Joseph H. Thompson

 Joseph H. Frantz

Joseph H. Thompson was built in 1944, is 706 feet long and flies a U.S. flag

Joseph L. Block
Previous names:
Marine Robin: 1944-1952
Joseph H. Thompson: 1952-

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The Joseph H. Thompson is a self-unloading tug/barge combination built in 1944 at Chester, Pennsylvania. She is 706 feet long with 19 hatches on deck 20081207_1529PRODthat open into four cargo holds below. She was first named the Marine Robin but became the Joseph H. Thompson in 1952 when a 250-foot self-unloading boom was added to her deck that allows her to unload cargo without shore side equipment. She is owned and operated by Upper Lakes Towing, headquartered in Escanaba on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She often brings limestone into port and will then load taconite while here.
Picture above taken Sunday, December 7, 2008.
I wrote an article about the Thompson for the Fall 2011 issue of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority magazine.You can read it here, on page 16
A detailed brochure, with many pictures, was printed in 1952. I created a copy of that brochure. You can see it here:
Tug barges obviously come with a tug. Sometimes, the tug does more than move the barge. Above, she is here in July, 2005, moving in to discharge salt. Two months later, on September 20, she was back and found herself touching bottom and indeed could not move off the sandy bottom. What to do? See the next 5 pictures below.
Above, she is stuck on the sandy bottom. You can see the tug kicking up water as she tries to move the barge off the bottom. That didn’t work so the tug disengaged and moved around to the side (below) to try to push the barge free.
When that did not succeed, the tug moved around to the other side (above) and started to push her away (below).

Below she is free again and ready to move into the salt dock.
Above and below, she is at Dock 4 at Burlington Northern on January 2, 2004.
Below, she was in Duluth on May 20, 2003.
Above, she is arriving Duluth August 6, 2000; below she departed later on the same day.


  1. Mary Jackson says:

    saw it in Two Harbors for iron ore on Jan. 1, 2017- had never seen it there before. Surprised it made it through the various steel downturns. When i worked for M.A. Hanna, it was scraping smaller ships.

  2. Tristin (loves ships) says:

    For some reason the tug doesn’t look like it fits the barge.

  3. Steve Wheatley says:

    I’m looking for a picture or pictures, hopefully digital or scanned, of the Joe Thompson prior to her conversion to a barge. I’m trying to make a picture puzzle or two of her, for my aunt, who is 92. Her husband was the Captain on the Joe Thompson for many years.

    • Jeff Dyson says:

      Hello Steve,

      Did you see the pictures on I was looking it up this evening, sharing an experience with my cousin and looking further came across this site and your post. There is a great picture on the site taken in 1975. There is a good chance I was on the ship as a deckhand when the picture was taken, and probably served under your aunt’s husband. I can’t remember his name. I shifted to the George M. Humphrey in October of that year and tied up just south of the locks in Sault Ste. Marie when the Fitzgerald went down. Please extend to your aunt what a fine man he was. For the few times I had the opportunity to engage him, he was a respectful and kind person.



    • Larese Maki says:

      Hi Steve Wheatley (and Jeff Dyson),

      I know it’s been almost 5 years since your post, but hopefully this is still pertinent.
      I’m going through some old family photos I found, and was looking up the Joseph H. Thompson. I’ve got a photo which I believe is (the back of the heads of my grandparents watching) the ship passing through the southern-most lock at Sault-Sainte Marie, and the name of the ship is legible. It’s B&W, and the trees are still young, so obviously the photo was taken back aways! I’m guessing in the ’60’s. I can’t figure out how to attach the photo here, so here’s the link to my Facebook page. I made sure that photo is public!

  4. Greg Hayden says:

    The Marine Robin was a WW II Troopship that ran under that name until April 4, 1946 when she was decommissioned and placed in the reserve fleet. National Steel Corporation operating under the Hanna Mining Company name purchased the ship for $1.00 in 1951 and had it converted to a straight deck Laker in Baltimore. She came up the Mississippi River and Illinois River to Chicago where her cabins that made the trip in the cargo hold were put in place.

    Hanna ran the Thompson as a straight decker, I sailed her 1961 as an Ordinary Seaman, 1962-1963 as a F/WT, 1966 as 3 A/E.
    Greg Hayden

  5. I am surprised that there aren’t more of these tug-barge combination ships being constructed. They seem very efficient, as witnessed by the photos here.

  6. Stephanie Smith says:

    Interesting Ship.Very neat,tug and barge.

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