The Eighth Sea: Building the St Lawrence Seaway

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Cat® customers face and conquer many awesome challenges -- not many were tougher than the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway in the late 1950s.  And six decades later, the 2,342-mile water route from the Atlantic Ocean, through eastern Canada, to Duluth, Minnesota still plays a vital role in global shipping.

The giants of the sea carry ore, grain, and other products from Canadian and U.S. cities on the Great Lakes to countries all over the world.

Cat Customers at Work

Thousands of workers operated approximately 3,000 tractors, scrapers, draglines, trucks, and other pieces of power equipment.

"The weather was against the contractors," said Frank McCabe, retired Caterpillar manager assigned to the project.  "Temperatures ranged from 100 above to 50 below. Our machinery had to function under heavy snows, extreme rain storms, and late spring thaws."

Retired employees Bob Haungs and Roger Williams remember waking up in small Canadian border hotel rooms to the phone operator's voice saying: "Good morning. The time is 5:45 a.m. and the temperature outside is 45 degrees below zero."

Tough People Operating Tough Equipment

“About 75 percent of the crawler tractors and 80 percent of the motor graders assigned to the St. Lawrence Seaway project were built by Caterpillar," said McCabe.  He added, “Many draglines and other heavy machines were powered by our engines."  

The joint effort by Canada and the U.S. resulted in the building of seven new locks, which allowed ocean vessels to travel to Lake Superior.   Miles of extensive dredging was accomplished. Bridges were constructed, and a tunnel built under the Lower Beauhamois Lock between Lake St. Louis and Lake St. Francis.

While the Seaway was officially opened to seagoing traffic in 1959 it remains relevant today.  Cargo shipments generate nearly $35B of economic activity and support more than 225,000 jobs in Canada and the U.S. 

Former Caterpillar President and Chairman of the Board Harmon Eberhard, made the following comments after touring the Seaway:

"You could easily see the need for the kind of quality that we build into our machines. Wherever the jobs were toughest, that's where contractors were using Cat equipment."

 

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