Saturday, January 31, 2015


This photo would have been taken during the first years that Capt. Jepson
operated from Lobdell's Point, instead of across the harbor at
the shipyard location.  On the postcard reverse, in Mary Richter's
hand, is written:  Welcome  1933-34.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Ours is a small corner of Lake Michigan, a tiny bit of Great Lakes waterfront, and hardly a spit in the ocean when compared to the national maritime picture, and yet there is a relationship.  Maybe we puff our chest over this, but it's good to look at the national picture once in awhile and think how we might, or might not, be contributing to the overall picture.

What happens at home is always most important: Washington Island's port activity, revenues, tourism volume and overall business health.   A prospering business dependent upon good waterfront access will reflect in projects undertaken along that waterfront, efforts made to either improve operational facilities in a forward-looking manner, and sometimes acts in desperation, trying to stay ahead of mother nature, the weather-related events of storms, lake level fluctuations, as well as deterioration of docks and piers that happens over time.  Even concrete, as we often see, has its limitations when the element of time comes into play.

This date (again, according to Mary Richter's hand) is 1943.

So here are a few photos of the waterfront in different years, showing vessels of the day loading from the facilities available then.  In some cases the loading was made under duress, using the best available means that day.  Often the measures taken were bare minimum, but the best that could be hoped for.  Over time, the materials used (such as steel and concrete and asphalt) brought crispness to the edges and greater durability to the landings.  Machinery that could dig, pound and lift meant that time and money became the greatest hurdles.  Electrification made possible the use of portable hoists to raise and swing plates, plug in vessels to shore power (and heat the machinery spaces in cold weather).  Modern times brought larger and heavier vehicles that required larger and more substantial vessels, a few with year around capabilities.

Dora Engelson is shown in this photo (perhaps family
members will know who the children are) taken some
time in the early 40s, we think.  To be noted are the
buildings on Detroit Island, and the old, natural
channel marker of timber and piled stone.

Seventy five years have brought these changes, often established following lots of work just to maintain at the same level of service, sometimes small improvements, but with occasional, larger leaps into new and more modern, safer and more efficient service.

Partly for my amusement, and partly to find out what's happening in the maritime trade beyond Detroit Harbor, I regularly read three or four industry related magazines.  It helps me in keeping our Ferry Line role in perspective.

One such magazine, The Waterways Journal Weekly, has been around since 1887.  Although it reports mostly on "brown water" events and activities, meaning the inland rivers, there is always an eye to the national picture.  In the January 19 issue, I found these amazing statistics that indicate not only the health of our maritime economy, but also our continuing national dependence on shipping, ports, shipyards and the  many thousands of workers and families who derive their livelihood from these and associated industries.

This postcard shows the dock around 1950, when the new
C. G. Richter still had its hull painted white.

I consider the case of my own family, having grown up in Sturgeon Bay, and its dependence not only on the local shipyards, but the Great Lakes bulk shipping industry as a whole, for my father's work involved engineering details for conversions and repairs of lakers and other vessels (including several of the Washington Island ferries).   Ship construction was cyclical, dependent on the economy and surges in Great Lakes shipping, but also to a great degree on government contracts.  There were research vessels, transports, and naval vessel contracts, if not at the Christy, Ship Building and Dry Dock or Peterson Builders yards, then somewhere else on the Lakes, when R. A. Stearn Naval Architects looked further afield than the adjacent waterfront for work.   Workers at Bay Shipbuilding (now under Italian ownership) today build oil industry vessels with ice classification approvals, perhaps for work in the near future in Arctic waters, where competing international maritime interests have recently beenfocussed.

One point I always found exciting and also satisfying was that from the front of our home, which was situated along Memorial Drive where we saw many of these vessels pass, including the cross-lake car ferries when they were still in service, was that I could some day take a vessel from that point and sail to any point in the world's oceans.  That thought allowed me to dream, an activity I still enjoy!

