Friday, December 31, 2010

As The Sun Sets On The Calendar Year...

Above photo and information below are used with thanks to owners of this blog site where additional text and informative, entertaining photos are to be found:     

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Our foreign reporters in the Caicos have updated their blog site with more information on the C.G. RICHTER, now TREASURE SEEKER.   The red-hulled pirate-like ship was recently towed from protected but shallow harbor to deep water where an ocean-going tug took her astern for a long tow to a repair facility in Puerto Rico.  There, from what we understand, a new rudder will be fabricated and installed while the boat, or at least the stern, is out of water.   The owner's marine insurance company has apparently authorized both this tow and the repairs necessary to get the vessel seaworthy and on its way to the end-destination of St. Thomas, where it will be placed in a charter capacity for cruise ship visitors on shore excursion.    

Given the somewhat difficult trip thus far, we wish the owners better going the rest of the way, and with their venture.  They are now some 14 months since sailing the vessel for the last time from Detroit Harbor, Washington Island as the C.G.RICHTER.

  -  Dick Purinton

Thursday, December 30, 2010



Ten days ago we had a beautiful, soft snowfall, backlit by a full moon at sunrise.  Extraordinary morning light.  

Today, by contrast, the air temperature is up to 39 F, it is drizzling, and the snow has melted into mush.  True, island roads have mostly cleared of ice, but the unpleasantness of plowed up hunks of lawn sod and the residue left by town sand trucks is exposed, reminder of a long slog into summer.  

Out on the ice this past week, local fishermen had towed their ice shacks out from shore and tried their luck perch fishing.  We had gotten used to watching their activity, from early morning before daylight to late in the evening after dark, as trucks, snowmobiles and four-wheelers came and went.  This morning many of those same shacks have been towed back to the safety of near-shore, where the ice is safe.  Puddles caused by rain and melting snow have created small ponds here and there ten inches deep.  The pulling vehicles created a wake as they negotiated their way back toward the end of Main Road.  

Jeff Andersen, Andrew Rainsford and Jack Rose had just removed an ice shanty, a dark mass appearing out of the fog as they headed toward shore.  Then they contemplated their next move.   The pattern of winter recreation for these fishermen will be adjusted for a few days until temperatures get below freezing and the harbor ice becomes solid and slick once again.   Fishing for perch in Detroit Harbor had been more a testing of the conditions, anyway, they told me, with small perch few and far between.

No Ice Enroute, Yet

On the open water, there has been almost no floating ice seen beyond the island docks, and none at Northport, either, although the breakwall shows off a thick winter coat of ice from the last wind storm.  Ice beards hang at an odd angle from the entrance light structure, stalactites formed in the 40-50 mph freezing gales.

Kite Flying

Late Tuesday afternoon grandson Atlas and I walked out on the  ice-covered snow to fly kites.   

It was 37 degrees,  a raw but yet ideal, steady wind from the SW, and a clear sky.  It was perfect for launching our kites.  After removing a few tangles, Atlas had his kite up and flying, a parachute-style with lots of pull.  I encouraged him to give it more string as it rose higher and higher, while I broke out kite #2 and readied it for flight.  

By the time my kite was airborne, a simple trapezoidal kite that flew almost directly overhead, Atlas had released some 300 feet of string, out to the final knot on the spool.   

I suggested we trade kites so that I could wind a few turns back on the spool as a safety cushion.  That's where we ran into trouble. 
While passing it between our thick gloves, gusts tugged at the kite and the spool lifted off across the snow,  almost like slow motion, it seemed.  A quick sprinter could retrieve it from just beyond where we stood, I thought, and with my encouragement Atlas took after it.  But he slipped on the snow as the spool bounced, then became airborne, heading for the passenger side door of a parked fisherman's truck.   Atlas regained his feet, giving chase, but another gust pulled the spool up and over the truck (rather than snagging on the side mirror, as I had hoped), and all we could do was watch it sail smartly toward Holiday Inn and a large grove of poplar trees.   

This is where our kite came to rest, some twenty feet off the ground, a colorful fixture until the next gale plucks it from the branches, or it becomes shredded material for a squirrel's nest.   

This had been a completely typical kite experience:  tangled tail and string, then a successful launch, a good flight, and, finally, loss of kite in nearby trees.  My only regret, one that marred our experience, was when I muttered "Dammit" as the spool jumped from our gloved grasp.  That would be the only thing I would want returned, if I could.
  -  Dick Purinton      

Thursday, December 23, 2010



Christmas is upon us:  a season;  a special day but yet more than just one day;  Christmas rituals;  holiday excitement;  and for many, Christmas rekindles our strongest memories with family members.

I realize this note may not hit the mark for everyone.   Even in the best of family situations there exist  unspoken tensions, goals never met, acts or words we wish we could undo.  But there needs to be a few days of truce from all of the negative, and with Christmas the joy of a special birth provides that opportunity.

Our lives can be infused with pleasure from the unbounded excitement of young children, something holiday pageants and stories have tried to capture time and again.  The lives of young children are pure and innocent and are not yet conflicted.  For them excitement, especially at Christmas time, takes center stage as each day they rise only to be themselves once again.

