Thursday, March 26, 2015

ISLAND WATERFRONT - Wisconsin, Welcome, North Shore - Jepson's Ferries - Part XIII

North Shore loaded with autos and passengers 
on a summertime run.  (year unknown)

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Island businessman William Jepson was both innovator and builder.   He didn't hesitate in making capitol investments that would improve his ferry service, for which the Island benefitted greatly.

Jepson's ferry operation began with one wooden freighter, the Wisconsin, adapted to carrying autos when the demand arose.  By 1929 he built the ferry Welcome.  He also showed a willingness over the years to improve and expand his docks and vessels.

Examples of his enterprise are found in Door County Advocate (DCA) news items that were reprinted by Hannes Andersen in his book, Washington Island:  A Maritime History Through The Years, Vol. II (published in 2009 by Hannes M. Andersen).  Following are sample entries:
*   August 7, 1931 -  A fire was reported at Gislason's dock, a pier made of wooden piles, and despite using the ferry's pumps, the shed and most of its contents were destroyed.  The paper reported:  "The dock is owned by Capt. W. P. Jepson, of the ferry Welcome, and the burning warehouse contained merchandise of much value.  Fortunately the NE wind blew flames out over Detroit Harbor, rather than toward the moored ferry."
Whether Jepson had already begun improvements at Lobdell's Point by this date isn't known, but this fire may have hastened moving his operations to that new landing location.
*   Oct. 19, 1931 - It was reported that, "There has been a movement launched recently to build another   dock at Lobdell's Point, the west channel to  Detroit Harbor.  This is the question which has been under discussion for many years.  The idea is to have a dock outside of the shallowest part of the channel in plenty of water so larger boats can land.   One special feature also will be a permanent landing for the ferry, as the water where she now lands is very shallow.  The dock is also expected to have a tendency to attract people to purchase lots near there for building summer homes."
*  Aug. 16, 1935 -    "Land's End to Get Dock for Island Ferry - A new dock is to be built at Northport, the extreme end of the peninsula, by Capt. Wm. Jepsen (sic), owner and operator of the ferry boat Welcome, which runs between Washington Island and Gills Rock.  The dock at Northport will be used during early spring and fall and when weather conditions prevent a landing at Gills Rock.
"The dock will extend out from the shore 100 feet into eight or ten feet of water and will be built of cribs filled with stone, to withstand weather and ice conditions.  LeRoy Voight of Gills Rock will have charge of construction.
"The road that now leads to Northport, or what is commonly known as 'Land's End', as it is on the tip of the peninsula where the cable crosses Death's Door to Plum Island, will be improved under a project for which state and federal funds will be secured.  Improvement of the road is as important as the building of the dock, as it is used extensively by tourists who go to 'Land's End' to enjoy the beautiful view of the islands."

Jepson's decision to build a pier at Northport could not have been an easy one because it was an exposed location, lacking in nearby homes or amenities, and it would serve only those relatively few weeks or months each year when landing could not be made in Gills Rock, resulting in relatively small revenues.
One of the cribs assembled for first
construction of Northport Pier,
Oct. 25, 1935 -  In this DCA entry, Jepson's foresight in asking the Army Corps to dredge the channel to 14-ft. depth by 150-ft. width proved to be a wise suggestion. Until recent dredging operations were completed in 2014, those
numbers were the dimensions for the Detroit Harbor West Channel:

"HARBORS HEARING AT WASHINGTON ISLAND - Residents Give Views to Col. H. M. Tripp of Milwaukee - 

Statistics presented at the harbor hearing here Wednesday last week before Col. H. M. Tripp, U. S. Division Engineer from Milwaukee, showed the need of improvement in Jackson and Detroit Harbors…Assemblyman Frank Graass presented the argument for the town board of Washington and other interested parties.  Among the statistics cited were the following on incoming freight:   Coal, 800 tons;  lumber and building materials, 125 tons;  provisions, one store alone, 350 tons, valued at $37,600;  beer, 100 tons, $6,000.   In the outgoing freight form the island, fish was the largest item, as fishing is the principal industry.  Figures presented showed 1,005 tons shipped annually, amounting to $201, 000;  potatoes, 150 tons, together with cattle, $10,000….records of Capt. Wm. Jepson's ferry Welcome show that 1.765 people crossed the Door on this boat and 250 on the mail boat.  The ferry transported 1,624 automobiles between the Island and mainland…peak business of the ferry in one day this season was 52 automobiles and 700 people."

