Monday, April 20, 2015

ISLAND WATERFRONT - Then and Now - Arni and Carl Richter Years - Part XVII

Carl Richter, on board the ferry C. G. Richter
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

When Carl and Arni made their decision to purchase Jepson's ferries, after nearly nine years freighting and carrying mail, with the occasional passenger, aboard the little tug Welcome, Carl was 69 years of age.   Hardly a time to jump into a new venture with both feet.

But, his son Arni, who would have just turned 29 in 1940, was in the prime of his life, married to the former Mary Cornell, and he had experience gained in both the navigation and the administrative side of a freight transportation business. In addition to his duties with the Welcome he was a fish wholesaler, buying and then shipping Island fish to markets in Chicago and New York.  To Arni, an expanded ferry business made economic sense, although there were challenges with a war effort coming on, and two older, wooden ferries to maintain.

 He helped deliver ice with horse and buggy for the Gislason store, in Jensenville.  As a youngster he had always loved horses, and Arni's first desire was to become a farmer.
Arni Richter, as a toddler.

The opportunity to operate a ferry business meant the chance to live on the Island and to continue working with his father.  It could be said by those who came to know him that he seemed to have a head for business and the decision-making that went along with serving customers and keeping boats running.   One of their great challenges, and one that seemed out of reach for several years just as it had for William Jepson, was to solve the winter transportation issue.

Crossing on ice was a risky business, but often it was the only way to get the mail and goods back and forth.  The wooden ferries they inherited were getting softer around the shaft logs. (Arni had privately wondered if the Steamboat Inspector Erikson hadn't been considerate by overlooking some aspects of the ferries' ages, knowing that it would be a few years before a new ferry could be built?)

Due to the absolute necessity of Island ferry transportation, Arni did not join the military service when the war was on.  Those years were a struggle for the business, however.

When the war ended, he redoubled efforts to design and build a new ferry with a steel hull and sufficient power for ice work.   He enlisted the services of Naval Architect Walter Haertel, Sturgeon Bay, with rough proposals from several builders.  Obtaining financing proved most difficult, without a local bank, or any bank along the Lake Michigan shoreline for that matter, willing to take on the risk of financing a new ferry.   Arni believed that their small revenue stream and the fact they hadn't been in business for long made the venture seem risky.  Only as a last-ditch idea, on his return from points as far south as Kenosha and Waukegan (where he had worked in his twenties in fish stores) did he try Henry Schuette of the Manitowoc Bank.

A long-ago connection the Manitowoc Bank had with a schooner named White Swan was a long shot, but in this case, it worked.  Mr. Schuette's father had been with the bank years before, and the bank had part ownership in the vessel that called at Jackson Harbor occasionally for a load of grain.   Arni, as a youngster in his early teens, once had the opportunity to sail on the White Swan for a trip down the lake, from the Island to Manitowoc, where its load would be deposited at the mill that produced flour of the same name as the ship.

Later, Mr. Schuette's pleasure in seeing the difference his loan made in Island ferry transportation was repeated on many Sunday afternoons, when he and a granddaughter would drive to Gills Rock and ride round-trip on the Griffin.

The only Richter ferry not built by a Sturgeon Bay shipyard, as it turned out, was the Griffin, which was constructed by Krause Kraft of Kewaunee, Wisconsin.  It was 65-ft. x 20-ft. beam, 7-ft. draft, with capacity for approximately 9 autos and 100 passengers.  She was powered by a 180 HP Kahlenberg engine.  The access to the passenger deck above the vehicles was located at centerline, a trunk that made loading somewhat awkward (as compared with the C. G. Richter of 1950 that had its engine room access and cabin stairway access along the port rail.)  Nevertheless, the improvements in operations with this new ferry in the 1946 season were immediate.  It's steel hull brought even greater benefit for the winter ferry service, when one trip each winter day was scheduled (but none on Sunday).  The Griffin became a most useful and relied upon Island ferry.

The wooden ferry Welcome was the first of the old ferries to be traded, and then in 1950 the North Shore was sold to make room for the twin-engine C. G. Richter was constructed at Sturgeon Bay's Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, and it was also a Haertel design.  There was a section on the car deck, all the way aft, where the tail-ends of vehicles overhung a steel beam.  This, in theory, shortened the useful overall vessel length, which kept her in the classification known as "Small Passenger Vessel," according to the federal Subchapter T Regulations, an advantage in both outfitting and manning.

From a 1990 interview with Arni Richter, from Over and Back (WIFL - 1990):

It was evident from the last dry-docking of the Welcome in the late forties that she was getting old and was going to need a major overhaul soon.

We found a buyer for her down in the Lake Erie islands.  Having a buyer was a deciding factor in going ahead with a new ferry for the 1950 season.  Walter Haertel designed the C. G. also.  She was twin screw and built for winter service.  Twin screws did not prove to be a good arrangement for ice work. We bent both stats the first winter we tried using her in ice and went back to using the Griffin for winter crossings.

After the Eyrarbakki was added to the fleet in 1970, we sold the Griffin to the Anderson brothers [Cecil and Jackie] soon afterward.  Then we converted the Richter to a single screw, single engine boat, and it has been the winter ferry ever since.

Preparing for launch, Griffin in 1946 in Kewaunee.  A stoutly-built ferry,
Arni noted she had very little dishing to show for over 20 years of ice work.

