Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Weather photo, taken early Tuesday afternoon, Jan 29th.
(Purinton photo)
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

After promoting the picture of a mighty, bustling island in winter I open here with a shot of yesterday's Main Road.
Not a single car passed me in the several minutes I stopped to photograph... but there was activity just across the road!  The second shot of this soupy, unusually warm day (40 degrees F) shows Martin Andersen's pasture and cows.  I couldn't help but remember Alvin Cornell's favored adage, "Winter's fog'll freeze a dog" when I saw those animals laying down in the cold slop of the pasture.  Where's their sense, anyway?

Snow Friday, Jan. 25, again Sunday into Monday,
Jan. 27, then rain Tuesday turned it into mush.
Later today, Wednesday, we're expecting
6 to 8 inches of new snow.

The rain-slicked roads yesterday only added to a rather depressing scene, but just take a look at the two photos that follow.  The first was taken by Tyler McGrane from a vantage point on the Potato Dock as the ferry returned from Northport.  This was the morning of the first day's service out of that docking point.  The second photo is of a bright, cheery morning filed with sunlight and human activity.  It was taken by Tim Sweet who traveled to Washington Island Saturday, Jan. 26 for the meeting of Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands, for which he serves as its president.  Tim also took terrific photos of Rock Island later that day, but I think he'll submit them for the FORI website at some point.

If it wasn't still dark outside this morning, I could provide a weather update for you...instead, you can look in on our Ferry Dock Webcams at     Enjoy your weather, and your day, wherever you are.
  -  Dick Purinton

Ferry returning, single-digit morning, Monday Jan. 21.
(Tyler McGrane photo)
Cold, crisp morning as ferry approached Island,
Saturday, Jan. 26.  (Tim Sweet photo)


Death's Door, near Northport -

The waters of Death's Door are anything but quiet this time of year.  Besides daily changes in ice conditions, eagles are frequently seen in winter, more common in recent years it seems than years ago, along with rafts of ducks.

Last week, during single-digit temperature days, Northport neighbor Paula Hedeen took a series of eagle photos that she kindly shared. She uses a powerful lens with her Nikon camera, and she has patience that is rewarded from time to time with excellent shots from the deck of her home. (You may recall photos of Northern Lights taken by Paula, posted here in early December.)

One series of hers in particular I found  of interest because it shows quite graphically a pair of eagles as they zeroed in on a duck. Then one eagle grabbed it, lifted it from the water and flew to nearby ice that had formed along the shore.

Ducks provide a protein source for these large birds and seem to be as much a part of the eagle's diet as fish this time of year.

At one time, Paula photographed as many as seven eagles within the scope of her lens.  Some were completely white-headed adults, others still had brown head feathers.  Her series gives an excellent opportunity to study their powerful wing action.

This series reminded me of a ferry trip aboard the C. G. Richter many years ago, a gray winter's day when we headed out an ice-filled channel with difficulty.  As we backed up and then rammed ahead, repeating the process time and again, an eagle hovered within 25 yards to our port side in very strong  southerly wind above a ten-foot opening in the ice, waiting for a duck to surface.   Each time it did, the eagle dove, but the duck took air and dove back under.  After approximately ten minutes, during which time the duck tired, the eagle finally grabbed it, then struggled to get airborne with its prize once again. Finally, it sailed cross-wind away from us and over the treetops of Detroit Island.  Our forward progress was almost nil during this time, so we had an excellent vantage point to watch the drama unfold.

There's sometimes a tendency to think that once winter sets in, life will be long and boring, static from one day to the next, sameness all around.  But Paula's photos (and photos I will post in the blog to follow this one) are dramatic, and they help refute that point of view.  If we look around and observe, exciting changes occur daily in lighting, in weather, in observed animal and bird activities, as well as in our own activities that reflect our efforts to adapt, endure, and survive winter in our own way.  The closer we look, the more we see - and the more we see, the more there is to enjoy about winter.  One small observation can make a difference in our day, activity that would be more easily overlooked against summer's busy backdrop.

