Thursday, September 29, 2011


Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Note:  This is Part II of a February 1994 presentation Clay Blair gave as guest of the Island Writers group.   He began with a description of the latest book project he and Joan had recently completed. (He thought they had completed the book, but this project eventually became two, large volumes, the second one published shortly before his death in 1998.  For more details, see interview with Joan Blair in the August 7, 2011 blog that followed the seven-part Clay Blair interview).   
   Here, in Part II, Clay recounts his younger years, his entry into journalism, and his early career as a writer.  While some of the material in this presentation covers similar ground with the interview of Feb. 1994, the reader will also find new material and new insights on writing not covered by the interview transcript series.
 - Dick Purinton

I have to tell you that the work we do is a joint endeavor, Joan and I.   We work side by side in the archives.  She will research this line, I’ll research that line, and we bring all of this stuff back here, to write.  And that’s the only drawback, that you have to get two or three railroad cars full of research and bring it back.   But then, the other six years (working on this book) were really wonderful.

I write, Joan edits and puts it in the computer.   The way it stands, a chapter - and there are 20 of them - each chapter is 40-50,000 words, which is really a book.  And so, we did 20 little books.  All chapters, of course, on the same subject.

Our writing is aimed at, you might say, the Book-of-the-Month Club mentality.   We try to deliver that in terms of writing and subject matter and style, in a way that it will be interesting, if not gripping, and in language that will pass muster with the Literary Guild or Book of the Month. In fact, we’ve been lucky to have one main selection as Book of the Month.  We’ve been selected by the Literary Guild, and many other book clubs. 
We research and present our material on a level well above PhD or professional historian.  We do these serious things, but we’ve also done all sorts of other things, very short, quick, fast books. We’ve published novels, and non-fiction work, and a whole bunch of other stuff.  


Now, I’ll talk a little bit about how I became a writer.

A writer.  I’ve been a writer for almost 50 years. 
I’ve known a lot of writers, and they’re all, like, drunks… crazy like I am.   No…they’re really different.  I think a writer – a real writer – there again there are writers, and there are writers … I’m talking about real writers, professional writers now… they’re doing the screen work, for sure - that’s the only general definition I can make.

If you look in the lives of many writers across the USA, you find out they lost their parents.   Hemingway lost his father.  His father was shot when he was 14 years old.   I did a little study one time.  His father shot himself when he was a kid.  You can find this stuff, this adversity.  That’s generally another factor that goes into it:  screw loose;  adversity in childhood. These are all givens, I think.  

And then, a talent.   Talent somehow for writing a sentence.  Talent.  Not a learned talent, just a talent that sort of spews out.   I can’t, I can’t for the life of me begin to tell you how that happens.  
I’ve been through all kinds of theories about this, how a writer translates things into different terms.  That good writers have conflict, have plot.   That the writers with a screw loose from childhood were really playing out a natural plot in disguised form.

But, again, we’re really way out, up on the wall now, and I don’t know how this sets a pattern. 

I do know that in my own case, maybe starting in 8th grade, I was writing essays in English class. Everything just came naturally.  And I read a tremendous amount as a kid.  I was a lone wolf and a lone sheep.  Kept to myself pretty much.  I did not engage in sports in younger years, or hunting, fishing, or any of that.    I just read a lot, and that also is a very important factor in being a writer.

You read, read and read all your life and never stop reading, because that’s how you learn to write.  You absorb that by osmosis in some way.   I mean, you don’t sit down and study somebody’s columns, for that sentence or that word, but if you read and read and read – good stuff - and if you are a writer to start with, then you’ll absorb it.   And it will show and become your own writing - not consciously - because that’s, to my view, that’s the end.   When you’re writing against the show of conscious...if that’s what you’re writing, the effort to write or to copy somebody else - it shows.  And that’s no good.  That doesn’t work. 

I was in the navy in WWII.  I was on a submarine, and the first thing I ever published was related to the submarine.  