The C. G. Richter had softer chines and easier lines all around than did the Griffin, and she carried nine autos and 100 passengers quite easily.  Power was furnished, not by Kahlenbergs this time, but by twin Murphy 150-HP diesels, for good speed and for maneuverability at the pier.  But, as noted by Arni, it wasn't good for ice work in winter.  Carl's name went on this ferry, and family members were present to see it launched in Sturgeon Bay in the early summer of 1950.   Those two ferries, Griffin and C. G. Richter, kept people, vehicles and freight moving back and forth to the Island throughout the next several decades, to be joined in 1960 by the first open-deck ferry, Voyageur.

Launch day at the Shipbuilding and Dry Dock yard.  Maggie and Carl Richter stand with
granddaughters Carol (Richter) and Jeannie (Leasum).  Arni and Mary Richter,
Margaret Leasum, Emma and Paul Richter stand at bottom of steps.

When the Voyageur was designed (again, by Walter Haertel) it's purpose was to move more and larger vehicles.   Almost immediately it's attributes were put to work in Sturgeon Bay, following her first season of Door crossings, when the highway bridge was struck by the Swedish freighter Carlsholm, Oct. 21, 1960.  The northern portion of the county's peninsula was instantly separated by water, and it would be weeks before the single Michigan Street Highway Bridge would be repaired.  For the first several weeks, until a barge-bridge was put in place across the narrows of the ship canal within a mile or so of Lake Michigan, ferries from Washington Island provided 'round the clock service for people and vehicles.   This was at a time when the apple harvest was still in full swing, with the Fruit Growers Co-operative located on the north side of the bay, adjacent to what is now the Great Lakes Marina. (Then the Palmer Johnson Boatyard.)  Arni sent the C. G. Richter almost immediately to Sturgeon Bay, and by 7 p.m. that same day, the Voyageur had joined her, with their crews shuttling equipment, freight and people across the bay, leaving the Griffin to handle the off-season Island traffic.  Tourism, not yet what it would become a decade or so later, slowed greatly after Labor Day weekend, and with the bridge out, traffic headed into northern Door County slowed to a trickle.  If anything, the novelty of having a damaged bridge and two of the Island ferries in town increased the traffic of bystanders and vehicles locally, at least for the first several days.

Jerry Potter enjoyed this photo of his Cadillac coming
off the C. G. Richter so much he asked for a special print.
Side loading became a slow-down factor as newer ferries
loaded more quickly, easily and safely.

Griffin, loaded with sacks of potatoes from
the Anderson farm for Sturgeon Bay. (1950s)
Arni Richter, when asked in 1990 about the impact new ferries had on the ferry business and the Island as a whole, said:

Of all the ferries, I think the Griffin and the Voyageur made the greatest economic impact on the Island.

Fish and freight were a big part of the operation in the 50s.  one year, we hauled over 1 1/2 million pounds of fish!  In the In the fall, after labor Day, one boat hauled just herring to Menominee.   Later in the fall, we hauled potatoes for Ed Anderson to Sturgeon bay.  Tourism was picking up then, too.  

In Florida I saw an open deck ferry which ran to Sanibel Island, and it gave me the idea of building a boat to handle large trucks.  Walter Haertel and I worked out a design which became the Voyageur, built by Bay Shipbuilding & Dry Dock for the 1960 season.  That was a real change after the Voyageur came out.  We hauled lots of heavy loads in the 60s with her…semis, log trucks, highway equipment, road oil in semis for Island blacktopping…I think it encouraged Island development.

Island traffic, thanks to increased tourism in the late years of the 1960s, seemed to have outgrown ferry capacities in the peak days of summer.   More motorists towed trailers and boats and hauled goods for their cabins.   More freight arrived in bulk, delivered by truck.  Island roads were slowly becoming paved, and in order to mix asphalt, tankers of heavy road oil and specialized equipment like stone crushers came back and forth.  At 65-feet in length, the Voyageur had become a workhorse, but her deck barely held the ever-longer semi-trucks.  The Voyageur investment showed that an open-deck ferry with unlimited overhead dimensions was the wave of the future.   The Eyrarbakki was built in 1970, and the C. G. Richter would then undergo a conversion to single-screw, replacing the Griffin in 1971 as the Island winter ferry.

Arni often enjoyed a cigar, as did his
father, Carl.  Shown here in his 60s, he
also enjoyed taking the helm of one of his
ferries - in this case the Voyageur. 

By 1969, Arni had begun to consider another, longer ferry, one with greater capacity for autos and large trucks, and for passengers.  The year 1970 would be a special year, and as one who served as a director, and then president, on the Door County Chamber Board, and who was in tune with Door County's emerging tourism economy, it seemed natural to Arni (and to Mary Richter) that a celebration of Icelandic immigration be combined with a christening ceremony.

In 1970, the Eyrarbakki would become the newest ferry, one of the earliest of hulls constructed by Bay Shipbuilding, the Manitowoc shipbuilder that had recently moved its operation to Sturgeon Bay, taking over the Christy and Shipbuilding and Dry Dock and Roen Salvage yard properties.

Nathan Gunnlaugsson, long-time ferry captain, on one of the early trips
aboard the Eyrarbakki in 1970.
 -  Dick Purinton

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