Here on Washington Island we'll host our children, now grown adults, and our young grandsons.  While we are excited thinking about each of them being in our home, our attentiveness will center around the youngest.

The top photo shows Kirsten and Hoyt's two boys, Aidan (with screwdriver) and Magnus (pliers), attempting to take apart an old compressor.  They've learned "scrapper" habits, that there is value for wire and old metal.   It's a good occupier of their time and they pitch in on any project allowed, expecially because it involves using tools.  In scrapping, they are encouraged to disconnect or break apart an old tool or appliance.  We'll anticipate seeing more of these two boys in the next few days.

Hosting holidays has shifted downward a full generation.  In the bottom photo, I join sisters Martha and Helen with Mom, 93.   This was a gathering held at Martha's home that lasted a few hours on a Saturday  following Thanksgiving.  It's not easy getting everyone together, but it's even harder when health and mobility make such an outing difficult for Great Grandmother.

With gatherings including our eldest participants becoming more rare, memories of the olden days are even more special.

For old, young and the many in between, have a Merry Christmas!  

-  Dick Purinton

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Washington Island, Wisconsin -     

BRIDGES ARE STILL NEWS  [Order Form At Foot Of Blog]

This posting announces my new book with an order form enclosed (below) that you can print.   Publication and delivery is anticipated to be the end of this coming week (by Dec. 17th) and order requests will be filled first, prior to distribution to area retail outlets.

In 2009, I was very fortunate to have Words On Water published by Norbert Blei's Cross+Roads Press.  Based on my ferryman's journal of 2007, it was well-received by the public, with reviews that were also very supportive.   During the three years years since writing Words On Water, I've worked on other projects and polished pieces written prior to 2007.  Many of these appeared on this blog, along with other poems and essays.  It is a selection of these pieces, then, with further editing and the inclusion of many photos, that makes up my newest book, Bridges Are Still News.

Putting this book together was more difficult than I had anticipated because of so many different pieces, but it would have been impossible without the help of Amy Jorgenson who composed the pages, had great graphic sense, and made this, in my opinion, a most appealing and readable book.   In one sense, it is literary, both poems and prose.  On the other hand, if you like history, essays or photos, you should not be disappointed.  The inclusion of so many color and B&W photos, over 100, would have been unthinkable 15 or 20 years ago due to production difficulties and cost.


Norbert Blei was kind to publish my last book. By his own policy it is something he does only once per aspiring writer in order to give them exposure, and encourage their continuation and success.   His accepting my book for publication was of immense value to me.  But now, if what I write is to see the light of day (beyond these blogs), in what is primarily a limited, local / regional market, the establishment of Island Bayou Press for self-publication seemed to be the only probable course.

While e-books are the coming trend, and many small-run books can be purchased on-line, I think local history and regional literature will continue to be with real books, read and placed on shelves alongside like books from the past.

Here is something I copied from an on-line site which throws a huge element of concern into anyone who considers going this route.  It reads:

 Before traditional self publishing, you may want to make your work available in electronic form, carefully monitoring the response, and then building on it.  If that appears unreasonable, keep in mind the following statistics:

  1.  around 1 million manuscripts are apparently looking for a US publisher
  2.  only 1% of manuscripts will probably be published
  3.  33 percent of high school graduates will never read another book for the rest of their lives
  4.  42 percent of college graduates will never read another book after college
  5.  70 books published do not earn back their advance
  6.  70 percent of books published do not make a profit
  7.  art, literature and poetry together account for only 3.3% of the  US book market

Daunting.  So, to the readers of these blogs and of all regional literature, to the readers of local authors and poets...thanks for your support.




We are connected to a broad section of the upper midwest by this storm system that is slowly passing through.  High winds, over a foot of snow in many places, blocked roads, closed businesses, canceled church services, falling temperatures... a day that makes us feel very much alive, and connected to the rest of the huddled midwesterners!  The shoveling, the plowing and cleaning up will begin once the wind begins to subside.  There are no ferries today, and may not be on Monday, either, since storm force winds, reducing first to gales, will blow through Tuesday night.

This morning the amber flash of the town plow told us it was time to get up.  The howl of the winds made it hard to sleep, anyway.  We made our way downstairs and turned on the outdoor floodlight to watch the fury, impressed with how this blizzard blocked out neighbors lights, except during slight let-ups in the gusting, drifting snow. Washington Island was out far enough in Lake Michigan to escape the heaviest snowfall. We were located on the regional weather radar within that pink band that defined the heavy snowfall to the west and south with sleet over the open lake.   Was it ten, eight or six inches of snow that fell here?  Who knows?  Drifts one to two feet have formed in our driveway, but they are saddled by black patches of bare asphalt.  Hard to tell.

Game boards will be brought out, crock pots filled, cookies baked, and holiday lights trimmed - if they aren't already - and the NFL will have one of its strongest viewing days in the midwest states ever.  If only our power stays on!


I had the opportunity to hunt last week in southern Iowa with sons Hoyt and Thor.  Hoyt has traveled to the same territory annually for the past nine years or so to hunt.  I've joined him there one other time.  Thor has not hunted at all for nearly 15 years and never in Iowa.  This outingwas set up several years ago when we applied for Iowa deer tags.  It takes a few years in the queue and the purchase of "preference points" to get an out of state tag for an antlered deer - a buck.  Doe, or antlerless, tags are easier to obtain as an out-of-stater, but at nearly $450 each, they are almost as pricey as the buck permit.  Add in the gas, food, lodging and the accessories ranging from shotgun slugs to handwarmers, not to mention time away from work, and there is a significant commitment.

