Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Detroit Harbor aerial photo, several years ago.
(Ed Graf photo)

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Recently, on Friday, January 20th, the Town of Washington Board approved an application for grant funds from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) and its Harbor Assistance Program (HAP).  This is the first official step taken by the Town toward dredging the West Channel entrance to Detroit Harbor, a vital year-around navigational link for commercial water transportation to and from the island.

Although the case had been made for dredging several years ago by the Town to Senator Russ Feingold, Rep. Steve Kagen, representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Wisconsin's Governor Doyle, the reality is that federal funding allocations take years to work their way through Congress,  even when all political cylinders are "clicking."  It would be a very long shot, indeed.

However, this harbor project fits well within the scope of typical state HAP projects.  In fact, there are several Wisconsin commercial harbors, also with federal channels, that receive assistance on a regular basis in order to improve or expand port facilities and to keep them open through dredging.

When looking at Detroit Harbor's channel and the last time it was dredged (by the federal government in 1937) this may be the appropriate time to improve depths and widen the channel.  It is absolutely essential that Detroit Harbor be kept open and safe for vessel navigation, in particular for the commercial ferries that provide year around service.   It was noted by state officials who reviewed channel dimensions during preliminary discussions that lake levels are low now, but they may drop even lower.  Given the Island's dependency on this navigational channel.  The Town's proposed Detroit Harbor project could be considered urgent in nature.

The grant request amount is for $7.6 million dollars, which represents the State's portion, or 80% of project cost.  This is money that would be paid from the HAP Fund, tax dollars that have been set aside by the Wisconsin Legislature for the Harbor Assistance Program Fund.  This Fund is designed to maintain and improve Wisconsin's commercial ports.  The Town of Washington's contribution of $1.9 million, the remaining 20%, would then be contributed through "tippage," a term that refers to the disposal of spoils at an approved Town site, or sites, with grading and seeding afterward as necessary.

The behind-the-scenes work to put such a project together is considerable, and it balances the local needs for safe harbor navigation with the Town's ability to participate, given the large figures involved.  Obviously, if an actual cash payment from taxes were required, this project could not even be considered.

Chairman Joel Gunnlaugsson and the Town of Washington Supervisors should be commended for their ability to see this project's benefits through the rather daunting amount of engineering and paperwork the application requires.  Included is an engineering study based on recent soundings, and the expertise to complete the application.  The Town was assisted by Foth & Van Dyke Engineering of Green Bay, a company familiar with marine construction projects and also the State of Wisconsin HAP grant process.

Included in the Town's HAP Grant Application were elements of the Engineering Feasibility study and the Environmental Feasibility study. These components ensure that the quantities of proposed dredging spoils are accurately tabulated, and that mud, clay and rock material removed will be disposed of in a manner that will not harm the environment.

The project's scope includes, in general terms, channel widening from 150 to 170 feet, and channel depth from -14 ft. LWD (low water datum) to - 17 ft. LWD.   Since there was little to no silting in the channel in the years after it was dredged in 1937, it is anticipated that given the somewhat predictable lake levels over time, these new dimensions will be adequate for the near future.

It was further noted in the Grant Application that commercial traffic, namely ferry vessels, have increased in draft and beam, and also in the number of annual round trips made.  It may be said that the island community has become ever more dependent for economic and lifeline existence on water transportation, and less self-sufficient than in 1937 when commercial fishing and farming were primary economic contributors and people and goods moved with lesser frequency over water.

Winter harbor photo taken prior to 1995. 

Note:  I was asked a few years ago by a friend who considered purchasing land on Washington Island, "What would happen if the water dropped even more, and the ferry couldn't get into port?"  I somewhat casually replied, "We would all be in trouble then."  
   In fact, as remote a scenario as this seemed, we ultimately have little control over weather patterns and the precipitation and evaporation rates that control the Great Lakes levels.  We could, therefore, just as easily see a drop of several more feet in lake level as maintain or gain lake depth.  If such a drop occurred, we and other shoreline communities would be scrambling to deepen our ports and waterways in order to survive.  This recent Town application for a WisDOT-HAP Grant addresses my friend's question more directly than I did, and it is a fundamental question  anyone who wishes to live here or to own property here might rightly ask.            