You might think this photo was taken at time of record high water,
in the fall of 1987, but in Arni Richter's handwriting on the
reverse, the date is January 11, 1975.  This early winter
storm raised the water level, and tore up the wooden cribbing
along the waterfront, the area now immediately in front of
the present day ferry terminal.

Life in Sturgeon Bay, and for the last 40 years on Washington Island, has impressed on me the importance of a having a vibrant maritime industry, not only for our local economy, but for the nation.  I wouldn't think this concept would be a hard sell, but every so often members of Congress bring up amendments to abolish the Jones Act.  Most recently, Senator John McCain proposed this as an amendment to the Keystone Pipeline project.  I suppose we should forgive a senator from a dry state like Arizona that has no shipyards, but for an ex-naval officer, and son of a navy admiral, to turn his back on American-built vessels in favor of opening up ship construction, design and supply to foreign-built vessels for our domestic trade, seems ludicrous.  Normally, I'm not for specific industry-protective legislation, but the Jones Act means that our American vessels will not be built in China, or Korea or some other nation, but by a U. S. shipyard, by U. S. workers, and that's important for our economy, but its also also critical for national security.

Well, that's only one of the items in the larger picture that caught my attention while reading.  Here are a few others found in the Jan. 19 Waterways Journal:

*  The Seamen's Church Institute continues to promote seafaring through training of mariners, and with their chaplains who visit vessels along the coasts and inland.   Training facilities in Houston and Paducah train nearly 1600 mariners each year.   The organization was founded in 1834 by the Episcopal Church,  and the non-denominational institution has always had the welfare of mariners at heart.   **  It was members of this organization, I believe, who helped construct  Bethel Church in Washington Harbor in 1865.

*  Burns Harbor, a destination for many of the ore carriers we see passing by our island's shores, experienced the best year ever, with total tonnage delivered up by 30% over 2013, including steel, grain and salt. These figures were also boosted by a 35% increase in ocean-going vessels, and a 25% increase in river barges moving through Illinois/Mississippi river systems.  Over 500 barges were handled in 2014, linking the port to more than 20 states and 12,000 miles of rivers.   This is a statistic that makes one doubt the wisdom of those who wish to close off the Illinois barge canal, rather than find other solutions to stopping the advance of Asian carp.

*  Our dependence on ocean shipping is as great, if not greater, than it ever was, with the container industry bringing us all sorts of goods from foreign shores.   Measurements are in TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) rather than tons of cargo carried.   On the West Coast, ports have been locked up due to striking longshoreman, with incoming ships queued at anchor, and this brought delays of goods to stores near us, especially around holiday time.  Despite this, in 2014 the number of TEUs was up in November, and for the year.  2014 brought an estimated total of 17.2 TEUs to U. S. shores, according to Global Port Tracking, a 6% increase over 2013.

I'm not sure who to thank for this photo, but obviously a pilot.  This one
was taken in the fall of 1987, when the all-time high water level
for Lake Michigan was recorded.

We often enjoy looking back on yesteryear, thinking they were "golden" years, if only because we're removed from them by time and further filtered by our romantic imaginations.  In this pursuit, I'm adding a few paragraphs written by Christopher Morley, a writer and editor well known in his day who was especially good at, among other things, writing about his home town which happened to be New York City.   He was especially knowledgeable when it came to waterfronts and vessel activities, aided by first-hand experiences when he and his friends (loosely formed into what he liked to call the "Three Hour Lunch Club") took excursions on one of the Moran Towing tugs.  It was shortly after the First World War, and there were all sorts of freighters and wayward vessels still visiting the harbor.

Here are a few samples from a compilation of his essays entitled, Christopher Morley's New York (published by Fordham University Press, 1988).  I didn't just happen to find this in the library.  A copy was loaned to me by Tony Woodruff, who besides being a deck companion on the Karfi in summer, is a grandson of Christopher Morley!

From an entry titled, "Alice and the Aquitania":

Shipping business is bad; it is grievous to see so many good vessels laid up in the Erie Basin and in the alcoves of the Gowanus Canal.  But Alice M. Moran, "of 29 net tons measurement," says her certificate, still puts in a lively twelve-hour day.