So, is it worth it?

Yes, it is, when you like spending time with your sons and that time has not been as frequent as you would like.  The hunting becomes an activity around which that time is centered, with fewer interruptions in the flow of conversation.   It is also just being in each other's presence, even when there's no talking, Thor in the back seat doing crosswords, Hoyt listening to the radio, me reading the paper through the miles on the way to the camp.   For all of the above, it was fun, the trip was a success, and we enjoyed the time we had.

Viewed from the narrower aspect of hunting, our trip was also successful. Each of us shot one or more deer.  Hoyt, as unofficial guide, organized our day, told us where to sit and how to approach the terrain for best results.  We brought home approximately 150 pounds of boned venison, and we gave one deer to a party who wanted venison but had no source.   (During the hunting season, so far Hoyt has donated three deer to a food pantry.)   None will go to waste, and all of it will be enjoyed later as either roasts, stews, sausages or ground meat to be used throughout the year.

But, it is the time together that cements us as friends, as well as father-son-son.

A Pirate Ship Sails Into Harbor

In the ongoing story of the former ferry C.G. Richter, now Treasure Seeker owned by Ray Hixon and his family of St. Petersburg, FL, we offer the following photo taken from an internet blog site.  The site is named, "Two Gringos in the Carribean" and only a brief mention and the accompanying photo is made as the author cited the sight of a strange vessel under tow near the Caicos harbor.  Date the photo was taken is also unknown, but is presumed to be around mid-November.   It does show that the old ferry, now pirate ship, is on her way further south, enroute to the new home port of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.   The link to that web site is:

I will speculate that it is the draft of the vessel (not mechanical fault) that put her on the towline as she entered port, but we will have to wait for more details to find out.   A rather impressive, pirate ship-like profile, don't you think?     -  Dick Purinton

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Washington Island, Wisconsin -

We had a wonderful dinner, ate too much as is the custom, the grandchildren have gone home and to bed, and the most strenuous activity I can come up with at the moment is typing words on my computer.

Thankful for so many things in our lives, our friends and our family, and the good health to enjoy one another, rest at the top of our basket of plenty.  We're thankful for our customers, too, the many people who from diverse backgrounds travel by ferry for many different reasons. Some are customers only once, while others use our ferry services on a regular basis.  Living in this country where we have a wide range of freedoms is yet another thing we are thankful for - a circumstance not to be taken for granted.

We hope your Thanksgiving was satisfying and memorable, too.

Wednesday morning I  boarded the 7 a.m. ferry.   Thin ice from the late afternoon trip the day before still coated the foredeck.  The season of slippery, ice conditions had begun.

A few vehicles belonging to hunters were on board, headed south with deer on car tops, and in the case of one boat owner, pairs of hooves projected from the cockpit of his craft.  They were taken, maybe, from Rock, Detroit or Plum Island.

The 2010 gun hunt for deer continues through this weekend, then a muzzleloader season and a late bow season follow.  Only the smartest or luckiest deer will still be running free in late January.   But, many of them survive, and as many seem to populate the island forests and meadows the following year.   Their numbers remain steady, from year to year.

We've enjoyed a mild November so far, but that's about to change.   Winds tonight are gusting to 40 mph and higher, with gale force winds forecast to continue through Friday evening along with plummeting temperatures.   Given the drop in temperatures, spray will cause icing on deck, and tomorrow's ferry runs may be challenging.
  -  Dick Purinton

Thursday, November 18, 2010


-Washington Island, Wisconsin

Several articles in the Island Observer and letters soliciting island organizations have drawn a welcomed response in donation dollars for the Island Memorial Medical Fund.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010 Washington Island Lions Club representatives presented two checks to Island Memorial Medical Fund treasurer Leon Shellswick.  In what might be considered a "cornerstone" donation, one check presented included $15,000 to help remodel Dr. Wilson's dental office, and a second check for $2000 will be used for Dr. Filar's eye care office.  Both of these providers have an island practice within the Island Community Center.  Dr. Wilson travels from Sister Bay, and Dr. Filar also has a Sturgeon Bay practice.

The Island Lions were but one of several organizations to respond to the announcement for assistance.  The American Legion Post, the Island Womens Club, the Detroit Harbor Ladies Aid Society, and many individuals also donated toward the dentist office remodeling project and island eye care.   All gifts, whether large or small, are appreciated for their contribution toward the betterment of island health care.  

Island Lion Joel Gunnlaugsson and Lion President Al Stelter present Island Memorial Medical Fund Treasurer Leon Shellswick with a donation as Dr. Tom Wilson (right) looks on.
Joel Gunnlaugsson, who is currently the Lions Club Secretary-Treasurer, recalled conversations he and other Lions had several months ago with Henry Nelson, a longtime Club member who for many years held the post of Treasurer.  Henry had expressed his wish that the Lions consider the Island Memorial Medical Fund project.  Following Henry's passing in the early fall of this year, the Lions Board of Directors, including Will Herschberger, Gunnlaugsson and Stelter, honored Henry's wishes by designating a sum toward island health care.

