Monday, December 31, 2012


Seems like the same old story, digging, trucking and muck.  
But each day holds newchallenges.  Current dredge spoil 
totals are now slightly over the half-way mark
objective in terms of volume of spoils, and

not quite half-way in bottom area to be dug.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island

-  Last Day, 2012  -

By far the largest dredging project yet undertaken by the Ferry Line is the deepening of waters adjacent to the Island Potato Dock.  In the warmer weather of any other season, a successful project conclusion would be assumed as only a matter of time and money.  But with winter coming on, short daylight hours, temperatures sure to drop below the pleasant upper 20s of the past weeks, and equipment and people increasingly under strain, achievement of our goal is still a ways off.

"No, not another blog on dredging," was a comment I received, directed toward the series of reports with similar themes of late.

I can't help myself!  I find the combination of big equipment, the project scale and challenges too intriguing to pass up.  And, that doesn't begin to address the alternatives if the Ferry Line and the Island can't have one, safe ferry landing site come real winter.  Not succeeding is just something none of us can begin to contemplate.  So... its dig and haul, dig and haul, until sufficient material is removed.

"Why is this being done so late in the season?" is one question we've been asked.

The project as it stands on this last day of the year is a culmination of action begun months ago.  First, as water levels were monitored, we hoped the drop would not lead to extremes requiring immediate dredeging.  The cost of such activities was huge enough that we waited until we were sure certain there were no other options besides expenditure for dredging.

The paperwork - the filing of permit applications for state and local approvals that allow a project like this legally go forward began in early October.  That was when falling lake levels sounded serious alarms for the consequences of the coming winter's navigation.  We were fortunate in the permitting process to have had the prompt and full cooperation of regional WDNR administrative and Door County Zoning personnel,  We believe they helped to speed the permitting for this project more than would typically have been the case.  Our permits were received in mid-December, and at that time we had already set a tentative start date for digging.

There was also the verbal lining-up of a marine contractor.  Although we had Mike Kahr on the way, after he completed work at another site in Fish Creek, the scope of this project and the slippage of time brought further concern.  That led to our asking Roen by the middle of December to consider our job once their work in Egg Harbor was completed.  This they agreed to do.   We were fortunate to have the understanding and support from both Roen and Kahr.  Everyone understood that this dredging needed to be done ASAP.   As it happened, we are relying on the equipment of each marine contractor.

Critical in this project, too, is the willingness of Island men who own and drive dump trucks.  They've been willing to operate their trucks, loaded ten yards at a time, for five or six round trips - about 3.5 hours - per material barge load.  They appear at the Potato Dock after an advance phone call from Rich Ellefson.  Rich then works either on shore coordinating the trucking, or he monitors dredging progress and operates a skidster to assist cleaning out corners on the material barge.

Without the help of Pete Nehlsen, Dave Hanlin, David Small, Mike Jorgenson, Tim Ervin, Tom Jordan, Drew Rainsford and Jon Mann, plus one of Mike Kahr's dump trucks driven by Joel Gunnlaugsson (or myself, one day), and Hoyt Purinton supervising the pit dumping activities, the dredged material would soon stockpile on the barge and the entire project would be slowed.  Thanks also to Julian Hagen for consenting to receive spoils at his gravel pit.  Because the Hagen site is close, a truck can make the round trip in 30 minutes or less, when all goes smoothly.

Dave Hanlin, Rich Ellefson, Con McDonald
lent a hand in pulling slack on the hoist cable.

Rigging the cable for the clamshell used for offloading
stopped production Saturday evening for about 30 minutes.
Rich Ellefson, Dave Hanlin and others assisted Roen crew in
refastening the cable.

Tom Jordan drove his dump truck for every off-load, and he's also operated the Kahr excavator.  Saturday, I observed Tom as he climbed down from the excavator following a continuous, five-hour shift of digging.  (The excavator didn't have heat in the cab.)  Cold and stiff-legged, he crossed the barge deck to get behind the wheel of his truck.  Later that evening, while the bucket cable was undergoing repairs,  he laughed and joshed with other drivers, surprisingly fresh and enthusiastic.

View from behind the wheel of a Mack.  I kidded Pete Nehlsen about
"catching up with me," when actually he'd lapped
me earlier on the pit turn-around.   Good drivers can haul, dump, re-do
tailgate "sludge locks" and be positioned for
another load in less than 30 minutes.  It's no space shuttle cabin, with
half-a-dozen buttons and as many procedures for dumping, but I 

barely kept up.   A clutch failure sidelined my truck later, that evening.
Now, with a two-day holiday break coming, Roen's lead man Don Sarter indicated he'll return after New Year's with enough men for two shifts to enable round-the-clock digging.  The Roen crew is just as concerned about finishing the job for the Island as they are to complete their season and get their equipment safely back to homeport in Sturgeon Bay.

So, thanks for indulging me in yet one more report on dredging.  It's critical to the well-being of Washington Island to have this work done.  We could say that the stakes have never been higher.  For that, we're thankful for the willing participation of many hands during the recent days.
  -  Dick Purinton

Sunday, December 30, 2012


Edward Anderson in foreground, City of Cheboygan
and City of Munising moored behind him.  Pier was constructed
with two old, iron dry-dock boxes towed from Sturgeon Bay, 
and by dumping tons of fill, some of it coming from old stone fences.

Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -  

While cleaning out books files and other materials yesterday from my office at the Ferry Terminal in preparation for the next tenant, I ran across a folder containing information on the Anderson potato farm. It occurred to me that many readers may not know the history of island potato farming as it related to the Potato Dock, why the dock was built in the first place and how it was used.

The key individual in this story is Ed Anderson, an island boy who became a successful commodities broker in Chicago and knew the potato markets well.  He brought his ideas and energy and resources to Washington Island, where for nearly two decades his potato farming operations provided work for many islanders.

The above photo was published in Rohm & Haas Reporter,  the July-August 1965 issue. (It was copied in an early copy machine, and then scanned into a digital file) and shows Anderson posed with his car ferries in front of the potato dock. 