After the war we came home to the sub base in New London, Connecticut, to mothball our submarine.   And at the end of that period you have a decommissioning party, for your boat, your crew, and they have a printed menu – you know, turkey, giblets, gravy, rolls.  And they had a lot of blank space on the menu because its not like a funeral here where there is a Psalm to read, verses, a biographical sketch based on this person.  For this souvenir menu I wrote a poem about our ship, and we put it on the back – they put it on the back – and that was my first published thing.
That was a hell of a good poem!  (pauses)  No, it was really dull!   

It was a tribute as well, the sadness of this decommissioning trip to Connecticut.  You’d probably look at that and say, “My goodness, he’s probably a war lover.”   I might be.  But you can tell it was my first published effort.
****     ****
And then I went home after the war to college at Tulane University.  I entered the School of Architecture because I always thought I would be an architect.   And after I’d been there several months, the dean called me.  I had a very tough time with algebra and trig, which I hadn’t seen in three years, if not four.  I must say, I was not the top student in the classroom.  We took aptitude tests for engineering.
And he said, “Mr. Blair, do you have other interests?” 

That was the end of my architecture.   The fact is, I did quite well in the English Department through high school, and so I moved into my writing on the GI Student Loan. 

This thing happened.  I wrote this short story.  Boom!  Right out of the blue.   And so I typed it out and put it in a drawer.   I had no intention of being a writer.  I had a roommate, and he took this story to our college literary magazine, the Tulane magazine, and gave it to the editor who then published it, and I won the prize for the best short story of 1947.   And $25!   This is really true.  And that really impressed me.  Because this was so easy, I thought, Wow! I could do that for a living.   So, then I decided to be a writer.

There were very few places you could go then and be a writer, or study being a writer.   One of them was Columbia University, New York, which had a school of creative study.  They had a writing thing in their curriculum.  You could take play writing, novel writing, short story writing, journalism, poetry…anything. 

And so I wrote short stories, more stories, and sent them out to Columbia, and they accepted me.   And it turns out, there were quite a few other kids in college at the same time doing the same thing (applying to Columbia).   I didn’t even know this.  But when we arrived we were sort of an expatriate southern group, and we had our own little community.   Columbia, and Southern Columbia, I should say.   

We didn’t have any money.  I got a job at Time Magazine as a copy boy.   All the copy boys were either in the PhD programs or were writing "their novel.”  We were all in the same boat then.  And it was the most disorganized, fouled up outfit you’d ever seen.  There were like 30 of us.
And, I had some experience in the navy heading up a department, so I fixed this department, and he (Clay's boss at Time) was so impressed with that, for having done it, that he offered me a job to be a trainee correspondent.   They’d teach me how to write and be a reporter.  And although I had not graduated from college yet - I still had a year to go because I couldn’t transfer all my credits from Tulane - and so I had this terrible angst, Gesthemane, and I finally decided I would take the job, even though I hadn’t finished college, hadn’t graduated yet.  And the rest of it is…history.
I was in a year’s training, a youth writer who aspires to be a writer.  You talk about a wonderful experience.  All my life I’ve fallen into things like that.  I guess I was, in a way, prepared. 

The bureau chiefs kept moving me around…and all these people were critiquing me week in, week out, month after month.   And it was just fabulous.  So at the end of that time, I’m up in Washington, at Time Magazine, and the day this war broke out - June 25th, 1950, the Korean War broke out - the regular national security correspondent at Time was named Bob Sherry.  He was away writing a picture history of WWII.  It was like a sink-or-swim deal.   And, I swam.   I did all right.
The guy who went to write the picture history never came back, and so I was the Pentagon guy for years.  I made the connections in Washington that I used when I began to write books about the military, and to make a long story short, I became a staff writer for Time

I wrote no less than 10,000 words a week, in eight or ten written stories.   And in those days, what you did was, you “over-filed” for Time, and then the writers in New York rewrote it.   If I filed 1000 words, they might boil it down to 200.  So they would completely rewrite your stuff.  And meanwhile, you’re filing at length.  And the cover stories for Time Magazine - they had no rule - but I had to do one cover story about generals and admirals in Korea that was about 25,000 words.  And then their writer in New York would take your 25,000 words and boil it down to 5,000 with no attributions, no name on it, no nothing.   They called it “group journalism.”  We called it “gang journalism.”  