The Island Lions have undertaken many projects over the years, significant fundraisers which enable them to return dollars to community improvements.  Public support for the various Lions Club projects is, therefore, greatly appreciated by the Lions members.

Among the more visible of the ongoing activities and projects taken on by the Island Lions Club are these:  the annual Fly-In Fishboil at the airport;  Island Fair and Parade;  rental and set-up of Club-owned tents for public and private events; the recycling of aluminum cans at the Island Landfill;  improved School House Beach public facilities;  the Mid-Winter Festival and Fish Derby; and ongoing ball park improvements such as new bleachers and the establishment of a little league field.

While it appears the immediate dental and eye care fund-raising goals are now much closer to being met, the Island Memorial Medical Fund is an ongoing entity.  The Fund's ability to help underwrite island health care improvements exists entirely through annual donations and gifts, and continued support is required.

Inquiries or gifts may be made by mail to:

    Island Memorial Medical Fund, Inc.
   Leon Shellswick, Treas.
   581 Silver Birch Lane, Washington Island, 54246.

   -  Dick Purinton

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


 Voyageur at Bay Ship- 2006 - (Wendell Wilke photo)
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Karen and Bob Kalal, who have ties with Gills Rock and who fondly remember the days of Washington Island ferry boats landing there years ago, sent along a number of photos.   They show the Voyageur at various stages of remodeling, in what turned out to be a better-looking vessel in many respects, one well-suited, at least, for the tour and excursion business on Chicago's waterfront.  Major changes in appearance can be seen in these progress photos.  Bob took a number of photos "through the fence," as he put it.  Others are attributed to Wendell Wilke and Bob Lund.  Thanks to all who consented to have their photos published here.    -  Dick Purinton

Shown above and below:  Voyageur on blocks at Bay Ship, winter of 2005-06.  (Wilke photo)  A small extension was constructed over the transom (below) for crew access, line handling and emergency egress.  

Scrap heap:  old pilot house and cabin section  (Kalal photo) 

Voyageur at Bay Ship prior to reconstruction.  (Dick Lund photo)

Monday, November 15, 2010


Two photos above show the 1960 vintage ferry Voyageur as a Chicago tour boat (photos courtesy of Shoreline Marine)
Voyageur typically carried 12 autos.  Here she is shown with "tour bus plus six" ................

Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

The ferry Voyageur was designed by Walter Haertel of Sturgeon Bay, and built by Sturgeon Bay Shipbuilding & Dry Dock in 1960 for Arni Richter and the Washington Island Ferry Line.

This was the first open deck or "flat-top" ferry, as people liked to refer to it, for Washington Island.  With a single ramp that lowered in the bow, for the first time large, long and heavy loads could be transported to Washington Island.  This was a major potential change that lead to dump trucks, gravel crushers and screeners, semis, long trailers and other large highway vehicles reaching the island, in addition to automobiles.  

Until the Voyageur was built, only autos, short trucks, and trailers that could be disconnected and worked across the deck by hand could be transported, given the limited deck space of the C.G. Richter, Griffin, and their wooden-hulled predecessors.

Shortly after the Voyageur came into service, tankers carrying road oil, graders and other large equipment arrived to blacktop island roads, just one example of the change the Voyageur's design brought to island life and commerce.

In October 1960, the Voyageur's first year of service, the Sturgeon Bay bridge was struck by the Swedish freighter, Carlsholm, a blow to the single highway link over the bay.  This incident necessitated emergency measures to keep commerce and at least essential transportation flowing north and south in the county.  Within about six hours after the incident occurred, the Voyageur and C.G. Richter arrived from Washington Island to begin continuous service across the bay.  The two ferries and their island crews ran for several weeks straight, hauling vehicles that lined up on either side of the bay at temporary landings that consisted of piles of gravel, sculpted and adjusted for vehicle loading. 

Nathan Gunnlaugsson was then a young captain,  one of several men who piloted the Voyageur with its finnicky air controls.   Older island pilots preferred to stay with the familiar, ferries and engine controls they had mastered and were comfortable with.  Doug Foss, a licensed Great Lakes ore carrier mate, also operated the Voyageur during that time.  The run from the east to west side of the bay was short, from the Fruit Growers Co-op dock to the opposite side of the bay, frontage where the tug John Purves now is moored.  

Those tricky Westinghouse air controls were, on the one hand, fun to operate because depressing each button with a characteristic hiss that followed took some getting used to.  On the other hand, even experienced operators could be caught short not having made a successful shift.  In such cases, the ferry might react in a totally different manner than anticipated, especially when extra throttle was applied, skewing the ferry toward the landing point.  But when they worked, this ferry's short overall length (65 feet) and smooth underbody made spinning it in a circle within its own length possible, and highly maneuverable.

The original engines were GM 6-72 motors, supposedly WWII surplus engines rebuilt for this commercial application.   However, they broke down repeatedly during those first years, and by 1965, a pair of 4-cylinder 452 Murphy diesels with Twin Disc gears replaced them.  The generator was a single-cylinder Onan that produced 3.5 kw, just enough for lights and compressor and a wall-mounted furnace on the car deck.   Despite numerous mechanical problems with the Murphy motors over the course of its operating life and a characteristic black cloud of smoke from improperly combusted fuel, the Voyageur was still a workhorse ferry through the 1990s.  A classic side profile gave rise to the nickname "shoe."

