Written by Robert Nelson “R.N.” Hodder
During the 1990s, Robert Nelson Hodder contributed articles to our inter-company newsletter that showcased his nostalgic recollections of growing up in the tugboat business. He drew from his personal experiences on the river as well as the stories passed down to him by his father and uncle, who were the original founders of Hodder Bros. Towing – the company that later became Hodder Tugboat Co. Ltd.
Although Bob has since passed away in 1998, his legacy lives on through the ongoing involvement of his sons and grandson in the company’s operations.
BUILDING A BUSINESS
J.J. Hodder and his sons, Horatio and J.R., acquired or built a vessel made from a huge log. She was named the “Burin” and measured 40’ x 10’. She was a sturdy, stable vessel, although quite awkward and heavy to row and sail. A gas engine was purchased from the Easthope Engine Co. of Steveston, B.C., and M.V. “Burin” became the first powered gillnetter on the Fraser River. “J.J. Hodder and Sons” soon began doing odd towing jobs for the many small mills dotting the banks of the Fraser River.
HUSTLING FOR WORK
Small jobs led to more and in 1908 a larger tug was needed. The M.V. “Hustler” was purchased. This fine vessel was 66’ long by twelve to fourteen feet wide and was powered by a heavy-duty union gasoline engine of about 80 h.p. The “Hustler” towed logs, hog fuel barges, small train barges, and gravel and rock barges under the command of Captain Horatio Hodder and J.R. Hodder from 1908 to 1925.
A New Era Begins
J.J. Hodder died. The family sold the farm on Barnston Island and moved to Sixth Avenue near Oak Street in Vancouver. The company name was changed from J.J. Hodder and Sons Towing to Hodder Bros. Towing. The M.V. “Hustler” towed for many firms during the First World War and into the “Roaring ’20s”, including prominent sawmill Rat Portage and cedar mill Nalos Lumber in False Creek. The Fraser River had dozens of logging shows in those days from Pitt Lake up to Mission. Sweeney Cooperage, the barrel makers, B.C. Forest Products Spruce Mill, Bay Lumber, and countless shingle and shake producers were among early customers. Vancouver Harbour had numerous mills as well, including MB King Lumber, Norwood Cedar, Canada Creosote, Moodyville Lumber, and another dozen or more cedar mills. Specialty mills like Alberta Lumber and Sigurson Hardwood also operated in False Creek. Tugboat companies such as Gulf of Georgia Towing, Vancouver Tug (Seaspan), Cates, Coyle Navigation, and Preston Mann were in business. The Hodder brothers towed for many of these companies and sawmills.
A near disaster happened one night in 1918. When the M.V. “Hustler” was towing a lumber barge in English Bay, a Japanese freighter hit the barge broadside and sent the M.V. “Hustler” to the bottom. J.R. Hodder was just coming out of the engine room when the collision occurred. He was knocked back down the ladder but somehow fought his way up against the downflood. Luckily, no serious injury was suffered by the Hodder boys or their crew. The tug was salvaged and a judgment was issued against the freighter, but no settlement was ever received. The “Hustler” was repaired and went back to work soon after.
Eldoma Is Born
The Hodders felt they needed a better tug for the type of work they were being asked to do, which included hog fuel barges to Tacoma and other Puget Sound ports, plus some train barges to Vancouver Island and Woodfibre, and log towing in the Gulf of Georgia and Howe Sound. They commissioned a well-known ship designer and builder by the name of Moscrop to build a 65’ tug. She was constructed in False Creek and fitted with a brand new product on the market: A Union “diesel” engine of 110 h.p. This was the second or third diesel tug in B.C. The new tug was named “Eldoma” after the Hodder girls; mother, Elizabeth, and daughters, Dorothy and Margaret.
A New Friend
Captain Horatio Hodder seized an opportunity in 1928 to purchase the 300’, five-masted barkentine “Forest Friend”. This ship had been built in Victoria in 1916 just as steamships were dominating the oceans. She had made several trips to Australia and Europe during the war, but had been mothballed for many years when Horatio bought her. The “Forest Friend” was towed to Fraser Mills and moored there for the next dozen years.
Many sawmills cut back production or shut down completely as the market for lumber sagged. The Hodder brothers were fortunate that their reputation for good work and honesty over the previous thirty years helped them maintain some of the little work available. They began towing from Comox to Fraser Mills and from Long Bay and Center Bay storage to the river. They also looked after some of the extensive storage grounds at Point Grey flats. Rates were very low as competition became cut-throat. Towing rates were so low that despite low wages, fuel at six or seven cents a gallon and other supplies equally cut-rate, it was very hard to break even with a 110 h.p. tug towing 16 sections of flat booms. A 16-section tow from Center Bay to Fraser Mills would have a gross of about $60.00.
The Hodders decided to re-power the “Eldoma” and in 1936 installed an eight-cylinder, 230 h.p. Union diesel engine. At the time, this was considered to be the ultimate. They could now tow 32 sections. Her lower profile and with the mast down, could go under these bridges at lower water. This proved to be beneficial under bridges in Marpole where other tugs did assist work that often resulted in poor aim and pile-ups. “Eldoma” would tow up to the Sheeting (at Sea Island below the Marpole bridge) on the small tide, lay over for the ebb, and tow through the bridges unassisted at low slack. This certainly was the safest method and almost no accidents occurred.