We are not the first to raise a small chantey of praise in honor of Alice, for her skipper, Anton Huseby, proudly showed us an admirable article written about her…Alice had already done a good five hours' work when we boarded her.  We were hardly in the roomy pilot house before sturdy Alice was again about her affairs.  The first thing one noticed was that tugboats, by old tradition, steer backward:  unlike social craft the wheel preserved the old theory of the tiller.  When the wheel is turned to starboard, the tugboat turns to port.  So the ordinary merchant seaman or yachtsman is a dangerous fellow at a tugboat helm until he has learned this difference by instinct.

And after a most entertaining account of a shift aboard the Alice M. Moran during which time they assisted numerous ships to and from the New York harbor, Morely closed with:

While do people build or buy big steam yachts, we wondered.  Surely a tugboat is the perfect craft.  They build them on the Great Lakes -  Green Bay, I think they said, was where Alice came from.  You can get one like her for something like $100,000.  A maiden voyage in a tugboat from Green Bay to New York would be a good trip to take.

Aquitania lay there, a blaze of lights, stewards busy carrying off baggage.  Alice backed off with a curtseying motion, and vanished into the dark.  She sleeps in Brooklyn.

 - Dick Purinton

Friday, January 30, 2015

ISLAND WATERFRONT - Then and Now - Part II

Ole Christiansen's boatyard, with the Flotilla in the foreground on
blocks, and the Wisconsin moored at the edge of the solid ice.
Quite possibly this photo was one of Bill Jepson's, taken around 1930, prior to
his purchase of the dock property.  Today vehicles
drive out onto this pier to board over what we
refer to as the "south ramp."

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Watching Mike Kahr drive steel sheets with his reciprocating hydraulic hammer yesterday, and noting the relative ease with which the sheets were driven into the bottom, caused me to think back on some of the other projects we've had over the years.

Many feet of steel sheeting were driven, especially at Northport around 1982-3, when John Fitzgerald and his crew extended the Northport Pier by some 70 feet, adding a slight wedge to the north corner, the design intention being to lessen lake swell action curling around the northern side of the pier.   That project came 11 years before the stone break wall was constructed with the aid of a Wisconsin DOT grant to Door County.   Prior to the breakwater of 1994, the pier projected unprotected approximately 100 yards from shore, an obstacle to waves and moving ice.

Welder Mike Brown fabricates the corner piece
from two sheets that can't be interlocked due
to the degree of bend.  In the background, Mike
Kahr uses a hydraulic hammer to drive steel sheets.

In order to accomplish the work of extending the pier in 1982, contractor Fitzgerald rented a diesel hammer.   The solid, heavy steel head slid up and down in a steel framework, powered at the bottom of the downstroke by an explosion (combustion chamber) that caused it to rise back up several feet in the air, then drop again to repeat the process.  The hammer head rig was positioned over the sheet being driven, and the whole works was held in place by a crane.  Before that project, John used a pile driver block that was repeatedly raised by crane cable 8-10 feet and then let free-fall, with gravity doing the pounding, one tap at a time.

The hydraulic hammer arrangement used today by Mike Kahr is rapid and flexible.  It seems to do a good job until progress is stopped by a large stone, and that was the case with several sheets on the inside of the slip.  Another improvement in equipment, too, is that this hammer head can be shifted quickly from one sheet to another by just lifting the arm of the excavator.   Kahr can use the excavator arm to pull or push plates to achieve the best vertical alignment.  And, it takes only minutes to detach the breaker head and install the backhoe's bucket for other work.

Contractor John Fitzgerald extended the
Northport pier, shown here in the summer of
1982 with a diesel hammer for driving sheets.

