In this world, there are big ships. And there are really, really big ships.
To put the name Wyoming in the same sentence as “the biggest wooden ship ever built” just would not make sense to most residents of this state.
But it is true.
The largest wooden ship ever built was called Wyoming and the centennial of that event occurred about five years ago.
And as might be typical of anything Wyoming, that ship’s entire existence had a lot to do with coal. Not Powder River Basin coal, but eastern seaboard coal. But I digress.
This giant ship was launched from Bath, Maine, in 1909 and this monster was more than 450 feet long. It was so gigantic, it would have a difficult time fitting into War Memorial Stadium at Laramie.
This was one of two gigantic ships launched around that time from Bath with Wyoming names. The first was the biggest at the time, called Governor Brooks, named for Wyoming Gov. Bryant Butler Brooks.
His family made a lot of money financing giant wooden ships that ferried huge cargoes of coal along the East Coast, among other business ventures.
The Governor Brooks had five masts, which was unprecedented at the time in 1907. But the Wyoming was much bigger with six masts and a size that was bigger than even the legendary Noah’s Ark.
Hal Herron and Joe Stanbury of Riverton discovered these facts about the Wyoming during a motorcycle trip a few years ago, which took them to the Maine Maritime Museum near Bath.
While touring the museum there, they walked into a vast open field, which featured huge steel statues at each end. These represented the prow and the stern of the biggest wooden boat, ever. The space was 150 yards long, which is one and a half times the length of a 100-yard long football field.
Upon closer inspection, Herron was astonished to read that the name of it was “Wyoming.” The giant ship stretched out along that field between the representations of the prow and the stern of the giant vessel
So who were these Brooks folks with the deep pockets and the love of shipbuilding and why the Wyoming connection?
It was an extended family that dominated business in the Northeast. One of the family’s sons headed west to follow his love of cowboying. He ended up with a 100,000-acre ranch in the Casper area at Big Muddy, Wyoming. And he became Wyoming’s seventh governor.
Thus, it was apparently a logical occurrence that ships reflecting this Cowboy State connection came into being.
Every statistic concerning the Wyoming was huge.
It was 50 feet wide and had a volume of 303,621 cubic feet. Unloaded, the ship weighed 6,000 tons. She could carry 6,000 long tons of coal.
It was built of six-inch yellow pine planking and there were 90 diagonal iron cross-bracings on each side. It stood four stories high before you even reached the masts, which stretched out another six stories.
The ship was built in 1909 by the Percy and Small Co. and cost $175,000.
The members of the Brooks family were smart businesspeople and later sold the ship in 1917 for $420,000.
Ultimately, it foundered in high seas near Nantucket in 1924 with all 13 hands drowning.
Herron thought it would be nice to locate a huge Wyoming flag at the Bath site, which could be featured near the sculpture. The folks there did not receive this with great enthusiasm, so he worked with the Governor’s office to get a normal-sized flag lined up for it.
The 100th anniversary of the launch of the ship occured on Dec. 15, 2009.
I looked up some of this information on the Internet through Wikipedia under the heading: “Largest wooden ship in the world.”
It shows the Wyoming as number-one followed by a 377-foot long French ship, which was destroyed in 1874, and a huge Roman barge built by Caligula. Another contender for largest ship was the Solano, a huge tug that hauled steam engines across San Francisco bay.
Wyoming is famous for many things — for our first national park, national monument and national forest and for its location along the Oregon Trail and even for our consistently high winds. Plus we are the energy breadbasket of the Western Hemisphere.
But who would have thought that Wyoming would be famous as the namesake for the largest wooden ship in the world built way off in distant Maine?
Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at billsniffin.com. He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written six books, which are available at fine stores. His latest is Wyoming at 125. His books are also available at wyomingwonders.com.