Lake Michigan Hauling, Barge Service, Salvage, Working Boat Repair St. James Marine Co. Beaver Island, Lake Michigan Tug Wendy Anne - St. James Marine Co. Beaver Island, Michigan

The American Girl

Length: 60'
Beam: 14'
Draft: 6.5'
Displacement: 63 gross tons
HP: 425
Knots: 12
Main Engines:  3406B Catapillar
Berths: 3

The Tug American Girl refinished in 2012

American Girl historic photo

"She's a good 'ol girl and we love her"…was what I posted on Facebook this past April after taking the American Girl out for a foggy afternoon cruise in the harbor. Matt and I, with Sam in my lap, drifted around talking about the wonderful times we have had together and he had as a young boy on this classic 1922 tugboat. We were dating when Matt Fogg was captaining her back and forth to Ironton working for Robert Gillespie. I had cleaned her and washed her top to bottom numerous times when I worked for Robert, and have traveled the 38 miles to Ironton so many, many times. My hair even caught on fire on this boat! (It was during a fireworks show and I was with Heather Cary. Enough said.)

American Girl historical photo

The boat has a strange twist relating to my family as well. I'm an East Coast-born-girl who has a Lake Michigan-born-Dad who used to summer on Washington Island as a boy and remembers a tug that hauled an oil tanker named Oil Queen. Little did he know that years later he would watch that same tug, the American Girl again, run by his son in-law whom he loves and admires so much. I love how life can work itself out sometimes.

Reinstalling the American Girl's prop

I also love how the story of the American Girl has worked itself out as well. This 62' old tug was built in Saginaw at Devoe Shipyard. She used to haul fruit from Benton Harbor to Milwaukee and then fuel and supplies from Green Bay to Washington Island where my dad used to see her. Then Jewell Gillespie bought her in 1971 and hauled general freight, cargo, oil, and gasoline. And next was Johnny Gillespie shipping fuel for the Islanders. Next was Robert Gillespie, and she hauled building supplies and freight. Matt was then, and still is, her captain.

The Tug American Girl being repainted

But the story is much more deeply intertwined than a few men passing her on to the next captain. Her story weaves together families that have strong connections to each other and with this boat. Children grew up climbing around on her or reading books on her back deck "just to be near the water," said one of Jewell's girls. Countless times she has hauled families to Garden Island for a swim and a picnic. And I have even seen old movie footage of her towing a barge load of guys on motor bikes doing "wheelies" while under way! (Where were you two going, Johnny and Joe McDonough, anyway?)

Lifting the American Girl

She has seen kisses of lovers and dogs on board despite Robert's grumbling. She's left the harbor in high winds and rough seas where worried wives watched on shore. She carried Jewell, all those years, and then finally one last time she carried him home to his beloved Island. She has seen new engines go in and old ones come out. Her living quarters were ripped out and a new pilot house welded on in the 70s. Her colors have changed as well; her original paint—a white superstructure with a grey hull, to green and black, and now back again to a white superstructure. She spread the ashes of my husband's late Grandpa Clyde, who had also been behind her helm and worked on her with Jewell and his boys.

The American Girl looks great after a refit in 2012

Matt and I bought her, along with St. James Marine Company, in 2009. She had been active for so long, but when the "new gal" Wendy Anne came to town she took a well deserved rest at the dock at our cottage. Some of her green had turned to brown and she looked old and tired. As she was docked bow-in facing our nearby kitchen window, it was if she was sticking her big nose into our conversations at dinner, saying, "What about me? What about me?"

At times folks asked, "What are you going to do with her?" or "I'll take her off your hands for you. She'll make quite a bit in scrap." Matt and I knew exactly what we wanted to do.

Last month she was hauled out with special care at Walstrom Marine in Harbor Springs, which has a big enough Travelift to hold the 56 tons of riveted steel. After 41 years of seeing an active life on the seas (and an active army of zebra mussels), her hull met Matt's eyes, this time without his scuba gear. Her prop was removed and reconditioned at Holland Propeller and was returned in its original state: shiny and beautiful brass.

The Captain

"With that prop and without the zebra mussels, she'll pick-up at least 5 knots!" joked Mike Weede. Mike was dark-faced and very dirty from welding. The hull was in good shape, and Captain Weede made it even better. Next it was up to me and the "Little Skiff" Jenna Butler to transform the green and rust-brown to beauty. The interior and exterior paint job was a long 4 ½ weeks of scaffold-climbing and people asking, "Is that paint in your hair?" Sam was in his Pack and Play, and "the Pigs" watched Mom from below. The new paint took years off of her and she looks ready for action. She has quite a busy summer lined up, with a trip to Canada assisting the Wendy Anne towing the S.S. Keewatin and a 125th birthday celebration of the Mackinac Island Grand Hotel fireworks show in July.

American Girl

Matt and I have immense love and respect for this tug. After being a part of so many lives, she deserves great care and love and I know no better care and love provider than my husband.

"That is the most American boat I have ever seen!" was said by several spectators. Well, she is the American Girl.

— Tugwife


HistorY of the American Girl

American Girl built at Devoe Shipyard

Built 1922 in Bay City MI, the American Girl was built at Devoe Shipyard. She has kept her original name to date. Throughout the American Girl’s life she has gone through several engine changes starting with the original 75 HP Kahlenburg 3 cylinder engine. She was built to haul fruit, potatoes and supplies from Benton Harbor, Michigan to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the 1940s, the Andersons from Washington Island, WI bought her to haul freight and fuel from Green Bay to Washington Island. At that time she was powered with a D13,000 150HP Caterpillar engine. 

American Girl history

In 1971, the American Girl was bought by Jewel Gillespie from Beaver Island, Michigan. She was used to haul fuel and freight to and from the Island. In 1980, a new D336, 220HP Caterpillar engine was installed. In the 1990’s, Jewell’s son, John Gillespie bought the tug and upgraded her engine in 2000 to a 3406, 420HP Caterpillar.  In 2002, John retired and his brother Robert, with the St. James Marine Company, bought the American Girl and rebuilt her engine once more, which increased her speed to 12 knots.

American Girl log hauling in Charlevoix Michigan

She is one of the oldest, working tugboats on the Great Lakes and in the US. Her look is iconic and her steady efforts have been appreciated by the hands in which she has been passed through. She still carries out her patriotic duties as she lights fireworks every Forth of July from her barge. The American Girl is a symbol of American history, and though she withstood many changes, she is still sturdy and true.

American Girl log hauling in northern michigan from Beaver Island to Ironton