-  Dick Purinton

Friday, January 27, 2012


Old barge slowly reduced to pieces with
work aided by warm weather.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

This month must be going down on the books as one of the mildest Januarys on record.

We've had a few light snow falls, hardly enough to shovel or plow.  I've picked up a snow shovel once - no, twice, if I count dragging it from the tool shed in mid-December.   Ice finally covered Detroit Harbor, after fits and starts, and early last week with water temperature on the verge of making ice, several nights and days in lower teens and then a dose of single digits, froze the channel entrance.

It was at that point, January 17, the Arni J. Richter began making the regularly scheduled trips and the Washington was sidelined.  Ice formed overnight along the route to Northrop, three to four inches at most, but it was soon layered by wind and current, with some stretches that slowed down the ferry's forward progress.  There are many large openings of open water, however, and it looks questionable now whether or not the Bay itself will freeze over into one solid sheet.  More likely, the ice patches will continue to shift with the wind.  This coming weekend we expect to have colder temperatures, low 20s, perhaps, then back into the mid 30s for nearly all of next week.   This has not been a good January for skiers, snowmobilers, or ice fishermen.

The old barge shown above has been reduced by more than half original size within a week or so to scrap. One large dumpster bin is filled with foam, and an empty stands by to receive more.  And, there is a stack of hull plating awaiting pickup by a semi.   The old barge had been foamed quite a few years ago in bow and stern sections, in an effort to maintain flotation, and there is mud inside every bottom frame section.  Surprising, that much of the hull is made of quarter-inch steel plate, considering the beating its taken over time.

With the Packers having tossed in the season's towel several weekends back, attention locally now turns to life in general, how to stay warm, how to make a dollar, how not to lose the dollars you have any more slowly than is possible.  For towns and municipalities, such as the Town of Washington, the lack of snow could mean a nice savings on the monies normally allocated for snow plowing.  Some years, cities and towns have blown through those budgets within the first 45 days of winter.  Not this year!

And yet, plans for the future need to be made, with details and execution starting on schedule.   There are several public dredging projects in the works for Washington Island, and we expect to hear more about those shortly.  The ferry Arni J. Richter, as soon as its winter duties are over, will go to the shipyard for a five year Coast Guard hull inspection, and for some maintenance to the underbody in the vicinity of the skegs.

For the present, the going by ferry is good, but we do hope for more ice to satisfy participants in the Lions Club Annual Ice Fishing Derby.   This is considered a great mid-winter mark, a week that encourages a variety of shore-side and on-ice activity, bringing visitors here and occupying the pent-up energies of islanders.
  - Dick Purinton

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Yours truly, just off study cycle:  glazed, but not fazed.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Wired for the future.  Wired for success.  Wired to see if I could stay awake.

Today the wind picked up velocity as snow began to fall.  It's not quite a snowstorm, but it could be if the frontal line were just a few miles different.  Today's snowfall reminded me of my activities last week, during the first snowstorm of the season, when I went to a Green Bay hospital sleep lab for a wakefulness test.

Due to heavy snoring, and worse, stopping breathing for a time during sleep, some years back I became a candidate for a sleep device known as a CPAP (positive air pressure delivered through a mask).   I would probably not be here to write this, had I not had this machine to back up my normal reflexes during sleep by keeping my airway open.

Its a great life, and even a better night's sleep, with such a device.  I knew it worked for me, but the problem was the United States Coast Guard, which administers maritime licensing, has the responsibility  to ensure the license holder is medically fit for service (recently, increased emphasis has been placed on a candidate's medical history, brought to the forefront in transportation accidents where health issues were a proven cause).   My machines - I use one for home, another smaller one for travel - because of their age, would not produce a computer readout that would prove regular and appropriate usage.  Therefore, I had to do a wakefulness test.

I only had a small inkling of what this test would consist of, and so fearing long hours with little to do, I brought along my computer, iPad, and a batch of paperwork.  As it turned out, these were useful and helped the time fly by...but only between the "studies."

After many wires were glued or taped to my head, face, main neck arteries and legs, so that my movements (or lack thereof if I fell asleep) could be recorded, I was ready for Test #1.

My instructions had been to report to the sleep lab that morning within an hour of waking up.  I did that. By 8:20 I was wired and ready to be tested.  However, rather than comfortably working, reading or listening to music while I was tested, I found myself in a room that was purposely quiet, darkened but for one small light  (drapes that allowed subdued light from the snowstorm outside remained open, but I wasn't to gaze outside).  I was directed to sit in a very comfortable chair and instructed to make as few movements as possible in each 40-minute test period.

