THE SCOW (SAND BARGE)
At about 3 p.m. on the afternoon of Tuesday August 6th 1918, a steel copper bottomed sand scow (barge) was engaged in dredging operation in the fast currents on the American side of the Niagara River opposite Port Day at the entrance of the Niagara Falls Power Company hydraulic canal.
The scow was being towed by the tug boat – “Hassayampa” being operated by Captain John Wallace. The scow had two deck hands aboard. They were Gustave Ferdinand Lofberg, age 51 of
275 Mackinaw Street, Buffalo NY and James Henry Harris, age 53, a father of five children of 860 Niagara Street, Buffalo NY. The Swedish born Lofberg was a weathered and seasoned saltwater sailor. He had worked on the Great Lakes for years. Harris had no seafaring experience.
The tug and scow were owned and operated by the Great Lakes Dredge and Docks Company. During the operation, the tug suddenly struck a sandbar approximately a ½ mile upriver from the Falls. The taut towline rope that held the barge to the tug snapped “like a thin string”. The scow was 122 feet long and 30 feet wide.
The powerless barge containing approximately 2,000 tons of sand and rock quickly drifted out of control into the Canadian channel and towards the Horseshoe Falls. Lofberg and Harris were helpless and could do nothing to stop the scow. They were seen trying to slow the swift progress of the scow with the use of makeshift oars but with no success.
Although some reports indicate that, they opened the two holes in the bottom of the scow to allow water to enter the barge, they simply had no time. Other reports indicated that Lofberg and Harris had thrown a concrete anchor weighing about one ton into the water but that it didn’t hold.
Lofberg and Harris could only hope and pray for a miracle as they faced to see rising mist of the great Horseshoe Falls growing closer by the second. The roar of the Falls echoed in their ears. In a twist of fate, the scow became grounded and became lodged on a rock shoal at 2,500 feet (767m) upriver from the Horseshoe Falls in the shallow but fast moving cascades. After the scow had stopped moving, Over the next twenty-four hours, Lofberg and Harris worked feverishly dumping the forward hold into the river in an effort to further secure the scow from moving. They manually shifted about fifty tons of the load to the front of the scow to further secure the barge on the shoal.
The alarm that the sand scow was being swept towards the Falls with two deck hands aboard spread throughout Niagara Falls, New York and the towns on the Canadian side. Hundreds of people crowded the buildings that lined the shore and the riverbanks to watch the human helplessness and the scow’s progress. When the scow grounded it electrified everyone. Hundreds of men made for the point on the Canadian shore nearest the ledge.
Employees of the Toronto Power Company who had watched the scow drifting in the river from the roof of the company building rushed to telephones. Calls were sent to the fire departments in Niagara Falls, New York and Niagara Falls, Ontario and to the Life Saving Station in Youngstown, New York.
Benjamin Hall of Pennsylvania Street in Niagara Falls, New York, standing on the eastern tip of Goat Island witnessed the barge careening out of control through the rapids until it ground in mid stream just off the head of the island. At the urging of Mr. Hall, the Youngstown Life Savers (United States Coast Guard) were sent for.