It was a fabulous way to learn to be a writer, but very unsatisfactory in terms of recognition.  So I started writing long pieces, 5,000 words of my own, and I published eight or ten of those, and because of that, and because I liked that so much, I went over to Saturday Evening Post after eight or nine years at Time as a staff writer.  

At the Saturday Evening Post the people were old, they were tired.   Television had come and they were taking advertising from magazines like the Saturday Evening Post, which was carrying Ladies Home Journal, Holiday, House and Home.  They then asked me to be Editor of the Post.   It was a wonderful job, but I didn’t know about all the problems of the corporation.  I went up to Philadelphia and was Assistant Managing Editor, then Managing Editor, got caught up in corporate BS, the trench warfare.   We had a circulation of 7 million a week, and you had to produce 10 or 12 stories, fiction, and covers…an incredible rat race. 

In 1965 I left that, and I had what I call a “brass parachute.”    It was enough to get started on being a freelance writer who wrote books.  I went to Washington, and I needed a typist.   (Looks at Joan in audience.) 

“You want to tell that part?”  

I met Joan, and we talked about Washington Island.  I didn’t know where this place was. I couldn’t conceive of it.  We ran off together, and we had a wonderful life.  We’ve written …how many books? 

Anyway, our lives have been hectic, and scary at times.  We’ve managed, since 1967, to write many books.  Sometimes we’ve had some pretty good luck with very good sellers.  There’ve been very lean times, too.  Feast or famine, unless you hit one big one.   But, it’s a very rewarding life.   We’re very pleased now to see books such as David Halberstam’s new book The Fifties using our books as references for this war. 

End Part II  -  Dick Purinton

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Clay Blair - 1994
 - Washington Island, Wisconsin

Notes:  Several months ago I ran a seven-part series of an interview with Clay Blair that was recorded in February of 1994.  Unfortunately, I had not properly operated the recorder during the second afternoon, overriding the first part of our interview in which Clay talked about his early days in becoming a writer.  
  I had one other tape that was recorded also in February of 1994 when Clay was invited to speak to the Island Writers, a group of 20 or so persons gathered in the meeting room of the Rec Center.  From the interest of several readers of this blog in the writing life of the Blairs, I decided to transcribe this tape, too.  During this taped presentation - which is very difficult to understand because I sat with my tape recorder several rows from the front - Clay does talk about writing and how he became a writer.  I had found it interesting then, and did so recently, too, when I transcribed the tape.  
  Due to its length, as with the previous transcribed interview, I've chosen to break it up into several installments.  This first installment describes his latest project with wife Joan Blair, a book about the German U-boats in WWII.   Although some of this information is covered in the prior interview installments, rather than cut-and-paste and have it not flow, I've chosen to reprint it here as he spoke it.   The parts that occurred where his words were unintelligible I've edited from the final copy you see below.  -  Dick Purinton

AN ISLAND WRITERS GROUP MEETING AT REC CENTER WITH CLAY BLAIR – [Recorded the evening of 2/24/94… in which Clay talks about his early years, getting started into journalism, and his interest in military history.]

I am asked to talk about – if I understand the format – how I got to be a writer.

The one question I can’t answer is, how you get a literary agent.  I don’t know that answer. 

To the present project…that we’re now very happily winding up after seven years of work, basically a history of the German U-boat war in World War II.   As some of you probably know – but not all of you, because you’re too young – in WWII, in the Atlantic Ocean, there was a horrendous naval war that went on for all of six years.  You may have seen movies about it, the German super-battleship Bismark, the actions in the Atlantic.  The principle weapon that the Germans had to use against the Allies was the U-boat, or submarine, and they built about 1200 of them during this long, long six years of war.   They didn’t have 600 when the war started, or any such numbers as that, but during the full course of the war they built a lot of submarines, and lost a lot of submarines.  This was a very complex war, in that nothing like this had ever been fought before on this scale or this magnitude.

At the end of the war, the very end of the war, the last days of the Third Reich when Hitler and his cronies were holed up in a bunker at the Reich Chancellery.   Hitler decreed – he was crazy then, crazier than he was – that all the records of the German navy be destroyed.   And this was part of the general destroying of documents that went on in the bunker, that he ordered others to do so.  