Forty minutes seems like a snap, and to stay fully alert during this time would be no problem, or so I thought.  I had slept a good night's sleep, but I soon found that staring at a blank wall or the light switch, with occasional diversions to door hinges or door handle, brought on a degree of difficulty I had not anticipated.   My efforts to review chronologically my first 64 years of life, the great movies, music playing in my head, and acquaintances near and far, soon mushed together.   Maybe I tried too hard, at first, but the first test session could only have been made more difficult had a spinning pinwheel been placed on the wall, with a distant, monotone voice repeating, "You are getting sleepy..."

It was, in the end, efforts to keep my mind in the present and the fear of failure of this test, that kept me awake.  And, later on, having read emails during my down time also raised adrenaline levels and helped me to focus on my immediate task:  staying awake.

What would constitute failure?

Falling asleep would do it, in particular falling into the deep levels of one who was sleep deprived, as recorded and measured by the data collected.  Forgot to mention that I was on camera the entire time, too, observed by the sleep lab attendant who monitored me somewhere down the hall, in a room where the data was received.

I said to her after the first study, my eyes still getting used to looking around in bright light, "This is more difficult than I had anticipated. It seems unfair to have the room darkened and lights turned down, without any stimulation whatsoever.  You've designed this for me to fail!"

"I have to admit, it seems like a cruel test," the attendant said.  "But this is a DOT test, designed by them, and we don't have a choice in how we do it.  It's supposed to simulate driving a truck, being on the road for hours at a time."

OK, I thought.  I can relate to that, driving, or standing at the helm, being on watch at night while gazing at a red light on the horizon for minutes, hours, with only the glow of compass and instruments from the ferry binnacle to cast light.  But, I reminded her, truck drivers chewed gum or tobacco, listened to country tunes on the radio, or cranked a window wide open for a jolt of fresh air.

But, after the first sleep study session was completed, I had approximately 75 minutes to read and check emails.   My disposition toward the study improved, to my surprise.  When the lights were dimmed once again for the second, the third and fourth 40-minute study periods, I thought often of being that 18-wheeler driver, and how falling asleep might mean crossing into the opposing lane.  That thought, and others like it, helped shock my system, helped me to focus my eyes on the light switch or the door handle.   And, as is human nature, I occasionally scratched my nose, ear, or chin, and those motion, too, helped to break up the 40 minutes of otherwise silent boredom.

So at this juncture, I am wide awake (of course!) and await word back from the National Maritime Center in Falling Waters, WV (that blessed spot of earth proclaimed a mecca for Coast Guard record keeping by the ranking former Senator, patron Robert Byrd).

I fully expect to receive my captain's license renewal, unless there is some glitch.  That reminds me:  I had to leave a urine sample in a cup next to the wash basin before I left the study room, and I was never asked to sign a custody slip.  That sample is to prove I had not doctored myself with caffeinated beverages or pills during the day in an attempt to cheat on my test.  I hope the janitor didn't pour the remains of his coffee into my cup.

My future as a ferry captain is still unknown!

    -  Dick Purinton


Scrapping an old barge with hope of making a profit.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Old barges and old ships can find homes only for so long, when they become more liability than asset. Then, demolition becomes the final answer.

I've read articles about the Bangladeshi knackers, worker who cut up super tankers, one piece at a time while wearing sandals, no hard hats or other basic safety equipment, and few mechanized pieces of equipment, taking the problem of old vessels off the hands of industrialized nations.   There is a business in it, but only if you can discount labor and materials used in demolition, and if you can make enough on the scrap or salvaged fixtures, pumps, etc.  

Nevertheless, ship breakers perform a public service for the globe.  Closer to home, we've read about old domestic ships (car ferries, ore boats and barges), sometimes too long forgotten to trace ownership.  These vessels accumulate dockage fees, pumping and watchmen expenses, and they tend to clog waterfronts once their useful lives are over.  Occasionally, an irresponsible owner of barges will sink them, rather than forgo the expense of maintenance or demolition.