Thanks to Paula Hedeen once again for these photos.  - Dick Purinton

Monday, January 21, 2013


Traffic boarded the Arni J. Richter from
the Potato Dock for the 8 a.m. departure.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

This Monday morning was the first trip of the winter for the Arni J. Richter, and the first official loading at the newly dredged Potato Dock.  Pete Nikolai met traffic waiting to board and worked with components of a new, portable ticketing system.  Crews prepared the decks for possible freezing spray as the engines warmed at the pier.

Pete Nikolai met customers at the upland staging
 area, using a new portable ticketing system.

Traffic included the typical load of autos and passengers, with a pumper unit belong to the Washington Island Volunteer Fire Department being the first truck to load on a scheduled run from that location.  Joel Gunnlaugsson was driving the truck to a facility in the Fox Valley for maintenance.   One standard item not loaded on board due to observance of Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday was the U. S. Mail.

Joel Gunnlaugsson, who also wears hats of
ferry captain and Town Board Chairman, drove the pumper
truck off the island for maintenance,
also on his way to attend a meeting
as a County Board Supervisor.

It was that time of year for beginning a new, anticipated routine.  Morning air temperatures hovered at +2 degrees F with a sharp NW wind.  New ice, some made overnight, the rest blown in from the north, covered approximately 80% of waters between Washington Island and the Door Peninsula.  Steam rose from patches of open water to the east where the bay opens to the lake itself.  After toying with us for the past month, winter seemed finally to settle in.

The Island's two remaining commercial fishermen brought their tugs C & R (Jeff McDonald) and Sea Diver (Kenny Koyen) around the island from Jackson Harbor Saturday, in advance of the predicted cold spell and ice that would lock them in at Jackson.

The Detroit Harbor channel with ice now formed to the entrance buoy and beyond will not be navigable for the ferry Washington.  That ferry, with less draft than the AJR, made all ferry trips in early winter, given the lack of ice during that time.

Crews began the winter layup process immediately after the AJR's departure, starting with the draining of engine room water lines and pumps, necessary before turning off electric heaters.  We're now beyond the middle of January, and given what may be a shortened ice season (no certainty, of course), within a few months a non-ice breaking ferry could once again operate from our main docks near the Island Ferry Terminal.

Until then, crews and passengers will have time to adjust to the new routine of operating from the Potato Dock using the ice breaker Arni J. Richter.

This coming week may prove too cold to accomplish any dredging at Northport, due to icing of the spuds in their wells on his barge, but Mike Kahr had begun work there with his machines.  He switches back and forth between two excavators on board the barge. One is fitted with a breaker point to loosen the bedrock before scooping it up with the second machine's bucket.  When the temperatures rise once again, he will continue deepening the maneuvering area off the end of Northport Pier. Then, if ice allows, he'll return with his barge to Detroit Harbor where more dredging and dock work awaits.

Mike Kahr broke up rock ledge to deepen
waters near the end of Northport Pier.
Photo taken Friday afternoon, Jan. 18.

Monday morning ferry departure from Potato Dock.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Dredging and trucking crews with final spoils barge
to unload,  6 a.m. Tuesday Jan. 9th.    

L to R:
Roen crew Jeff Thoney, Greg Viste, Steve Ross, Jim Warrick; Hoyt Purinton (WIFL)
Roen crew Matt Goetz,; drivers Dave Hanlin, Pete Nehlsen, Tom Jordan,
Joel Gunnlaugsson (WIFL, behind); driver Tim Ervin; Rich Ellefson (WIFL);
Don Sarter, Roen Project Supervisor and tug captain.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

The last Roen barge load of dredge spoils was off-loaded early Tuesday morning to complete several weeks' work near the Potato Dock.  Mike Kahr continued digging Tuesday in several hard-to-get spots, but the bulk of the project is complete as of Jan. 10.

Ferry Arni J. Richter brought around to new mooring,
shortly after Roen's barges moved out.

Mariners were greeted by a perfect Thursday morning today, January 10.  With light wind and temperatures already in the middle 30s by 8:30 am, the Roen crew moved their barges and tug to deeper water in preparation for the tow home to Sturgeon Bay.  Before they departed Washington Island, however, they were joined by a deeper draft tug operated by Selvick Towing.  The Jimmy L came to pick up the McMullen & Pitz construction barge that had been in Kap's Marina since early November, constructing a new dock for the Coast Guard station there.