But the German navy was a little bit apart from the Nazi party, a little bit aloof.  Mostly at sea, they had their own network of people and installations, and by and large throughout the entire reign of Hitler they were aloof or removed from the Nazi party.  And it was not untypical that when Hitler gave his order to destroy all records, that they wouldn’t do it.   In fact, the chief archivist of the German navy packed all of these records into a box – boxes – into about 20 or 30 trucks and drove them out of Berlin in the midst of Russian shelling.  The Russians by now had almost encircled Berlin – and they drove madly through the night to a castle named Kambach (?) and there the archivist and his helpers buried all of these records, all throughout the grounds of this castle.    And within a few days, Patton’s Third Army came right through there.  And attached to Patton’s Third Army was a British intelligence unit, and they made contact with the guard there and dug up all these records, and the British air force took them to London, where they had possession of the entire German naval archive dating back from 1850.   Now they added hundreds of documents up to WWII, and this included hundreds – no thousands, tens of thousands – hundreds of thousands of pages of documents of U-boat war patrol reports, headquarter diaries, listing of the U-boat command, the whole naval command, and the daily diaries.  Everything you could possibly imagine was in these boxes. 

After the war, as you know, we had wartime scholars at Nuremburg, and the British, particularly, were out to hang the German navy people for engaging in submarine war against our shipping, submarine warfare of the type known as unrestricted warfare,  whereby you just shot at a ship of any kind, without any warning, without time for people to get into lifeboats and so forth.  In any case, in order to make the case against the German naval seniors, the English had tens of thousands of pages of these war diaries translated into English.   So that by the time the barristers were combing through these documents, looking for something they could hang the German admirals with, like an order to machine gun the survivors of a sunken battleship, or destroy all evidence of its sinking.  But, they didn’t find that because the Germans fought a clean war, cleaner than we expected, cleaner than the one we fought against Japan.   

And so it came to trial, and the admirals were the least punished of all the German war criminals. 
These documents were then classified, and put in British archives.  (They generously gave us a microfilm of all these documents.)   These documents were then kept under lock and key for about 30 years, and the reason for this was that code breaking played such an enormous role in both the German U-boat attacks against our shipping, and our attacks against U-boats.   In other words, the Germans were breaking our codes, and we were breaking their codes, so that you could see by the anti-warfare documents the stuff they had done, and were very proud of, and if you could put it (our ship movements) against the submarine patrol reports by the Germans, you could see that one boat (of ours) make a change of course followed by the German U-boat changing its course, also.   And you’d say, “Holy smokes, what’s going on here?”  

And the answer is, that they were reading our codes, and we were reading their codes.  So every time the enemy made an adjustment, the other side had to react to it. 

So the British and the Americans entered into an agreement after the war to withhold, as tightly as anything has ever been withheld, all documents related to code breaking even though the U-boat documents were not directly related to code breaking.  So, these records remained secret for many years.  All kinds of U-boat books came out, some trash, some that were fairly good books, but they were not very accurate and they never told about the war in any kind of detail, because these records had not been released. 

And in the mid-70s when the British published several books about code breaking, several unauthorized books, then their government started releasing documents on code breaking, and not long after that, the U-boat records.   So that one could finally take the primary documents relating to this war, this six-year war, and write a history about it.   And at the same time, overlay or underlay all the programming as applied to the U-boat activity.

Quite a few years ago, in 1975, we wrote the definitive history of American submarine warfare against Japan.  This was quite well received.  And we were asked to write the German U-boat history, but we couldn’t do it because these records were still locked up.    So we did all those other books.  And finally, everything came together:  money, with much commitment from the publisher; documents; code breaking declassification.  And so one could write this story for the first time in an authoritative way.  
And, I will say in conclusion, it’s an insanity!  Total insanity!  We’ve got … we went to London, Washington, where we made a copy of all the microfilm.  London is where they had all the records.   Germany, where we went to get the German U-boat skippers’ records.  And we have, besides microfilm and books, hundreds of thousands of papers and documents in our house.   I must repeat, that to undertake such a project, we had to be crazy.   And over the seven years that we pursued it, we’ve grown crazier and crazier!  