In 1999, the Voyageur was repowered with new Cummins 855 motors (approx. 350 hp each, which are still working today), and a stern loading ramp was added to make it more versatile for auto traffic.  Although the aft overhead was low (slightly over seven feet to the underside of the upper deck), cars exiting via the stern ramp could, for the first time in the Voyageur's operating history, drive on one end and drive off the other.  Also in that repowering project, old pilot house air controls were scrapped for newer-style Morse cable controls (which also happened to be "old-style," just not as old.)  A new passenger deck extension with box benches for seating and life jacket stowage was created forward of the pilot house.  

The addition of the ferry Washington in 1989 to the fleet relegated the Voyageur to official standby status, for use in only the busiest of times or when one of the first-line ferries was for some reason disabled.  Built when semi-trucks were not much longer than 45 feet in length (the open foredeck was approximately 50  x 30) the Voyageur and even her sister ferries were often inadequate when faced with modern semi trucks 60 feet and longer.  

Once the all-season ferry Arni J. Richter was placed in service in May of 2003, the Voyageur as fourth ferry seldom saw underway time.  A for sale notice went up.  An inquiry came from Shoreline Marine of Chicago, a company that specialized in tours and excursions from the foot of Navy Pier, and after a day of survey from top to bottom, the Callopy family acquired the Voyageur.  

Shoreline Marine moored the Voyageur at Bay Shipbuilding for approximately one year until plans for modification were firmed and approved, and once those changes were made to suit its new location and service, it began its second - and for all appearances successful - life as a passenger tour boat on the Chicago River.  Two recent photos from Shoreline Marine (above) show the handsomely modified Voyageur getting underway, with a low wheelhouse structure for sliding under bridges, and ample deck seating for unobstructed passenger viewing during architectural tours.  A bow thruster was added for maneuvering (and side-stepping small vessel river traffic), and beverage coolers and shelving for stores were created below decks.  A distinctive paint scheme also added to the new design and helped reduce the boxy appearance of the main deck.  

The life of the Voyageur was successfully extended through a sensible, presentable modification.  Former Washington Island ferry passengers can bring back their early memories of travels across the Door, complete with vintage wooden slat benches for seating, by joining a Shoreline Marine Chicago River cruise from Navy Pier.  
Air operated throttle, one for each motor, sat beside a set of   three stainless buttons.  (Forward,  Neutral and Reverse buttons.  It was advisable to throttle down completely, then depress the neutral button prior to changing from forward to reverse, in order to improve the odds of not missing a shift.)

Voyageur shown ferrying screening plant crossing Sturgeon Bay in 1960.
This photo was believed to have been taken by the Door County Advocate's
editor, Chan Harris.
  - Dick Purinton

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Detroit Harbor, Washington Island - 

Two deep lows converged over the upper midwest Tuesday, fed by a high pressure system south of Hudson Bay.  The combination delivered extreme low pressure to the area which in turn brought an abnormally strong and sustained flow of mild air from the south.

This developing storm, accurately predicted by meteorologists, began very early Tuesday morning (30-40 kts. southerly, with rain), gathered force during the day (40-50 kts by afternoon), and then winds increased yet again Tuesday evening into Wednesday (WSW gusts to 55-60 kts.).

Erik Foss, ferry captain, took the Robert Noble into Gills Rock for the first two trips of the day Tuesday, then back to Northport by noon as winds swung from S to SW.   The 2 p.m. trip leaving the island became Tuesday’s last run.   The Noble is shown above slogging against the wind on the route to Northport.   This morning, with winds every bit as strong and sustained as predicted, all ferry trips were cancelled for the day.

Holding tight to safe anchorage in Hedgehog Harbor, was the Charles M. Beeghly with Eric Bonow, mate, on board.  (Eric’s folks have a cottage just south of Europe Lake on the Lake Michigan shore.)  

Eric responded by email late Tuesday as follows:
“Yes, that's us.

“I just got off watch (12-4 for us, 11-3 for you).  We have a company-supplied wi-fi through a cellular set up.  That's how I can email you so well.

“When I went on watch I saw the Noble at Gills Rock.  The next went to Northport.  The trip from GR had 3 for the Cherry Train! I wish I'd known it was Erik Thomas (Foss) on there; I'd a called.  Arni (Foss) is sitting in Burns Harbor on the Stewart J. Cort waiting on weather.

“… the gusts here in the middle of the bay were 48 mph.  Just as I was getting relieved, it blew stronger--sustained over 50 mph with one gust hitting 62 mph.

“I hope we stay here until at least Thursday early am.  The weather on the lake must be horrendous.  We have ore for Indiana Harbor from Duluth.  We came across from Lansing Shoal to Rock Island.  As we got to Rock Island, it was getting crummy.  That was about 7:30 am your time.  Yes, that's the Indiana Harbor outside there.  You can look at this site and see all the boats anchored all over.  It is based on google maps, so you can scroll and then zoom into an area of interest.