In all, over 200 linear feet of pier were enclosed with
sheeting at Northport in 1982.  Here, worker Don Beckstrom
cuts sheets to length.  Some sheets were driven in water depths
of 16 feet.
It was 1975 (now 40 years ago this June)  that the first hydraulic ramp was installed for easier, and safer, loading of ferries with bow ramps.  At that time, only the north slip was suitable for bow-loading of vehicles, in particular large trucks, buses, or trailers.   In 1960, when the first bow-loading ferry Voyageur was brought into service, enabling carriage of trucks longer than 25-feet for the first time, a pile of gravel was sculpted to roughly accommodate variations in water levels from season-to-season.  A thick rubber mat on the crest of the pile kept the steel ramp from rubbing against the gravel.   It was crude, but it worked, along with procedures that kept the vessel in  trim during loading.  Often this would mean shifting a few vehicles fore or aft to keep the bow height (and thus the bow ramp angle) in adjustment, sparing mufflers and tail pipes.

Myron LaPlant operated machinery for
John Fitzgerald.  
Ferry captain Dave Johnson backed this auto
onto the ferry (about 1972-73) over the gravel mound with rubber mat.
Mound accounted for height differences between
boat decks and dock, and with some work could be
seasonally adjusted by grading or adding more fill.

With a greater number of motor coaches, campers, trailered pleasure boats and heavy trucks, as well as an increase in general tourism traffic in summer, by the 1970s the gravel pile was no longer a good option.  

Arni Richter wanted to install a hydraulic ramp strong enough to hold a loaded semi.   R. A. Stearn Naval Architects, Sturgeon Bay, supplied engineering for the hydraulics (based, in part, on experience gained with engineering early Travelift units) and my father,  Harry Purinton, provided a fair amount of time - some personal and some through R. A. Stearn where he worked with hull and structure - to design the ramp details and footings.

Once steel was ordered, ferry captain John Hanlin cut and welded, and assembled the ramp in a level opening near the bike shop garage.  Kermit Jorgenson operated Njord Heim's crane to lift, and then turn over, the ramp.   Few pieces of equipment were available on the island at that time for such tasks, whereas now there are numerous loaders and excavators with the lifting capacity and reach for such an operation.

While the steel work progressed, a hole was excavated near the water for footings.  By late June, the foundation was ready to receive the ramp, and by the weekend of the Fourth of July, the ramp was in a pinned position, ready to be driven across, but it took several more days to complete electrical connections (Earl Frank was the electrician) and pipe the hydraulics (work by ferry crew), making the ramp fully adjustable at last.

During the construction of the foundation, ferries landed at the end of the south dock.  Today at that location, a wider, longer and heavier ramp is available,  installed in 2001.   The rams on this newer ramp permit adjustment under heavy loads, whereas the original 1975 ramp was incapable of adjustment under load, due to smaller rams and lower pump pressures.  

Kermit Jorgenson operated the crane as
Dick Hanlin offered advice.  Eldred
Ellefson, who loaned the crane from Njord Heim,
 observed in foreground as the
20 x 20 ft. ramp was turned over.

Setting wooden forms for pouring the first hydraulic ramp footings,
late June, 1975.    (l to r) Jensen brothers Norbert, Rich and Emil with
John Herschberger and Harvey Jensen, uncle of the brothers.
(Unknown observer.) 

A slightly different angle showing turning of the first adjustable ramp,
with Kermit Jorgenson at the crane controls.  Ferry crew Tim Jutila and John Hanlin
are on far side, and John Herschberger has his back to camera.  (June 1975)

Crowded near to the old office building, the foundation was poured for the
ramp.  Here, Earl Frank runs wire (far left), John Herschberger backfills
with a shovel, and at the rear of the box Arni Richter and John Hanlin
discuss installation of ramp hinges.  (June 1975)

Ferry captain John Hanlin, who was
also skilled working with steel.

Such improvements as shore ramps are quickly absorbed into the operation, becoming one more slight adjustment before loading or unloading, and a major adjustment when the load is long, low or exceedingly heavy.   The general public may not realize the benefits, but the advent of one, good hydraulic ramp on the island meant quicker and easier loading of each ferry using the bow ramp (the C. G. Richter still required side loading, until about 1989 when the Washington (dis)placed it into passenger only status).  In a few years' time, by 1980, a similar ramp was installed at Gills Rock, and early in the summer of 1985, the north ramp at Northport was installed.  In time, smaller ramps also went in at the island's south landing, and at Northport's winter landing slot.  All later ramps were based on the original 1975 structural design, with modifications made as needed.

