Friday, March 29, 2013


West shoreline, Washington Island, near Little Islands and
West Harbor.
Washington Island -

Although it has officially been spring for over a week, the conditions until recently seemed far too cold to believe it was true.  Those conditions changed a day or two ago, and we've received bright sunshine and warm (low 40s) daytime temperatures, so warm that you can be outdoors (briefly) without a jacket, or stand about on the ice while fishing without cap or gloves.

The late melting of ice hasn't deterred some creatures.  We observed snapping and painted turtles, both, emerged from the mud and swimming or crawling slowly across the bottom in the Bayou.  Mary Jo thought she saw a kingfisher two days ago, quite early for that bird to appear.

Turtles emerged from mud after months
of inactivity. They dig themselves in
again at nighttime.
Bay ice has softened, somewhat.  It's now more granular, as I found out when I drilled fishing holes by hand through the ice near West Harbor.  But it's still 30 inches thick, and it took all of the steam I could produce, especially once the handle ground down toward my knees and the auger's blue paint disappeared through the ice layer.   No luck in the fishing department, but the weather was grand, and I watched for fifteen minutes or more as an eagle soared low, circling over the ice as it inspected my neighbors' tip-ups, just a few hundred yards from us.

Aaron Cornell and Eric DeJardine fished late
Wednesday afternoon for brown trout.

At the ferry dock, work is progressing nicely on the dock repairs.   Steel work is nearly complete, and the pile of large boulders disappeared one-by-one into the large hole in the dock, against the steel sheeting.  Rough, blasted stone was being hand-placed beneath the overhanging concrete sidewalk by Joel Gunnlaugsson, Rich Ellefson, Jeff Cornell and Hoyt Purinton.  Hard work and, unfortunately, a machine can't achieve those same results.

Leaving the Eyrarbakki for their lunch break when I was present were Ken Berggren and Jim Hanson.  The rebuilt engines and gears are back in position, and as Ken reassembles parts Jim welds up the main deck access openings.

Today, Good Friday and the start of Easter weekend, is also the beginning of an expanded, 6-trips per day ferry schedule.   The reservation book can now be shelved, except for large trucks.   We all hope we'll see increased traffic coming to the Island.  The winter's been long enough, economically and otherwise.    Happy Easter!  
Grandsons Aidan and Magnus enjoyed climbing up, then sliding
down the shoves.  Larger pieces are in the 20-inch thick range.
They were pushed into this upwelling over a month ago,
then crevices were filled in by successive snowfalls. 

-   Dick Purinton

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Work began Sunday, March 23, on the east end
of the Island ferry dock. Ramp in foreground was removed
for access to footings beneath.  This ramp was used more
than any of the other landing points since
installation in 2000.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

Dredging around island ferry docks was nearly complete as of this past Sunday, March 23.  Work immediately shifted from removal of bottom material to the repair of the docks themselves.

The original foundations for these piers were wooden cribs, protected by driven, wooden piles.  The first work was completed around 1931, when Captain Bill Jepson moved his ferry operation from the shipyard at the eastern end of the harbor to the former Ole Christianson boatyard site.  Slowly, those docks were expanded upon and repaired over time.  During the 1960s, interlocking sheets of steel were driven outside the wooden structure.  This provided a tight and lasting perimeter for the wooden pier, encompassing all of the rock and fines that filled the interior.  Concrete was added later to the margins, both below and above dock surface, caulking holes that appeared from time to time from settlling.  This capped the material that lay beneath the dock and provided a cleaner, more durable surface.  It was thought at the time each work phase was completed, that stability would be brought to that portion of the pier for decades to come.

View from end of island pier looking west, shows pier
 under construction with A-frame pile driver / dredge
moored to left.  This is the same basic shape as the pier today.
To the north (right) is the Standard Oil dock.
A guess as to the date: 1931

But as will happen with fluctuating water levels, the finest materials wash and settle, and if there is a chance of escaping outside the sheeting, they will.  Voids can open up beneath the concrete and blacktop, and yet for appearances it still looks like one, solid dock.  Large voids within the dock are what occurred in two locations where the interlocking sheets of steel years ago weren't driven deeply enough into the bottom.  Then, lower water levels coupled with aggressive wash from the ferry propellers when backed in stern-first created openings at the foot of those sheets.  This became most pronounced where the ferries back in frequently with props toward the pier, at the east end and south side ramps.