There were several excellent articles in my file that covered Anderson potato operations.  Besides the Rohm & Haas article, from a house organ magazine published by the fertilizer company, the Door County Advocate (DCA) also published a story (April 26, 1960) with this headline: "Processing of Island's Potato Crop Nearly Done; Ship to Be Remodeled."   
   Following are paragraphs reprinted from that DCA article:

  "The last of the 1959 Washington Island potato crop will soon be processed, according to Edward H. Anderson. 
  Anderson, whose big potato boat is named after him, will then take the 259 ft. ship back to the Island for a major facelifting this summer.
  This season's crop amounted to nearly a quarter million bushels of quality Russett Burbank potatoes.     Right now, the market is high, over $5.50 for 100 lb. bags of U. S. No. 1s.   When you figure that a bushel of potatoes weighs 60 lbs. the total crop amounts to 15,000,000 lbs.  Then take 80 percent of that for No. 1a (Idaho gets only 40 percent, according to Anderson) and you come up with 12,000,000 lbs., or 120,000,000 100-lb. bags.  That times $5.50 makes $660,000."
  Of course, that doesn't work out exactly that way, but it does give one an idea of the size of Anderson's operation.
   Not all potatoes are put in 100-lb. bags.  There are also 10's, 25's and 50's.
   Price fluctuates wildly.  A 10 lb. bag on the Chicago market ranges from 43 to 65 cents.
   When this reporter went over to the boat Anderson was in his little cubicle under a stairway ("ladder" for marine purists) talking on the phone to the chief buyer for National Foods.  The two are good friends.
   Anderson said his only problem in selling is to get the customer to try his Wisconsin Russet Burbanks once.  If they do they're convinced.  Idahos have a mighty reputation but they apparently don't stand up in comparison with Island spuds.  The Burbanks are just as good baked and don't disintegrate when boiled.
  Anderson presently owns 550 A. on the Island but intends to expand to 1,000 A.  He'll be putting out a million bags of potatoes annually, going all over the country.
  Pinebrook and Washington Island are the brand names now, but everything will be under the Washington Island label in the future.  And what a label for Door county!  It will have a map of Wisconsin, conspicuously showing Door county and the Island.  Everywhere the potatoes are sold people will see the peninsula.
  The potato boat is a new industry for Sturgeon Bay.  Twenty people work aboard her, washing, bagging and shipping out the cargo.  A cold storage warehouse will be built at the dock, further boosting Sturgeon Bay's economy.
   Orrin Gunnlaugsson is Anderson's manager aboard the boat, and James Hanson manager of the Island farms.
   Washing and bagging is now done on the car deck of the former Michigan auto ferry but this summer's remodeling will change all that.  The work will be done above, where the lounge, galley, etc. are now located. The ship will be closed in out to the rails for added space.  Filled bags will go down and out to trucks by gravity.
   All equipment to handle the potatoes will be completely new.  Now, for example, potatoes have to be hand loaded onto the washing conveyor.
   Anderson, a native Islander, started out in the potato business in 1920, getting a salary of $25 a week in the  South Water St. market in Chicago.   He learned from the bottom up.
  He now buys potatoes in 43 states.  Figuring by carloads his Door county operation is less than 4 percent of the firm's total volume. 
   Yet that 4 percent has 100 percent of Anderson's heart.  This is home, and he loves it. "I'd rather be in Door county in a snowstorm than in Florida a sunny day," he said as he looked out from the bridge of his ship.
  He confided that the ship filled a lifelong dream for him.  "I always wanted to have a boat and now I finally got it, even if it is a barge," he smiled.  (A Roen tug tows the ship.)
  He had an anxious moment with the ship last November when a sudden early cold wave threatened to wipe out $100,000 worth of potatoes.  Leaving the national convention, of which he was chairman, he flew to Door county to supervise protection of the cargo.  Insulating board was placed over the whole upper deck.
   Anderson, by the way, is a veteran air traveler.  He was the 126th person in the country to receive an air credit card.
   The big Island crop and the picturesque ship would not exist but for the vision of Mr. Anderson.  he was told he couldn't grow potatoes on the Island, that the land has been farmed out.  Anderson's reply was to build the soil with the proper mixture of fertilizer and to put in a large irrigation system.  Results this year:  450 bu. per A."   (name of the news writer was not credited in this article)

Another source of information about island potatoes came directly from Anderson himself in an undated, handwritten letter addressed to Mrs. Burgoon. (Janet Burgoon was one of the Washington Island Archives' founders.)

Anderson's letter read:

“Dear Mrs. Burgoon:

From about 1895 until 1932 there were approximately 80 farmers on Washington Island who raised from 2 to 10 acres of potatoes.  The planting & harvesting of this crop was done by hand.  The most difficult was the harvesting.  They were dug using a fork to remove from ground.  At the field they were picked by hand and placed in bags, hauled to a storage, there they remained until put aboard a schooner.   When the schooner arrived the farmers hauled the potatoes (in sacks) to the Booth dock in Washington Harbor West Side.  Sometimes a line up of wagons extended half a mile waiting to be unloaded.

  George O. Mann and the Farmers Union were the principal sales agents for the farmers.  The schooners went to Milwaukee, Kenosha & Chicago, where the potatoes were sold in small lots.    

  Generally the farmers realized from 15 to 35 cents for 60 pounds of potatoes.
This continued until the crop had removed the food elements from the soil, such as nitrogen, phosphate and potash.  When the writer became interested in growing potatoes on W. I.,  I first had the soil analyzed, found it was sorely lacking in phosphate and potash.  I was advised by many farmers not to attempt to grow potatoes, however plants need food, the same as humans.
  Testing the soil was then accomplished and found same sorely lacking in phosphate & potash.

  I planted 15-varieties, found the Idaho russets were the best for this soil because it has a very high P.H. around 6 to 8.  This make a scab to form on smooth skinned potatoes, but perfect for russet burbanks.  With the working of the soil to 8 to 10 inches deep proper application of fertilizer, half a ton of 6-24-24 per acre a good spray program to eliminate insects and blight, the average yield per acre was 450 to 500 bu. per acre.  The average yield in 1895 to 1932 was 75 to 125 bu. per acre.  In 1919 when the writer started in the carload potato business in Chicago, there were 100,000 potato farmers in the U. S.  Now in 1974 there are 15,000 left.  The last 20 years except 1973 and 1974 the prices to farmers have been mostly at cost or below cost of production.  This applies to almost all farm commodities.   