One old construction barge, once used by Mike Kahr of Death's Door Marine Construction, has been moored for some time near Kap's Marina due to hull leaks.  Its useful life ended when Mike built a new construction barge that was placed into service in 2007.  The old barge's steel does have scrap value, but in addition to steel there is foam to remove from the voids.  The cutting of rusty plate, although quite straight forward because the barge is of simple design, can be slow going.   

View looking east from Coast Guard pier toward
Detroit Harbor channel, showing general area
to be dredged this spring by USCG.

The barge needed to be scrapped at this point because of a planned dredging project to increase the width and depth of access to the marina.  The Washington Island Coast Guard Search and Rescue station is slated to receive a new aluminum 45-footer in spring with a draft that exceeds the previous patrol craft, a rigid-inflatable with outboards for power.   This new vessel is expected to have improved seakeeping  potential in rough seas.   Dredging and pier renovations to accommodate the new craft are expected to begin soon with project completion scheduled before the new craft enters port here some time in May.  Where the old barge was situated, it had protruded into the proposed dredged thoroughfare, a roughly 200 x 600 ft. channel.  

The Ferry Line has taken on the breakers project, and we'll see how efficiently it can be reduced to scrap and demolition material, and how costs balance with scrap values.  But if it works out?   Maybe island knackers will become a new occupation descriptor, adding to the economic base.  

Gains in experience are guaranteed with this project, even if profitability might be yet in question.   
  - Dick Purinton

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Marianna and Herb Gibson in the West Harbor Resort living room.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

If there had been doubts as to the course of action the Gibsons would take following the early November fire that nearly destroyed the entire main lodge, including their living quarters, that doubt didn't show itself to others.  The Gibson family began work immediately.  Some of the Gibson children not on the island returned from afar to a sight that shocked their emotions:  Frank had been visiting Anita and husband Bob in Pennsylvania;  Art later managed to fly home for a short time from Saudi Arabia, where he currently lives with his family while working for an oil company.  

Removal of damaged material began the day after the fire and continued at a steady pace as the Gibsons dedicated themselves to the enormous challenge ahead.  Several large dumpster bins were soon filled with lath, plaster, and charred wood and trashed contents.   Once the tearing-out was completed, just before the holidays, Jim Jorgenson and crew arrived to start reconstruction.  

One consolation in this process, Herb and Marianna noted, is that they've been permitted to rebuild close to "as was" regarding the dimensions of the original structure and room divisions, including keeping intact the main stairway in the front hall.  Hard-wired smoke detectors are a new requirement, and the secondary set of exit stairs will be rebuilt on the building's exterior, Herb noted.  

Jim Jorgenson carried boards up the
stairway (Monday, Jan. 9th) 

Approximately 20 feet of roof on the eastern end had to be replaced, and work had begun on reframing several damaged window openings when I stopped earlier in the week.  By this afternoon Herb and Marianna were pleased to point out new windows that had already been installed, and the start of new wiring, by electrician Tony Young.  Both of these were positive signs of renewal.   Within the next week they anticipate insulation will go in, with drywall to follow.  

Several sections of hardwood flooring on the building's second floor, adjacent to the chimney, had to be replaced with plywood, but much of the original hardwood flooring beneath those areas on the first floor is in good shape.

Slight slopes noticeable in the upstairs floors, caused by settling of the wood frame building over time, are unique wrinkles that give the building character.  They will remain, as will many of the original guest room doors that will be stripped of many coats of paint and rehung.

Herb noted he had refinished one of the guest room floors several years ago, the ones that were burned and have been replaced.  With an older building there are many such memories, time and energy spent in renewing, ongoing repairs now negated by the fire.  

Original hardwood flooring will be refinished.  Roof trusses that
run side-to-side are nearly
30-ft pieces, milled by the company that built this
as a boarding house for workers in the 1870s.

The original dining room tables are good, Marianna commented. 
"I think the oil cloths saved the tops of the tables, and where maybe there's a little charred wood, well, that adds character, too."   

Furniture that had a wood finish and was not upholstered was taken to Sturgeon Bay.
These pieces will be placed in an "ionization chamber," a process where smoke particles are removed.  In the meantime, in addition to construction work, the Gibsons have begun searching for new beds and furniture for the upstairs, looking for the right products - in multiples. 

The community of friends and former guests has supported the Gibsons, surely bolstering their energy levels and faith when the going hasn't been easy.  One who always appeared optimistic about life, Herb showed a twinge of the discomfort they've experienced in recent months.  