And now, we’re almost done.  The book will be probably about this size, about 1000 published pages.   It will take probably a year to review every last final word, and a whole year to copy edit and process this book, to give us a legal reading.  We have to do the index, a mind-boggling index … just thousands and thousands of people and U-boats, that we can’t even deal with it.  

Hopefully the book will be out and arrive by the 50th anniversary of the conclusion of the war with the Germans. 

We found out a lot of amazing things about this war which I do believe will compel historians writing after us to change their views on U-boats based on what we found - generally speaking - that German U-boats were a failure, were a flop, badly built, wrong type of submarines for the mission, and a number of other things.  We tended to treat German submarines as being “ten feet tall” and they weren’t.  They weren’t “pygmies” at all, either, but all kinds of serious historians have made all kinds of very serious statements to the effect that these U-boats delayed our overthrowing the Germans in France and various other claims.  

But our research has shown us that in the entire war, the U-boats sank only 1/10 of one percent of shipping.  In other words, 99 point something-or-other got through.   So, anything said at all about the U-boats is basically nebulous. 

That’s the end of that!

So now, we’ll talk about … how much time do we have left?  20 minutes?  I was going to read a chapter! (laughter from audience)

  End Part I -  Dick Purinton

Friday, September 23, 2011


Kim Hansen, Dick Purinton at Ferry Office, Sept. 22
Washington Island, Wisconsin - 

Yesterday was my birthday, and I turned 64.  Announcing my birthday is not something I've been comfortable in doing.   If no one knew, I thought, it would be just fine.  As we get older, we can think of plenty of excuses for keeping our birthdays a secret, and I often found myself repeating well-worn phrases such as:  "They don't get any easier..." or, "I remember when l turned sixteen. Now there was a birthday to celebrate!"

Like a curmudgeon, I thought that somehow skipping over that certain day would allow me to get on more easily with my life, knowing that after all, everyone has a birthday once a year, and it isn't such a big deal.

I've changed my mind, after yesterday.  Many friends and co-workers wished me a Happy Birthday, a few of them including the greeting with a good-natured question: "How does it feel to be...?" which was laughed off.

Actually, it feels pretty good, thanks.  And it feels especially good to know there are others who notice, who cared perhaps even more than I did what day it was.   I am referring especially to two friends who have more to think about than someone else's birthday, and yet, they made that a priority.  

Kim Hansen and Ruth Gunnerson are two people to admire.  Each is upbeat and outgoing, and they rise to any occasion with selflessness, which only makes them seem to feel better about their day.  When that sort of friendship is expressed, how can I not be pleased and happy, for them, and for another year of my own life to know them, as a way to celebrate their lives, too.

Kim, widely known for her cheery telephone voice and an outgoing style while serving others at our front ferry office desk, has not had it easy these past several years as she battles against cancer.  I know there are times when she must feel down, but each time I've visited at her home, or when she visits us here at the Ferry Office, she is always pleasant, smiling, laughing at jokes (especially her own).  It is an uplifting experience to be in her presence.  I thank Kim for the presents she brought:  bakery, egg rolls, and journal books. But especially, the gift of her friendship.  She and Frank made the drive from one end of the island to the other to wish me a happy birthday when just getting out of her hospital bed and down the steps at her home is a challenge.  Priceless friendship.

Another gift came from friend and neighboring business owner Ruth Gunnerson, who runs the gift shop next door to the Ferry Office.  Ruth dropped by around 10 am with a chocolate raspberry cake made from her special Scandinavian recipe.  Her cake was great, but Ruth't visit was even better.  When not teaching, working in her shop, assisting her sister Mary, or doing dozens of things for others, she's been working hard to maintain her health.  Multiple diagnoses with follow-up treatments, interspersed with a winter's slip on icy pavement which severely broke her shoulder, puts Ruth in a special class for deflecting mud pies thrown in her direction.  It is rare to see Ruth down in spirit.  Instead, she continues steadily forward, doing things that make a difference for others.

