Russel Winching Tug

This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.

The Russel tug was immortalized on the Canadian one dollar bill in circulation from 1974 to 1989. Source: Bank of Canada

The Russel winching tug was a workhorse, moving timber along Canadian waterways to mills and markets before trucks took up the greater share of log transport. The all-steel boat, designed in 1936, replaced the wooden “Alligator,” cumbersome steam-powered amphibious machines that could also travel overland.

Part of the increasing mechanization of Canada’s logging industry, the Russel tug used its two-cylinder engine and powerful winch to move massive log booms. The operator positioned the tug well ahead of the boom and dropped a specially-designed anchor. He would then reverse the tug back to the boom, unspooling its wire anchor-cable as he went. The tug operator then hitched the boat to the log boom and wound the cable in, moving the tug and boom slowly toward the anchor point. The operator repeated this process until the boom reached its destination. While slow, winching proved an efficient and economical way of transporting logs to distant mills. Russel Brothers Limited manufactured 300 winching tugs between 1929 and 1970, first in Fort Frances, Ontario (1907 to 1937), and then in Owen Sound (1937 to 1993).

Winching Tug No. 580 was used on the Gatineau River, Quebec, between 1946 and 1978. A similar tug is represented on the back of the Canadian one-dollar bill that circulated between 1974 and 1989.

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