Poling & Cutler Barges By Don Sutherland Coal was still king in the City of New York 87 years ago, when the nine-year-old Socony corporation registered the name Mobiloil and launched the Buffalo Socony. The 7500-BBL Great Lakes tanker was built handsome but low, to clear the bridges of the newly rebuilt New York State Barge Canal on her way to and from the refineries of New York harbor. The records of her travels may be lost to history, but they would have reached points on the Lakes where, as elsewhere, demand for oil and gasoline was beginning to grow quickly. There had been automobiles for most of the preceding two decades, but they were still outnumbered on the streets by horses. Giant dumptrucks stood curbside all over, their chutes blocking the sidewalks as coal clattered into basements. Out on the harbor plenty of motors used fires from coal, the Socony Buffalo's diesel being a notable exception. Petroleum's gathering importance to the maritime industry had been recognized even before then. By 1909, Chester A. Poling, Inc. had a small tanker for harbor deliveries, and a customer base that was spreading. "Fishing boats at the Fulton market were the crux of the business," says the grandson of a founder, Ed Poling, Jr. "The tanker went between there and the boat basin at 79th Street on the North River. Vanderbilt's yacht was one of their customers." The company established a floating facility on the Upper Bay, near 69th St., Brooklyn "and gradually built on that as petroleum products became more important to the economy -- gasoline, heating oil, aviation fuel" -- although the Socony Buffalo was sailing for 19 years before La Guardia airport opened. After a series of ownership and name Poling & Cutler's first tug, the 3000 hp Kimberly Poling, had been moving the tankbarge Noel Cutler for the past half year. Shortage of available horsepower in New York necessated the acquisition. (Photo: Don Sutherland) changes, the venerable tanker went to work in the mid-1960s as the Queens Bay for Poling Transportation Corporation, later renamed Leona L. As the Coral Queen, she continues working today for Poling & Cutler Marine Transportation LLC, still bringing product to points that might otherwise go unserved. Along with two other Poling & Cutler vessels, the Coral Queen demonstrates an ongoing role for small tankerships in the twentyfirst century. Mechanically, physically, the Coral Queen could still be capable of work on her centennial. Five years before that, of course, the law will put her and her kin out of business, as single-skin tankers. Maybe. It might be a stretch, but there are sometimes exemptions. Just how absolutely critical are small tankerships, anyway? And what, by 2015, will the role be of ethanol, for which single-hulls are okay? While Capt. Poling acknowledges such prospects, he's not betting the farm on them. Poling & Cutler have been running their first tug, the 3000-hp Kimberly Poling, for five months now, and the 30,000BBL single-hull tankbarge Noelle Cutler since the late 1990s. An 80,000-BBL OPA 90 compliant barge is due from VT Halter shipyard early next year. Tankers Away? It was a blindness to the changing role of tanker vessels, Capt. Poling says, that brought the old Poling Transportation Company to its knees. By the 1980s, the company hit its peak of some 28 vessels --tugs, barges and tankers -- and made "a big commitment to tankers when other companies were building tugs and barges. The company's management underestimated the continuous maintenance costs for an aging fleet of tankers. If that money Kristin Poling, being born of Captain Sam at Caddell's. Mothballed for years, the old canaler needed lots when Poling and Cutler brought her back in 2001. She's a moneymaker today. (Photo: Don Sutherland) The Kristin sits among with cousins of all types and sizes at Caddell's last year, in order to keep themselves up to spec. (Photo: Don Sutherland) 18 · MarineNews · February, 2007
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