Tug o' My Heart : A towing dynasty
During World War I, Captain Jim fitted out tugs for crossing the Atlantic during the war and was put in charge of the United States Army’s floating equipment. (During World War II, McAllister transported all the Army’s explosives through New York Harbor.) Captain Jim was described by one family member as the spark plug who kept the company expanding into new ventures. He lived to see the business triple in size and then get hit so hard by the Great Depression they were down to only one running tug. In 1935 Captain Jim died at 66. When Brian asked what caused his grandfather to die so young, his father told him he died of a broken heart.
Fortunately, all of the McAllisters had large families. Captain Jim had 10 children including three sons, Anthony J. (Brian’s father), James P. II, and Gerard, who, along with a few cousins, kept the business afloat. Although some daughters did work in the company offices from time to time, they were not given ownership. By the end of World War II, Brian’s dad and his two uncles had 35 tugs running, even though they were mostly worn out wooden steam tugs. They got through the Depression but at that time, Brian recalled, there was not enough work for everybody so only the smartest and hardest workers survived. The family built the company back up in the 40s and 50s and were operating 50 tugs in six ports. “After World War II, Moran had sealed up 70 percent of the ship business in the harbor. That was enormous,” Brian said. “McAllister had maybe 15 percent.” He said they were all highly competitive and engaged in price wars.
The Fourth Generation on the Brink
Brian was born on Christmas Day in 1932, one of eight children, and grew up in his grandfather’s house on Albemarle Road, near Prospect Park in Brooklyn. His father Anthony would take all the boys to the shipyard. “I was scared to death on the boats,” Brian said. When he was 12 or 13, and working as a summer deckhand on a tug, he recalls his fright watching the very tricky task of maneuvering one ship from a line of three and then moving another ship into the same slot. He told the pilot he was scared and was sent to the engine room. “I was happier down there,” he said, because he didn’t have to watch what was going on. Despite Brian’s alleged lack of interest in learning, he graduated from the State University of New York (SUNY) Maritime College at Fort Schuyler in 1956 with a bachelor’s degree in maritime engineering, but the family business was not calling him yet.
“The third generation had an agreement that only two sons from each branch of the family could work in the business, so I went into the Navy for two years.” He came out in 1958 as a Lieutenant JG and got a job with the American Express Isbrandtsen Line, making a lot of money. “I loved it,” he said, but by then also realized he was spending too much time away and asked his father for a job on the tugs. Anthony was able to get Brian a job as tug captain and eventually pilot. By the mid-1960s Brian had extensive seagoing experience and was promoted to the office.