-  Dick Purinton

Saturday, January 24, 2015



- Washington Island, Wisconsin

After my last post and the photos that showed how piers in Detroit Harbor looked a few years ago, I decided it's a good time to go into more detail - as much as possible, that is.  A great deal of information has been lost, and as a result we use conjecture to reconstruct the way we thought things were.

This year will be the 75th for the Washington Island Ferry Line, hence the logo with the dates at the top.   If nothing else, this provides further excuse for delving into the past, something I always enjoy doing, especially when it involves old photos.  And in the case of Island harbor docks and activities, in many cased these photos seem to do more to tell the story than available written information.  So, I'll liberally illustrate the way things were in the harbors using photos available.   A few of these may look familiar.  Either I've already used them in earlier blogs, or they've appeared in Over and Back - A History of Washington Island Transportation (a book published in 1990, in timing with the Ferry Line's 50th Anniversary, and out of print since about 1997).

The pier photo shown in my previous posting was taken by Bob Williams in 1949 (related, I believe, to Dede Rollo, who had a cottage in Jensenville), and it showed the Chris Andersen freighter WISCONSIN, at the location we now know as the Island Outpost dock.  I believe that earlier this was the dock developed by J. W. Cornell, where he moored his fishing boats.

Because of the interest expressed, below are several more photos of the WISCONSIN during her earlier days of ferrying cars (most likely the mid-to-late 1920s).  The pier location at which she is loading, in my opinion, appears to be near the present day Shipyard Marina.  Perhaps the base of this pier was the former Gislason dock, used by the store's owners at the turn of the last century for receiving shipment of goods for their store.

This photo was taken of the J. W. Cornell family when four identical
autos were loaded aboard the WISCONSIN (maybe just arriving
at the island for the first time).  This photo also speaks of a
time when money was to be made in commercial fishing, as the
autos were purchased by sons of Clara and J.W. Cornell.  Sons

Claude and George are believed to be in the white hats, standing behind 
their parents.   They, and another son, Bill, we believe were the owners 
of new Hudsons.   Daughter Mary (Richter) is in the back row, 
right hand side, with dark hair, and her sister, Audrey, is in
front, blond hair, looking at the camera.  According to the Door County 
Advocate issue of June 24, 1927,  an article clipped by Eric Greenfeldt 
(grandson of Bill and Harriet Cornell):  " It is quite surprising how many
high priced autos have been sold on the Island recently.  George
Mann sold three Hudson cars in one day, which is suggestive
of the business being done in that line here."

This early photo showing folks dressed in
fashionable wear

speaks to an early tourism trade.
The end of this pier as shown is broad and smoothly decked-over, suitable for maneuvering and loading automobiles, passengers, or for stacking freight.  That was the location William Jepson, one of the early ferry operators, used until the very early 1930s, at which point he transferred landings to the present Lobdell Point ferry landing location.  Jepson purchased and then developed the boatyard property formerly owned and managed by Ole Christiansen.

Shown is the early beginnings of the ferry dock at Lobdell
Point.  Logs piled on ice show work is in progress.
A small shack in the background is on the
Standard Oil pier, where barrels can be
seen lined up along that pier.  Bill Jepson, who was

responsible for this dock work,
was an avid photographer, and so it is likely
this photo, as well as many other early 

ferry photos, were taken by him.
Ole's name popped up a number of times when I researched the Thordarson book.  At one time Ole had a pier in Jackson Harbor for the purpose of loading timber products.   I'm just guessing, but I think his pier may have been located in the fairly deep water tucked inside the northeast corner of that harbor (the remains of old cribs can still be seen there along the shore).  Ole, who was quite enterprising, also owned - and was the last owner  of - the schooner MADONNA.   In later years (about 1915 or so) this vessel was grounded and abandoned in Detroit Harbor, in the area immediately west of the old Ida Bo (or Holiday Inn) pier.   Bits and pieces of the MADONNA still are mired in the bottom in that general location.