  Washington Island has a wonderful soil to grow russett burbank potatoes, but they must bring a price to realize above cost to the producer.
 At present cost of labor, fertilizer, insecticides, equipment, taxes, etc. 4.00 per cent is needed to realize cost.  Most all costs to farmers has increased from 100 to 150 % in last 18 months:  a farmer gambles with weather, markets and other conditions.

  At present the writer is studying the feasibility of putting a French Fried processing plant, if producing is to be resumed.
   (signed) Edw. H. Anderson”

And from the Rohm & Haas article, there is more information about the role of those old car ferries:

 "The fleet of "potato boats" is owned and operated by Edward H. Anderson, a Chicago carload potato dealer who is also one of the Midwest's major potato growers.  Mr. Anderson acquired his tow large vessels several years ago when they were made obsolete by the construction of the Mackinac Bridge connecting Michigan's Upper and lower Peninsulas.  He figured the boats would solve one of his biggest problems in connection with producing potatoes on Washington Island:  getting the spuds to market economically and efficiently.
   "Before we got our boats we had to store out potatoes in a warehouse, ship them out in small lots, and then send them by rail and truck to Chicago for final grading and packaging," says Mr. Anderson.  "Once we figured out that we handled each potato 14 times before it reached the customer.  That made for a lot of bruising and a lot of expense."

    The old ferry boats have made a big difference in this marketing system.  They've enabled Anderson to reduce by more than a half the amount of handling his potatoes get and to cut substantially the cost of delivering his crop to customers.

    From the Field into the Ferry

   Here's how this amphibious operation works.  during the fall harvest, wagons of potatoes are brought directly from teh fields to the boats.  Here the tubers are loaded loose into the holds.  The converted ferries have a combined capacity of approximately 200,000 bushels.  This is close to the total crop produced on the Anderson farms, with the exception of seed potatoes, which are stored on the island for next year's planting.
   Harvest runs to the end of October, at which time the boats are towed to their winter berths at Benton Harbor.  While the boats are in the harbor, a crew processes the potatoes for the market.  This involves washing, sizing, grading and packaging.  It takes from five to six months to unload the boats.
   During this time, the potatoes keep well in their unusual storage area.  The cold waters of Lake Michigan that surround the boats keep temperatures low and prevent the potatoes from deteriorating or sprouting.  When required, propane gas heaters are used to maintain a temperature of about 40 degrees in the holds, and thus avoid any problems with freezing.  Fans circulate fresh air through channels in the floor.
   In May, after the last bags of potatoes have been moved out, the Edward H. Anderson and the City of Munising - now referred to as simply "Number 2" - head back to Washington Island.  They're not empty, though.  They carry a cargo of fertilizer, agricultural chemicals and other supplies needed on the island for raising the next crop of potatoes."

    Further along in the article Anderson talked about locating his farm on Washington Island, and of his manger, Jim Hanson.  Hanson's children still have roots here:  daughter Lois (Tim) Jessen has an excellent reputation for her kitchen skills, and a son, Jim, is a Washington Island Ferry Line captain.]

 "By the mid-1930's, Anderson was moving several million bushels of potatoes a year (in the Chicago markets as trader).  About that time he began looking for a summer home where he could spend his slack season.  "I explored the New England states, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, and then I came back to Washington Island and found the most beautiful place I'd seen.  It was my old home.  I bought it, dressed it up a little, and we began spending our summers here," says Anderson.

   "I loved it, but I got restless.  The first of June to Labor Day was too long a time to be idle. So then I started buying land.  My first idea was to plant cherry trees. But then I decided I'd better stay with m own business - potatoes.   I was lucky enough to find a man who really knows that crop - Jim Hanson - to run the operation.  We gradually expanded our operation and now we're in the business in a pretty big way. But we still really get a kick out of farming."

    Anderson and Hanson have something in common besides potatoes"  their love of the water and sailing.  During the First World War, Anderson was a wheelsman on an iron ore carrier on the Great Lakes.   Hanson for his part spent 10 years on a freighter and served in the Merchant Marine during the Second World War.  Their diversified experiences serve them in good stead.  Hanson is an expert at growing potatoes.  Anderson - with 45 years experience as a broker - knows every aspect of selling them.  And they both put their seamanship abilities to good use in operating their private flotilla of potato boats.
 - the end -           Dick Purinton

Friday, December 28, 2012


Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

Dredging at the Potato Dock resumed early Wednesday morning when the Roen crew returned from Christmas holiday.  Tom Jordan operated the excavator of Mike Kahr's, and brought up heaping buckets of sand, clay from the hardpan area 100-140 ft. east of the dock's face.  A loaded barge was offloaded Wednesday, and again late Thursday, and digging began again after 7 p.m., continuing until a hydraulic hose connection broke on the excavator.

While Rich Ellefson went for repair parts, the crane and clamshell are once more in service.  The material barge is full as of 11 a.m. this Friday morning, and trucking has begun.

Island road conditions are good with most icy patches worn down, some slush here and there. Dump trucks have been making good time on each round trip.  A couple of truck owners have dropped out of rotation due to mechanical concerns, so one of Mike Kahr's trucks was ferried over yesterday.  It's being driven by Joel Gunnlaugsson.  Something like one-quarter to one-third of the estimated volume has now been dredged. A substantial area remains.  

Holiday traffic is arriving for New Year celebrations on the Island.  A log truck and a Veolia waste truck with trailer departed from the Island on earlier ferries.  

Conditions are calm, temperatures have hovered around 24-26 degrees, ideal late December weather for this work in many ways.   Light snow may fall this evening.  

-  Dick Purinton

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Excavator on Roen barge.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

The barge and barge crew represent Roen Salvage.  The yellow excavator belongs to Mike Kahr of Death's Door Marine.  The excavator operator is Island contractor Tom Jordan.  It's a team effort to beat the weather clock.

In a process that often seems laborious but straightforward, one surprise was encountered this morning.  Rather than scraping against a ledge of stone, or  stones hard-packed in clay, the excavator has been bringing up buckets of loose cobblestones. This the sort of material you'd expect to find along an old beach line, maybe when the lake level was significantly shallower than it is today.  Occasional sharp-cornered, large rocks and clay are also present.

