Friday, February 15, 2013


Hedwig - Hedy - Eller in 2009.
Northport, Door County -

When writing the word Northport I almost always describe ferry operations from that location.  Today I'm writing a note of thanks, for having known Hedy Eller, who along with her husband Ernst lived in their retirement home near the head of the Northport dock since the early 1970s.  They were our good neighbors, helpful, supportive and known to many on Washington Island and in the northern Door community.

Hedy was 97 when she passed away Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 at Scandia in Sister Bay.  She had resided there for these last three years or so, and we occasionally stopped by to see her.  In all of our visits she appeared vibrant, upbeat, with her  smile and an infectious laugh.

She always seemed to know what was happening around her.  She had a great faith, and with realism seemed to look forward to what lay ahead.  She was an active parishioner of Stella Maris in Sister Bay, and thanks to good friends who drove her, she was able to attend worship services most Sundays.  She never drove, even after Ernst died, but she had willing friends who transported her when needed.

One mannerism of Hedy's, and perhaps it was a contributing element to her title "Queen of Northport," was the way she seemed to dismiss, with a laugh, events or activities with which she might not be in full agreement.  It was a slight inflection of her voice, a raised eyebrow, a quick look away, but never in disdain.  Perhaps it was a sign of quiet, internal judgement.  That was an endearing feature, and I viewed this as part of her good-humored disposition.

She warmed quickly if the topic of the Church entered conversation, the politics within and the organizational stresses on its leaders. She seemed to understand how their duty in service weighed upon them.   Priests who served Washington Island and Sister Bay communities over the years were invited  to enjoy a meal in her home, upon their return by ferry.

My favorite photo of Hedy and Ernst together was of them posing with a group of C. G. Richter passengers, shortly before they boarded for the trip home.  While awaiting Coast Guard assistance to free the ferry from heavy ice for our trip home (some waited three days, others fewer), Hedy and Ernst opened up their home - kitchen, bathroom and even bedrooms - to strangers expecting to board the ferry and sail home through ice, perhaps an hour's undertaking at best.  That experience revealed the nature of the Ellers' hospitality.  By being open to everyone's needs, they also came to know regular Island travelers, passengers who owned seasonal homes and who waited in line each Friday night for the ferry.

Hedy's body will be buried Monday morning on Washington Island, alongside Ernst's.
Funeral services for Hedy Eller will be held in Sister Bay this Saturday morning.

Upon Ernst's death in 1988, an exception was made to an unwritten rule that, for Island burial one had to be either an Island resident or a property owner.  Ernst was neither, but in his heart he was an Islander, a true neighbor who was sometimes referred to as "Mayor of Northport."  His Queen has joined him.

 - Dick Purinton

Friday, February 1, 2013


Shore crew waited in wind, cold and drifting snow
as the sun rose over Detroit Island.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

My purpose for driving to the Potato Dock this morning was to photograph the LP tankers that would unload when the special, early morning ferry arrived.  This was a ferry just for tanker trucks carrying the liquid propane fuel.  This was also the first official occasion using this docking point for unloading two semi trucks.  Truckers from Kaukauna's Schuh Transport typically load product the day before so that they can be on the highway no later than 5 a.m., to arrive at Northport before 7:15 a.m.

The ferry trip went smoothly, with little-to-no ice encountered.  The previous day's winds and the blizzard on Wednesday had blown heavy ice from the Door into the lake, but new ice was already forming in near-zero temperatures.  Within two days the passage will be ice covered once again. Heavier, jumbled ice lies to the west of Plum Island.

A primary concern was if the Potato Dock facility would serve its purpose without hitch, the ramp levels, the available dock surface for turning trucks, and so forth.  Everything worked well, as it turned out.  Lined up on shore where the woods began were vehicles and passengers waiting to be directed to the ferry, just as soon as the trucks cleared the causeway.  The two smaller trucks shown at the end of the pier in the top photo were Ferry Line trucks used to transport freight between the Potato Dock and Terminal building - package freight, food products and such.

It generally takes 2-3 hours for the tankers to unload, time enough for the ferry to run its regularly scheduled morning round trip.  Then, after the ferry once more unloads vehicles, passengers and freight, the empty tankers are loaded for another unscheduled run to Northport.  -  Dick Purinton

Joel Gunnlaugsson secured lines.
Crew waiting for ferry:  Rich Ellefson,
Pete Nikolai, Con McDonald.
Propane, most of it used for heating, is stored at the Hansen
LP facility on Town Line Road, and from there it is
distributed to tanks at island customer locations.