“The captain made some crack about me taking the workboat and going ashore.  I told him that if I go, I'm not coming back.  Only a few more days until vacation, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Mary Jo and I took a ride in the early evening Tuesday, around 8 p.m., and saw the deck lights of the Beeghly and the Indiana Harbor against the Door Peninsula.   (The Indiana Harbor dropped anchor in the open waters approximately one mile west of Door Bluff.)  We envied the mainlanders then, because we had no power – island wide - having lost it around 4 p.m.    The mainland WPS line was knocked out, and the two REA CAT standby generators have a switching problem that needs to be repaired.  Unfortunately, CAT technicians are unable to reach the island.

Electricity was briefly restored during the night from approximately 9 p.m. to 3:30 a.m., but since that time Washington Island continues to be without power, as of noon Wednesday as this is being written.  
Meanwhile, island restaurants, Mann’s Store, school, the clinic and coffee shops are closed.  Cold cereal or cold beans from a can will have to do for the time being.  At the Dock, Hoyt connected a small, portable generator that is now supplying limited power to our Ferry Office phone system.  Janet Hanlin reported some 60 phone calls this morning, all of them weather related, including one call from the lee shore at Northport (“It looks fine over here. What’s the matter?” )

We anticipate our power will be restored via the underwater cable, perhaps within the hour, just as soon as the WPS crew resolves all problems on our mainland feed.   In fact, in an instant update, Janet and Bill Schutz just viewed the WPS truck on our WIFL Webcam having pulled up to the Northport utility pole connection.
It won’t be long now!
       -  Dick Purinton

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Ninth Coast Guard District Recommended Reading

Duluth, Minnesota -

Rich Ellefson, Hoyt Purinton and I attended the Passenger Vessel Association fall Great Lakes Region meeting in Duluth Oct 18-20.  Approximately 40 persons representing 25 companies were present, and we were joined by members of several U.S. Coast Guard offices, including Sector Milwaukee and the Duluth Marine Safety Office, and Charles Barbee who as a retired career officer now heads the Coast Guard Marine Investigative Unit centered in Washington D.C. 

Joining this group for lunch Tuesday was guest speaker RDML Michael Parks, Ninth District Commanding Officer from Cleveland, OH.  All U.S. Great Lakes operators between Duluth and Buffalo, plus Lake Ontario, fall under the safety inspection network and regulatory management of the Ninth Coast Guard District.  I believe this was the first Great Lakes regional meeting I've attended (since 1976) where the District Commander made an appearance.  RDML Parks' informative remarks, his response to our questions afterwards, and the fact he took time to recognize our particular segment of the larger marine community, were appreciated.  

I had the pleasure of sitting to RDML Parks' left during lunch, and I learned something of his previous Coast Guard duty experiences.  It turns out the Admiral had visited Washington Island in the early 1990s when the location of the Coast Guard's Plum Island search and rescue facility shifted to Washington Island.  Parks spoke about the Coast Guard's emergency role in New Orleans following hurricane Katrina from first-hand experience, and also challenges faced by the Coast Guard in addressing the Deepwater Horizon oil spill earlier this year.  

RDML Parks had with him a copy of my book, Words On Water, which he cited during his speech as a book well worth reading.  He then presented a copy of the book as "assigned reading" to new Duluth MSO inspector LT Geoffrey Scibek, with intended good humor but also as an instructive perspective of one Great Lakes ferry company.  Later, after having first inscribed LT Scibek's book, I presented a fresh copy to Admiral Parks and we posed for this photo.

-  Dick Purinton 

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Terri Moore has driven and narrated Cherry Train tours for approximately nine years, two or more tours each day for about five months each season.

During that time, she's gotten to know most of the idiosyncrasies of each piece of gear.  The tram cars have been pulled by units older than most of our drivers (most, but not all!), and there are a few bugs that we learn to live with.  For instance, when we had one 1985 Jeep stop on a hot day on Town Line Road with a load of passengers in tow, we assumed it was some sort of vapor lock.   The problem, said Terri, is the gas cap.  Just open it up, then restart the motor.   (We bought a new gas cap.)

Some of the vehicle problems are factors of age, resulting in lower power and deeper drive train problems in the current years.  That was the case with the 1977 Cherokee used to pull a two-car tram.   It looked good on the road, but last year the transmission had to be rebuilt, then the ring gear was stripped, and it seemed to be in the shop as much as on the road.   Last spring, we decided to sell it by posting a sign in the window alongside the island terminal:  lots of interest, but no serious buyer.

Yesterday, we gave the 1977 four-door Jeep to Terri as a memento of her many miles behind the wheel of this and the other tour vehicles.  Appearing elated, Terri now has the keys to one of the older island vehicles running the roads, and we think she also has the mental keys to starting it and keeping it running.

For a replacement vehicle, a used, red Dodge hemi was purchased in July that Terri took an immediate shine to driving.   Relatively low on mileage, in generally good condition, this one requires some athleticism (a major step up, rather than bending downward to mount the driver's seat), but Terri mastered the height with the assistance of a running bar.   She's looking forward to when this vehicle gets retired some day.

"Maybe you'll let me have the hemi when it gets retired," she laughed.

Perhaps, in another twenty-five years!