Summer fun with a rowboat, taken in front of
the cottage currently occupied by
Connie Essig.  MADONNA remains are
in the background.
A photograph from old Koken photos show children (perhaps Koken grandchildren?) playing in a rowboat, with the remains of the Madonna visible in the background.   For general interest, I've included here another Koken photo, one of their motor launch BERYLUNE, shown loaded to the scuppers with cedar shakes.  Where those shakes came from is anyone's guess, but very likely they were transported to the island by ferry to the shipyard location, and then reloaded by the Kokens for transport across the harbor to … the bayou estuary, where the Kokens owned what became later on the Arni and Mary Richter property.  The Kokens had a small pier and, later, a boathouse with marine railway.   Many of the buildings on this piece of property were - and still are - sided with cedar shakes.

BERYLUNE is a fine little boat with classy lines, and if you'd like to see her in a beautifully restored condition, please visit the Gills Rock Maritime Museum where she's a featured display, complete with her 1-cyl. Straubel engine.  How this craft wound up in the Gills Rock museum, and what the trail of ownership might have been after the Kokens owned it would be a good research project.  (Perhaps a reader may know the answer?)

BERYLUNE at Bayou dock in Detroit Harbor,
loaded with bundles of cedar shakes. (photo
taken perhaps late 'teens or early 1920s)
But, back to the early ferry WISCONSIN, a wooden vessel pressed into service as an auto / passenger ferry back when only freight boats were available for such trade.   We can see that loading was no picnic, but with the use of planks three or four autos could be squeezed side-by-side, thwartships (or rail-to-rail, rather than fore and aft).   This worked for a number of years, with several different in service.

Next time I'll use information from early county newspaper accounts that detailed the efforts of several operators to start an island ferry service, sent to me by Eric Greenfeldt.

-  Dick Purinton

Thursday, January 22, 2015


Detroit Harbor scene.  In foreground, the Standard Oil pier,
later Hansen Oil, and as of late 2014, Ferry Line north dock
Behind that is the former Cornell dock, now Island Outpost,
with Chris Andersen and his freight boat Wisconsin.
(photo taken in 1949 by Bob Williams)
In the background are several abandoned vessels in the shallows,
near what was the Chambers dock, now  the location of the Town's
launch ramps and the Island Clipper pier.

- Washington Island, Wisconsin

Like many waterfronts, Detroit Harbor changed over time, but many of those same appendages that were fishing or freight piers years ago remain in place, raised up and shored up over time as better materials and construction techniques, and capital to make improvements became available.

The dock in the foreground was owned at one time by Standard Oil.  It looks quite trim, capped with concrete, and it was used as a platform for unloading barrels of petroleum products, as well as transfer and other freight from the Anderson Transit's American Girl and barge Oil Queen.  (The Island Electric Co-op, with diesels placed into service in 1946, was using several hundred thousand gallons of diesel annually, and the Oil Queen helped to fill the tanks that kept those engines working.)

In the 1960s a good portion of the Standard Oil pier was enclosed with steel, with sheets driven outside the existing timber cribs.

Over time, the timbers that made up the old pier deteriorated, and so have the steel tie-backs and whaler supports that hold the sheets from tipping outward shown significant corrosion.  Much of the pier's interior wooden cribs and steel tie backs will need removal, or replacing, in a shoring up process designed to strengthen the dock before new fill and a concrete cap are added.

Detroit Harbor is frozen solid, and has been for the past
several weeks.   Here, Rich Ellefson and Joel Gunnlaugsson
are shown on the pier.   Several openings were made along
the pier face for examination of existing
dock structure.