Several persons then testified, offering their suggestions for needed channel dimensions, including yachtsman U. J. Sport Herrmann (who believed 14-ft. should be the minimum), veteran fisherman John Cornell (who believed that a 12-ft. deep by 100-ft. wide channel would answer for Island commerce needs), and veteran ferryman Wm. Jepson (who believed there should be a 150-ft. wide channel with at least a minimum of 14-ft. depth).

In the end, Jepson's recommendations appeared to have carried the day.

*  Jan. 17, 1936  -  The DCA reported:   "Captain Jepson bought the North Shore No. 2 for good summer transportation.   Homecoming will no doubt bring tourists for the celebration."
The vessel North Shore had visited Island docks several times in previous years dropping off cargo, according to entries in Hannes Andersen's book.
*  Mar. 26, 1937 -   This DCA entry indicates that Jepson may have been setting his sights further afield than Washington Island in a search for new business opportunities.   Jepson's intention to service this proposed route would be cited a few years later as the reason why he sold his Island ferry business to Carl and Arni Richter:

At a meeting at the City Hall Tuesday evening, called by the Industrial Committee and presided over by E. M. LaPlant, the subject of establishing a boat service across Green Bay between Sturgeon Bay and the twin cities of Memominee and Marinette was reviewed and discussed.

Capt. W. P. Jepsen (sic) who owns and operates two boats on the run between Washington Island and Gills Rock during the summer was present and expressed himself as willing to place one of his boats on the run if business warranted such action.  Interested parties in Marinette had communicated with Capt. Jepsen offering their support of such a project.

While it is admitted that there would be little freight business at the start, there is reason to believe that the passenger and automobile business would be sufficient to give the schedule a trial, it was stated.  Capt. Jepsen's boat carries from eight to ten automobiles as well as 60 or more passengers.

(This vessel capacity appears to have been exaggerated, or it was a suggested capacity needed for a vessel on that run.)

***    ***  

Three vessels owned by Jepson for ferry service

Once Jepson's ferry service was established in the mid-1920s, he made a major investment in the construction of the ferry Welcome.  The Welcome was built in 1929 by Rieboldt & Wolter in Sturgeon Bay, and it measured 65 ft. x 24 ft. x 7 ft. draft when loaded.  It could carry 100 passengers and seven cars, as compared with 40 passengers and 4 autos parked crosswise (or thwartships) on the Wisconsin.   A fairly dramatic comparison of beam and bulk shows the two ferries moored in the ice in Detroit Harbor, with the Welcome overshadowing the Wisconsin.  (photo from Over and Back, loaned from Bell Collection)

Jepson's first ferry Wisconsin was built in 1916 in Green Bay, and we can presume that, when sold, the Wisconsin's hull was still sound, because under Chris Andersen's ownership she saw many more years service as a freight vessel, ranging up and down the Green Bay and Lake Michigan shoreline.
The same photo of the two vessels rail-to-rail was used in the
print ad for Kahlenberg engines (year unknown)

Here is what Roy Andersen said in a 1990 interview regarding the Wisconsin:

My Dad (Chris Andersen) and my brother Ray and I ran the Wisconsin for 21 years, hauling freight and oil.  We got her from Bill Jepson late in 1928, when he built the Welcome.  That was my first experience on the water.  I was 19 at the time.  The Wisconsin was built in Green Bay.  She had a 50/60 Kahlenberg engine.  We all took turns running her.  Whoever was at the wheel when we entered the harbor made the landing.  - 

(From Over and Back, published by WIFL in 1990.  Photo of the Andersens appeared in Over and Back and was loaned by Kristi Parsons, daughter of Ray Andersen.)

Father Chris, left, with sons Ray and Roy aboard Wisconsin.
(Kristi Parsons photo)

Jepson's Welcome became the first Island ferry built specifically for hauling autos as well as passengers and freight.  It was powered by a 150 HP Kahlenberg engine and served ably as an Island ferry for several decades, finally being eased out of service by the Richter's new all-steel Griffin in 1946.

The ferry Welcome should not be confused with the fish tug/mailboat Welcome, a boat Rasmus Hansen built in Jackson Harbor in 1926, used for fishing and later for hauling freight - of which boxes of fish made up the bulk of the cargo - by Carl and Arni Richter.  That same Welcome, with an altered superstructure, can still be seen today moored alongside the Town dock in Jackson Harbor.  The Koyens, Ken and Tom, fished this tug, although it has been a museum piece for the past 15 or so years.   The fish tug Welcome was slightly under 40 feet in length, with just under a 10 ft. beam, and it was originally powered by a 40 HP Straubel engine.    (More on the fish boat/mailboat Welcome in an upcoming blog.)

