Wednesday, May 4, 2016


Visitors yesterday (May 2) posed with us before touring the Island.
(from left):  Dick Purinton, Magnus Arthursson, Sigridur A. Jonasdottir, Mary Jo,
Evy (Purinton) Beneda, and Lynn (Sorensen) Rasmussen. 

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Feeling like a teenager sneaking in late at night, hoping his absence wasn't discovered by his parents, I resume this blog today.

It has been a bit of an absence - since late January.   I regret this might have caused consternation and even concern for my well-being, or that of my family.   The short answer is that during our vacation away from the Island in Feb/March, I enjoyed doing other things, and that feeling has lasted until now!

I've been busy on other projects, and other activities, too.

One suggestion, for anyone might enjoy what I tend to most often communicate through this blog, is to subscribe to the Island Observer newspaper.   Since Janet Berggren's retirement as Archivist at the close of 2015, I've taken over writing and editing the Archives page, and I will continue to do so, at least for the near future.  With this new responsibility, though, the frequency of the Archives page changes to one such page per month, rather than in each issue.

The photo at the head of this blog is of two Icelandic guests, along with their host, Lynn Rasmussen, who helped to arrange their Island visit Monday, May 2.   The photo was taken by Sue (?) from Stevens Point University, who guides groups to Iceland each year.  Sue became good friends with (husband and wife) Magnus Arthursson and Sigridur Jonasdottir during those trips, and she has now reciprocated during their visit here.  Moreover, Magnus (or "Maggi," as he prefers to be called) drives motor coach for Gray Line Tours in Iceland, which is how they became acquainted in the first place.

Monday's visit was arranged by Lynn Rasmussen, a friend of Sue's, and who also is from Stevens Point.  Lynn remembered Washington Island as a young girl, although she grew up in Sturgeon Bay.  She is the youngest daughter of the late Elmer and Dorothy Sorensen, whose names readers may recognize. She is related to several well-known Island families, Hagens and Sorensens.

We had a most pleasant visit of several hours over late morning coffee.  Encouraged by Lynn to invite others, Mary Jo extended an invitation to several representatives of Icelandic heritage here, to join in an exchange of information.  Comparing notes on their family backgrounds and personal interest in Iceland relations were Steve Reiss, Lee Engstrom, Shirley Ellefson, Sherry Young, Jeanie Young, Jeannie Hutchins, and Evy Beneda.

One specific interest of Sigridur's, and a primary reason for their visit to Washington Island, was to find out more about her great uncle, Halldor Einarsson, an Icelandic immigrant to Chicago from the early 1900s who was an expert wood carver.  It was Einarsson who Thordarson commissioned to carve his office furniture with Norse mythology features for his Thordarson Electric facility. Those furniture pieces were later moved from Chicago to Rock Island, along with his large book collection and their cases. Nearly all of the original set of carved furniture pieces are now on display in the Rock Island boathouse during the state park's months of operation, late May to mid-October.  

Chair carving detail, Rock Island

Sigridur was pleased to find that there are books and other written materials still available here describing Einarsson and his carvings.

Jeannie Hutchins, a Jacobsen Museum docent in summer, invited Sigridur's group to a special viewing of the carved whale's tooth.  (The museum's official season doesn't begin until Memorial Day weekend.)  Einarsson carved this as a gift to the people of Washington Island in 1970, commemorating the100th anniversary of Icelandic immigration here.
Detail from one of Thordarson's 'vest pocket' notebooks.
This shows a stone-and-turf chapel.  Drawn by "Dory,"
(by Halldor Einarsson), and dated Dec. 1937.  Was this
an idea for a future Thordarson structure on Rock Island?  

Carved sperm whale's tooth by Einarsson, displayed at the
Jacobsen Museum.  This side of the tooth shows the
likeness of early Icelandic immigrant to Washington Island,
Gudmunder Gudmundsson. 

Sigridur was most excited to see the carved whale's tooth and took lots of photos, according to Jeannie.

The hope of Sigi and Maggi is to return in several years' time, during the summer when the Rock Island boathouse and other Einarsson carvings would be accessible to them.

 -  Dick Purinton

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


Hull plating replaced, and power steering installed
on C. G. Richter at PBI, May 1980.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -
Usually, there's more than one explanation for things being as they are, and in the case of that stainless ship's wheel pictured in my last posting, the answer wasn't as I had first thought.

In the process, I learned I shouldn't rely on memory alone, because dates and facts are blurred with time.

First, former C. G. Richter captain Chuck Sena believed the stainless wheel was part of a then newly installed power steering system on that ferry, and it turns out he was right.

I hadn't remembered that wheel being installed on the C. G., probably because it was replaced only a few months later with the original wheel when several components failed.  Chuck remembers heading to Gills Rock, Doug Foss riding along, Kurt Meyer the operator, when the shaft under the binnacle broke, necessitating their labored actions in order to turn the ferry around and head back home.

A second point that triggered this blog posting was the return to daylight of correspondence found in an old file that originated from Tim Graul, Naval Architect, who was then Peterson Builders Inc. (PBI's) Commercial / Workboat Division Manager.   Concerning the shortcomings we reported, Tim wrote Arni Richter about resolving the C. G. Richter's steering, recommending specific remedies.