As the “Thirties” drew to a close, rumblings of war were felt in Europe and in 1939 war was declared by England against Germany and Canada quickly joined. The tugboat business was still in the doldrums caused by the depression years, as were most industries. There were not many new tugs built during the thirties. With few exceptions, most of the large tugs were steam-powered and many still used coal for fuel. The smaller tugs were mostly diesel, although some still had gasoline engines. The massive mobilization for the war effort soon had a tremendous effect on all industry. Mills, mines, shipyards, and sand and gravel companies were all going full blast. There weren’t enough tugs at hand after years of downsizing due to a lack of business. Everything that floated seemed to be turned into a tug or a barge and few new vessels were allowed to be built because the war effort demanded all the manpower and shipyard space.
As Horatio and J.R. were now in their 50’s, they decided to concentrate on towing in the Fraser River working for the Canadian Western Lumber Co. at Fraser Mills. The Eldoma with her new 230 h.p. Union engine was a bit too big for river and shallow water work, so she was sold to the McKeen’s of Straits Towing Ltd. “Straits”, who raised the foredeck to accommodate military personnel and re-named her the Victoria Straits. She did yeoman service for many years at “Straits” and operated as the “Renner Pass” at Masset in the Queen Charlotte Islands.
To replace “Eldoma”, the Hodders bought the 50’ tug “Diesel” from Captain John Worsfould. He had converted this World War I steam-powered coast guard patrol boat to diesel by fitting it with an eight-cylinder, 160 h.p. Vivian engine. With a length of 50’, a beam of 10’ and a draft of 6’, the “Diesel” was not one of the best-designed tugs, to say the least. The old Vivian engine had air start and the reverse clutch was a large wheel in the wheelhouse that required the strength of a gorilla to turn.
“Diesel” towed log booms from the storage grounds in the Point Grey flats to Fraser Mills and assisted the Canadian Tug fleet into the North Arm Fraser River with log tows. The river work kept the “Diesel” very busy, so Hodder Bros. Towing leased a small tug called “Seatowing”.
Hodder Bros. Towing had carried on with the “Diesel” through the war and into the fifties, towing mostly to Fraser Mills. The old “Diesel” was on to her last legs so Horatio bought a forestry patrol vessel called “Euclataw”. This wooden ship was about 50’ x 12’ with a pointed stern and definitely was not a tugboat! Nevertheless, J.R. and Horatio put a tow post on her, took the stern handrail off and continued towing to Fraser Mills.
The “Euclataw” was powered by a semi-diesel Washington or Fairbanks of about 150 h.p. It required blowtorch heating of each cylinder prior to starting with compressed air. It wasn’t long before a 165 h.p. Gray-Marine diesel engine was installed which made the “Euclataw” a little more useful.
One of the reasons why the Hodders kept the towing for Fraser Mills over the years was their quality of work. Horatio would never leave a chain or shackle on a boom that wasn’t being used. These, along with straps or towing gear were always returned to the proper locations. Also, booms were tied up doubly or triply safe, even if it required many extra no charge hours to do so.
The “Euclataw” was sunk by a passing log tow at the Celtic Shell Oil dock soon after I started with Hodder Bros. Towing and deemed not worth salvage, although the hull was later sold to Gordy Kleaman and made into a pleasure boat.
“Hodder Bros.” bought an old 165 h.p. wooden tug named “Quinsam II” and we continued towing and yarding for Fraser Mills. The old “Forest Friend” ended her days as a breakwater at the Comox booming grounds, and Hodder Tug was about to evolve into new directions.
During the fifties and sixties, towing rates had been very low and although Hodder Bros. Towing and other small companies were busy, it was difficult to do much more than break even, so raising capital was near impossible. The forest and building supply companies had their own towing firms, while others who did not have tugs began to acquire them. Mergers between towboat firms were also prevalent. Vancouver Tug, Island Tug, Victoria Tug and Barge, Young and Gore, and Dolmage merged to become Seaspan and later Gulf of Georgia Towing joined them. Rivtow was joined by Straits, which had taken over Coyle Navigation and Cliff Towing. Also, log barging was becoming more of an option. CW Lumber (Fraser Mills) was taken over by Crown Zellerbach. H.R. MacMillan had merged with Bloedel, Stewart & Welch, which owned the Powell River Co. and Kingcome Navigation. Despite this, in 1961, Hodder Bros. Towing became a limited company under the name of Hodder Tugboat Co. Ltd. with the Hodder brothers, Horatio and J.R., becoming equal partners with J.R.’s son, Robert Nelson “R.N.” Hodder.
ADDING NEW CUSTOMERS
In 1962 we bought a 42’ tug, “Ossian A.”, from Canadian Forest Products at Englewood. The “Ossian A.” was a fine little ship with a 160 h.p. Vivian diesel. She was in great condition, having done nothing but tow bag booms in Nimkish Lake to the Railhead. Hodder Tugboat Co. Ltd. was now able to tow for other customers such as Bay Lumber, Giroday & Nalos in False Creek, Horne Bros., MB King, L&K Sawmills, Bestwood, Norwood, and Flavelle Cedar in Vancouver Harbour.
