Tugboat Tour

The "Four Aces" of the Lehigh Valley RR

Above: The newly completed Lehigh Valley Railroad tugs Lehigh, Cornell, Hazleton, and Wilkes-Barre parade for the camera in this publicity photo by the Cleveland Diesel Engine Division of General Motors.

The "Four Aces" was an advertising description attached by General Motors to four tugboats built for the Lehigh Valley Railroad by Jakobson Shipyard in the late 1940s. The four tugs were part of a postwar fleet modernization, and their design and construction were coordinated by GM Diesel Power. The 105 foot long tugs, each powered by a sixteen cylinder Cleveland Diesel 278A main engine rated at 1600 horsepower, were designed by noted tug designer Joe Hack of TAMS Inc.

On delivery of the boats they were arranged for a series of well known publicity photos, showing the four tugs parading together with lower Manhattan in the background. In actuality, only one of the boats was underway for the photo, the rest of the tugs were solidly lashed alongside to maintain a precise formation.

The tugs Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton were conventional carfloat handling tugs, used in the cross-harbor interchange of carfloats (barges with tracks on deck that transported railroad freight cars and locomotives) and the servicing of waterfront freight terminals that had no connecting trackage. They were equipped with high pilothouses and stacks, to allow visibility over strings of railroad cars on the floats.

The tugs Lehigh and Cornell were fitted with lower pilothouses and stacks, and also had ballasting tanks to allow them to trim down in the water, for service to terminals on the Harlem River that required passing under low-clearance bridges.

The four tugs were considered very successful, and were joined by two more vessels that were near-copies, the Bethlehem and the Capmoore. This fleet of six diesel tugs served the Lehigh Valley Railroad capably until carfloat traffic began to drop off in the 1960s, and railroad mergers resulted in connecting land routings for freight cars going to New England. They were gradually sold off to commercial marine towing companies, where they provided many more decades of useful service. Of the original four, only the Cornell survives in private ownership today, along with the Bethlehem, which is owned by a towing company.


Two Photos Above: The interior of the pilothouse of the Lehigh Valley Railroad Tug Wilkes-Barre on completion in 1949. This vessel is equipped with diesel-electric drive, the port and starboard side controls are both for the single main engine.


Above: The forward end of the deckhouse was fitted with a small lunch room with a hotplate, table, and stools. Railroad tugs were manned in shifts so there was no need for elaborate cooking facilities. The rest of the deckhouse contained two locker rooms and the engine room clerestory.


Two Photos Above: The main propulsion engine on the Wilkes-Barre was a Cleveland Diesel 16 cylinder Model 278A rated at 1600 horsepower. The tug was fitted with direct current diesel-electric drive, which provided very precise control when maneuvering with carfloats in crowded areas.


The images on this page were part of an original publicity package issued by the Cleveland Diesel Engine Division of GM on the completion of the vessel.


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