The replacement of dished hull plating around the waterline had been the primary reason for the Richter's spring yard visit to PBI, but at some point the installation of the first version of power steering was added to the work list.  The original 1950 steering system was a cable that ran from the helm to the quadrant, bending through a series of sheaves, and when the Richter's large rudder collided against a cake of ice (especially when the ferry moved in reverse) it could spin the wheel from the operator's hands, slamming the quadrant hard against the stops.  This wasn't good for the quadrant, and it wasn't safe for the knuckles of the operator.  A hydraulic assisted wheel, it was hoped, would make steering not only easier, it would prevent an unexpected kick-back.

Arni Richter, Tim Graul and H. F. Purinton (of R. A. Stearn
Naval Architects) at PBI in winter of 1979 during Robert Noble 
construction.   Ferry Robert Noble was launched with cable steering 
but was later refitted with power steering, after the C. G. Richter's
second system proved itself.

As a result of breakdowns, a new and more robust power steering arrangement was then installed at Peterson Builders, Inc. in the fall of 1980, in time for the next winter's ice season.   (I realize all of this detail might be more than our typical reader might wish to know, but if you've an interest in such things, then this follow-up may be entertaining and enlightening - as it was for me!)

Included with Tim's letter (on PBI's letterhead, with Fred Peterson's Utopia under full sail, a light tint in the stationery background) were two sketches showing how the old and the new arrangement would differ.

Captain Arni Richter:                                                               24 September 1980

We have discussed the steering system on the C.G. RICHTER, and Ellsworth Peterson concurs that the only thing for us to do under the circumstances is to install a new steering system as we discussed on 9 September.
Power steering assist, the first version
installed in May 1980.

To reiterate my understanding of that discussion, you will bring the boat back to Sturgeon Bay for the work to be done here.  Peterson Builders will furnish the labor to remove the existing power-boosted steering system and install in its place a cylinder, two hydraulic lines from the pilot house to the stern compartment and a new helm unit. 

Washington Island Ferry Line will pay the cost of the additional materials necessary to install this different system, (which you would have done had we installed this type of system in the first place).   Materials will include the new Char-Lynn helm unit, a steering cylinder, hydraulic tubing, fittings and hoses and all the miscellaneous small parts.

I will place the order for the helm unit and the cylinder immediately, and as soon as we have a date for the receipt of this equipment, we'll advise you so that the boat can be brought to PBI for the necessary work.  I am enclosing a couple of sketches which illustrate schematically the steering system as it was installed in May of this year and the new proposed system which utilizes a Char-Lynn "Orbitrol" helm unit driven by a chain from a new wheel shaft.  This new wheel shaft would duplicate the original installation before we installed the torque generator.  Two new hydraulic lines will be run from the Pilothouse back to the lazarette where a cylinder will be installed to actuate the quadrant. 

Second version of C. G. Richter power steering, with
the wooden wheel back in place.

This system will be a true huyraulic boost at the rudder itself. Turning the wheel will displace the valve in the Orbitrol helm unit, directing the oil to the cylinder and actuating the quadrant directly.  There will be enough slack in the cable and chain so that when the rudder has reached its desired position, the valve can be shut off and hydraulic pressure will hold the rudder in the desired location.
We appreciate your cooperation with us on this project and look foward to working on the boat.

Very truly yours,
Peterson Builders, Inc.
Timothy Graul, N.A.
Commercial / Workboat Division Manager

A good reason for the old wheel being reinstalled was the leverage required to turn the helm when the power steering - for whatever reason - failed.  The ferry could still be steered, but it took a good deal of "armstrong" to turn it against the fluid pressure still in the lines, and to manipulate the large rudder against water forces.

Captain Bill Jorgenson, steering with the C. G. Richter's original wheel.

One question still in the back of my mind:  Did I mistakenly recall a similar stainless wheel installed on the Washington?
Was the wheel recently found in Arni's attic from the C.G., or the Washington,  or were those two wheels the same?

-   Dick Purinton

(Purinton photos; correspondence from WIFL files.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Large white pine and table in the field to the north of home.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

(Note:   I've added an additional comment to the foot of this posting...1.28.16)

Readers curious to know about the changing conditions on Washington Island, and who look in frequently at the Ferry Line's webcams, will know that the photo above wasn't taken today.

I took this one while on skis - that's right, cross country skis - several weeks back when I was feeling quite frisky.   I skied modestly, or so I thought, two days in a row, and also fell a couple of times when just standing, talking with my daughter, Evy.  My skis slipped out from under me in quick order.  The result of that outing was further aggravation of my Achilles tendons, both legs, putting me pretty much out of such continued activity since then.  During that hiatus, the snow melted and skiing conditions deteriorated, anyway.

But this morning we awoke to a pleasing cover of about 5 inches of wet snow, delicately blanketing tree branches, power lines and roofs.  Peanuts, when compared to the storm out east, but it's much more pleasant to observe and be outdoors in this kind of a snowfall.  Today's temperatures of 30+ have already melted some of the snow, opening up patches on the drives and lawn.

Skiing partners on this day were daughter
Evy with her dog, Ozzie.  Unfortunately,
those conditions didn't last for long.

A week of cold weather, single digits most mornings, finally stiffened up the ice in Detroit Harbor, so that just one week ago we saw Jeffrey Andersen walking out on the ice, towing his pop-up shanty.  Must have caught a few perch, too, because he stayed until dark.  The following morning Mack Gunnlaugsson towed his ice shanty down Main Road to the shore, and morning after that he pulled it out into the open harbor with his three-wheeler.