"Here I was supposed to become the groundskeeper, the social director, the gardener," Herb said, sweeping his hand toward the building, "But now this..."

Visual progress will be steady as new materials, windows, new lighting and paint bring about a more dramatic transformation.  The Gibsons have set Memorial Weekend as a goal.  Marianna qualified that by saying, "We're not taking reservations just yet, just in case we can't meet that date."  But given the present pace, if not by the end of May, a completion date and reopening of Gibson's West Harbor Resort ought to follow shortly thereafter.
-Dick Purinton

Monday, January 9, 2012


Rock Island - an old survey tower

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Last Friday I published information on this site about a Rock Island photo album  given as a gift by C.H. Thordarson to a friend, H.R. Holand.

One photo showed a tower on Rock Island that appeared to be located on a high bluff of the island's interior.  When was it built, why was it built, and how was it used, and what happened to it?  These were questions that arose from that photo, and the only information I was able to obtain was from retired Rock Island State Park manager Kirby Foss.  He said it was a survey tower, and that the location had never been found.

Eric Bonow responded with what appear to be answers to most of those questions.  Eric sails as Mate for the Interlake fleet, has a degree in "industrial archeology," and worked for a time with a survey company in the Superior, WI area.  His research and emailed response offered the following information, which I'm reprinting word-for-word rather than attempting to summarize.

    "Thank you for the blog entry on Rock Island.  Every so often you throw down the gauntlet, so to speak, and I have to pick it up.  Here goes.  What you say regarding the original land survey of the Door County area being done very early is true.  For the most part, those guys hacked their way through the woods, setting section corners and the like.  However, the U.S. Lake Survey did their work by triangulation, and they had a series of stations covering the midwest, and they tied these stations in to other networks which covered the country.  There were orders of stations.  A First Order Station would be used in the triangulation through from one point to another.  First Order surveys were of very high accuracy, and had fairly long legs.  There were also Secondary and Tertiary Surveys (and monuments) to map out local areas.  The legs of these triangles were shorter, and consequently more stations were established.  These surveys led to the production of the charts we still use today.

Contour map of Rock Island

"It so happens that a First Order Station was established on Rock Island in 1864.  In the Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers for 1902 the U.S. Lake Survey positions for all of these stations are given.  From the Rock Island station azimuths are given to the stations at Door Bluff, Bark River and Peninsula Point.  That meant that towers had to be visible at these points as well.  Unfortunately the map which accompanied the report was torn off in my copy  and the part showing these stations is missing.  These stations were used more that once.  For example, in the report that I have (which lists all these stations), there was, in 1901 a resurvey of the Apostle Islands.  In this report the writer enumerates the methods used, types of stations established, etc.  Consequently, if a person had the time (I don't) or the inclination (I do) to look through other reports, the last probable use of the tower on Rock Island could be determined.

The monument has been in use since its establishment in 1864, and a current datasheet on it is attached.  I've plotted the position on a map and included that as well.  With this information, it would be a simple matter to enter the coordinates into a hand-held GPS and take a metal detector along and find the monument.  According to the info, it is buried 3' below the ground, mostly in an effort to protect it.  Once the monument is found, it would be another simple matter to search in a radius around it to see if any remains of the base of the tower exist.  I would guess that the tower was removed so that the material could be used elsewhere.  However, these towers had to be very stable so some sort of base must have been constructed. As an aside in this, First Order monuments are still established, but it is done with a GPS unit.  The unit sits on a station for a given period of time (usually pretty long), and then the electronic record is taken into the office and a computer post-processes the info an comes up with an accurate position. 

Pages from original Rock Island survey notes, c. 1835

"To digress a little, since section 23 of T34N, R30E lies entirely on Rock Island, I looked up the original survey notes and plat which were done in March - April of 1835.  According to the notes, this line was run north from the SW corner, and posts were set at the W 1/4 of section 23, and then again at the NW corner.  The south line of the section was run, and points along it were noted, such as where they encountered a swamp, and when it was left.  I've included those notes as well.