The heavy work on the dock project had been finished.  Final details were being wrapped up, such as wiring and the grouting of gaps between the pre-cast walkway sections.  Workers launched a small boat from the McMullen barge in order to push it toward deeper water near the channel, where Roen's tug waited to take over.  Then, beyond the entrance light the tow was transferred to the Selvick tug.  The Jimmy L began towing toward Door Bluff and Marinette, where the barge would remain for the rest of the winter.

Using a fuel truck and a backhoe as ballast in the bow to lighten the stern, the Arni J. Richter's crew moved that ferry from the inner harbor to the Potato Dock in preparation for anticipated winter operations.  (Lately, we're beginning to wonder if we'll get winter back again!)

While the water near the dock is deep enough, caution must be used because the room to maneuver, especially to the east, will be limited.  The dock will be useable for landings, however, and that was the whole objective since this project began.

-  Dick Purinton

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Potato boats were island landmarks for a number of years
 after Anderson's farming ended.
They were sold in 1973 as scrap steel.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

The Edward Anderson potato farm on Washington Island grew to become a factor in midwest potato markets and more importantly, a significant contributor to Washington Island's economy.

By 1967 the farm was all but finished.  What caused the decline?  Poor potato markets?  Higher costs of farming?  Over extended borrowing for capital improvements?  Costly operation and maintenance of the potato boats?  Did a successful Chicago business prop up the Island farm, doomed sooner or later for failure?  Or could it have been a combination of many related factors, plus the strong personality of its owner and founder, Ed Anderson?

Records that speak directly to the decline of the potato farm don't seem to be available, and there are few who have enough background to make a calculated judgement.  Even those who were at one time close to the daily farming operations may not have had access to the full range of contributing economic factors.  In the end, we're left with personal accounts plus conjecture.

Physical leftovers

A few visual reminders of the potato farm days dot the Island's landscape:  the white tractor sheds on the land next to the main farm on Detroit Harbor Road; ten-ft. lengths of aluminum irrigation pipe here and there, some now lying beneath Island driveway entrances as culverts; a handful of rusting International Harvester Farmall tractors in the yards of Island residents;  berms and irrigation ponds.  These are the visual clues that remain.

Then there is the old pier called the Potato Dock where the potato boats moored, one of the more obvious physical features left to jog faded memories.  The boats themselves, supposedly made of  high-quality Bessemer steel, were sold for scrap and towed from the Island in 1973 to Canada, and from there to Italy.

The several ponds, and the deep wells that fed them to supply irrigation water for the fields, included  Screwdriver Lake, a pond off Range Line Road borders the Freddie Koyen cedar swamp. Another pond existed north of Bill Jorgenson's log home on Town Line Road.  A third pond is near Lee Bjarnarson's, off Jackson Harbor Road in the northeast sector of the Island.  In addition to these manmade features and the drilled wells that supplied them, the potato farm also drew water from Detroit Harbor through use of a large, engine-driven pump located in the Ed Anderson boathouse along the shore.  (In the 1990s, Brad and Judy Gordon built a home on that shore property; it was later purchased by Rusty Murray.  Coincidentally, today Edgar Anderson and his wife Martine own that property.)

Ideas on the farm's decline

Following one week of marriage and ready to return to San Diego, where I was assigned to a naval destroyer, Mary Jo and I were onboard the Eyrarbakki in early October 1972.  Also onboard, by coincidence, were Ed and Sylvia Anderson.   A conversation with Ed, who introduced himself, soon brought up the topic of his farm, competition in the potato markets, and what he perceived as growing demand nationwide for french fries requiring specialized, larger potatoes.  I was given a quick primer on the farm and what had happened, from Ed's point of view, most of which I no longer remember.  At one point, to punctuate his claims of achieving status as a major figure in potato agriculture, Ed opened the trunk to his Cadillac and pulled out an oversized facsimile of a check made out to him (about 18 inches long) for $1 million.  It had been signed by Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Benson, who served two terms in that capacity under President Dwight Eisenhower.