Since then others joined in, and now there are half a dozen shanties, and more with pop-up fishing shelters adding to the scene.  Almost all fishermen still use lighter ATVs, as the report I received indicated only about 6 inches of ice on the outermost areas, and not enough to safely drive a pickup truck over the ice.

Digging out in a different setting

We recently added insulation to the attic over our home and attached garage by placing fiberglass batts over blown-in insulation.  Although this space is quite open, and I hadn't known anything was stored up there, a few interesting items were uncovered.

First were two large, framed photos, and we have no idea who the subjects are.  Mary Jo guesses they are relatives, maybe connecting with the Kalmbach side of her family.  The photos and frames are quite bulky, and evidently the once-popular jumbo portraits of those now long gone were of no particular interest to Arni and Mary when they lived in this home.  Partially covered by the blown-in insulation, we guessed they were placed up there many years ago.

One item I quickly recognized was the stainless "destroyer-style" wheel from the helm of the Washington, built and outfitted at Peterson Builders, Inc. in the spring of 1989.  PBI completed outfitting with parts and pieces left over from U. S. Navy contracts that PBI was awarded over several decades.

Jacob Richter married a Kalmbach daughter.  Perhaps
these are relations?

"It don't look or feel right," was a comment I seem to remember hearing the first time Arni stepped foot in the new ferry's wheelhouse on sea trials.  Naval Architect Tim Graul set it right by substituting one of walnut, custom-turned by Dan Austad in his woodshop.

But, just what happened to the stainless wheel was a question I occasionally wondered, and apparently Arni preferred it up in his attic rather than on someone else's wall.

Hoyt Purinton holds the stainless wheel in the adjacent photo.  He and others recall that when  the Washington was ready for delivery to the Island (in mid-June of 1989), a new, wooden wheel was in place.

Of course, with the Washington's power steering, even a wheel could be considered unnecessary, and it is sometimes dispensed with on vessels today in favor of a short stick or jogging lever connected to hydraulics.

Nothing quite like the feel and look of a wooden wheel, however, comfortable in the palm of your hand, as you mentally track the spokes while changing the rudder angle at night.

-  Dick Purinton

Note:  I received an email from Chuck Sena last night, who operated the C. G. Richter when still a college student, and he recalled this wheel - or one just like it - having been used on the C. G. when trips were made in summer to Gills Rock (perhaps very early 90s?)  A phone conversation with Erik Foss, who makes it a point to remember such detail, verified that this might have been the case.  If so, I had completely forgotten about this, so thanks for the correction, Chuck.

The C. G. was retrofitted with power steering at Peterson Builders about 1991, as I recall, when plating was also replaced above the chine at the water line.  This change from cable steering followed what was received by Captains as an improved feature when the Washington was built.  A similar power steering arrangement was engineered by Tim Graul, and it underwent a couple of versions.  The first steering pump didn't hold up as it should, and maybe this first trial was when a stainless wheel was substituted for the original, large maple wheel.   

In any case, the wooden wheel eventually was reinstalled, and it stayed on the boat through the sale to a Florida operator.  The C. G., last I've heard, is operating from St. Martins Island, Caribbean.  

Another feature of the photo I ran above, of Evy and her dog Ozzie on our ski outing, was that a second dog, Roxie, was further down the trail.  Sharp eyes, Erik!  - DP

Monday, January 4, 2016


Machinery space boiler maintenance, with
Arba Turner on Robert Noble.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Seems a shame to use up this space for housekeeping information, but since I recommended in my last posting that readers sign up to be a "Follower" in order to get notification of new postings here, I learned that this process isn't fool-proof.

Just this morning I read something  from the people who make a blog such as mine possible, and it appears their internal machinery requires that you reconnect as a Follower.

The information from the web provider is as follows:

The latest from Blogger Buzz

An update on Google Friend Connect

2 weeks ago by A Googler

...As part of this plan, starting the week of January 11, we’ll remove the ability for people with Twitter, Yahoo, Orkut or other OpenId providers to sign in to Google Friend Connect and follow blogs. At the same time, we’ll remove non-Google Account profiles so you may see a decrease in your blog follower count.

We encourage you to tell affected readers (perhaps via a blog post), that if they use a non-Google Account to follow your blog, they need to sign up for a Google Account, and re-follow your blog. With a Google Account, they’ll get blogs added to their Reading List, making it easier for them to see the latest posts and activity of the blogs they follow.

We know how important followers are to all bloggers, but we believe this change will improve the experience for both you and your readers.

Posted by Michael Goddard, Software Engineer

I have interest in knowing who reads what I write (and I especially appreciate it when someone I don't know, or hardly know, tells me in person that they enjoy reading my postings), but as for striving for increased numbers of Followers, such numbers are incidental to what drives me to spend my time with photos and writing about Island activities.  And, I certainly don't want readers to feel compelled to give out personal information, if asked to do so.  

If you've found success in the notifications via the blog Follower program, then I appreciate your taking the time to make that re-connection.

As an example of "reward" that comes from writing a post that can connect with readers, I was contacted the other evening by phone, by Walter Burr of Los Angeles, a relative of Wilson Trueblood.

Wally is 91, and although he's not been to the Island in over 40 years, he fondly remembers time spent here in his youth.  Wally's family activities were centered in the shoreline community near the Hotel Washington that we know as Jensenville, where they spent summers, and where today several of his relations, as well as descendants of old family friends, still maintain summer properties.

