Monday, January 20, 2014

Canyon Lake's Nautical History

January 13, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

The nautical history of Canyon Lake has been an interesting one. When Canyon Lake was first filled in 1925 several valley entrepreneurs were convinced they could operate a profitable business enterprise by transporting visitors up the Apache Trail by bus to the lake and then place them on tour boat for a cruise up Canyon Lake.

 The S.S. Geronimo was the first cruise boat used on Canyon Lake. The thirty-five foot boat was launched on October 3, 1925 and Canyon Lake soon became a popular boating destination for the Valley of the Sun. Speed boat racing soon followed and became popular on Canyon Lake in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Seth Smith was one of the big names in speed boat racing of the era. Hydroplane racing became popular in the 1960s with powerful inboard engines. Eventually hydroplane boats gave way to fishing boats, tugboats, barges and a tour boat.

There are so many wonderful stories about the Apache Junction and Canyon Lake area. I would like to share a story with you about a tugboat named Mary Lee that once operated on the waters of Canyon Lake.

The tugboat Mary Lee (circa 1974).
Early in 1970 the Salt River Project was looking for a large power craft to move a barge for work at Horse Mesa Dam. Mr. G.C. Wheeler, President of the Contractors Cargo Company at South Gate, California, found the ideal craft for the company. Mr. Wheeler had found the tugboat Mary Lee, 34 feet long with two 671 GMC diesel engines, one with right hand rotation and the other with left hand rotation. The tug could be delivered to the job site from Los Angeles for the cost of $19,500 and would be in good operating condition.

Now here is a little history of the Mary Lee. She was built in Jacksonville, Florida in 1960, with a twin screw and steel hull. Her length was 34.7 feet, her breath was 13.3 feet, her depth was 4.5 feet and a 14 foot overall height. The tug boat weighted 14 tons and had a net capacity of 9 tons. Her fuel capacity was 800 gallons and she had air steering.

The Mary Lee was purchased for the Salt River Project Hydro Expansion Job 6329. This project required a tug and a barge. The tug boat was primarily used for work at Horse Mesa Dam and the Mary Lee served her purpose for two years. However, the Mary Lee set in storage for almost ten years before she was sold for scrap in 1982.

A special ramp was constructed at Canyon Lake to remove the Mary Lee and a large work barge. The ramp still can be seen as you approach Canyon Lake on the Apache Trail about 1/2 mile before the First Water Bridge.

The tug boat Mary Lee was not the largest boat to ever ply the waters of Canyon Lake. The Geronimo, constructed in 1925, was capable of carrying fifty passengers. Also the Dolly Steamboat is much larger than the Mary Lee. However, the Mary Lee was the largest working boat on Canyon Lake. She operated on the lake from 1971 until 1982.

 The Dolly Steamboat is the largest boat to ever ply the waters of Canyon Lake. When Roger Grimh undertook the project of putting a large tour boat on Canyon Lake his efforts were challenged by many bureaucratic groups. But through shear determination and desire to see his dream come true he succeeded.

The Dolly Steamboat is the largest boat ever to sail Canyon Lake.
The Dolly was inaugurated by Roger Grimh in October of 1987. His dream had come true. Today his daughter, Cindi DeLosuere, continues his legacy. The Dolly Steamboat can carry one hundred and fifty passengers on her decks and the boat is one hundred and ten feet long. The Dolly was introduced with a four-cylinder Chevrolet engine and is now powered by two large John Deere diesel engines making it much safer for maneuvering on Canyon Lake.

Enjoy a cruise on the Dolly Steamboat sometime. Have dinner and enjoy the nautical history, scenery and wildlife of Canyon Lake. For more information or reservations call Jami or Jan at (480) 827-9144.