"Since the US Lake Survey used triangulation to set their monuments, and the reports tell of the towers and equipment used, I feel pretty confident in saying that the tower shown in the pictures was used by them.  This is substantiated further by the continuation of the monument up to present time.  It would be a lot of fun to scout out this area and see what's there.  Also, since the Public Land Survey ran the lines I doubt that this would have had anything to do with the establishment of the monuments used in that survey.  That was an interesting exercise for a Sunday morning and early afternoon (before and after church, and lunch too).  Thanks for throwing that out there.  I'll have to look over these photos the next time I visit the Archives."

And in a follow-up email, Eric wrote:

"Since those stations were so far apart, I think that they did a lot of that surveying at night.  A more clear atmosphere, and then they would have some sort of "something" up there that burned.  Of course in 1864 background lights wouldn't be the problem they are today."

Thanks for the information.  Perhaps we'll be taking a trip to Rock Island one day to find that location.   -  Dick Purinton

Friday, January 6, 2012


 Rock Island scenes given as gift by C.H. Thordarson, March 30, 1920
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

A recent Wall Street Journal article Jan. 5, 2012 described the imminent demise of the world-famous Kodak company:
  "Eastman Kodak Co. is preparing to seek bankruptcy protection in the coming weeks, people familiar with the matter said, a move that would cap a stunning comedown for a company that once ranked among America's corporate titans."

What does this news item have to do with Rock Island and the album shown above?  Likely, nothing, except for the film emulsion or paper, most probably a Kodak Company product.  However, there has been for some time an accreditation to George Eastman for photos taken on Rock Island in the early years of C.H. Thordarson's ownership.   The connection has persisted, but so far, no hard evidence has come to light to connect Rock Island with the famous creator of every day photo products.

The album came to the Island Archives in November this way:   Ingert Johnson, wife of the late Al Johnson, called to say she had a book of photos of Rock Island that had been passed to her by the late Liberty Grove resident Bill Beckstrom.  Bill (we surmise) had been given it by the family of noted Door County Historian, H.R. Holand.   Holand's daughter was either given the album, or it was passed to her in his estate.  H.R. Holand, in his wide-ranging historical interests, had become acquainted with Chester Hjortur Thordarson, who owned Rock Island.  The inside cover of the album has a nice contour map of Rock Island, and the opposing fly leaf has the inscription:
To My Friend                        March 30, 1920 
        Mr. H. R. Holand
        who first told the 
       story of Rock Island to the
       people of Wisconsin
      I give this book.
            C.H. Thordarson

Thordarson purchased land on Rock Island in 1909 and 1910, and so we can estimate that the photos in the album were taken some time in the ensuing decade.  An interesting pair of photos shows a wooden tower (that I estimate to be in the 50-ft. range) in the high-ground interior of Rock Island.  An old fire tower?  Not so, says Kirby Foss, recently retired Rock Island Park Superintendent who worked on Rock Island for all but nine of his 33 years of state park service.

 "Phil Peterson referred to it as a survey tower used in the early survey of Rock and Washington Islands.  But he never found the tower or the exact location.  Neither did Tom Jessen, Phil's successor, or did I.  People who've hunted on Rock year after year, who have pretty well walked every spot of ground, they've never seen evidence of the tower.  Tom always thought it might have been made of hardwood, the fact there are no remains left."

If this was a survey tower, and it was used when the original surveyors were here, could it have possibly lasted some 80 years, when Thordarson came along?  Would anyone have dared climb an old tower, much less a newer one, to take a photo?  Or was it built at a later time, for a related purpose?  But climb the tower a photographer did, obtaining a panoramic shot from the tower's top, overlooking over what Kirby says is the SW notch on Rock Island, with Jackson Harbor in the distance.  (Original surveying was done as early as March 1835, according to notes in his book, Rock Island, p. 25, by Conan Eaton.)

The balance of album photos are of nature, woods, shoreline shots with rugged beaches littered with all types of logs, driftwood, and even identifiable pieces of shipwrecks.  The album also has photos showing old Rock Island's pioneer structures, some of them with repairs-in-progress as directed by Thordarson.  Dewey, Thordarson's oldest son, is shown feeding a young deer from his hand as others in the group looked on.  Early gardens and the beginning of a fountain were also featured in several photos.  These photos pre-dated when Thordarson shifted his development emphasis from the east side fishing village to the SW cove on Rock Island.  However, an old wood-framed boat house used by the Light House Service, NW of the present day Thordarson boat house, is shown in one photo.