The unexpected contact with Wally included discussion of the Trueblood Performing Arts Center, which after fits and starts has emerged as a fine Island facility, increasingly important in the lives and general culture of Washington Island.  Wally expressed satisfaction in seeing photos of the facility posted in one of my blogs, that Wilson would have approved of the end product.   I hope that Mr. Burr will have the opportunity to visit and see this Performing Arts Center in person, and perhaps enjoy a presentation of music or theater on the stage.  The notion of an Island community theater began as a seed with Wilson some twenty-five years ago, germinating slowly until construction began in 2003, after Wilson's death.

My wish is that words and photos through this site might continue to connect with readers in unexpected ways.

I also admit to pleasant surprise in seeing red dots pop up on the revolving globe along the margin of the blog page, and every once in awhile I'll try to guess who that person might be, because of Island connections.  Just how many interested readers might there be in Argentina, Costa Rica or Uruguay, for instance? I imagine, at least, these are foreign exchange students, or Islanders who are visiting that nation.

And now, the rest of the story

The photo at the top of this piece was taken on a late October day when Arba Turner and I had torn into the boiler heating system on the ferry Robert Noble.   Exhaust pipes and boiler flues were clogged with soot, the engine room itself was sooty, and soon, so were we.  We came up on deck for air to find a salesman from Twin Disc calling, Chuck Balboa.   He'd ridden to the Island to see our operation, and to check on our equipment needs.  His timing enabled him to take this photo of us.

The heating systems on the ferries built in the 50s, 60s, and 70s that I worked on were either hot air (Voyageur, C. G. Richter) or hot water (Eyrarbakki, Robert Noble).

There was only one Coast Guard approved hot water boiler at the time, a vertical, oil-fired boiler made by a company called WayWolf.  Piping that carried hot water to the upper deck cabin and pilot house wasn't well insulated.  The cabins, pilot houses and engine rooms had very little insulation.  As a result, heat dispersed rapidly as the fluid left the boiler and circulated through the system.  The boiler thermostat demanded one start-up after another, day and night.  And with so many starts, the igniter tips sometimes fouled, and the long exhaust runs gradually filled with soot particulate, especially on the horizontal pipe leading to the tall vertical stack that finally exited above the canopy adjacent to the wheelhouse.    In short, these hot water boiler systems fouled frequently, and they sometimes backed up and blew soot around the engine room space.  Not a pleasant task to vacuum and then scrub all of the surfaces, and especially not when it was freezing outdoors.   Having a source of heat on board was not only necessary for the comfort of passengers and crew, it was essential in the machinery spaces to keep water pipes from freezing, and to keep the iron warm for start-up in the morning.

So, one positive way to determine if furnaces were working and heat was being produced as required (until the ferry systems were drained and the ship was taken out of navigation for winter lay-up) was to check each ferry in the evening before retiring to bed, to be sure the furnace was operating.   On the C. G. Richter this was most easily accomplished by driving on board.  The vehicle weight rolled the ferry from side-to-side and helped break it loose from ice that was forming along the waterline.  A hand palm on the starboard side air vent with glove removed would quickly determine if the temperature was warm (furnace recently cycled), hot (in the process of cycling) or cold (more problems that required going below to determine the problem).  

These housekeeping - or ship keeping - tasks were a regular part of the cold weather routine, until we began installing clean, and generally more suitable, electric heaters.   The possible use of electric heaters was impeded, for many years, by having very small output ship's generators that were matched to low demand lighting, and perhaps a small water pump, and also by shoreside electrical service that wouldn't come close to supporting the demand of multiple electric heaters.

Over the past 25 years, little by little, electrical service feeding the ferry dock was improved, with larger capacity wiring and proper receptacles matching the shore cords for the several ferries.   At night, before layup, four or five ferries would potentially draw on that service at one time.   Then, too, ship's generators had to be sized larger to accommodate more and better lighting, larger electrical pumps, air compressors, and electric heaters with fans.  The intended goal was to provide sufficient heat for equipment, passengers and crew, with the side benefit being cleaner, lower maintenance systems within the vessel machinery spaces.  

While there can be still plenty of dirty corners to get into, they generally won't involve the volume of soot presented by stopped-up boiler heating systems.

-  Dick Purinton

Thursday, December 31, 2015


Washington Island, Wisconsin -

We're down to counting the hours, now, some of us, to the end of the year 2015.

What's notable today?   For one thing, winter appears to have finally arrived, with a grand entrance of stormy weather.  First there were the high winds as Christmas Eve morning arrived.  This got everyone's attention.  Then, we entered back into a week of mild and calm air before the next one hit this past Monday afternoon, lasting well into the early morning of December 29.

Even higher winds than the Christmas Eve storm were sustained, over a good 12-hour period.  This most recent storm caused large windows facing the NE to flex during the highest gusts, and the winds were accompanied by moisture:  sleet, then snow.

My guess at snow levels, as I plowed and shoveled what had been clear pavement and green grass on Sunday, was a wind-drifted ten inches or so of snow.  Very hard to judge, and I guess the exact amount doesn't matter that much.   Other northeastern Wisconsin locations reported snowfall in excess of one foot.  This was a good start to getting snow cover before the temperatures drop even more.