It was Ed's energy that day plus his eagerness to show this newcomer his marker of prosperity and accomplishment that stuck with me.  Ed's belief in himself may have been symptomatic of both the rise and the fall of his Island potato farm.

Other perspectives

Next door to the tractor sheds on the main farm at Airport and Detroit Harbor roads was the James Hanson home.  Hanson was acknowledged by Anderson in the Rohm & Haas article (referred to in an earlier blog) as being a major contributor to his farm's success.  As the potato farm manager, remembered by his son Jim, a Ferry Line captain, Hanson took great pride in having helped build the farm from scratch.

According to Jim who was young at the time and may remember only the bits overheard from his father, Anderson made his money in the futures markets trading potatoes.  Ed's first wife, Lydia, who died when quite young, was an integral part of that business.  It was profits from Anderson's Chicago potato brokerage operation that enabled his investment in the island farm.  Shortly after Lydia's death, Jim believed, the Chicago brokerage business began to decline.  The Island farm, however, still did well, according to Jim's father.

As potato farm manager, James Hanson's arrangement with Ed was to receive a ten percent commission on farm profits.  But he never actually received his commission.  When the 1965 crop was brought in under Hanson, it yielded a profit of $150,000 according to farm books kept by Hanson.  When no commission was forthcoming, Jim remembered, "Dad put his foot down.  'Ed, either pay up, or I'm out of the farm.' We moved to Sturgeon Bay in January, 1966. Two years later, no more potatoes were planted."

It was James Hanson's knowledge that helped build the farm, his son believes.  Hanson decided which fields to plant, how the crops should rotate, and other daily decisions often made on a large scale to keep production at its peak. "He considered building up the farm as a major accomplishment.  It was a significant blow to him," Jim said of his father's ending farming and leaving their island home. "He had to do that for the welfare of his family."

While the energy and drive of Ed Anderson are what enabled the considerable investment in Island potato farming in the first place, his strong personality may have led to its demise.  According to Jim Hanson, "Ed always felt his potatoes were worth more than anyone else's." There are accounts of Ed holding on to his crop, waiting for the best price.  This in turn led may have led to eventual dumping of unsold, spoiled potatoes.

Another perspective

At the time the potato farm went out of business, Anderson was heavily mortgaged.

Larry Young, who began work on the farm grading potatoes while in high school, soon worked full time.  He assisted Walt Jorgenson by maintaining tractors and other farm equipment.  Toward the end of the farm's existence, pay checks were bouncing, he said.

The old ferry hulls became floating warehouses, stripped of non-essential wiring, piping and machinery, but the boilers still had to function, according to Young. The boats were moored on the island in summer through late October, when the crop came in.  Then, before towing, the boilers had to be fired up and the dynamo operating for shipboard electricity.  The steering and the winches and onboard lighting were dependent on steam produced from coal-fired boilers.  Young believes the potato boats were costly to maintain and to tow back and forth between the Island and Benton Harbor, Michigan.  There in Benton Harbor, through the winter, supervisor Oscar Garcia and other workers processed and packaged the crop at a shore facility.  "The potato boats may have been the back-breaker," Young said.  "And, the cost of fertilizer went through the roof."

Anderson also owned land on Detroit Island, with separate ownership from the potato farm. There, he developed lots for sale.  Walt Jorgenson and Larry Young helped lay out the lots and cut access roads in the off-season.  Many Detroit Island lots were sold to fellow parishioners from Anderson's home church in Oak Park, Illinois.  Some of the original Detroit Island landowner families and their offspring are still regular summer residents there.  As with farm land on Washington Island, Anderson's unsold Detroit Island lots went into receivership in the early 1970s.

The Potato Dock property, roughly 5 acres, was purchased from Chicago's Continental Mortgage by members of the Slenys family of Chicago.  WIth no immediate purpose for the property in mind, they put it on the market after more than ten years, and in 1995 the Ferry Line made an offer that was accepted.  Eldred Ellefson was the island realtor who as a young man worked for Anderson's potato brokerage in Chicago.  While the dock property was on the market, it stood against persistent seas during the high-water cycle of 1986-87.   Portions of the dock were nearly washed through and were impassible to motorized traffic.