Pete Anderson's Navarre.  This blurred name was mistakenly
read as "Winneconne" on at least one occasion, but that
vessel name never existed, at least locally.  Photo from
Island Archives, taken early 1920s.
If we were to compare the smaller ferries Navarre (operated by Pete Anderson in the early 20s) and Jepson's Wisconsin with the ferry Welcome, we can see how those freighters were stop-gap, proving inadequate in the long run for hauling autos.  When Pete Anderson died in 1923, Bill Jepson helped Carl Christianson complete Anderson's mail contract.   Then, in 1924 Jepson applied for and received the mail contract, using his vessel Wisconsin on the open lake waters, and transiting with the mail over the ice when it was frozen.   Jepson would lose, then win back, the U. S. Mail contract several times in his career.

Mail exchange near Door Bluff.  In foreground with snow-track Ford is
believed to be Jepson, with Harry Newman holding a horse team.
(year unknown - published in Over and Back, from Bell Collection)

Business must have grown steadily for Jepson to consider the acquisition of the North Shore in 1936, seven years after building the Welcome.  Perhaps Jepson saw need for a second boat, not only to handle peaks in summer traffic, but also add the option to substitute one vessel for another if a malfunction of some sort temporarily tied up one of his ferries.  And we can read in Hannes Andersen's book where, in the off-season, the hauling of potatoes, fish and other freight had potential to bring in additional freight income, runs to ports that were not part of Jepson's regular ferry route. In that way his extra vessel would earn income in several ways.

        *            *             *

North Shore 

 Jepson took ownership of the North Shore in 1936, buying it from a Milwaukee man, William J. Lawrie, who used it for passenger excursions in summer and hauled freight with it in the fall of the year.  In the DCA entry cited earlier, it was called North Shore No. 2, reflecting the sinking of Lawrie's first North Shore in a storm on Lake Michigan, with loss of six lives, crewmen plus and several passengers.

Lawrie often sent his vessels north to Washington Island and the Garden Peninsula for potatoes, and to Escanaba for Christmas trees.  His boats also crossed the lake to lower Michigan for loads of peaches or apples.  Without dedicated cargo holds, the baskets of fruit or sacks of potatoes would be piled high on every available surface, a practice that may have led to a tender condition of low stability.    That his company lost several vessels, and lives, may have occurred for a variety of reasons that we can only speculate about today, but it seems more than simply "poor luck."   Circumstances may have included lack of attention to weather changes, poor decision making in both the office and on board, perhaps the hiring of inexperienced captains, and improper loading.

A reminscence in the 1980s with daughter Lois Lawrie Rehberg, Milwaukee (recorded in the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society newsletter "Soundings" and titled, "MY SAILOR DAD") contains the interesting history that led to the construction of the wooden North Shore, the "No. 2" purchased by William Jepson for service at Washington Island in 1936:

In 1930, the building and launching of a new 65' boat, North Shore, was a big thrill for our family. Walter Haertel, of Sturgeon Bay, was asked to design and supervise its construction.  Marine construction people from the whole Great Lakes area eagerly awaited its completion as it would be the first all-steel, all electrically welded passenger boat on the Great Lakes and the second in the United States.  The steel hull, built by  Mertes-Miller, 577 Barclay Street, was hauled a mile from the plant to the Kinnickinnic River for its launching on Thursday, June 19, 1930.  It was christened the North Shore by my mother, Meta, as a crowd of more than four hundred attended the ceremony.  It went into service immediately as a summer excursion boat like its predecessors, the Lois Pearl and the South Shore.  

A Mertes-Miller ad,  courtesy
of Eric Bonow.

Then, quite unexpectedly, the new, steel-hull North Shore was lost on a trip across the lake in the fall of its first year of service.

When four life preservers marked North Shore were found off Holland, Michigan, all hope of finding anyone faded.  However, even after pieces of the cabin and baskets of grapes were found, the search continued.  Two weeks after the boat was reported missing, the body of Arthur Peters, floating in a life preserver marked North Shore, was found thirty miles off Muskegon, Michigan.  Two other ships had gone down in the same storm.  I was devastated to learn that Captain Anderson was gone as I had a big crush on the handsome Norwegian.  

After the North Shore was lost in the fall of 1930, a new North Shore was built in 1931 to replace the first one.  It was 65' long with a 20' beam and was of wood construction.  The new boat was a double deck design, diesel-powered and capable of carrying 250 passengers.  The boat was launched at the Burger Boat yards on Saturday, June 26, 1931.  This time, I christened the boat --- the North Shore II. 
I was severn years old at the time and was not strong enough to break the bottle on the bow of the boat.  My dad helped me with the second swing of the bottle and the boat was launched.  It was an exciting day for me!