Certain things happen when heavy snow and lower temperatures occur around open water.   Here, near the shallows at the end of Main Road, 'snow ice' began building southward during the storm, extending to the end of Snake Island.  This ice is still not safe enough to walk on, and and there are open pockets here and there.  It may not even stay, but break up, leave, and then refreeze, depending on winds and temperatures over the next few weeks.   But it's a start toward winter for those itching to ice fish, or travel over the ice by foot, skis or snowmobile, as winter gets its into its groove.

At the Island Ferry Dock, the gusting winds over open harbor waters blew spray across the piers and onto nearby objects, and it also made for slick walking.  The ferries moored in Detroit Harbor once again had their lines about to slide over the top of mooring posts.   The high water levels we're now experiencing, plus the deepened channel from dredging, allows for more sea action within the harbor near the docks.  This is one drawback apparent when there are such extremes in conditions as we experienced during in the last two storms.   Ice in the bay, and in the harbor, which we expect to see before too long, will serve to dampen such wave motion.

The photo below was taken by Paula Hedeen of Northport from her home Tuesday evening, and its a reminder of the contrasts that occur this time of year from one day to the next, with variations not only in weather, but also in the beauty of the landscape or seascape.

Ferry Washington returning home evening of December 29,
passing astern of cement carrier St. Mary's Challenger.

This blog marks the 299th that will be archived here on this website since 2010, for the benefit of those who have time on their hands and enjoy retracing steps and memories.  I should mention that, since updating my software, I seem to have lost the file and the touch for creating a Blog Notification Group.   Please consider becoming a follower, and I think then you'll have automatic notification of new postings.   Tell me if this does not work for you, and I will try something different.

Have a Happy New Year in 2016!

 - Dick Purinton

Thursday, December 24, 2015


Con McDonald, Hoyt Purinton and Joel Gunnlaugsson rehang
a tire where a mooring pipe (foreground) gave way earlier
this morning.  

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

The 'Santa's Sleigh' carrying a timely shipment of UPS and FEDEX and U. S. Mail will make its appearance today, after all.

High winds during the night of the 23rd and into Christmas Eve day caused cancellation of the two morning ferries, and with it, passengers and freight anticipated to be ferried to the Island Thursday morning.

That delay in festivities will be resolved soon, when the afternoon ferries bring in the mail and freight packages delivered daily by UPS and FEDEX,  and more importantly, groceries and staples for Mann's Store.

I returned from a run to the grocery store for some salad greens. They were not to be found, because most such items were no longer in stock, purchased by those who plan ahead!   However, Jeff Mann suggested I come back around 3:30, after their grocery truck arrives and their shelves are once again stocked.  The Mann's Store truck is one of a number of vehicles backlogged from the morning's trip cancellations, until wind and seas settle down, allowing for resumed ferry crossing.

Swells from the WSW were strong, created by winds in excess of 40 mph reported during the night. A wicked sea found its way into Detroit Harbor, snapping ferry mooning lines and breaking off three mooring pipes.  The Washington, moored against the south side of the main dock, was the most vulnerable.    By 11:30, when the photo above was taken, most repairs had already been made, and the Washington was moved around to the end, ready for loading for a1:00pm departure.

Travelers waiting for a ferry to the Island were asked to be patient and to wait a bit on the Northport side of the crossing until trips resumed.  According to Janet Hanlin, who answered innumerable calls at the front desk of the Ferry Office, communications with the mainland weren't good, as the power was out for a period of time in certain peninsula locations.  

Joseph Block, rounding the sea buoy east of Pilot Island,
heading south against the lake seas.  The southern tip
of Detroit Island is at right, and view is looking across the
East Channel from the Sand Dunes Park, around noon today.

Earlier, around 10:00am, we watched from home with binoculars the white, breaking seas of the East Channel.  Several miles out in the lake, two vessels inched their way south through lake swells,  toward Porte des Morts and the relatively easier going to be encountered in the Bay of Green Bay.  The conning tower and mast of a tug could be seen, rolling its way toward the passage, seas breaking occasionally along its port side.

By 11:45, the ore carrier Joseph Block, which had been anchored, loaded, in the shelter of Washington Harbor, was observed heading eastbound through the Door toward a down-lake destination.  The Block reported dragging anchor as the wind came around westerly, prompting it to get underway.
Toward evening at our home, we're expecting a house full of relatives, young and old, and a few of whom we expect to arrive on one of the afternoon ferries.  Although we have no snow, a disappointment for some, air temperatures are still in the 30s, fine for most folks.  By nightfall, Christmas Eve will be observed once again across the land, as anticipated.

-   Dick Purinton

Sunday, December 20, 2015


A Christmas-time scene at the Ferry Dock, 1994.  L to R:
Arni Foss (who now sails as a Captain for the Interlake Fleet on the
Dorothy Ann/Pathfinder); Jon Gunnlaugson (deceased);  Mark Dewey
(Scottsdale, AZ);  Dave Johnson (retired); Erik Foss (Ferry Captain, active);
Bill Schutz (Office Manager, active); and Al Thiele (retired).


After pestering from Erik Foss to put out another blog, and then another, it so happens we've featured him several times in recent posts, and now once again.

The crew that posed that day by the old Ferry Line office had their photo taken in a setting of fresh snow covering the roof, garland and ground.