Ruth Gunnerson and I are framed
in front of the Kaupstadur gift shop
There is a great deal to be admired in and learned from these two friends.  I accept, first and foremost, the gift of friendship they bestow.  That is a gift above all others, and further, that as birthdays come and go, as they will, each one is to be treasured, shared, and not taken lightly.  

I recall attending birthday occasions when I was younger of persons several generations older than myself.   I wondered then what these older people found enjoyable about sitting in a chair throughout an afternoon, accepting stoically the fuss made over them, showing no particular outward excitement or emotion about their day.  

I now realize they were basking in an inner feeling of warmth that comes from being with family members and friends, from observing children playing around kitchen tables.  That feeling never grows old, but it maybe intensifies.  Those senior birthday people I observed recognized that love, family, and community continue to have meaning when all the rest begins to fade into the past.  

We become part of something special by accepting, not rejecting, the love and friendship of others.

So, to those who wished me a happy birthday yesterday, I sincerely thank you, and I will wish you the same when the time comes.  No excuses and no regrets for getting older.  I will welcome each new birthday.   It's your friendship, and my family, first and foremost.
  -  Dick Purinton

Monday, September 19, 2011


Hoyt with 8-pt. buck taken late Sunday
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Rain began falling softly, shortly after dark, as Hoyt pursued a buck he shot with a bow in the east side woods of Washington Island.

This was the first rain of any significance in awhile, maybe as much as half an inch accumulation overnight.  Normally, darkness and rain would make tracking a challenge as raindrops wash away droplets of blood, but Hoyt's arrow was placed within a vital area near the heart of this buck, and the deer didn't run far as a result.  After waiting to ensure his deer didn't, and wouldn't, get up and run away when pursued (as it might with a shot to the lungs), Hoyt went home to help put his boys to bed, and to retrieve a garden cart to aid in transporting his deer to the road.  

Several hours later, with darkness and rain now adding to the challenge of navigating in thick woods, Hoyt successfully relocated his deer and began the trek toward his truck.  He dragged the cart several hundred yards through thick woods, but without a clear route before him, he left the deer and cart behind to find his way first.  It was 9:45 pm when I joined him by the roadside, after responding to his cell phone call.  I held flashlights while he field dressed the eight-pointer.

This past weekend marked the beginning of the deer bow hunting season that lasts into the early new year of 2012, with a break during the ten-day the traditional gun season in November.

Toad likes Ferry Terminal

Our resident toad, spotted again on the walk next to the Island Ferry Terminal, was pointed out to me by Janet Hanlin and Carol Meyer.

I've seen large toads such as this one before, but its been several years.  According to our office staff, this one has made his presence known, periodically slipping from nearby flower beds to find bugs and greet the public near our building.  He is a lump.  I'd guess he approaches a pound in weight.

Charles Long, Professor Emeritus of Biology at Stevens Point and an island summer resident, has remarked that this particular type of toad is, he thinks, quite unique to Washington Island.

Of any island toads I've seen, this one is the grand-daddy of them all (or grand-mommy, as the case may be.)   Nearly as wide as he is long, this toad was quite docile and well-behaved in the palm of my hand.

The light colored stripe down his back, according to Carol Meyer, who has observed him on several occasions, seems to widen and narrow with mood, or temperature.

 -  Dick Purinton

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Still, cool morning on Detroit Harbor

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

The air is decidedly fall air.  Cool days with high pressure, and ever cooler nights.  Time to get caught up with items at work and at home, including some loose ends with this blog.

A few days prior to the Labor Day weekend I swept cobwebs off the Moby Dick and ferried Jim and Kathleen Morris to Detroit Island where they met Dr. Rod Johnson and his friend, mason and all-around handy assistant Dave Schmelzer.  Rod lives on the tip of Detroit Island known as Richter's Point where at the turn of the last century there was a fishing village of considerable activity.  A number of fish tugs moored there and their owners had cottages and sheds nearby, and a place to process fish.  At one time, according to Rod, there was a small railway to move the net boxes and the carriers of fish from the dock to a concrete block processing building.    In the ensuing century, the wooden structures have fallen in and rotted to the ground, but certain of the cement buildings and revetments are still there, even after some vigorous bulldozing by Ed Anderson as he began to develop lots on Detroit Island in the 1950s.