On July 4th, the North Shore II began its passenger run between South Shore and Juneau Park.  At this time, the Lois Pearl and South Shore were still in service.  The North Shore II continued its passenger and freight service and also operated in Chicago during the Century of Progress exhibition in the summer of 1933… In 1936, my dad sold the North Shore II to the Washington Island Ferry Line, and it was used  as a ferry boat to and from Washington Island and Northport, at the tip of Door County.  Then it was sold in 1946 to be used on the run to Charlevoix, Michigan, from St. James Harbor on Beaver Island.

Several things stand out in the above narrative, in addition to the most unfortunate sinking of the first North Shore and the lives that were lost that day.   That the hull was of welded steel, something new -  claimed by Ms. Rehberg to have been a first - and that it had been designed by Naval Architect Walter Haertel, invites comment.   Haertel was well known during his long career designing small commercial vessels.   Then, as now, there would have been blueprint review and construction oversight by the U.S. Coast Guard.  Many Great Lakes island ferry services, and excursion companies, sailed one or more vessels of Haertel's design.  Locally, the Griffin (1946), C. G. Richter (1950) and Voyageur (1960) came from Walter Haertel's drawing board and were well-designed and well-built.

There is no record of the first North Shore's wreck being located, and minus any survivors whose accounts would provide clues to the sinking, there can be very little speculation on what caused the vessel loss.  Today, with the help of modern technology, there would certainly be a thorough Coast Guard investigation, following possibly an underwater search, but at the time such an investigation was impossible.

How this innovative, welded hull might have influenced plans - or Coast Guard plan approval - for later passenger vessels is unknown.  Lawrie, bitten once with a welded steel design, decided to go with the more familiar wood construction for its replacement.  

    *         *         *         *

On Feb. 9, 1940 DCA reported this:

STEEL WELDED BOAT IS ORDERED HERE - Will be Operated by Capt. Jepson of Island

Door County's long sought auto ferry service between Sturgeon Bay and Marinette will become a reality next summer as a result of an announcement made this week by Capt. W. P. Jepson of Washington Island that he will put a new 100 ft. steel welded boat on the run beginning around June 1 and making one to two trips a day, depending on the demand.

Simultaneously, Capt. Jepson made known that he had sold to Arni Richter the ferry properties he operated for many years between the Island and Gills Rock, including the boats Welcome and North Shore and dock properties at both ends of the run.  Mr. Richter will combine the passenger service with carrying mail.  A contract to build the new ferry will be let to the Sturgeon Bay Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Capt. Jepson said Wednesday.  The design will be about the same as the Welcome, a wooden boat also built here and will provide for carrying 200 passengers and 16 cars.  The engine will be diesel, 300 to 400 horse power.

Besides making scheduled trips, the boat will also be available for excursions on Green Bay.

Jepson's Sturgeon Bay - Marinette run never materialized, maybe reconsidered with an impending war effort underway to aid U. S. allies, but the ownership of the Washington Island Ferry Line officially shifted on April 11, 1940 to Carl and Arni Richter.

A favorite question of Arni's was to ask gathered family members on that anniversary date, "Do you know what day it is?"  Only after repeated times did we start to get the answer right, but we always wanted to hear the stories that led up to that decision to purchase the Jepson ferry line.

More on that in an upcoming blog…    

- Dick Purinton              

Saturday, March 21, 2015

ISLAND WATERFRONT - Captain William Jepson - Part XII

Capt. William Jepson, from wheel house window.
Photo taken June, 1932 by A. H. Fensholt of Chicago and
made available for publication in book Over and Back
by Millie Jacobsen.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

When perusing the Island waterfront, then and now, it is impossible not to bestow a great deal of credit upon William Jepson, who not only was an early ferry operator, but also dock builder, and to an extent, a visionary of for transportation services and how they could be ably fulfilled.

I've seen only a couple of photos of Jepson, somewhat strange, since so many of the older, glass plate photos were credited to him.  The photo above appeared in my book, Over and Back (1990) and it was passed to me by the late Millie Jacobsen.  Captain Jepson looks back toward the photographer from the window of the wheel house.