Arni and Erik are two of four Island brothers.   Dave (not shown) sails as an Engineer for Interlake.  With the dumping of foreign steel and lessened demand by U. S. mills, a number of Great Lakes freighters are tying up early this season, rather than running into January or early February as has become customary in recent decades.   Arni and Dave are home now, enjoying the Christmas holidays with their families.  Kirby, the fourth and oldest brother, who is retired from his career with the Wisconsin DNR in park management, is a Town of Washington Supervisor and farmer.

With unexpected warm weather, the past two days having been an exception, there is hardly any ice in the shallows of the harbors, and none to speak of around the bay of Green Bay.   Three days ago the NOAA water temperature map for Lake Michigan reported a large section of warm water that extended from mid-lake to the shoreline near Traverse City, Michigan, a substantial warm pool of water with water temps between 46 and 48 degrees F.  This wasn't only a warm topmost layer, but apparently a consistent temperature top-to-bottom.  (Hoyt noted this wasn't too far off summertime temperatures.)   Quite extraordinary to see such temperatures in early winter, and its a sure sign that even if the lake temperatures cooled dramatically starting tomorrow (which isn't in the forecast), we should not see floating or solid ice for several more weeks, at minimum.  Such a warm winter start would have made for relatively easy, late season sailing for the lakers, especially those occasions when they transit the narrows, shallows,  and sometimes ice-choked currents of the St. Mary's River while on their typical upper lake runs.

See more detail and additional Lake Michigan information

Generally speaking, mild December weather doesn't mean a lack of wind altogether, and so we still anticipate weather patterns with strong winds, such as Christmas Eve may bring a few days from now.   Best advice to Christmas ferry travelers?  Plan ahead and travel early to avoid possible difficulties with sailing delays or cancellations.    Ferry reservations become effective tomorrow, Monday, Dec. 21st.

Another Foss photo

On Thursday, I greeted Rev. James Reiff as he stepped off the ferry Washington for a brief Island visit.  Jim was Trinity Lutheran Church pastor from 1981 to 1985, and this was one of only a couple of Island visits since his tenure here decades ago.  My invitation for this visit had to do with the Stavkirke 20th anniversary year since its dedication, and with the instrumental involvement Jim had in getting that idea off the ground.

We drove to the Stavkirke where I took several photos and Jim refreshed his memories.  While we visited, Erik Foss dropped in.  Erik was one of Jim Reiff's confirmands back in the early 1980s.   When details came reluctantly to mind for Jim Reiff, Erik was able to complete a name or date quite easily, prompting further memories of the project.  This sort of recall isn't surprising for one who frequently displays the Foss family trait of a steel trap mind where local or maritime history is concerned.

Erik Foss with former Trinity Pastor Jim Reiff.

Needing to warm up from the chilly air, we walked over to the church itself and met Trinity's current Pastor Alan Schaffmeyer, Church Secretary Joan Hansen, and other familiar faces, before making a quick swing through the nave.   Hanging above the pews there is a beautiful model of the Island freighting schooner, Madonna, hailing port of Detroit Harbor on its transom.

This model was dedicated as a memorial to the young Kelly Jess, son of Karen and Butch Jess, and Jim Reiff was instrumental in obtaining the model, a symbol very typical in Scandinavian churches, Jim said, and something often positively commented about by visitors.

Some years later another sailing ship model, a Mackinac schooner made by carpenter John Herschberger as a memorial to his wife Patty's sister, Deborah, was hung in the knave of the Stavkirke.

With background information from Jim Reiff, and with details provided by others closely associated with the planning, construction and use of the Island Stavkirke, my goal is to assemble photos and supporting information into booklet form, to be available for the 2016 summer tourism season.

-  Dick Purinton

Sunday, December 13, 2015


Erik Foss turns 50 today!
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

The years go by quickly, especially when you're busy.

Erik Foss turns 50 today, a fact I had overlooked until his son, Christian, told me.  Where was his dad?  He was at work.  "He likes to work on his birthday," according to Christian.  Maybe working is intended to help this day pass more quickly, and not be reminded of the additional year.

During a "survival exercise" on the Arni J. Richter in 2004,
Erik helped adjust life vests on sons Doug and Christian.
Both boys have worked as crew during their summers in
recent years.

When looking at today's Ferry Line crew, there are many faces familiar to the public since their mid-teens.  Erik is one of those who rode in the pilot house and threw the mooring line to the spile as well as anyone, when he was still in junior high.  Official records kept for continuous employment show that Erik comes in a close second to Capt. Bill Jorgensen, who (like Erik) worked for the Ferry Line several summers before joining permanently in April of 1987.   There are many trips under the belt of these two captains, with Bill holding the unofficial record of having the most crossings of the Door, of anyone, with his long work record and many trips on the ferries each year.

It's fun to look back on the years as told in photos, so here are a selection of photos showing Erik, Bill, Joel Gunnlaugsson, Jeff Cornell and Rich Ellefson.  

I'm sorry I'm not able to date each photo with accuracy.  Time has a way of wiping out memory of the year without a date having been recorded.  Perhaps the people in the photos remember.

- Dick Purinton

Bill Jorgensen at helm of Voyageur,
around 1980-81.
Bill with son, Dale, in
wheelhouse of C.G. Richter.
(Year unknown)
Captain Rich Ellefson (year unknown),
now Ferry Line vice president and operations manager.
Captain Joel Gunnlaugsson (then summer crew 1993).   
Krista and Joel, before marriage, children, Town
government, County Board, etc. (1996)

Captain Jeff Cornell (year unknown) who operates
both Karfi to Rock Island and ferries to

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

With The Holiday Season Upon Us!