Rod, who has spent summers for the past 25 years on Richter Point, east of the Ferry Dock, moors his steel ketch to the old fishing dock.  Underneath that dock - or should we say, a major underpinning for that dock - is a cast-off boiler from a steam-powered tug, along with other cast iron parts.   While rummaging on the beach years back, Rod uncovered a cast iron piece that must have also come from a steam tug.   When asked my opinion, I thought the piece he showed me was a steam engine, but then I waffled and thought it could be a steam-powered water pump.  The only identifying marks are on a small brass plate:  5 x 3 1/2 x 5 1/2, which must refer to the bore sizes of the twin pistons.

Jim and Kathleen Morris with Dr. Rod Johnson.
Dave Schmelzer in background.
This will likely be an easy challenge for any steam engine buff out there, so let's hear from you!

Kathleen is the Director for the Jackson Harbor Fishing Museum, and following Rod's offer to donate this piece of old machinery, she and husband Jim (who came alone to handle lines and help move the piece from shore to pontoon boat) joined me to inspect this piece.   Rod estimated it might weigh in excess of 400 pounds.   The four of us wheeled it across planks spanning the difference to the Moby Dick's deck, where we took a few photos to remember the occasion.  (photo shows the piece alongside the Jackson Harbor museum.)

Motorcycle Trip Shortened

I've often thought that planning and looking forward to a trip is almost as good as the trip itself.  In the case of a planned motorcycle trip to North and South Dakota, which we began September 6, the morning following Labor Day, planning proved to be the primary reward.

After 415 miles that first day - perhaps a bit long of a ride - Mary Jo experienced vertigo before we
Steam engine, or steam powered
water pump?
checked out from our hotel, about 15 miles northwest of Minneapolis.  After recuperating for the remainder of the morning, and being hesitant to continue on, much less get back on the motorcycle again, we turned around and returned as far as Wausau, then home the following day.  There will be other opportunities, we think, to make this trip, even if by car.

A bonus, of sorts, is that when we arrived home the weather was quite nice, and with Mary Jo still not feeling 100%, I rededicated my efforts at painting our house.   In the next five days I pretty much completed that task, with only storm windows and a small amount of trim left to do.  This was a good project to put behind me as I think more about having to pick up fallen leaves at our home on Main Road...still for sale, still without serious interest from a buyer.  

Big Tree Search Continues 

Still fresh from a trip to Plum Island where we sought large hemlocks to measure, and found a Door County champion, I motored over to Detroit Island late one afternoon with friend Steve Schwandt.  I knew of a cedar not far from the boat landing, near the graveled road that winds its way southeastward through the island.  At one time, we had property near this tree, adjacent to WDNR land where the tree actually grows.   

Using my rough estimations and measurements, this cedar does not appear to be the largest in Door County, but it might be within the top five measured trees on a list kept current by Roy Lukes.  This tree, which appears quite healthy, owes its girth to the unusual slant of the trunk, and the fact its location is inland and well-protected from brutal winds that can pound the shoreline.  Steve Schwandt, who is 6'5", gives a good comparison of size standing next to the tree.

  - Dick Purinton

Monday, September 5, 2011


Late Sunday afternoon, ferrying traffic
from island as quickly as possible
given strong winds 
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

If there is one weekend that takes on more importance than any other in the tourism calendar, it is Labor Day Weekend.

First, it represents the last of summer for many:  fishing, camping, swimming, motorcycling, horse riding, family picnics, music, late night parties and the fun that gets crammed into a three-day weekend.  For businesses that depend upon tourism, and that means nearly every island and Door County business, a solid Labor Day weekend can go a long way toward helping pay the bills, setting up what could be a good fall.

Second, more than just coincidentally, it seems, Labor Day weekend is often accompanied by changeable weather, sometimes extraordinary gale-force winds.  This is the time of year when cold Canadian highs collide with moist gulf air over the upper midwest.  Maybe its not a rule of thumb, but it seems to have a frequency greater than 50% of past Labor Day weekends.  Maybe its because of the volume of traffic that our concern causes us to remember the inconveniences brought about by high winds.

