Evans McKeil

Photo by Mac MacKay

Photo by Mac MacKay

This classic tugboat was built in 1936 by the Panama Railroad Company of Balboa, Panama as their own Alhajuela. Used in the canal’s construction, the tug remained in service on the Panama Canal until 1970 when she was sold to Malcolm Marine of St. Clair, Michigan, who brought the large tug into the Great Lakes and renamed her Barbara Ann. She was then used for various towing jobs around the Great Lakes. In 1989 she was sold to McKeil Marine of Hamilton, Ontario. The tug was renamed Evans McKeil, and today works in the barge trade.

  • Type: Single Screw Tugboat
  • Year Built: 1936
  • Builder: Panama Railroad Co., Balboa, Panama
  • Engines: 1 EMD 16-645C
  • Horsepower: 2,150 bhp
  • Length: 110′ 06″
  • Breadth: 25′ 06″
  • Depth: 14′ 08″
  • Port of Registry: Hamilton, ON
Ken Newhams

Ken Newhams

Marc Piché

Marc Piché

Isaac Pennock

Isaac Pennock

Isaac Pennock

Isaac Pennock

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9 thoughts on “Evans McKeil

  1. Good morning. My name is Lew Stabler and I am a tug captain on the Panama Canal. I am currently working on a history of the tugs at the Panama Canal for the last the 100 years. The tug ALHAJUELA is the subject of a chapter all to herself. After finding your comments on her (EVANAS McKNEIL) on the internet, I am requesting permission to quote your story and possibly reproduce the drawing and photos. It was a joy to read that she is still in service today. For your information, in 1942, the ALHAJUELA was involved in a horrific collision involving a Navy seaplane. Several people lost their lives that day. She was rebuilt and put back in service about 9 months later, and went on to serve well until she was sold in 1970.
    I am looking forward to your response.

    • From Michael Barnaby Rudge Kleefkens
      Monterrey, Mexico

      Tugboat Alhajuela was for a long time my Grandfather’s assignment as Chief Engineer. Herman Kleefkens retired from the Panama Canal Company April 20, 1949 at age 62. Grandaddy Herman was home sick with the flu the night the PBM crashed the Alhajuela and the Aviation gasoline barge. Most everybody was killed on the tugboat.

      As a five year old then, I still have memories of Grandaddy Herman taking me to work on board Alhajuela a few times. The tug was assigned “ship assist” duty in Cristobal Harbor with Captain Carlsen at the helm. We would get a call for duty from the Dispatcher’s Office where, my Uncle Louie Kleefkens, Grandaddy’s son worked. Grandaddy would go below from our laid back place under the shade of the tarpoulins on the stack deck to get the main engine started. Captain Carlsen would take me into the wheelhouse and perch me on the tall stool behind the even taller teakwood steering wheel. I would steer the vessel the whole assignment taking orders from Captain Carlsen. I graduated from Cristobal High School in 1961 and Captain Carlsen was there at the ceremony to congratulate me saying, “Michael you are welcome as helmsman any time on my tugboat.” He knew I was off soon to attend the California Maritime Academy. It took me a number of ship operating years to deduce what made my helmsmanship so remarkable. The Alhajuela’s wheel house had Jog Stick Electrical Steering of the Follow Up, Non Follow Up, and Auto Pilot Options capability. Of course Captain Carlsen was using this lever to control the vessel while allowing me orders and the thrill to spin that huge teakwood wheel thinking I was doing a good job for him.

      I followed the steps of Grandaddy Herman Kleefkens studying Marine Engineering which led me through 50 years of sailing ships of all types. My license was never as “Unlimited” as Grandaddy Herman’s as my Chief Engineer Unlimited License was for Motor Vessels. My First Assistant Engineer Unlimited Lcense was for Steam Ships of which USA has but few. I completely retired from the Maritime Industry in 2015.

      I have written all of this and much more in my Memoirs for my three children. If you, Lew Stabler, would like to communicate with me on the subject, I would be happy to entertain you.

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  4. I learned Keith Malcolm that he brought two of these tugs up to the Great Lakes. He sold one to Hannah of Chicago, named Darrel Hannah (the Mermaid) and later onto Selvick of Sturgeon Bay and named (I believe) Carl William Selvick.

      • In 1935, the Mechanical Division of the Panama Canal laid the keels for two diesel electric tugs, the Arraijan and the Alhajuela. They were originally assigned to Dredging Division, but like all the tugs at the Canal, they were capable and willing to do ship assist and salvage work.

        Early in the morning of August 19, 1942, the Alhajuela was struck by a U. S. Navy seaplane and burst into flames. Six Panama Canal employees were killed in that accident. Eight of the ten crewmembers of the seaplane also perished. The tug was towed to Mt. Hope dry dock and rebuilt. She returned to service nine months later. Records show that one of the recommendations of the Board of Local Inspectors, which investigated the accident, was for the Governor of the Panama Canal to “extend a special letter of commendation to William E. Lee, cook of the ALHAJUELA.” Mr. Lee “exhibited an unusual presence of mind and good judgment at a time of great crisis and high excitement” by restraining three coworkers from jumping overboard into water covered with burning fuel. They and two servicemen pulled from the tail section of the seaplane were rescued by US Navy coxswain Ham in a small motorboat.

        In 1970, the Alhajuela was sold to Malcolm Marine of St. Clair, Michigan. There she was converted to a diesel driven tug, developing 2150 horsepower. She was renamed the Barbara Ann and was used for general towing service in the Great Lakes. In 1989, she was sold to the Canadian tug company McKeil Marine of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. As of this writing, the Alhajuela is 83 years old and still working in Canada today as the tug Evans McKeil.

        The salvage tug Taboga was built in 1943 for the U. S. Navy. She joined the fleet of tugs of the Panama Canal in 1947. Originally built as a 1500 hp diesel electric tug, 143 feet long with a beam of 34 feet, the Taboga underwent several modifications in her 24 year tenure with the Canal. In 1971, she was sold to Malcolm Marine of Michigan.

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