Since then, stone protection, stone fill, sheet piling and dredging - at a considerable expense for a dock that sits idle much of the time - were added. That brings us to the present day Potato Dock with its distinction for being, potentially, the only available island ferry landing in the coming months.

-  Dick Purinton

Harbor scene early Saturday morning,
Mike Kahr's barge being positioned
for drilling final core samples. (Purinton)
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

This is being written Tuesday morning, on what we hope will be the final day of major dredging at the Potato Dock.  There will be more dredging over the next few weeks, but in smaller volumes, as areas around the main ferry landings are brought to useable depths.

A reminder of the Potato Dock dredging project goal:  safe navigation and maneuverability at one island landing for our winter ferry, Arni J. Richter (draft of slightly over 11-ft.,loaded.)  The Detroit Harbor channel is now too shallow to chance regular passage with that ferry, the Ferry Line's only ice breaking vessel.   Other ferries draw less water, and because we've not had ice to contend with yet this winter, we've made daily trips much as before, loading at our regular docks using the ferry Washington. (Eyrarbakki and Robert Noble are currently in winter lay-up.)

Roen's project supervisor and crew chief Don Sarter said, "It's time.  We're ready to head home.  It's been a long season."  Ice hasn't yet set in near Sturgeon Bay heavy enough to cause them difficulties in navigating home, a good thing, and winter maintenance and a return to more normal working hours and home life lies ahead.  The crews work in the outdoors, 10-12 hour days, with two crews alternating shift time since Jan. 2nd in order to gain on the production of dredge spoils.

Mike Kahr arrived in port with his barge Wednesday from Fish Creek, and he provided a work platform for Subsurface Exploration Services, LLC, of Green Bay, with its drill rig and operators, along with a Foth Environmental Engineering representative as observer.  Their objective was to obtain representative core samples along the channel bottom that will reveal what type of material a contractor  might encounter after the channel dredging project is bid.  (We're saying "when,"not "if," with optimism that project funding will be approved, in this case by the State of Wisconsin.)

Core sampling resumed Saturday morning for the final holes (and that's when the above photo was taken) as the Kahr barge with drill rig and workers headed out the channel.   Early morning conditions were perfect for stable drilling outside the harbor entrance light.  The photo below was taken by Jim Rose earlier, on Friday, when the rig worked near lighted aid #5.

Kahr work barge with drill rig.  (Jim Rose photo)
 Regular traffic and logging trucks  continued to be ferried aboard the Washington.  Saturday, with Captain Bill Jorgenson down with the flu and Joel Gunnlaugsson driving dump truck, I had a chance to try the helm on three round trips.

Saturday morning log trucks. (Purinton)
Aside from light ice surrounding island landings, no ice is in sight on the route, getting on in January for such a condition to be observed.  It makes me wonder what ice cover we'll ultimately see over upper Green Bay this winter.

While the lack of ice and extreme cold aided greatly to complete the recent weeks' dredging and trucking tasks, ice cover can supposedly slow evaporation of surface water, at least from that small percentage of the lake typically ice covered each winter.  Aside from the rain, sleet and snowfall of several weeks ago, we've since had a dry spell for precipitation.

Monday brought very strong SW winds (30+ mph), but both the Kahr and Roen crews kept dredging, two excavators digging from neighboring barges, tucked in the lee of  the Potato Dock to find calm water.  Sunday's production marked what may have been the highest 12-hour volume so far.  It took more than 66 truckloads to empty the barge, given a good daytime production.  The pile of spoils on the barge was being replenished every few hours with the added stones and hardpan from Mike Kahr's barge.

-  Dick Purinton

Thursday, January 3, 2013


WBAY news team at the Potato Dock Thursday morning.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

When news here is slow, we report on those who are reporting on the status of ...

News reporter Bao Vang, WBAY-TV, Channel 2, Green Bay, and her cameraman did a short interview this morning with Hoyt at the Potato Dock about dredging.   The Roen crew had just completed offloading the barge and were in the process of pushing the crane and material barges into position to begin again.  The news story should air on the local-2 news this evening.