It happened last year on Friday night, when ferries just  barely could keep going, and trees were knocked down over power lines.  This year - after a summer with hardly enough rainfall to measure in a gauge - we had a rainy Friday, a drizzly Saturday morning, and following a beautiful, sunny and fresh Sunday morning, a rain squall at 2 pm that created momentary pandemonium.   People sat on the Cherry Trains awaiting the start of a tour wearing clear, plastic trash bags given out for protection.  Rains were wind-driven, but it didn't seem to deter those who had already made their decision on this last week of summer activity.

Depending upon perspective, a long
Labor Day line can be frustration,
or a sign of a healthy island
tourism economy. 

Charlie Voight's Island Clipper, after running  an island trip despite northerly winds, called it an afternoon when the squall hit. Approximately 100 of his passengers went back on our ferries through Northport.  

Thanks to good ferries with skilled crews and the protective harbor at Northport, our Ferry Line was able to continue to operate, even during the 2 pm rain squall when winds swept rain sideways and it gusted in excess of 30 mph.   This velocity stayed consistent through the evening as cold air flowed in from the north.

The usual Labor Day trend is for a long line of returning traffic Sunday afternoon, a queue that consists of both day-traffic and those who have been here longer, including island home owners.  Sunday's winds made for slightly longer ferry crossings, and the traffic volume remained consistent right up to the last of the afternoon.  120 cars were yet in line to leave the island at 5:30 pm.

Approximately 18-20 cars were loaded per ferry, with four ferries loading and leaving as quickly as possible, and still more cars came out to the island dock, even in the later hours of the afternoon.

Monday brought still more traffic, a time when the island seemed already emptied out.   But, this is a steady and orderly queue.  Despite winds that are still northerly, the sun is shining through puffy cumulus, and it is a very manageable situation as all four ferries shuttle as fast as they can, with hopes of catching up to the exodus by mid-afternoon.

  - Dick Purinton

Sunday, September 4, 2011


Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Bob Purman, Milwaukee, is a Washington Island home owner.  He is, by profession, a director and cinematographer represented by Moxie Studios, New York City.  Those varied connections recently came into play for a 9-11 tribute.

Bob had been asked if he would like to volunteer his production services by participating in a 9-11 tribute, a rush project that would be filmed by six different directors from all over the country in late summer.   150 people were then interviewed, including seven on Washington Island.  The accumulated raw footage was later edited by the tribute's producer, and several seconds of ferry captain Joel Gunnlaugsson make the final cut.   Joel is featured at the wheel of the ferry, a clip that follows Samuel Jackson, movie actor.

The concept for this tribute started six or seven years ago by families and friends of victims, and   according to Purman,  "They wanted to change a day of mourning into one that would also recommit people to service and remembrance, based on concern and unity brought about by 9-11."

Purman had been contacted by phone to participate while he was staying on Washington Island, and when the tribute's producers learned of his location, they thought that an island might provide a distinctive contrast to interviews being filmed in urban settings.

Nationally, each interview was conducted in a similar manner.  Questions asked were:  "Where were you on 9-11 when you first heard about the terrorist attacks?" Then, in response to the question of personal, ongoing commitment to remember 9-11: "What will you do?"

Joel's response to the latter question was, "I will continue to be a volunteer fireman."  Other responses  included prayer, a commitment to a non-profit organization, forgiveness, support of U.S. military troops, and so forth.    A video clip can be seen at the foot of the web page on this site:

Bob and his wife, Yannique, who is a production manager, have two sons, Sawyer and Leo.  Prior to owning a home on Figenschau Bay, the Purmans sailed often to Washington Island's harbors.   In their spare time, Bob and Yannique's interest in hard cider has led them to the creation of a commercial production facility near Ellison Bay using locally grown apples.   Bob was in line for the ferry this morning when I spoke with him,  behind the wheel of his red and white Willys.

Many people have seen the 9-11 tribute on national network broadcast as a public service information piece.  A still-photo montage also appeared in full-page media releases in magazines such as in Time Magazine, featuring Joel and those who also appeared in the video.

 -  Dick Purinton