My point of view and locomotion changed following surgery 12/14.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Hard to get in the mood for the coming Holiday Season when it's raining cats and dogs outside, temperatures hover in the upper 30s, and memories of last year's Christmas presents are still fresh in my mind!

Today, in fact, is the anniversary of my Holy Christmas! "double-knee" replacement surgery, and a memory of when I still looked forward with great anticipation to having a respected surgeon saw each of my leg bones in two (and each in two places), then grind, hammer and glue pieces back together, with titanium and plastic as spacers.

To say that I'm now totally "good to go" would be a stretch, but in fact we're bold enough to think a few weeks of hiking the trails of Sedona, Arizona, this February might be a panacea to winter's long days.   And, I'm itching, longing to strap on my dusty cross country skis and slide over some of the Island's most beautiful, wooded trails.   None of those activities would have been possible to partake - without considerable pain and difficulty - several years ago.   So, these notions are progress.

I've been asked by many friends, mostly persons who roughly match my age (within a decade or so,  margin of error), "What's it like?"   These friends too, have been plagued with knee problems and are likewise driven to consider modern medical joint solutions.

Let me offer some advice, as I'm always happy to do, in the interest of short-circuiting my answer for what can be both an exhilarating and debilitating experience.

First, I purposely chose to know as little about what was going on when under anesthetic as possible.  I avoided asking too many questions, refrained from knowing the intimate details of the sawing, pounding, glueing, sewing and stapling.  Instead, I chose my physician carefully for his track record, the hospital setting for the same reasons, and then I put my faith behind their successful production numbers.

Now, I would say that it would be smart, in retrospect, to be a bit more involved in the process than I was in order to ensure best results.    For instance, as the illustration above indicates, there are choices in whether or not you wish to have joints that are intended primarily for forward motion (think bowling, jogging) or the qualities of reverse (tennis, rappelling down mountainsides, politics) where back-pedaling is most useful.   Manufacturers cast small imprints in the artificial joints, a tiny "F" for primarily forward motion, and an "R" for primarily reverse motion.  An indifferent surgeon may not bother to check, in which case you could get one of each.   Choice should be made by you, prior to lying on the gurney and receiving anesthetic, or you may get whatever the soup of the day happens to be.  In my case, today I find it far less stressful walking in reverse.

The next piece of advice I would give is to ask for gradually lessened dosages of medication.   Let's be honest:  you can try to mask pain with narcotics, but a by-product of this application of meds to cover up what is basically a brutal operation is that your system comes to an unexpected stop… joined with nausea, depression and an unrealistic view of the world of hospitals, rehab centers and an invalid's life, while your bones mend.

I chose to remove myself from those nasty pills only after I realized I wasn't who I thought I was.

I began to examine my behavior, why I no longer cared to use the bathroom, and the downturn in my activity levels, while my appetite waned.  And, I knew this wasn't characteristically me!    The photo below (taken one week into the opioid regimen) illustrates my experiments measuring my intake with output.    (Apple juice in glass; used apple juice in the decanter.  The toast was a tray garnish I could not eat.)

One week following surgery, as a patient in a DePere rehab
facility, regularly taking opioids.   I had achieved a sort of
physical balance, but the rest of me was still out of whack.

But, for each person, such experiences might be entirely different.   I've talked with several people who not only weathered the experience but were overjoyed with the advantages of one knee replacement, and they willingly returned to the operating table to repeat that experience on knee #2.  

My hat's off to them.  But I say (and did say), "Do it and get it over with!"

So, as I prepare this blog and consider the personal encouragement I can give others,  I'm also thankful for the advent of modern medicine that has given me increased mobility, the objective of my efforts.   Maybe, one day, with practice, I'll be able to jump and run again in forward, as I do now in reverse.

-  Dick Purinton

Friday, November 27, 2015


Fall weather at its best, with wind gusts topping 40 mph,
Thursday, Nov. 19.     Eric Foss guided the Robert Noble
through 6-8 ft. swells.   A rare cancellation was made
for the last trip of the day, with darkness adding to
operational challenges.  

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Erik Foss reminded me a week or two ago, as I drove onboard the Washington for a trip down the peninsula, that my last blog was posted in late September, the equivalent of internet eons ago.  Such a deterioration in communications.

So I'd better get with the program.

If you happened to watch Channel 5 weather at the 6:00 pm and 10:00 pm on Nov. 12th, you may have seen the ferry Washington lurching through seas in the Door.  Erik Foss happened to be at the wheel, and he was comfortable enough on camera to crack a joke with the reporter, a reference I was unable to hear.    Nearly all ferry trips are made without television crews along for the ride.  Their film, however, showed a more realistic look at ferry travel to and from Washington Island, at least in the fall.  And, in more recent days the conditions were far windier.

But overall the 2015 Fall season was mild with moderate wind conditions, and the fall colors held on well into October with plenty of unexpected, bonus days that enabled us to accomplish outdoor activities.   In addition to picking up fallen leaves, many of my outdoor hours were spent glazing windows and touching up the paint on old buildings.   Unless it warms up again, I'll move on to brushing and woodcutting for a few weeks, before the snow and consistently colder temperatures stay with us.