Switching to this machine for the time being hasn't appreciably slowed the dredging process much, but a shorter reach means the barge as work platform has to be frequently repositioned, and some time is lost then.  Jordan digs three full buckets in about the same time as it took to get one larger bucket with the crane.  But, once softer material is encountered again, the crane with clamshell will be put back in service.  

The material barge should be loaded before dark this afternoon, when unloading and trucking begin once again.    -  Dick Purinton

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Christmas Morning Ferry
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

Merry Christmas, everyone!

We receive many gifts, and one of the most extraordinary of any winter's day is the lighting.  Snow clouds dark and hovering over the lake, clear, crisp air.

Trinity Lutheran Church pastor, Frank Maxwell,
quick-changed from vestments to traveling attire
for the 10 a.m. ferry.
A quiet day in many respects. Following Christmas morning church service at Trinity, Frank Maxwell and his wife, Mary, boarded the 10 a.m. ferry to enjoy the remainder of the day with their family in the Milwaukee area.  A number of others traveled, too, and they were greeted by the Ellefson family, Rich, Kerstin, Mack, Jed, Brody, and grandparents from Upper Michigan, Kathy and Morris.

Each year during the days leading up to Christmas, the Ellefsons bake cookies and make other treats, then package them as gifts to holiday ferry travelers.  Rich was also ferry captain on this morning, joined by crew Pete Nikolai and Con McDonald.  This is the one day of the year with only morning ferries, no afternoon trips.

Brody, Jed and Mack with Kirsten and ferry captain, Rich Ellefson,
prior to loading the ferry.
At our home this afternoon we're expecting our grandchildren and children for sledding. This will erase the lethargy of a morning before the fire.  It's a great afternoon to visit, connect by phone - my sister called from Florida - write a blog, or take a nap.  

Tomorrow, with an excavator now at their disposal, the Roen crew's dredging should continue apace.

Time is of the essence, as overnight harbor ice spanned to Detroit Island, and it could be permanent for the next three months. It's one early sign that liquid surfaces may soon transform into hard ice.  When that happens over a broad enough area, our manner of ferry operations will change.

Merry Christmas!   -  Dick Purinton

Outbound ferry nearing entrance light.
Excavator delivered late Monday
afternoon by  Con McDonald (shown) and Hoyt Purinton.
Tires were laid to improve traction of tracks on icy dock
and to protect deck paint.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


Offloading routine of dredge spoils  began shortly before sunup.  On its second
round of the morning, this truck receives a 5-cu.yd. deposit.  
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

Winds went down, as did the temperature.   Two ferries loaded at the same time for an 8 a.m. Island departure.  Slightly more traffic was scheduled to leave the island than to come in.  Freight carts and a chock-full mail truck were expected with the incoming traffic.

At the Potato Dock, trucks started hauling early.  Roads were heavily sanded by the Town in most slick stretches.  The dock approaches that softened in the rain and slush, set up nicely at 21 degrees.  The material barge had an ice crust, but the volume of muck, although stiffer this morning, was easily scraped and deposited in truck boxes.  A total of 105 truckloads have been hauled so far, which represents approximately 1110 cu. yds., or about 1/8 of the total required to provide sufficient depth for ferry maneuvering.   Yardage per truck increased slightly this morning with thicker material easier to haul, less prone to slopping over the edges of the truck box.

Wednesday morning, we're anticipating an excavator to be ferried to the island. This machine will reduce the hard spots the crane bucket can't get.

Routines continue

Ferry travel got back on track, too, this morning.  Evidently, Islanders were looking forward to the future, to Christmas, visiting with relatives and so forth, as if they never heard of the Mayan Calendar.  And tomorrow, we expect Green Bay will defeat Tennessee at Lambeau Field, keeping their train on track for the NFL playoffs.

Several readers inquired about the location of the Potato Dock in relation to the ferry dock, and so I added an aerial photo from the Washington Island Canoe & Kayak website, where you'll find many more excellent aerials of the Island shoreline.

Have a great weekend!     -  Dick Purinton
Washington unloaded backlogged traffic,
Saturday, 9:35 a.m.

Appendage (upper left) is Potato Dock.  The northwest tip of
Detroit Island is in foreground.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Potato Dock - Dredging a second barge load, 4:15 Thursday afternoon.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

Snowfall amounts were hard to measure this morning because of the wetness from rain and sleet.  Snowfall following the rain was compacted.   I estimated a slushy covering of perhaps 4-5 inches deep.  Temperatures this morning were still above 30 degrees, so it was easy to remove the mess from streets and sidewalks.  Washington Island, according to the weather radar, was in a region near northern Lake Michigan that was free from moisture as of 7 pm, and there was little to no accumulation after that. Quite a different story further south in state, we understand.

Several logs came up with the muck, maybe
old pier timbers? 
Dredging continued through Thursday afternoon, the 20th, concentrating in areas where decent production could be achieved.  Trucking commenced at 7 am today.  Roads had been cleared by Town plows by that time.   The material barge was clean by approximately 10:30 am, and then digging resumed.

In order to achieve removal of several high spots within the designated area for dredging, consisting of hardpan (stone, clay) that the crane's bucket can't bite into, a test dig was made with Tom Jordan's small excavator.  Based on Jordan's ability to rip into the hard crust, Roen is attempting to locate a larger excavator.  Weather has to calm considerably, as that heavy excavator will be loaded directly on to the contractor's construction barge from the Northport dock.

Dumping spoils at the Hagen gravel pit.
At the Hagen pit, off Michigan Road, trucks dumped their loads of black, mucky material over the bank, where it was further cleaned up and spread with a small loader.  The off-load was completed in just under three hours.

Today is mostly a day for clean-up of snow and slush, in anticipation of a better day tomorrow.  At the Island Schools, at least in the elementary wing, students are enjoying a pre-Christmas celebration.  School lets out at noon and the Christmas holidays begin for staff and students.

Joel Gunnlaugsson, ferry captain,
operated loader.