Steel arrived Monday by semi, and work is now underway, much of it undertaken by ferry crew as a winter project.  So far, they've been favored with mild and sunny January weather.   Tom Jordan, Island contractor, has some of his equipment on site to help break up the old concrete cap into smaller pieces, eventually to be trucked away.  Mike Kahr of Death's Door Marine will bring a larger machine later today, for driving sheets into the bottom.   This is an ideal time of year to get this sort of work done, as all of it can be done from the existing pier structure - and of course, there are few, if any, onlookers to get underfoot.

Con McDonald (L) and Tully Ellefson
cut steel for new dock brackets to support
tire fenders.      
With mild weather and relatively modest winds, recent ferry crossings have been excellent.

Other than a few fishermen on weekends, traffic is made up primarily of service providers, suppliers and Islanders who need to travel back and forth.

-  Dick Purinton

Sunday, January 11, 2015


We drove to Jackson Harbor Saturday afternoon
and found everything in place,
exactly as anticipated.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

For the past week temperatures have not varied more than a few degrees above or below zero.

Each day seems like a replay of the one before, although its been sunny and bright, and I suppose that alone makes it seem better if you're indoors safe and warm or in a spot outdoors sheltered from the wind.  

Recent ferry trips have gone like clockwork.  Ice to the west of the Door passage dampens the sea,  even when, like the other day, a large bite of ice left the waters in the Door and sailed out to the lake.  The exposed warmer water produced sea smoke or steam against the much colder air.   Because of ice upwind a mile or two from Plum Island, the brisk westerly winds didn't produce much of a sea.   The Potato Dock, loaded up from spray a few weeks back, received another light coating to freshen the glistening ice banks.

Arni J. Richter enroute to Northport, Saturday afternoon, Jan. 10.

We've taken to making short drives in the car to break up the tedium, with Mary Jo chauffeuring and me coiled up in the back seat.  It's an impossibility at this point to bend my knees tightly enough to get in the front passenger seat, and so we're imitating "Driving Miss Daisy" with me in the back seat offering suggestions on when to turn, what to see next.  It's in the grand tradition of Esther Bjarnarson and her green Checker taxi, with Oliver contentedly in the passenger seat, a fixture on the Island for many years.  

"You can dictate to Mary Jo, and she can
type your blog," Erik suggested.   

After several tries with my camera, I got a shot of the elusive Erik Foss who nearly always manages to duck, weave or otherwise put himself out of camera range.  Erik wondered why I hadn't done a new blog.  

"I posted one yesterday," I said.  "What'll I write about, anyway?  Any news you can give me?"

They spotted a snowy owl on the ice, and then an eagle, Erik said, but his curiosity soon switched to the topic of my knees and why I was sprawled in the back passenger seat.  My explanation included a display of the 9-inch scar over my right knee.

Bill Jorgenson and Pete Nikolai, who together with Erik were the Arni J's crew, nearing 1 p.m. rolled the UPS cart aboard, then pulled up the stern ramp and applied power to the screws.  The wash thrown up by the propellers was mixed with ground ice as the ferry started for Northport on its afternoon run.

How good it would feel to be to be able to join them, I thought, but slippery decks, multiple sets of stairs and weather elements presented barriers I'd never before considered obstacles.  I'm thankful the daily job of operating in winter is in the hands of such capable men.

We've taken to watching the ferry load up and then leave the island pier while parked along the side of the old office - an activity I'd never expected I'd be doing, or something that would give me such pleasure.  We were reminded of Arni's daily routine of parking his car at the ferry dock while in his nineties, observing the ferries come and go and reminiscing on how things had changed from the old days.

From Mary Jo's perspective - and she's been a saint - our current routine might seem more like, "You're driving me crazy," rather than "Driving Miss Daisy."  

At home, indoors, we're on our seventh jig-saw puzzle (tough ones with 1000 pieces).  WPR provides background music throughout the day.   Mary Jo helps me with physical therapy and fills the woodbox, stokes the fireplace, and fixes meals.    Her world has shrunken in scope along with my own these past weeks.  Visits from grandsons become highlights of our day, along with a leisurely spin in the Toyota along snowy Island roads.  It's become one way to relieve January's tedium.

