Originally named COUNT, ENTERPRISE was built by Fellows, Morton & Clayton on their dock at Saltley, Birmingham, for their own use. The composite hull (iron sides and elm bottom) was fitted with a Haines Patent engine supplied with steam from a coke fired Danks boiler. In 1925, Fellows, Morton & Clayton converted her to a motor boat using a fifteen horse power Bolinder semi-diesel engine. She carried general cargoes until she was damaged by an incendiary bomb at Fazeley Street Depot, Birmingham during the Second World War.
Following the war, Ernest Thomas was called in to salvage a number of vessels of this type. As well as being in the scrap business, he was one of the main "Black Country" canal hauliers and saw the potential in this shapely hull for a powerful and manoeuvrable tug. After reconstruction, ENTERPRISE retained her original bow and stern, but her power was increased by a massive 35 inch in diameter and 25 inch pitch propeller. Power for the tug was provided by a Gardner five cylinder L2 diesel engine originally supplied in 1931 to Walker's of Wigan and fitted to their prototype Pagefield Paladin seven ton lorry. It was obtained from a breaker's yard at Shoreham-by-Sea and reconditioned by Sam Satterthwaite at Streetly Garages Ltd. A Parsons HRG forward/reverse box with 2:1 reduction, supplied new to Leonard Leigh in 1939, was also fitted. On commissioning for Ernest Thomas, the test load was ten laden wharf boats – known as hamptons; a payload of four hundred tons, but for safety when working, trains were limited to six. Most of the tug's working life until the early 1960s was spent moving coal from the Cannock, Holly Bank and Hatherton collieries to Birchills Power Station, Walsall.
ENTERPRISE was number one of fourteen tugs run by "Ernie", who had over four hundred boats at the peak of the trade. By the late 1950s, Birchills power station began to receive supplies by rail and ENTERPRISE was laid up for increasing periods. She was virtually untouched for about ten years until 1973, when Ernest Thomas disposed of some of his notable boats including the tugs ENTERPRISE NO. 1 and BIRCHILLS NO. 2. ENTERPRISE was bought by her current owners who found that the hull sides were very thin in places, with a hole in the bows and a clay puddle covering a weak spot on the stern bottoms. The front deck was full of dry rot and the cabin cladding was disintegrating. Despite neglect, the Gardner engine still ran and everything else worked. However, after a prolonged period of rain she sank twice in the deepest part of the Cannock Extension canal. She was re-floated and moved to Peter Keay & Son's yard at Pratt's Bridge Dock for major repairs, which lasted almost four years. The fore, front and stern decks were completely removed together with the condemned two hundred gallon diesel tank and very worn elm bottoms from the front half. The wrought iron plates in the previously inaccessible areas were badly scaled. The thin areas were cut out and three by eight inch mild steel plates were hot formed to shape and welded in position. Both the fore-end and stern swim sections were repaired in this way, thus retaining their double curvature. The counter sides were replaced in mild steel, re-using the original guard irons. A weed hatch was made in the uxter-plate with a corresponding lift-out section in the new oak deck. Gunwales alongside the cabin were renewed by Jim Forrester in 1984 prior to replacement of the cabin sides which now incorporate a double skin. After over twenty years of use, the oak deck was replaced in 1998-1999 with more traditional ash boards on top of new structural keruing. New three inch thick elm bottom boards were fitted at the stern and in the fore-end. In place of the rotten keelson, one inch longitudinal shearing planks were used. Beneath the engine room the bottoms, although worn to two and a half inches, were so well pickled in oil etc. that they did not need replacing until 1991. Alan Williams (who rebuilt the Severn trow SPRY) performed this operation using elm and traditional ‘chalico’ sealant. The fore-end, front and counter decks were reconstructed between 2000 and 2004 replacing all the oak structure with keruing and the oak shearing with ash strips.
The partners acquired a wrought iron BCN day-boat in 1993 (built circa 1910) and named it BHP NO. 2, making it possible to perpetuate the tradition of tugs and towing. This aspiration has been realised on the occasion of the Boat Gatherings at the Black Country Living museum, and particularly in September 1999 when the tug was filmed for archive purposes pulling a train of three day boats loaded with coal from the surviving chutes at Anglesey Basin, Chasewater, to the Museum at Tipton. Another day-boat, BHP NO. 3, (a double ended 'joey') was added to the fleet in August 2001. ENTERPRISE travels many hundreds of miles each year (over nine hundred miles in 2000) and, with her three feet draught over the entire length, makes a major contribution by locating submerged obstacles and keeping the channel clear for others. She retains the internal machinery and external appearance from her time as the most powerful tug in Ernest Thomas’ fleet, with the exception of a nine foot extension of the cabin, added in 1974.
Hales, Bernard, The Historic Narrowboat Owners Club - Black Country Tug ENTERPRISE No 1, 1999
Built by Fellows Morton & Clayton
Converted to motor boat with a 15HP Bolinders semi-diesel engine and carried general cargoes until she was damaged by a WWII incendiary bomb
Fitted with a Gardner 5 cylinder L2 diesel engine
Acquired by Ernest Thomas, reconstructed and renamed ‘Enterprise No1’. On commissioning for E Thomas, the test load for her was 10 laden wharf boats or 400 tons
She carried coal from Cannock, Holly Bank and Hatherton collieries to Birchills Power Station, Walsall
Purchased by present owner. She had been neglected and sank twice in the deepest part of the Cannock Extension Canal. She was re-floated and moved to Peter Keay & Son’s Yard at Pratt’s Bridge Dock for major repairs
She received a top end and fuel injection system overhaul
The whole engine was overhauled
The boat has been acquired by the Narrow Boat Owners Club and the vessel is thought to be in Walsall in good condition
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