-  Dick Purinton  

11:00 am, Friday - test digging over hard spot.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

Rain changed over to snow as the air temperature fell. As predicted, the wind picked up speed about noon today, and wet snow began to accumulate.  Thursday's afternoon ferries were cancelled.

Out at the Potato Dock, dredging is still on the slow side, but there is production.  Hard spots have been passed by, for now, in favor of digging as much volume as possible in time available.

There won't be more hauling of spoils from the site until road conditions improve, so Roen's crew will spend this night keeping an eye on their equipment.

There have been a few spectators, among them Magnus, Aidan and their dad, Hoyt Purinton, looking on as the crane's bucket brought another mucky load to the surface.  Aidan is sporting a new look since Saturday when, he said, his brother Magnus sat on his head.  That action took out one tooth and loosened the other, to where it dangled.  His mom removed that one to complete the symmetry.   We suspect the pair might have been ready to go soon without the extra help, but now he's all set for those permanent teeth to grow in.  A classic look for Christmas, we reminded him.    -  Dick Purinton

Although visibility was still quite good, snow began to fly by 2:30 pm
when this photo was taken.   The heavy rains of morning, plus wet snow,
made a slushy mess of roads.   Island plows were out to
scrape the mess before more serious snow
amounts fell.



Roen construction barge and material barge,
4:30 pm, Wednesday Dec. 19
filling the first barge load of spoils.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

With what could be described as one of the most perfect days of the year - calm, sunny, mild - Roen Salvage arrived shortly after noon Wednesday at the Potato Dock location after a tow of equipment from Egg Harbor that began early the evening before.

Potato Dock operations began
with perfect weather Wednesday.
Dredging operations began with the first bucket scraping hardpan around 1:30 pm, and there was very slow progress in the first several hours, despite digging with several different styles of buckets.  Barges were repositioned shoreward, where bottom material was somewhat softer, and better progress was made, roughly 350 cubic yards by 9 pm.   By that time the barge had settled under its load so that maneuvering depths were near zero.

At 7 am this Thursday morning, unloading began as five dump trucks owned by Island contractors lined up to begin hauling.   It is hoped this first barge load of many can be off-loaded in time to start on a second barge, prior to the impending, predicted storm.  (Rich Ellefson, coordinating trucks at the Potato Dock, reported 38 truckloads @ 10 yds. per truck to empty the barge.  Digging has commenced once again.)

Offloading this morning, 9 am, Thursday.
 This entire dredging exercise, just this phase, could take easily a week or more, and it's dependent upon cooperative conditions for wind, sea and air temperature.  If it becomes too cold, for an extended period, Roen's equipment will have to return to Sturgeon Bay, where it will be wintered.

Contractor Mike Kahr is also anticipated to be available soon, and both the Northport dock and the toughest areas to dig around the Potato Dock may be left for his excavator and hydraulic hammer.  His equipment takes a smaller bite, which means it takes longer to dig an area, but for the toughest, rockiest bottom areas it may be the only solution.

As of 9:00 am this morning, winds were between 15-20 mph, easterly, and the air temperature was 35 degrees.  Still good for our ferry trips and not a problem for the dredge.

However, since that time heavy rains began to change over to sleet, and wind gusts have increased to 30 mph as the wind direction shifted to NE.  Velocities are expected to increase to 45-50 kt. by late afternoon, according to the NOAA marine weather forecast.  Most commercial ships have either stayed in port, or they are currently heading to safe harbor at this time.  Snow began to fall farther south, already 7 inches in Madison, 4.5 inches in Wausau, and so forth, but here on the Island and along the lakeshore, temperatures have given us (much welcomed) moisture in the form of heavy rains.

Now, as of 11:15 am, sleet appears to be changing over to snow.  

Our plan is to run this last ferry trip of the morning, then suspend ferry service until after the storm winds have passed - which could be at some point Saturday morning.  No way of knowing for sure, at this point, but all forecasts indicate both high winds and lower temperatures, so that even 30-kt. winds, manageable back in October and November, would cause heavy build-up of ice on deck.  We will avoid that, and the low visibility predicted with blizzard-like conditions.

-  Dick Purinton


Archivist Janet Berggren described
materials found in the Archives to
Aidan Purinton (center) and Atlas Beneda.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

This morning, let's take a short break from talk of low water, dredging and winter storms to visit the Archives.

Last week I escorted grandsons Atlas and Aidan to the Archives where they met Janet Berggren, Archivist.   Atlas asked me as we walked to the Community Center, "What do they have in there, anyway?" and I suggested that would be a good question to start with once we were inside.

Aidan was particularly interested in a photo Janet had displayed on the Archives page several weeks ago in the Island Observer, that showed a dozen ladies, both seated and standing, from a century or more ago.  They all wore grim expressions in addition to their dark dresses as they posed for the camera.  In accompanying text, Janet asked if readers could identify the photo, or any of the ladies shown.  (She received at least one reader's response, that the photo showed a relative, and it was of the Detroit Harbor Ladies Aid Society, perhaps even the organization's charter group.

For some reason, Aidan thought the photo in the paper looked familiar, and he wanted to see the original.  Janet also made a copy of the photo for him to take home and study.

Janet gave the boys a quick tour of the vaults where photos and documents are maintained, and she opened one folder entitled, "Island Children."  Ih held, among the many photos, one of the boys' grandmother, Mary Jo, and her sisters.  Neither grandson recognized the three-year-old, considering the year it was taken.

Atlas was impressed that there were files on Island homes, of the home owners and properties, some with photos, and this might lead to a future visit as he researches his own home.

Looking up each boy's name in the computer master files, Janet found entries for each from when they participated in events or organizations that were featured in the Island paper, and consequently added to the Master File.

I appreciated the fact each boy was interested enough to want to return to the Archives some day soon, each with an idea of what they wished to find there.  Volunteers who work in the Archives often comment on how hard it is to accomplish their volunteer work when they're continually diverted by interesting photos or news items.  The amount of information contained within the Archives is never complete, and more historical documents are donated every week.

Sifting through Archives files can provide entertainment for interested visitors of all ages.
-  Dick Purinton

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Two log trucks were loaded aboard the Washington
this morning.  Water conditions and air temperature were
ideal for mid-December.

