by the Andrie Transportation Co. of Muskegon, Mich. In 2003, Andrie donated the vessel to the Door County Maritime Museum.
The Purves has been painstakingly restored and outfitted to take visitors back to the days when it was dressed in the Roen Steamship Company colors. The 40-minute guided tour is an extraordinary educational experience for old-salt and landlubber alike.
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