History of the Thomas Friant
Although it ended up as a large fish tug the Thomas Friant had a varied history as Great Lakes boats go. It underwent three major and one minor face-lift over its long career on the lakes. The Thomas Friant (official number 145380) was built in 1884 as a passenger boat in Grand Haven, Michigan by Duncan Robertson. She was built of wood -- 96 feet long with a beam of 18 feet which is an exceptionally large fish tug, but a nice size for a passenger excursion boat. Her first enrollment was issued at Grand Haven, MI, July 21, 1884 where it ran as a ferry on the river.
After a short time it assumed the lake routes between Grand Haven, Harbor Springs, and Waukegan. To make her lake worthy changes were made to her superstructure to make them more sheltered form the lake winds and waves. By 1900 she was retired to a more sheltered route in the Keewanaw Waterway. She was then moved to Sault Ste. Marie where she burned to water's edge during winter lay-up on December 22, 1908. The Friant was removed from documentation in Marquette, MI, December 29, 1908 but eventually rebuilt and re-documented as gill net fish tug, Marquette, MI, May 15, 1911.
The Friant was a much different looking boat at that time. The decks were open and the engine cabin and boiler cabin/pilot house were the only deck structures. In 1923 the Friant was bought again and moved to Bayfield, WI by Einer (Shine) Miller and Halvor Reiten. It is unknown whether the final face-lift was done before or after they bought it. The final changes were to enclose the decks and add a raised pilot house on the top deck making the Friant look like a typical Great Lakes fish tug. Their plan was to serve as a coastal steamer running package freight on the south shore. As the roads improved the package freight business took a nose dive so Miller and Reiten decided to return her to fishing.
On January 6, 1924 Captain Einer Miller with Engineer Halvor Reiten and six fishermen from Cornucopia, mostly from the Jones family, set out to cross the lake to spend the winter gill fishing out of Two Harbors, MN on the North Shore. The temperature dropped to 20 below and formed sheet ice on the lake. The Friant sought shelter in Squaw Bay for the night and froze in. The next day as the wind picked up the ice broke up and they headed across the lake. Unfortunately about twelve miles from their destination they ran out of options to fix their badly leaking boat and had to abandon it to the lifeboat. They rowed the 12 miles to the North Shore since the South Shore was frozen in. They arrived around midnight following the light from the cabin belonging to a pair of fisherman who were up late playing cards. They were rescued.
Since communications were not good around the lake in 1924 the families in Bayfield were unaware the men had been rescued and prepared for the wake. Word arrived back in Bayfield via the only phone in town and the men made it back in time to partake in the celebration using the food the townspeople had prepared for the wake.
Halvor Reiten owned a boatyard in Bayfield for many years which was eventually removed after his death at a ripe old age, although the condominium that was built on the site still bears his name. Einer Miller continued to captain different boats through his career. Some of you may have met his son Jim Miller whose family ran the Bayfield City Marina for many years back in the 1970's.
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