Detroit Harbor, Washington Island, Wisconsin -

We've narrowed down our Christmas wish list to these:
 Completion of necessary dredging before freeze-up, and the addition of moisture for the lake.

Roen Salvage, a marine construction company based in Sturgeon Bay, is expected to be here Wednesday to begin dredging at the Potato Dock.  With a large bucket and what we think is relatively easy digging, a good part of that project could be completed by the close of Sunday.  All available island contractor trucks will be utilized to haul spoils from the Potato Dock.

One complication:  the currently mild and calm conditions are forecast to quickly change Wednesday evening.  By Thursday, six to eight inches of snow and gale force winds from the NE are slated to hit this area, with winds then backing to the NW and temperatures cooling down as the low pressure is replaced with a high pressure system.  Friday will still be windy, but of even more concern for ferry travel on lumpy seas will be temperatures that might not get above the low 20s, icing decks and making it difficult to haul dredging spoils.  Also, contractor Roen wants to ensure their tug and barge are back in Sturgeon Bay prior to icing in the ship canal.  We hope they can complete their work here before the New Year's.

Mike Kahr, who with his barge and excavator is presently working in Fish Creek, is scheduled to dig around the end of the Northport dock.  When the Northport's work is concluded, he'll push his barge to the Island and continue working here until cold weather stops his dredging operations.  Kahr's equipment will remain here over winter, and if there is a warm-up during the winter, more dredging may be accomplished during that time.  There is much work to be done.

Yesterday Roen's survey boat recorded bottom depths in Detroit Harbor in the areas we intend to dredge.  Several spots were found that are alarmingly high - and not just for the Arni J. Richter, but the other ferries as well.  The lake level was (-17") yesterday, meaning a supposed 12' 7" depth of water remaining in the dredged channel.  (This level could drop another six inches with gale winds from the north.)   High spots were also found in maneuvering areas adjacent to the channel and near the service pier.  These need to be removed to ensure safe navigation near our island docks, despite the fact we are dedicated to operating the Arni J. Richter from the Potato Dock this winter.

Heavy and long semi trucks - any large trucks for that matter - should be ferried now given the uncertainty of the needed dredging.  Waiting until January in hopes conditions will allow carriage of a semi could bring disappointment.

We encourage shippers by truck to transport by ferry now, while it is easier to do so, rather than wait. To provide incentive for trucks carried in the next several weeks, before ice requires use of the Potato Dock, the Ferry Line will suspend until January 3rd the published Winter Tariff rates.  (Winter Truck Rates were scheduled to take effect December 21st.)

  And what gifts do we offer?

A continuation of uninterrupted service, normally a given, this year becomes a difficult stocking to fill.

The Ferry Line Board of Directors in late November approved "no changes" to the ferry tariff for the coming 2013 year.

But in a manner of speaking, we are proceeding using the "lay-away plan." We'll keep ferries, people, vehicles and freight moving across the water as best we can, with optimism that island traffic levels will be strong during the coming year.  Dredging, always an expense and of no perceptible benefit to the average ferry customer, requires a commitment of current and future assets.

So, let's collectively lay our finger alongside our nose in hopes that Santa will be here on Christmas Eve, generous and good-humored with his gifts.

-  Dick Purinton

Friday, November 30, 2012


Bench on Gills Rock ferry dock.   (Purinton photo)
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Weather this time of year swings between snow and freezing cold, bright sunshine and clouds, wind and calm.   Of course, the general trend is cooler, both by day and night.   One week ago, Friday Nov. 23, heavy water, solid at times, flew over the pier and nearby buildings in gale force winds.   Ice formations were left behind as the temperature dropped and winds diminished.  (Before that, everything within 75 feet of the sheet piling was awash.)

This is also the time of year when many birds have begun their southward migration.   We're not exactly sure why this peregrine falcon chose to rest near the ferry terminal on Washington Island.  Sightings are not uncommon to Wisconsin, but on the other hand, the presence of such a bird was an event.  The photo below was taken by Margaret Young with a telephoto lens during the noon hour, Monday the 26th, after the bird was first spotted sitting high in the cottonwood tree south of the ferry terminal by Bill Jorgenson.  (I also took photos, but I didn't have the lens power of Margaret's camera.)

Peregrine falcon. (Margaret Young photo)
An avid birder, Margaret said this was her first peregrine falcon sighting on Washington Island.  She also sent along a shot of two eagles perched in a tree in the Bayou area, with one displaying a more complete set of white tail feathers than the other. (I saw these same two birds circle overhead earlier today as I looked out my home window.)

The annual December Washington Island bird count will take place Friday, December 14th, at which time sightings of all birds will be recorded by birders who actively spend their day spotting and counting various birds.  Counts are made in the outdoors as well as from kitchen windows overlooking hedges and feeders, and they will include several days prior to and after this calendar date, as I understand it.  Contact Sandy Peterson if you'd like to participate and contribute your sightings.

Bald eagles in Detroit Harbor. (Margaret Young photo)
More on Low Water 

Water levels were perhaps more serious than I had first believed, as I had expressed in my blog of Monday, November 26th.

I was reminded that our lake level as of Monday was measured at -21" from the Low Water Datum benchmark.   This would mean that, given the -14 ft. LWD charted depth in the Detroit Harbor channel, our operating depth on Monday would have been 12'3".    Since our winter ferry draws slightly over 11 ft. loaded, and more "squat" when power is added, this means roughly one foot of water to play with under keel, hardly enough to feel comfortable when operating the Arni J. Richter in the channel.  The Army Corps predicts perhaps another 5 inches of loss could be measured before we get into mid-January.

It is for that reason the work has been done at the Potato Dock in preparation for its use.  Our crews loaded a heavy semi truck driven by Paul Novak over the bow of the Eyrarbakki on the 27th (Tuesday).   This was a trial run to see if there was sufficient room to swing the truck in line for loading, and also to determine if the height of ramp would prove workable.  This exercise went well.  However, it needs to be said that the stern of the Eyrarbakki was but a few feet from a shoal area.  In order to safely perform this maneuver with the longer hull of the Arni J. Richter once ice is in the vicinity, an area dredged to maneuvering depth (at least -15 ft.), outward 100 feet or more from the pier face will be needed.  