   -   Dick Purinton

Friday, October 15, 2010


South End, Airport Road, Washington Island, Wisconsin - 

Peg Sullivan, whose parents purchased the Carl and Maggie Richter home in 1965, generously invited us to pick up an old trunk that had been in her attic for many years.   We jumped at the chance to see this home, built for the Richters in 1907.   Peg, a retired teacher from the Chicago, spends her summers on the island, and she's kept the former Richter home in excellent condition, improving where improvements were needed to make it more modern and livable, keeping the room dimensions and general look pretty much as they were years back.  

Mary Jo, who often used to visit her grandparents there, can make comparisons with the past. The home is tidy and in excellent shape.  There is the chair by the kitchen window, a pair of eyeglasses on the sill, where Carl used to look across the harbor toward the ferry dock.  Trees have now grown up to partially block the view, but Detroit Harbor can still be seen.   

On the floor between beds, in an upstairs bedroom that had been Arni's and Paul's as young boys, was the trunk of Paul Gudmundsen, a son of Arni Gudmundsen, and brother to Maggie Richter.  Nothing was in the trunk, but nevertheless the trunk brought thoughts of years gone by, and it was a surprise to find it in this house after so many years.                         -  Dick Purinton


Washington Island, Wisconsin -

With a reduction in traffic this week, but continued warm and stable air over the upper midwest, maintenance work on the Arni J. Richter moves along.

Epoxy paint applied at the shipyard during the construction phase in 2003 shows signs of peeling in certain areas.  During summer, it's impossible to keep the ferry at the pier for more than a day.  This time of year, we often have windy, wet, cool days that make such work hard to manage.   But this October we've had an excellent stretch of weather allowing for maintenance.

Our other ferries can carry the load(s) during this time.

Shown at top:  Eric Brodersen in a lift, cleaning on the exterior of the starboard side upper works.  Below, Tully Ellefson is applying paint to the stern, and Nathan Andersen and Chris Swanson are priming from the Moby Dick paint platform.  

An excellent day to accomplish such work.
  -  Dick Purinton

Sunday, October 10, 2010



Members of the Washington Island Fire Department and Rescue Squad sponsored an open house Saturday with equipment on display, educational activities for children, and a great lunch that is also a fund-raiser.

A more perfect day couldn't have been picked, and the food was terrific (sold out, we heard - not a surprise, with Mann's Store brats done to perfection).

I visited with Lou Small who offered information on a ladder truck being considered by the Island's Fire Department, that is currently owned by the Sister Bay-Liberty Grove Fire Department.  The truck is a 1985 model, GM-diesel, automatic transmission with under 1500 total hours and, as might be expected, very low mileage.   It appears to have been very well maintained during its years in Sister Bay.  The price at which it is being offered to Washington Island:  $45,000 with all equipment onboard.  This is an opportunity to obtain a well-equipped fire truck, in excellent condition at a terrific price.   (A new 'loaded' pickup truck comes close to that in price.)

Why a ladder truck on Washington Island, I asked?  

It seems, at first, an unnecessary, extra piece of gear that might have little potential use here.  Then Lou reminded me of all of the new buildings that have gone up in the past 20 years, a good share of them with metal roofs, and he pointed to a photo of an East Side home, two-stories with its metal roof edges nearly 20 feet above the ground.

I'm not a member of the Island Fire Department, and I am as skeptical as anyone when it comes to adding to a fleet of trucks when I don't fully understand their specific purpose and potential.  However, the need for this truck seems clear:  there is no safe way to climb onto a metal roof or to work from one, given the thin support beneath and the slippery surface, especially when wet.  I can also easily see the benefit of shooting a stream of water under high pressure from the end of the ladder, a point well above rather than below the peak of such a building.

When it comes to training, staying current on fire fighting techniques and maintaining the safety equipment this Town owns, the men and women of the Island Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad do us a great favor by giving of their time, energy, and potentially, their life and limb.  The ladder truck is a unique piece of equipment right for the job, and it should make each firefighter (and home and business owner) more confident than ever that we have a chance to save buildings and lives with such a truck.

I think of the days (not too long ago) before we had a "man-lift" at the ferry dock, and how impossible it was then to replace street lights, clean or paint in hard-to-get places, or service the uppermost parts of a ferry.  We now take such a specialized piece of equipment for granted and would not consider lugging bundles of shingles or pieces of plywood up 14-foot ladders, or setting a ladder against a bobbing ferry, when other, safer means are available.

I urge the Town Board to pass approval for this truck when they deliberate on the new budget.  This is a rare opportunity to improve the safety of the community and to back the volunteers who willingly train, outfit, and remain vigilant on our behalf.

  - Dick Purinton
PS -  Below is a shot (taken before I dropped my camera on the pavement) showing Maggie Schmidt and Aidan and Magnus Purinton on one of the firetrucks.   There were many such opportunities for children (and adults) to learn about fire fighting.



After work Thursday, I took a short ride with my camera to capture fall colors.

The late afternoon sun was bright and shadows were sharp, and I had a hard time getting a good shot of bright leaves and trees.

