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