[Last August in order to examine those voids, Hoyt Purinton dove with a video camera and filmed the underwater structure.   He discovered dozens of smallmouth bass resting within the shade of those mini-underwater caves.  You can see several minutes of his underwater footage - and lots of bass - by going to the Ferry Line's website     and there will be a tab along the top to take you to the Facebook page.  Hoyt is working with that video so that it will load more easily.   Patience, please!]

Step one in repair was removal of the 20 x 20 steel ramp from its foundations at the end of the dock, so that a hammer could break up the concrete cap.  Like a dentist drilling into a decayed tooth, large voids were exposed, and the result was nearly as painful to see as the trip to the dentist can be under such circumstances.   The exposed cavities beneath the concrete were larger than anticipated, and the scope of work quickly expanded.  (Thinking root canal, I was...)

Added to our current navigational problems with water depth is the fact that these adjustable ramps have been at their lowest possible settings most of this past year.  The steel and concrete foundation "floor" prevented them from going lower.  But low water also presents the perfect opportunity to fix the pier and to lower the ramp.

A horizontal beam called a whaler ties all of the sheets together in a straight line, and such a beam was installed on the inside face of the sheeting.  The lowest practical point a whaler can be attached to sheets is just above the lake level, where cutting and welding and fitting can be managed.  Now that the water level is down, this whaler can be lowered to accommodate the new lake level.  The H-beam whaler and the 1-1/8" steel rods that tie it in place are fastened to a pile driven vertically into the pier and later covered up with fill.  This whole arrangement can be installed to accommodate the new lake levels.  (Some day, this installation may be beneath the lake if water levels rise.  But we'll deal with that if and when it happens.)

Rich Ellefson inspects and pulls pieces of broken concrete
from one of the two deepest voids on either side of the ramp box.
Daylight can be seen, down five feet and to his left.
This project may sound fairly easy and straight forward, but there are many steps, each with a great deal of handwork:  cutting concrete; cutting steel, welding and grinding,  besides use of heavy equipment to break up and lift concrete and rock.

The two deepest voids, on each side of the ramp box, had to be dug by hand, one piece of rock or concrete at a time.  Those large boulders seen piled on the dock in the top photo were set aside by Mike Kahr from recent dredge spoils.  They'll be packed into the voids to anchor the base of the sheets from inside the pier.  To that mass will then be added smaller pieces of broken, jagged rock.  Concrete with steel reinforcement will cap the rough rock.

This project is expected to take several more weeks, during which time the bay and harbor ice may begin to soften.  (Night time temperatures are still lower 20s, and we've barely been above 35 for the daytime temperature.)  Its a good bet ice will still be around, in and near our route during that time, so the Potato Dock remains the landing of choice.

Excavator breaker was used to open up concrete
foundation (about 10 inches thick) and create trenches for tie-backs
to the new deadman, the pile driven at left.
Besides extensive dock work is the pair of engines and gears waiting on the deck of the Eyrarbakki for installation, back on the island after major overhaul.

There has been no shortage of winter work.  Keeping our heads (and keels) above water has not been easy.

-  Dick Purinton

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Steamer Saugatuck at Rock Island
(from Washington Island Archives)
Washington and Rock Islands -

Part of the explanation for my blogs being intermittent this winter, even though I officially consider myself "half time"at the Ferry Line office and therefore partly retired, is that I've been working on a history I'm calling Thordarson and Rock Island.

This has been an enjoyable project in many ways, and I've learned a great deal about the former owner, his life, and how Rock Island was changed by him, and in turn how he and his family were influenced by Rock Island. (Most readers know that for almost 50 years Rock Island has been a Wisconsin State Park.)

For nearly seven years, off and on, I've collected Thordarson information.  I've transcribed letters into computer files and written original text about them.  During this process I've discovered many surprising connections, and each involves a side trip from the main subject.  This is one of the pleasures of the process, but side trips also become another reason for the time it takes to put it all together.