Wooden tower on one of Rock Island's high points.
The photos are of very high quality, fine grain, and are backed with linen for durability.  It is possible Thordarson himself took the photos, or a friend who had photographic equipment and skills.

Could they really have been taken by George Eastman?   It's hard to say one way or the other with absolute certainty, however Rock Island from Rochester, NY would be a very long trip for Eastman. He would have had to make the trip several times in order to capture the multiple seasons shown in these photos.  And while the photos are of fine quality, they aren't necessarily outstanding in composition.  A few are blurry on the edges, due to wind movement of trees, etc.  Rather, these photos more closely depict, I think, what we might want to show others through photos if we owned Rock Island.

Tower view, looking toward Jackson Harbor.
When I presented this album from Ingert, our Archivist Janet Berggren showed me another album, this one with even more photo pages, that was already in the Archives vault.  It would seem that Thordarson, as proud landowner, gave these books to friends, and maybe kept one for his own family's use. Had these been Eastman's photos, Thordarson might have given credit to him as photographer, because he would have also been a friend, and an already famous figure in photography and American business.   That wasn't done, nor has the file of archived correspondence indicated exchanges between the two men.

Now, finally, there is an interesting Swedish connection pointed out by Ingert Johnson.  Eastland, she said, was actually Ostland (imagine an umlaut over the "O"), and that Eastland's family was noted in Sweden for starting a school of dentistry.    Having George Eastland as the photographer makes a much more interesting story, but other than for the fun of speculation, I don't think he belongs there.

Yet, thanks to Thordarson's efforts, we do have a great photo history of the island.

Old Rock Island contour map.  Highest point (210) is just above the "N".
One final note:  In some of the Thordarson correspondence he indicates a personal interest in trying to officially change the name from 'Rock Island' to 'Pottawatomie Island,' a name he believed was more historically fitting for the island. Certainly the naming of the lighthouse on Rock, Pottawatomie Light, had followed this path.

Holand, whose writings seemed to often honor early natives, might also have favored the name Pottawatomie.   In any case, Thordarson's photo album cover shows his preferred name in large letters, with top-billing.

Thanks to Ingert Johnson for passing this piece of history along to the Washington Island Archives.
        -  Dick Purinton

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Nine ferry captains participated in a week long training course
in welding and cutting.  NWTC instructor Scott Massey (L) observes progress.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

With acknowledged difficulty in getting students from Washington Island to the technical college campus in Sturgeon Bay, NWTC has partnered with Washington Island Ferry Line to offer several employee classes here.

Rich Ellefson and Hoyt Purinton arranged with NWTC for instruction in welding, hydraulics and basic diesel mechanics. Nine ferry captains were signed up for the unit on welding.  This week-long course began shortly after welding instructor Scott Massey stepped off the ferry Monday morning.  Various styles of welding and cutting equipment, steel plate and gas bottles, had been transported to the island in advance, augmenting equipment already available at the ferry work shop.

Instructor Massey demonstrating technique.
Students began by learning safety equipment, cutting and grinding equipment, then using those methods to create small steel blanks, or coupons.  These would later serve as materials for a variety of welding exercises.  Course work moved quickly from cutting to welding, where both stick and wire methods were employed.

Like many skills, almost anyone can call themselves a welder, but an objective is to create a strong, flawless weld, consistently.  It helps to know what  good weld production looks like.  For several students, this was their first time handling welding equipment, but even for those with hours of welding experience behind them, they said the course had greatly improved their skills.

Although it wasn't the intent in offering basic welding to enable a crew member to repair critical vessel components (we preferring to leave that to real welding professionals).  But for a variety of lesser-scale repairs such as on shore ramps, platforms or bollards, basic welding skills can be applied.  Gaining appreciation for the many stresses placed upon properly welded plates, and efforts required to remedy failed welds, gives an operator greater appreciation for the well-built vessel with thousands of feet of welds.

Pete Nikolai gets advice from Rich Ellefson.
Nearing the end of the course students used the various skills learned to complete steps required for welding certification, with a sample cut of their weld bent in a "U" shape in a press, then examined. This would be the requirement if an individual was seeking official certification.

Aside from the challenge to pass the grade, students commented that the processes of cutting, grinding, welding and assembling steel pieces is just plain fun, a good thing to know.

-  Dick Purinton