Finally, coming down Lake View Road past the old Potato Farm, I found two or three views that spoke of fall and the island.  Jeannine Ronning, on the old Verne Richter farm, has been working to restore the outbuildings there, and I think she has succeeded in making a very Icelandic-looking building out of a small shed (that I think has stove wood walls.)   Jeannine traveled to Eyrarbakki, Iceland, with Arni and Hannes several years ago when the Egg House was dedicated, and I think this looks like photos I've seen of the Egg House museum there, where a collection of rare, early bird eggs and nests are kept.  Jeannine, Hannes and Arni were benefactors in that peculiar, tiny museum building.

The other view, toward Detroit Harbor, lacks only in cows or some other farm life.   It is easy to see why the old Richter farmstead at the top of the rise might have been prized by its owners, then and now.

The island has never looked so beautiful in fall as it has these past several days, and we see many visitors paused along the roads who seem to appreciate it as we do, photographing and enjoying the sunshine and October air.
  - Dick Purinton

Sunday, October 3, 2010



Aidan and Magnus joined me to observe the digging and see what sorts of things had been found.

In the top photo, Eric shows them many small bits of pottery and chips of chert.  Aidan was invited to dig, something he loves to do, using Ashley's trowel, and soon he found a chip about 3/8 inch across.  With congratulations for his first "archeological" find, he was beaming. Although it went into Ashley's paper sack with other collected bits from that hole, in a short time he asked to see it again, just to remind himself it really existed.

The next morning, I picked both boys up at their home to visit the field again, and on our way in the car Aidan used the word "archeoligist" three times in one sentence, declaring afterward that he would like to be a fireman and an archeologist.  To which his brother, Magnus, replied, "And I want to be a kitty rescuer"... a fireman with a specific job description, I think.

We hope as this project goes forward there will be opportunities for more children from Washington Island to learn about the process and the results of the archeologists' work on Washington Island.

-  Dick Purinton

Top photo: Eric Burant, Michelle  Birnbaum, Aidan and Magnus Purinton.

Middle photos; Ashley Dunford records a completed hole, and Bill Balco screens soil at his location.  

Bottom photo:   Ashley, Michelle with future archeologists Magnus and Aidan.  


L to R:  Eric Burant, Christine Watson, leader Michelle Birnbaum,
Marcus Schullenburg, Bill Balco, Elissa Hewlit and Ashley Dunford.

Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

Archeologists from UW-Milwaukee shoveled and sifted all of Saturday and part of Sunday in a field survey of the Richter pasture at the end of Main Road, Detroit Harbor.

Led by Michelle Birnbaum, the group marked the field with a grid of small flags and branched outward to shovel-sample every 10 meters, digging holes roughly one-foot square by 24-36 inches deep.   Soil removed from each hole was sifted for small bits of pottery, chert flakes from tool-making, or any other items that might indicate ancient habitation.  In the process, three "points" were found, one a very finely made 3/4" wide arrowhead with tiny serrations along the edges.  Man-made items were saved in paper sacks labeled for each hole, and a pattern of "warm spots" soon emerged, running the length of the field along the higher elevations.  Each test holes was backfilled with remaining soil and sod before the digger moved on to a new location.

The goal of this work was not to accumulate artifacts but to learn the historic extent of this site.  Digs in 1968 and then again 1973 concentrated around the SE corner of the pasture, an area perhaps 100-ft x 100-ft.  If a wider survey had been executed, no field notes or records remained to detail the larger scope of sampling.  Digging during those summers, however, had yielded numerous artifacts (tools, chips, points, scrapers, pottery) as well as human remains.   Although more confined in area, the digging went much deeper and wider than these test holes in what proved to be an extensive site excavation.

Knowing there are long sandy ridges that run more or less parallel with the present shoreline of Detroit Harbor, Michelle believes there may be a much more extensive site that ranges beyond the Richter field.  Yet, there is much to be learned that would be representative of the entire area from the Richter site, including an expert's evaluation of the soil layers (there is often striking variation from hole-to-hole in layers of humus and sand), and in knowing how much of the field might have had active habitation.

This weekend's shovel survey revealed a high proportion of holes having at least some small flakes or bits of pottery.   Of course, there is the collection of 1968-73 items curated by UW-Milw. that may continue to yield more information as science and an improved base of knowledge ties them more accurately to a time period, and perhaps, to other known sites in NE Wisconsin.

Shown below, student Christine Watson holds one of three points she found during the two-day project.

-  Dick Purinton

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Fall Cool Down

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

While there may be many beautiful fall days yet to come, each one is to be enjoyed for its special attributes.

Today it was the lighting, backlit cumulus hanging low in a blue sky, and the first scarlet patches on maples, the red apples dotting fencerows, set against varying shades of green.   The scene above was shot along East Side Road, on my return from the Island Exchange, where sunlight on clouds was too much to pass up.  My camera was in the front seat of the truck, and as several classic cars from a club driving around the island turned at the Michigan Road intersection, I stepped to the middle of the road for a few photos.

 Fresh northerly winds brought temperatures in the 50s and made for challenging water conditions.  Few fishermen were out today.  Only a handful of bicyclists pedaled island back roads.

Such fall days are numbered.  Each is a precious gift.  Soon enough, raindrops squeezed from the low overhead will be snow flurries instead.

For now, clouds and the blaze of fall are a show to enjoy.

-  Dick Purinton