I've made announcements about finishing this projects to others before, partly to spur myself to meet a deadline.  I didn't realize I had so much ground yet to cover.  But now, I think I'm really getting close to a draft that's readable and "almost" error free.  Spring is upon us, according to the solar calendar, and summer's not far off.  I need to wrap this up before time runs short, with work and distractions aplenty.

Thordarson came in contact with many fascinating people, and a good number of those associations are supported with documents, primarily letters.  I won't post information here that will appear in the book, but there are plenty of other things to write about.

In this blog I thought I'd post a few old boat photos.  These were found in the Thordarson files at the Island Archives, and I'd guess that either Thordarson or a family member took them as these boats came into the Rock Island pier.  According to one letter, an early pier was under construction around 1914 so that he and his workers would have a safe place to land, unload materials, and moor a boat.

No names or dates were printed on the reverse side of these photos (typical and unfortunate, because this is the case for nearly every Thordarson photo).  I contacted friend Eric Bonow, who recently reported back aboard an ore boat at Bay Shipbuilding to start the 2013 sailing season.   Eric always enjoys unraveling a mystery.  He's collected maritime ship images and he also searches collections belonging to others in order to identify vessels.


In the first photo shown is the steamer Saugatuck.  It's moored alongside Thordarson's pier, perhaps after discharging freight and maybe Thordarson himself, who found it convenient to take a train from Chicago to Escanaba, then a boat across upper Green Bay to his island estate.

Saugatuck, steaming from Rock Island.
Photos probably taken same day.

(from Washington Island Archives)
The Saugatuck ( 110 x 22.2 x 8.6) was built in 1909 and was originally the Alfred Clarke.  Among its owner history was the Canadian company Pelee & Lake Erie Navigation Co. of Ontario.  The boat made its rounds of several  owners and locations before it came under ownership of Captain Charles McCauley and John J. Cleary, of Escanaba,Michigan.  McCauley in late 1913 wrote Thordarson and asked if he'd like to be a subscriber in his new venture.  We don't think Thordarson took him up on his offer, but a few years later, with McCauley still operating his boat, Thordarson asked for the vessel trip schedule so that he could coordinate his arrival by train in Escanaba with a departure for Rock Island.  (Undoubtedly an extra stop for which Thordarson might have paid extra.)

The Saugatuck eventually wound up in Chicago where it was abandoned and sunk in the North Avenue Basin of the Chicago River.  Later, it was scuttled (intentionally sunk to get rid of the old hull) in Lake Michigan.


Eric wrote that the Hyacinth (160.6 x 28 x 14) was a predecessor to the familiar Coast Guard buoy tenders (Sundew, Mesquite, Acacia, etc.) we used to see in Green Bay waters.  And although we can only guess at the dates on these two vessel stops at Rock Island, it seems to fit in, more or less, around 1920.

The Hyacinth was built in 1907 by Jenks Shipbuilding, Port Huron, as a lighthouse tender under the Dept. of Commerce, U. S. Light House Service.  The vessel likely was making a call at Rock Island for the Pottawatomie Light, located on the island's north end.

Light House Service vessel Hyacinth, perhaps around 1920,
at the Rock Island dock.

(from Washington Island Archives)
According to the vessel data sheet Eric supplied (which he obtained online from the Alpena County Public Library) the Hyacinth transferred to Coast Guard command in 1940.  Then in 1946 it served as a construction vessel for the Lyons Company of Whitehall, Michigan.

That company installed a new 900 hp GM diesel, and in so doing it may have attracted the attention of Cap Roen of Sturgeon Bay.  In 1956 he bought the Hyacinth and removed the engine, and put it into his tug John Purves (now a restored museum ship at the Door County Maritime Museum in Sturgeon Bay).  The following year the  ownership of the old hull was shown under Sturgeon Bay Iron & Metal Company (Roen's next door neighbor along the waterfront).  It was scrapped.

Eleven Foot Shoals - Lightship No. 80

In Hannes Andersen's book, he wrote that Thordarson was known to salute every ship or object he passed enroute to his Rock Island (salute by means of drink, Hannes meant).  Well, in this case Thordarson took a photo as the vessel he rode aboard rounded the Eleven Foot Shoal lightship, anchored approximately 3 1/2 miles south of the actual shoals which were near the Stonington Peninsula, and about 2 miles north of the Minneapolis Shoals. (There wasn't an operating Minneapolis Shoals light station until June of 1936, only a buoy.)

