INDUSTRY: Shipyard workers stay busy with winter workFraser Shipyards is nearing the end of another lay-up season for the Great Lakes vessels. The Soo Locks in Sault St. Marie, Mich., are set to open March 25 and nearly every ship in the Twin Ports will be ready for shipping season.
By: By Raeanna Marnati/For the Superior Telegram, Superior Telegram
Fraser Shipyards is nearing the end of another lay-up season for the Great Lakes vessels. The Soo Locks in Sault St. Marie, Mich., are set to open March 25 and nearly every ship in the Twin Ports will be ready for shipping season.
Eight ships were laid up at Fraser this winter. Along with standard winter maintenance, several ships needed additional work, and though fewer ships than usual docked in the Twin Ports this year, workers down at the docks have stayed busy.
Among other repairs to the docked vessels, the John J. Boland needed two cargo holes replaced, a cargo bulkhead and cargo hole arches replaced. The American Spirit needed a new ballast tank and a bulkhead replaced. The John G. Munson received a cargo bulkhead and new arches.
“Repairing these ships in the winter allows them to get caught up and get ahead of the game,” said Mike Peterson, manager of Fraser. “This year the repairs have gone smooth and are currently ahead of schedule. It’s already looking like it will be a good shipping season.”
The shaky economy hasn’t seemed to affect Fraser or its employees. Ships always need to be docked and maintained during the winter and brought back to sailing shape for the shipping season.
This year saw 175 workers return to positions within the shipyards’ ranks. Among other positions, boilermakers, welders, laborers, carpenters and machinists all got the call to action this January. Although there are some year-round positions, most workers are considered to be seasonal employees and hold other jobs during the summer months.
Chester Pebbler, a welder and 38-year veteran of Fraser, feels fortunate to have a place of employment. When he took his first position, he was hired for seasonal work. He now has but it has a year-round position, creating a steady source of income.
“I love my job here,” said Pebbler, though he admitted when he first began the summer months could be difficult. In those days, he never doubted being called back to his position, but there was uncertainty regarding when Fraser would need him again.
“My kids are all grown up and gone, but when there were six of us in the house, being laid off in the winter was hard,” said Pebbler.
Alan Jacobson, a boiler maker who has worked in the shipyards since 1971, also maintains a positive attitude about his employment. He is now a year-round employee at Fraser and hasn’t had to worry about a downturn in the economy affecting his job security.
“My family seems to enjoy it,” says Jacobson, adding that the stability of his position has allowed him to spend more time at home. “And I enjoy the job because I’m not doing the same thing every day.”
Mark Lathrop, Marine Superintendent of American Steamship Company, relies on Fraser Shipyards to get maintenance done correctly and on time. Lathrop, along with Peterson, is already planning repairs needed during the coming summer and winter seasons.
Fraser makes repairs to ships year-round, checking each time they sail into the harbor. Work orders are issued early on in the season and all of the parts are preordered, which could take eight weeks or more to arrive. The shipyard stays prepared and ahead of the game, allowing for smooth sailing and a worry-free season.
Lathrop is excited for the upcoming shipping season. “We had a slow 2011, but it picked up towards the end. It’s supposed to be a good season this year.”