Two crews are now working on the barges.  Tom Jordan digs the tougher material with the excavator during the day, which is offloaded before the shift ends, then second shift digs softer material with the crane, and that barge load is trucked first thing in the morning.  Progress is being made, but there are still 3 to 4 days of this routine, estimated, to complete the work.  Temperatures have been in the teens by night, low to mid 20s by day, with a forecast for warming toward the weekend.   That's good news.

Early morning runs to Northport are being made to pick up log trucks (empty), which are ferried from the island later in the morning. That return trip is sandwiched between the two regular runs.  This routine is day-by-day, dependent upon the volume of logs to be exported.  With moderate winds and no ice in the route, ferry travel has been good.

Travelers interested in catching an earlier trip need to contact the Ferry Line office to find out if there will be an extra ferry for the following day, and time of departure.

-  Dick Purinton  

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


It's amazing the
stuff that piles up over time.  I'd
not want to place this burden on
anyone else.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

Happy New Year!

Our blog offices shifted as of late yesterday afternoon from the Ferry Line office to the lower level of our home.

I'm surrounded by file boxes, photos, books and an assortment of other stuff accumulated since that building was completed in June of 1996.  What I'm surrounded by this morning is only part of the total.  Two days ago boxes of documents, copies of regulation and old correspondence I hope not to ever have to revisit were hauled to the trash.

This is the "digging out" I refer to this morning.  It is with pleasure I decide whether to pitch or save.  The harder problem is where to put materials sorted into the save pile.

Hoyt will occupy my former space, and Rich Ellefson will fill the other corner office.  Both men need space in which to work.

There's a time when one's activities becomes paper shuffling and pontificating, and I think I reached that point a year or more ago.  Time to let the younger fellers have at it.  I'll work from home, at least while there's snow on the ground.  There's still a good story behind this truncated working life, but your own story can always be trumped by someone else.  Move on.

A few dredging comments, too

I need to reply to several comments from blog readers.  All comments received are appreciated.  They don't need to reflect the same mindset that I do, opinions formed from my viewpoint alone.

The Potato Dock project is solely the Ferry Line's responsibility.  It's a private dock attached to private property, with associated riparian rights of the adjacent lake bottom.  The State or Federal government, we hope, will have the necessary details in order - the engineering, including core sample data that may be completed later this week, and financing - in order for the Town of Washington to become a grant recipient for channel dredging this summer.  If all that takes place, with permit approvals, then the main channel can be dredged later this year and we'll have a greater depth under the ferry keels once again.  But that won't happen for a good 6-10 months at the very soonest.

Even if/when the channel is deepened, we still have to accomplish additional, private dredging around ferry landings at the island and at north port.  This would be completely separate and apart from the dredging now underway at the Potato Dock, which we hope will provide temporary landing until our main docks and channel depths are improved.  

Regarding trucking and the associated noise, apologies are in order for the inconvenience caused homeowners along the route.  It's only because this is a very necessary project that we're pressed by the elements and time.  In many ways, with fewer cars, bicycles or pedestrians sharing the roads, this is as good a time of year as any for trucking.  If the Ferry Line Board had decided we could get through the winter without dredging at the Potato Dock, we would have gladly waited until spring to see what the new year's water levels might bring.  Such a project would never have been undertaken months back on speculation that it might be some day helpful to have deeper water at that location.

As for the trucking routines, hauling begins when the barge is full of material.  Not to begin hauling spoils immediately is to pay for contractor's time for vessels, equipment and crew without productive benefit.  From my observations so far, the hauling process has been quite clean, that is, relatively little mud or debris dropped en route to the dumping site.

Truck engine noise is another matter.   Yes, the diesels can be an irritation if you live along the trucking route and a truck passes by your house every few minutes over a 4-hour stretch.  To date, however, no trucking began prior to 0630, and no trucks hauled after 2030, and that was on one occasion only.

Thought for the day:   The earth's fragrance can't be enjoyed when your fingers are in your ears.

 - Dick Purinton