Painted on the topsides of this vessel is "11. FOOT." to designate
the vessel and the shoal.  Anchor chain can be seen from bow, indicating she
was on station, a turning mark for a vessel headed to Rock Island.
(from Washington Island Archives)
Such a lightship was not uncommon for marking major shoals or turning points for shipping in the nation's waterways.  This one was built in 1912 by Racine Truscott Shell Boat Company of Muskegon, Michigan.  (80 ft. x 21 ft. x 10 ft.)   It was built specifically for lightship service, with a 100 hp steam engine.

During its early service it was sunk, Nov. 10, 1913, on Waverly Shoal in Lake Erie, with a loss of six lives.   The vessel was salvaged, then beached in Buffalo, and later towed to Detroit where it was refitted.   In 1924 it was positioned in northern Green Bay at Eleven Foot Shoal.   We can assume it was some time after being assigned to upper Green Bay that this photo would have been taken by Thordarson.

-  Dick Purinton  

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Washington Island, Wisconsin -

There's not a great deal to add to the above photo.

Mud spoils are off-loaded to dump trucks at the island ferry dock by Mike Kahr, Death's Door Marine Construction, and hauled to the Hagen gravel pit.   Areas of less than 9-ft. depth were recorded in a bottom survey last fall.  Much of the maneuvering area is too shallow for the Arni J. Richter, and close to the keel for other ferries.

Island dredging has now been half-way completed.

Above photo taken 3.13.13 - Purinton

The good news, according to Ferry Line vice-president Rich Ellefson, is that water levels improved six inches since December.  This is a trend we hope continues, as snow melt and spring rains add to the lake depths.  For now, and possibly into April, we may continue to use the Potato Dock, even though the surface is getting muddier by the day.

Movement of the Robert Noble from our service dock to the end of the main dock (noted by several who look at our web cam) was to open up the area for dredging.   Ice still covers the harbor, a good 16 to18 inches of ice, and with cold weather recently overnight (low 'teens) we can expect to see ice beyond the month's end, and maybe later.

-  Dick Purinton

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Quilt detail:  Graf (c) and Purinton (r).
Quilt detail:  Henkel (c) and Foss (r)
Quilt:  Linda Henkel (c) and Carolyn Foss (r)
Quilt detail:   Jennifer Munao
Quilt detail:   Ti Heal (c) and Cindra Hokkanen (r) 
Each quilt has outstanding color and beauty, but it is the thought
behind the handiwork that counts most in these gifts
for veterans.  The quilt above is the work of 

Kathleen Morris (c) and Pat Clarke (r).
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

This blog is to demonstrate that not all island activity has been dredging and mud, or fishing for that matter.   Indoors, talented island people pursued crafts such as quilting, and this past weekend a notable project began at Sievers.

I stopped at Sievers to see the Quilts of Valor works-in-progress, and I wasn't quite prepared for the overwhelming color and variety of quilts hanging on the walls of the Jackson Harbor Road workshop. Some quilts were a bit further along than others. Once finished, each will bring love and supportive comfort to a veteran.

Quilts of Valor is a non-profit, nationwide organization.  Marianne Fons, a well-known Iowa quilter who also spends a great deal of her time on Washington Island (and is a frequent Sievers instructor), was familiar with the Quilts of Valor program, and planted the idea.

Island quilter Ellen Graf, also a Sievers instructor, then organized the event and helped to secure funding.  An article was published in the Island Observer with the hope of raising $1000 from island organizations or individuals, enough to buy fabric for 10 quilts.

Secondarily, besides producing products for presentation to military veterans, there is the introduction to the world of quilting by a skilled mentor, with one who may never have tried quilting.  Fons refers to this side benefit as, "Under Our Wings," which helps perpetuate the Quilts of Valor program and the art of quilting in general.

Island women were encouraged to participate, regardless of their experience levels.  Quilters were paired, so that experienced quilters (designated in photo captions here with "c," for coach), worked with inexperienced, but eager, beginners (names in captions designated with "r,"or rookie).

I've tried to represent on these pages images of the many quilts hanging in various stages of completion in Sievers workshop.  (At least one quilt was taken home for more convenient work by its maker.)   Since most quilters had not yet added borders (edging), I took mostly detailed close-ups, rather than full shots.  This also helps in appreciating material colors and patterns.