In 1963 Hodder built our first steel tug and named her “Eldoma”. The original “Eldoma” had been sold to “Straits” in 1939 and the name was changed to “Victoria Straits”, enabling us to use the name “Eldoma” once again. She was 33’ long with a new 240 h.p. GM 8V71 engine. And, in 1964 the “Ossian A.” was re-powered with a 335 h.p. GM 12V71 engine. With these two tugs, Hodder were able to sell the “Quinsam II”.
By 1966 or 1967, with new tugs coming into service every few months, Hodder’s competitiveness was waning. There were many chances for good tows, but not enough capacity to bid on them nor was there adequate financing to build anything. But, in 1970, a hull became available at Vito’s shipyard in Delta, so a small group put up the money to finish the tug which was eventually named “Seatow”. She had a 480 h.p. Cat engine with a steering nozzle and proved to be a very good sea boat and a good puller. Running with a four man crew, Seatow was able to serve Howe Sound potential and, eventually, was awarded the Field Sawmill towing work to Courtenay. Seatow also enabled many barge contracts for Ocean Construction and others.
BUILT IN PARTNERSHIP
In June of 1973 the new tug, “Kaymar”, was launched. The build had come about when Ron Wilson of Pacific Towing Ltd., approached R.N. Hodder about building a 75’ tug in partnership with him. With many new rules about noise levels, accommodation, and ship safety coming on stream at that time, it was decided to try to come up with a design that would address the new regulations properly. With much practical input, and the added expertise of Cove, Hatfield Naval Architects and John Manly Ltd. Shipyards, a very good design was agreed upon. Financing was, of course, not easy but the bank would finance 66% of the $450,000 contract with “Manly Shipyard”. In the meantime, Rivtow bought out John Manly Ltd. Shipyard, meaning that the new tug was to be built by a competitor, whom would turn out a fine tug close to the contract quotes.
Hodder bought the barge “Westshore I”, a 240’ x 48’ ship bow type to give the “Mackin” something to tow and did get a few trips towing for White Pass to Skagway, Alaska, one to Anchorage, Alaska, and many local rock and gravel loads.
In 1979, due to Federal Government re-valuation, rent at the Sea Island dock was quadrupled, so Hodder began looking for a waterfront property near their Richmond location. Fortunately, Hodder found a dock location on River Road and made a purchase in 1981 at an inflated price. The location still serves Hodder today.
At the same time, Hodder really needed a continuous operating tug to replace the “Seatow”. New accommodation and noise level regulations plus manning rules made the “Seatow” non compis gratis. Prices were skyrocketing in the early 80s as we tried to find a replacement tug to do our outside towing, which was increasing. Unable to find a suitable replacement tug for the “Seatow”, we contracted to build a well-designed tug with Canada Marine in New Westminster. Our contract price was $825,000 for the future “H.N. Hodder” and, after securing vital financing, the future of Hodder Tugboat Co. Ltd.
The “H.N. Hodder” has proved to be one of the finest multipurpose tugs in B.C. Her accommodations for five crew are good, noise levels low, log and barge towing capabilities better than anyone had hoped for, and to this day, she still does everything asked of her.
Risk And Reward
Since those bleak days in the early eighties, Hodder has acquired the “Piper”, the “Rustler”, and built the “J.R. Hodder” and the “Jessie Hodder”. The majority of the office staff, shore workers and tug crews have been with Hodder a number of years now and consist of a hard-working, dependable group of employees. All of this has allowed Hodder Tugboat Co. Ltd.’s reputation to continue in the same respected manner as it’s founders had insisted on.
Ben and Ian acquire Hodder Tugboat
Protec Management Ltd. (Ben Wendland) and Wricor Capital Inc. (Ian Wright) acquire all shares in Hodder Tugboat Ltd. Bob Hodder continues as General Manager and takes a place on the Board of Advisors.
TugAssist and Adagio
Admin team introduces TugAssist and Adagio as a system to replace the manual accounting One-Write system for tracking inventory of log booms in waterlot storage areas and tows.
Bob becomes half-time
Bob Hodder becomes half-time but continues as General Manager.
Guild and ILWU
Hodder Tugboat Co. Ltd. acquires all shares of S and P Marine Ltd., a marine company meeting the day-to-day logistics needs of Westcoast Cellufibre Ltd., and the company becomes Guild and ILWU following the acquisition. Larry Smith becomes General Manager of Hodder Tugboat.
Riverside Towing Ltd. and Squamish Marine Services
John McCutcheon takes over as General Manager. Hodder Tugboat acquires Riverside Towing Ltd., which was totally Guild prior to the acquisition, and the merged entity becomes Guild Masters and ILWU deckhands. Hodder enters into a partnership agreement with Squamish Marine Services to jointly serve Squamish forestry customers.
General Manager change
Larry Smith becomes General Manager again, and John McCutcheon returns to his role at Vancouver Water Taxi Ltd. to serve the forestry industry.