The big football game - Packers vs. Cowboys at Lambeau field - begins at noon today.  This is the day for which many fans have waited, and it becomes the high point of not only their season of football, but of the winter itself.   We could say there might be disappointment on the part of some fans that the game time temperature time won't be colder than +17 degrees, when we've just experienced much colder days.   Talking about the weather and describing the effects of cold temperatures seems to describe best where we live and how we've chosen to live, even though most of us are content to watch such football games from the comfort and warmth of our living room recliners.

With Jackson Harbor frozen solid, the old
Welcome's mooring lines become window dressing.

-  Dick Purinton

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


Soft, late afternoon light is characteristic
of an island winter.  Here, looking toward
Door Bluff from the Potato Dock.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

December 21st marked Winter Solstice, and those days were overcast and dark, but with temperatures that were quite mild.

This changed as the middle portion of the nation, and upper Wisconsin, consistently experienced cold air over the past four days, with temperatures slightly above zero, sometimes dipping below zero, with accompanying winds that made getting outdoors miserable.

Sunday's high pressure system brought gale force winds, and light snowfall early that morning.   Ferries that morning were cancelled.  Winds abated slightly by mid-day and the two scheduled afternoon trips were run, taking holiday visitors to the mainland and back home.   Monday brought even more cold air, and the Island schools - like many in northeastern Wisconsin - closed for the day.   It takes a day or two of such temperatures for everyone to get acclimated, it seems, as temperatures become more acceptable and manageable.   School was back in session Tuesday, and this morning, even with the thermometer reading -3 degrees, and biting winds, school was open.

Along the ferry route ice blew in from northern Green Bay waters Sunday evening, filling the span between Door Bluff and the island, stopping against the western shore of Plum Island.   Ice lays off the west side now as far as the eye can see, and it is setting up a bit more with each passing hour.  Monday morning, as timing would have it, marked the official beginning of our "Winter Ferry Schedule" -  just two scheduled round trips per day.   Given the ice conditions and the light traffic, this schedule change is good timing.

All ferries are now in winter layup, with the exception of the
Arni J. Richter (shown at end of pier).   Ice covers all of Detroit Harbor
and the West Channel, extending to Plum Island
and Door Bluff and beyond to the west.

For the first time since December 1st, the morning I shoved off to Green Bay for double knee surgery, I  paid a visit to the Ferry Line office, walking gingerly across mostly dry sidewalk to the customer door.  Warm smiles greeted me from the office staff (I had just missed the boat crews who departed for home about ten minutes earlier.)    This was my second time out of the house since coming home from the Rennes Rehab facility Dec. 19th, and it felt mighty good to see such friendly faces and familiar surroundings.  So good that we repeated the exercise yesterday, complete with an added look-see from the Potato Dock and a slow cruise around Green Bay Road before returning home once again.

Office crew in late afternoon:   (front) Bill Schutz,  Intern Chris Cornell, 
and Janet Hanlin.  (back)  Hoyt Purinton and Rich Ellefson.  
On desk in foreground is theFerry Reservation "Bible,"
 referred to thousands of times during the
three winter reservation months.

Happy Birthday! is in order for Bill Schutz, Ferry Line Office Manager who turns 58 years old today.  Bill has been a stalwart of the Ferry Line since his first day of work, tutored by Percy Johnson back in 1979, as I recall.   How the time has flown!   Bill will spend most of this special day harnessed in his familiar traces, quietly pulling the load from behind his desk, and we hope, enjoying the bright sunshine this day brings.

Joining our ferry crew this winter is high school student Chris Cornell, son of Mike and Sue Cornell, who is an intern during the afternoon with the Ferry Line.   Chris is a good worker, has a pleasant disposition, and he seems to be enjoying and benefitting from the experience.

Note:   Although we didn't make special mention earlier, the WIFL Board voted to keep rates for passengers and autos the same for the coming year.  (Effective at end of March 2015)  Ever-lower fuel prices - the lowest per gallon for bulk diesel in years - plays a key part in making this possible.

-  Dick Purinton