That is why, until dredging is accomplished, we are anticipating the Arni J. will have to load from the side ramp only.   Remember, this is the scenario only when there is ice and the Arni J. Richter is the ferry that must be used.   Warm weather in December and early January could extend the period of operation for both the Eyrarbakki and Washington, allowing more time for this area to be dredged.

In the photo below, Rich Ellefson, Jim Hanson and Con McDonald complete grading after burying an electrical conduit in the dock.  When connected, this line will bring electrical power to the hydraulic lift mechanism at the adjustable ramp, as well as power for lighting and other uses.  The pier in general and the approaches to this ramp were graded and graveled during the past four days, creating a smoother surface for autos.

There is no getting around the fact this pier will be used during the coming winter. The question becomes, how soon will that shift take place, and when the move is made from the normal ferry landings near the terminal building, what loading options will be available?

-  Dick Purinton

Monday, November 26, 2012


EYRARBAKKI headed toward Northport Friday afternoon, Nov. 23rd,
with lake freighter on the horizon.
Jim Rose photo.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

We received our first snowfall of the season Saturday night, a couple of inches.  It was the first measurable snowfall since early last March, according to the Channel 5 meteorologist.   A cold air mass followed on the low pressure cell that produced strong westerly winds Friday and Saturday.

Friday's trips became more difficult as seas in the Door approached 8-10 feet, short and steep.  The day's last round trip was cancelled as a result.  Shown above is a photo taken by ticket seller Jim Rose from the Northport dock, around 3 pm.   This is what Jim wrote:

     The gales of November are not just part of the lyrics to a song, but were a real occurrence on Friday, November 23rd.  The Washington Island Ferry Line provided service all day, but was forced to cancel just the last trip of the day.  Winds at Northport were recorded as high as 32 knots, with 44 knot gusts, on that day.  In terms of miles per hour, that is about 35 and 50 mph.  Info from the Northport NOAA weather station may be accessed on line at:
Photos show the spray over the breakwall, and the Eyrarbakki heading toward Northport, with Pilot Island in the background, and a lake freighter off in the distance. 

The high winds depleted water from the shallows of Detroit Harbor once again, with a measurement Saturday morning indicating we reached a new low, even if it is temporary record.   Water levels in Detroit Harbor are now at their lowest point, with several weeks before the time in early January when the annual low is often recorded.

This puts the channel depth now at something like 13 feet, or only two feet of water beneath the Arni J. Richter's keel in a loaded condition.  This is one reason the Arni J. Richter won't be used until ice enroute makes it our only choice.   This morning our crew made a dry run using the side ramp of the AJR at the Potato Dock to determine if levels will work for autos and short trucks.  A shoal area about 50 feet north of and parallel to the pier must be dredged before we dare place the ferry bow-in to shore. (And the stern ramp is already too low for loading.)  Dredging arrangements are being made, and the WDNR expedited our permit application for this project.   We hope to have our marine contractor here within a few weeks to begin work.

Crew members made adjustments to the Potato Dock pier following
a trial run using the side ramp.   In foreground Rich Ellefson
smooths gravel.  At midships, Jim Hanson cuts a piece of steel.
Near the stern, Ken Berggren and Con McDonald adjust the
height of a tire.  (Purinton photo)
 As long as its feasible we'll use the Eyrarbakki, which draws less water.  But this ferry can't tolerate ice navigation.   It could well be that side loading, the only way to load the former winter ferry, C. G. Richter, will once again become a regular winter feature.  Both numbers and size of vehicles that can be carried would be affected.

Among the impacts to be realized by shifting to the Potato Dock and the use of side loading:  Trucks over 30 feet in length could not be carried due to their length.   There would be no possibility, with side loading, to load or unload a vehicle such as long as a semi.

In preparation for the very real prospect that ferry operations could well shift to the Potato Dock for part, or most, of this coming winter, operating guidelines are being developed to meet passenger, vehicle and freight logistics from that location.

In the final photos (also by Jim Rose) heavy and oversize equipment is featured.  We transported the Gersek Construction gravel crushing equipment from the island days prior to the opening weekend of hunting (approximately Nov. 15-16).  The crusher represents one of the heaviest, most concentrated loads we carry, at approximately 100,000 lbs.  

Crusher/screening plant backing from the AJR foredeck.  (Jim Rose photo)
The only way this unit could be loaded was to drive the tractor beneath the Arni J. Richter's wheelhouse, entering over the bow, where the greatest freeboard, or height above water, is found.  At Northport, the rig was then backed from the foredeck to the dock.  This ramp that was installed a few years ago at the end of the Northport pier has a lower height and an incline more gradual than any of the others.   A long conveyor was also ferried to Northport on the Eyrarbakki deck.

These loads represented two extremes of concentrated weight and dimension.   Their transport was at the limits of what is currently possible, given water levels.

Elevator takes up deck space, and then some.
(Jim Rose photo)

-  Dick Purinton

Friday, November 16, 2012


Paula's view across Porte des Morts Tuesday evening.
Washington Island and Northport -

Paula Hedeen, a Northport neighbor who lives a short distance to the west of that mainland ferry dock, has a vigilant eye, an excellent camera and lens, and stays up late enough in the evening to observe and capture northern lights.   With the expanse of water and Washington Island lights in the background, Plum Island's red rear range light, and the distant glow of Escanaba's lights some 30 miles in the distance, its a scene very few have a chance to observe.

In the progression of photos an isolated white light begins west of Washington Island, getting slightly larger over time.    It turned out to be an ore carrier on a southerly course from Escanaba, and without time to set her camera back on the tripod Paula was able to photograph the ship and the northern lights.  Very nicely done!

She's been generous enough to share a few of her photos in this blog.

Although it's closed for the season now, several of her northern lights enlargements taken a year ago were displayed on the wall behind the customer counter.   Paula's work is not exhibited in a gallery, but if anyone wishes to obtain one of her northern lights prints or cards,  I would be happy to relay your wishes to her.

