Twilight Of The Giants

Rick Rarick

Students in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Cleveland State University augment their academic studies with various hands-on projects. These projects can serve not only to develop their engineering skills, but also to contribute to their awareness of the history of engineering and its role in society. One such project is the design of a working model of a Hulett Iron Ore Unloader.

Hulett at Night
Photo by Jerry Mann

The Hulett ore unloaders are part of the mighty industrial heritage of the Great Lakes region. These iron behemoths dominated the landscape of the historic Whiskey Island docks at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River and other Great Lakes ports for nearly a century with few changes. Invented by Cleveland engineer George H. Hulett (1846 – 1923) and first patented in 1898, the radical design of the ten-story-tall Huletts revolutionized the unloading of the great iron ore ships that carried the ore down from the immense deposits discovered in the Marquette Iron Ore Range in upper Michigan in 1844. Before their invention, the ore in the holds of the ships was hand-shoveled by laborers into hoppers that were then hoisted by cranes to rail cars on the docks.

With the advent in the 1980s of self-unloading ships that could discharge their cargo at any port in the world, the demise of these steel-jawed giants was only a matter of time. Nevertheless, they stand in the memory of engineers as  marvels of unique engineering design and endurance, having retrieved billions of tons of ore from ships to feed the rail, automotive, and steel manufacturing industries of the Second Industrial Revolution.

For Lawrence J. Cawley, a 1957 mechanical engineering graduate of Fenn College of Engineering, the memory of working on the Huletts as a college student remained with him throughout his successful careers as president of the Clevite and Kaydon Corporations. Shortly before his death he made a $27,000 gift targeted for the student design of a working model of a Hulett ore unloader. In his words, “My hope is that students will value the engineering marvels of the past while making a positive difference in their community.”

The mechanical design of the model was based on original drawings and completed as a senior design project by mechanical engineering students Tim Girardi, Bill Havelka, Mike Cugini, Brian Engelking, and Matt Milcevich under the supervision of Dr. Majid Rashidi and Dr. Paul Bellini. The electrical controls and touch-screen interface were designed by students Chunming Yang and Richard Rarick in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering under the supervision of Dr. Daniel Simon.  The machining and assembly was performed by Dave Epperly, the machinist/model-maker for the College of Engineering.

Of the 75 Huletts that were built, only two remain in operation in Chicago. Of the original four in Cleveland, two have been consumed in the very blast-furnaces they helped to create, while the other two fallen giants lie dismantled and rusting in tall weeds on Whiskey Island. In the vision of Lawrence Cawley and the particpants in the Hulett Project in the College of Engineering, this twilight of the Hulett ore unloaders can be the dawning of new inspiration for the next generation of engineering students at Cleveland State University.

The model is on display in the lobby of Fenn Hall at Cleveland State University For more information on the preservation efforts of the Huletts, visit:    

Hulett Model

CSU’s Hulett Ore Unloader Model

Rick Rarick

Working on the Control Electronics

Huletts in Snow

Snowy Huletts