Death of a tugboat

It doesn’t look like the Mount McKay is going to be a fixture tooling around the Duluth waterfront again, not unless someone buys it and treats the tugboat the way Don Bergholm and the boat’s engineer, Bruce Lindberg, did.

The two restored the 1908 boat and worked the waterfront until cancer claimed Lindberg last year. And a heart attack prevents Bergholm from being around an electrical field. And the old engine of the old tugboat provides a big electrical field, the Duluth News Tribune reports in its story of the likely demise of the tugboat today.

First as a steamship that was later converted to run on diesel, she was constructed in 1907 in Buffalo, N.Y. She was first called the Walter Mattic, later the Esther S, then the Merchant and the Marinette. She finished her working days rounding up barges of floating logs for a paper mill in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where Mount McKay looked down on the work she did and provided her its latest name.

Bergholm got her after a businessman skipped town several years ago, leaving behind debts, some damage to the pier and the Mount McKay. She wasn’t much at the time. Potato-chip looking paint flakes lined the hull, said Bergholm, who funded a restoration that was manageable only through the volunteer work of several friends and ship enthusiasts. Bergholm hosted cookouts throughout the restoration, flipping burgers while others sweated to get the vessel seaworthy once again.

Once, after the Mount McKay was restored, they cooked and ate a full Thanksgiving dinner aboard her.

The tugboat will likely be sold for scrap if someone doesn’t buy it for pleasure, the paper says.

Related: Chris Mazella’s images aboard the Mt. McKay (

  • Thomas Mercier

    It certainly wouldn’t be the fastest form of travel, but wouldn’t a little cleaning up of the crews quarters make for a unique B&B opportunity cruising the North Shore? I’m sure it would be hard to make a profit, but what an experience.

  • TaxiManSteve

    Sad. The lack of interest in our maritime heritage. The values of today do not allow for any substantial like this to last.