-  Dick Purinton

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Karfi hauled hikers, day visitors, overnight
campers and their gear to Rock Island State Park
each summer since 1967.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -


Washington Island Ferry Line, Inc. president Hoyt Purinton announced the purchase of the Karfi from Jeff Cornell of Washington Island in the late afternoon, Wednesday, November 14, 2012.

The Karfi is a 36-foot steel vessel built in Escanaba in 1967 to ferry campers, hikers and day visitors between Jackson Harbor, Washington Island, and Rock Island State Park.  During each of the past 46 summers the Karfi was operated by members of the Cornell family.
The Karfi was originally constructed for Jim Cornell, a former Washington Island commercial fisherman.  At age 67, in 1981, Jim sold the Karfi operation to his son, Jack, who then operated it for the next 20 years.  In 2002, Jack sold the vessel to his son, Jeff Cornell.   Jeff had crewed for both his grandfather Jim and his father as a youngster, starting at age 12. 

Jeff operated Washington Island Ferry Line vessels as a captain from 1989 through 1999.  He then operated the WDNR fisheries research vessel Barney Devine for several years prior to purchasing the Karfi.  He will rejoin Washington Island Ferry Line in the spring of 2013 as ferry captain on the Northport ferry route.

Cornell said that although he enjoys piloting the Karfi’s daily trips to Rock Island, he’s also looking forward to a greater variety of routes and challenges.  As one of several Ferry Line captains, he’ll be able to schedule a summer’s day off now and then, too, something he couldn’t easily do as the sole owner-operator once the Karfi's season schedule began.   However, Cornell may still pilot the Karfi at least part of the time for the Ferry Line. 

School group of campers about to disembark at
Jackson Harbor's State Park dock.

Are changes anticipated for the Rock Island State Park route now that the Karfi is no longer a Cornell family operation?

“Limited changes, if any,”  Ferry Line's president Hoyt Purinton said.

“Despite its number of seasons, the Karfi has been well maintained and is in immaculate condition.  We intend to operate the Karfi to Rock Island with the same standards for public safety and spotless vessel condition as did the Cornells, with a schedule similar to that of past years.   One new consideration may be to offer a combination ticket for both the Washington Island and Rock Island ferries, a convenient, single transaction that would also be a savings for the customer.

“The Ferry Line is looking forward to serving Rock Island State Park visitors,” Purinton said.  “Many people return every summer to hike, camp, or visit the Thordarson boathouse or the Pottawatomie Lighthouse.   As an island park, it’s one of our state’s most unique parks.  We believe there are many people who, for various reasons, have never visited Rock Island, and we’d like to reach those people and encourage them to visit.  

“At the same time, we’re also pleased to welcome back Jeff Cornell as a Ferry Line captain.  He’s familiar with our operations, and he'll fit in well.  Starting in early spring of 2013, Jeff will pilot Washington Island ferries in summer as well as winter.”                

-  Dick Purinton

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Although this photo was taken on a Washington Island Memorial Day, a
parade of pipers, Legionnaires and members of the public led
by a color guard, tomorrow's tribute is similar, but to honor all veterans.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

For the past several weeks I've been collecting photos of Island veterans.  Some of those photos had been in the upstairs of the Legion Hall for years, but most were recently dug from photo albums or taken down from wall frames for image scanning.

Chuck and Jewell Lee Grandy have collaborated with me on this project.  They've contacted many veterans or their families, and they've also sifted through the Island Archives, searching for photos of men and women in uniform.  I think we now have well over 100 individuals represented.

As it happens, many photos were lost or misplaced and can't be found, or there were none taken of an individual to begin with.  If possible, we want photos showing the veteran in their military uniform, posed in dress uniform, or in their work uniform, or both.  They provide an interesting contrast, the young soldier or sailor compared to the image of someone we're currently familiar with now, who may be in their 60s, 70s or 80s.

Despite our best efforts (and an admittedly late start without public announcement), this Power Point project-in-the-works, despite being incomplete, will be shown on screen during this year's Veterans Day program:   Monday morning, 10:30 a.m., at the Trueblood Performing Arts Center.  Because the photos to be seen will represent only a fraction of the many veterans with a Washington Island connection, this project will continue.

As more photos come in - either emailed in digital format or as physical photos that we can scan - we'll add to this file.  Eventually, this file of photos, accompanied by names, branch of service and perhaps key enlistment dates, will be donated to the Island Archives.  Family members and researchers in future generations might find those photos to be a useful connection with their island past.

John Gay, who is a veteran and an Island summer resident, has conducted numerous interviews with island veterans during these past several years. John volunteered to participate in a Library of Congress project designed to capture the stories of as many veterans as possible.   John records his interview with each veteran using a prescribed template of questions, and then the audio record is transcribed by others.  As you can imagine, each interview takes time, including scheduling an appointment with a willing veteran.  Later, there is a follow-up to review the transcribed interview for accuracy.  These photo images recently obtained in our project will add to John's efforts, because for many veterans', especially those persons no longer living, photos might well be the only information available about their military service.  (One completed binder will go to the Library of Congress, and a second binder will go to the Island Archives.)

During the course of this photo project, I had the chance to visit with a number of veterans, and in one meeting in the Ferry Office a week ago I was introduced to Mike Kumnick of Colorado.  Mike is a Viet Nam veteran whose parents, Fred and Lou Kumnick retired to Washington Island in the 1980s.  Fred was an active American Legion member and for a time served as Post Commander.  Although Mike and I might have met briefly, years ago, it was through this blog that Mike kept in touch with the Island.

Published here is a photo of Mike's father, Fred Kumnick, U. S. Army, WWII.

In order to make our file more complete, please consider allowing Chuck Grandy, or myself at the Ferry Line office, to scan your military photo, or one of an Island veteran in your family.  The scanning process takes about five minutes, and you keep the original.

-  Dick Purinton

Note:  About one week ago I had difficulty with my password to access this blog site, and with no clue to overcome this, I waited for help.  Coincidentally, in an unrelated error of movement my irresponsible forefinger, I eliminated my entire photo file in one "Poof."    My hope for help rested in Chris Haertig, who with his expecting wife Megan, had left for Sturgeon Bay in anticipation of their second child.  They have since become parents to Gideon Joseph.  When Chris returned, he restored my photos from the trash and fixed my password problem, which put me happily back in business.