It should also be noted that Sievers School donated the quilting space for this project and discounted materials from the Sievers' retail shop.  Marianne Fons, through her extensive quilting network, was able to source reasonably priced materials for this project.

Finished quilts may be distributed through the Quilts of Valor organization, or, they may be presented individually to selected veterans.  On Washington Island, plans have already been made to repeat this activity again, next winter.

One of the above labels will accompany each quilt.

Readers interested in more information, or who wish to make a donation to Quilts of Valor:          
   Donors wishing to specifically support the Washington Island Quilts of Valor project directly may do so through Ellen Graf.    

  The national, non-profit organization can be reached at this web address:
(The above information was corrected 3.13.13 @ 5:30 pm, as advised by Sievers!)      -  Dick Purinton

Quilt by Graf (c) and
Purinton (r).
Ellen Graf and Mary Jo Purinton
measure a border piece.
Quilt by Kathleen Morris (c) and Pat Clarke (r)

Quilt by Helene Meyer (c) and Dianna Young (r)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Atlas Beneda skied alongside ice shoves on west side, March 7.
I began with the title "Enjoying Winter" as a statement, to reflect the many enjoyable days we've had so far, but later I added the question mark, to elicit response from readers.  Not everyone views winter from the same point of view, of course.

In the photos below, and in the blogs that will follow this one - as I get back on track - we'll look at some of the scenes and conditions observed in past weeks.   We've had lots of snow, more than usual depth for late February or early March, some rain and melting, refreezing, fog...a variety that can come with winter.   No real snowstorms in recent weeks, but many of us hope for at least one more, to put another foot of snow on the ground.   April's often a crummy month here.   Might as well have some snow to play with.

Late last week, grandson Atlas - his third time on skis - and I crossed part of Little Lake, then skied over the ridge separating that lake from the bay.  We were rewarded with a wonderful view: jumbled ice fields.  Close to shore were several ice piles I would estimate to be 15-18 feet high, made up of hefty ice pieces from fields that moved across open waters a month or so ago, before they were stopped at the island's rocky shores.  It will take weeks for those ice shoves to melt, so there is no hurry to get out there if you'd like to see them.

Vehicles - pickups and snowmobiles mostly -
made an ice highway this winter to fishing shacks.
Landing at the Potato Dock: Other than an hour's delay
for fast-moving ice during a February blizzard, no
 crossing problems have been encountered this winter.

With the amount of snow cover, skiing or snowshoeing was one of the few ways to get around by manpower.  Of course, snowmobiles had good conditions, too, for a change, once a snow base was established.  Ice fishermen made regular trips back and forth over Detroit Harbor ice, to set tip-ups or jig.  Fishing results spotty.  Most shanties are off the ice now, after a major melt on Sunday that left slop over the surface. This is, according to local experts, the time of season perch will bite - if they're ever going to.  

Sunday morning in heavy fog, Mike Kahr pushed his rig from Northport back to Washington Island.  He immediately began dredging near our regular island ferry docks.

Kahr ran short of time at Northport, but plans to return after Detroit Harbor work is accomplished.

We've landed bow-to the Northport pier with the AJR these last seven weeks to avoid putting screws into shallow water near the pier.   Depth was increased there, but not yet uniform enough to risk backing in.

When his barge got close to our docks, Kahr used his backhoe
to steer and to break ice near the ferry terminal
 (so his second backhoe could be off-loaded to shore).

The Ferry Line received an extension to the island dredging permit (now April 1st), for which we're thankful. That should give Kahr time needed to deepen waters near the island docks.  He's backed up with other work now, customers waiting for him to do similar work at their locations.  We're thankful the weather's been mild and conditions were good for his tow across the Door.  The Arni J. Richter led the way and widened a track through loose, but substantial, bay ice.

Pneumatic breaker point on excavator
 (foreground) was used to break up
rock strata at Northport.

Snowfall amounts this winter bode well for improved lake levels.  By May, we hope to be using multiple ferries at our traditional landing sites.   -  Dick Purinton

By law, fish shanties have to be removed by the middle of March, but
with melting snow and rain last weekend, these were pulled early.