This morning, following a light rain most of Thanksgiving day, we awoke to a light cover of snow on the ground.   The thermometer hasn't budged off the 30-degree mark.
  *     *     *     *     *

Jim Rose sent along photos of an improvement for the Percy Johnson County Park (formerly, Eastside Park.)   The transportation of this modern day outhouse to the Island was shipped on two separate semi trucks, along with a large, portable crane to lift and set each section.

This dandy crapper came in ready-to-assemble sections:   the upper structure for above-ground, walk-in patrons, and the vault for below ground waste storage.   Wonder what Percy would think about the improvement, in particular the cost?

In the interest of a more complete story, I need to take a photo of the finished product, learn where it was manufactured, approximate cost, and its success as a public improvement.

      *      *     *     *

Thanksgiving blessings

With Thanksgiving leftovers still on hand, and appreciation for the bounty so many of us enjoy in terms of food, shelter and the essentials of life, I'm also reminded of the different approaches individuals choose to take.

Back in mid-September (while waiting in line for an order at the Albatross) I had a conversation about the seemingly late turn of colors, and of the eventual coming of winter.

"It might be warm now, but just wait," the man said. "If you watch squirrel activity,  they've been quite busy lately, and that's a sign it's going to be a hard winter."

I've heard it said before by old timers (Jack Hagen, among others) that squirrel activity is an indicator of the severity of winter to come.   (It could also have to do with the abundance of acorns produced in a particular year that spurs such activity, not unlike shoppers scurrying after bargains on the day following Thanksgiving.)   The gist of the old adage is,  we can learn from observing squirrels, that they sense things we don't.

Earlier this fall, we observed squirrel-like human activity, too, the storing away of tons of canned food, dry goods, and essentials tools and equipment.

Was this storing of "nuts" the conscious preparation for an impending disaster that regionally and nationally might cripple communications, supply lines, transportation routes and electric grids?  

Almost everything we use depends upon electronics that are susceptible to hacking and interruption, whether by villainous perpetrators or natural causes.  A major disaster would make such private storehouses of goods an essential element for survival of the few who have the foresight, wealth and gumption to see into and prepare for the future, so the logic goes.

This way of thinking - to my mind negative, and almost nutty -  me wonder if the rest of us are just naive to forces beyond our shores?    Those who properly prepare, as I understand it, are people who act on knowledge and a healthy fear of things to come by laying in supplies for the impending disaster.

As I was about to dismiss the notion to follow the lead of squirrels, I read a short piece in an AARP magazine (that's right, my undisputed source of information!) where television journalist Ted Koppel was interviewed regarding his theories of what might happen if the nation's electric grid goes down.  Less than a week later, I listened to Koppel on the CBS Sunday Morning program as he elaborated on his investigations.  As he sees it, a major electrical grid failure is inevitable, just a matter of when, a belief he outlines in his book, Lights Out!   No one in government is prepared, or looking out for our interests in such a scenario, according to Koppel.     

Then, I read a piece in the October 26 issue of The Waterways Journal, a weekly magazine of maritime trade and transportation on North America's inland waterways:

   Navy To Reinstate Celestial Navigation
After an absence of nine years from the curriculum of the Unites States Naval Academy at Annapolis and a 15-year absence from Naval ROTC programs, U.S. naval officers are once again learning to navigate by the stars, the Navy announced.   
The class of 2017 will be the first in many years to graduate with a basic knowledge of celestial navigation.   

This article went on to announce that the U. S. Navy was reintroducing sextant skills to its cadets, due to the increased concerns about the vulnerability to errors and possible hacking of government high-tech instruments and satellites.   It was also possible, it was noted, that during a national emergency our government might elect to shut down the GPS system, because it might be used to advantage by potential enemies.

This information was, again, something I hadn't considered.  I agree there are real benefits for teaching celestial navigation as a back-up to electronics (as was the practice for a number of decades), and I hadn't even realized that celestial navigational had been dropped from the curriculum for future Naval officers.

When adding these various things up, a conscientious squirrel begins to wonder if we're far enough out of the mainstream of life to ignore the signs?   Will our household  in a disaster fail to provide health and happiness?  Should we continue in belief in the American system, as we've known it?

Surely there are thousands of brilliant people who. through their concern for prosperity and survival, have given a great deal of thought to the consequences?   If so, we're in good company continuing along our path of "productive citizenship."   Projects, contracts, planning and financing for the future …  continues apace in all manner of scale, nationally and globally.   Preparing for an eventuality that may never come is a risk analysis of the highest order.   It can seem silly, like the practice of ducking beneath classroom desks in the late 50s to avoid nuclear annihilation.

It's been suggested to me that what others do is none of my business, that one can spend hard-earned income however he or she wishes, even if that wish is to stockpile the goods of this earth to extend our days.  Maybe they're right.   I shouldn't puzzle over the lives and decisions of those I can't understand.

But, another question bothers me:   How will those individuals during a major disaster - the ones with foresight and capital to cache food and supplies:   a) Hold off friends, neighbors and relatives at gunpoint when desperation sets in;  or,  b) Share food and supplies equitably with those same neighbors, friends or relatives, thereby limiting their own longevity?

We might take action from another observation in nature.  Every so often squirrels are observed jumping into the lake and swimming away from shore, perhaps when populations exceed nut supply.

Should we follow one another, like squirrels over the edge of the bluff, or continue to stand on firm ground, building on the foundations laid before us?    Do we allow squirrel observations to rule our lives?

-  Dick Purinton