The other photo of Jepson I happened on is in the Wisconsin State Historical Society archives, (and which I published with permission for a fee) in the book, Thordarson and Rock Island.   In that photo, Jepson stands in front of his Ford snow machine, which is hooked to a bobsled used for hauling freight and mail.  He stands in front of the Island post office (across the street from what is now the Red Cup), smoking a cigarette while in apparent conversation with C. H. Thordarson.  I supposed that Jepson could have been discussing ice conditions that morning, or perhaps he was being propositioned for a ride to the mainland by Thordarson.

The point I made in that winter photo was to show that in the ice months, Jepson and helper made regular trips to the mainland to exchange mail and freight.  His Ford conversion snow rig and bobsled appear to be the same used by his successors, Carl and Arni Richter, who likely purchased those assets in 1940 when they bought the Welcome and North Shore, when they took over ferry operations from Jepson.

Anyone who ventures out regularly across the Door on ice will, sooner or later, encounter conditions he may wish he didn't have to face.  Underscored in my March 10 blog entry was the danger encountered when crossing ice that shifted quickly or deteriorated from currents and wave action.  If anything, it's a wonder more fatalities didn't occur during those years.

This news clipping from March 24, 1936 (newspaper source unknown) recounts one example of a close shave by Jepson in his efforts to deliver the mail:

THREE ESCAPE AS TRUCK BREAKS ICE - Death's Door Gives Warning to Capt. Jepson -

Captain William A. Jepson and two other persons narrowly escaped death yesterday when the Washington Island mail truck, with the island's mail on board went through the ice on the trip froth mainland to the island over honeycombed ice.

The mishap occurred over the passageway known as Death's Door where several persons died last winter and where many lives have been lost.

The truck was about a quarter mile from shore at Loebel point (sp) when the back end of the vehicle sank.  Besides the captain those on board were his son, Gordon, and Charles Hagen.  By putting on all the motor's power and turning the wheel the captain managed to reach firmer ice.

Three passenger cars following saw their peril and avoided the danger.  All reached the mainland safely, but there will be no more passages over the ice this spring.

For about two months the mail route to the island led over the ice.  Tonight Captain Jepson had launched his ferry and was attempting to clear the Detroit Island passageway so mail might be delivered by ferry boat. 

It was Jepson who worked out a mainland docking spot with Gills Rock property owners, Voight and Johnson family members, a landing that while far from being a perfect location was still a decided improvement over the more distant Ellison Bay.   It was Jepson who, after operating from the Gislason dock at the far eastern shore of Detroit Harbor for a number of years, shortened up the ferry's run considerably by improving the shore land he purchased from Ole Christiansen on Lobdell Point.  The development of this location for future auto and passenger services was a natural, given the shorter distance to the mainland and the elimination of crossing a somewhat shallow harbor.  But this shift entailed a considerable amount of fill to be placed in a lowland, plus construction of a pier and landing suitable his two ferries.

In this postcard photo Jepson's Welcome moors at an
Ellison Bay pier, likely near where Cedar Grove is
located today.

Prior to the 1930s, according to bits of information passed down from J. W. Cornell to Arni and Mary Richter, there had been at first only a walking path out to the Point from the Main Road area, then a two-track buggy route through the swamp.  By 1930, we assume, a stone and gravel road led through woods and wetlands connecting Jepson's ferry dock with the rest of the Island.

One aspect of operating passenger vessels that Jepson faced that might easily be taken for granted were the requirements to meet government certification for operation under the regulations of the day.

A letter from the Wm. Jepson file in the Island Archives, dated December 7, 1938, from U. S. Local Inspector Henry Ericksen of the Milwaukee office, Department of Commerce, Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation, addressed a fire safety issue:

Dear Sir:    The matter of protecting your two vessels, the NORTH SHORE and the WELCOME with sprinkler systems was referred to the Supervising Inspector of the Sixth District and it is his opinion that both vessels should be equipped with an approved type of manually operated sprinkler system as follows:

NORTH SHORE -  The sprinkler system should be installed overhead on the main deck, extending from the forward side of the upper deck to the stern on port and starboard sides.

WELCOME - Should be equipped with an overhead sprinkler system on the main deck the entire length.

It will be necessary for you to furnish this office with blue prints in triplicate fully descriptive of the type of sprinkler system that you intend to install, showing plan and profile, also power pump location, size of pump.  We believe that the open head system would be advisable for those two vessels.  It will be necessary to have this installed, approved, and tested by this Board before the issuing of a Certificate next spring.

We are herewith enclosing Supplement 51, and calling attention to the requirements on Page 79, as marked, relating to the requirements to manually operated sprinkler systems to be installed on ferry boats;  also Page 82-83, which will give your the information regarding such types of systems as have been approved.       Respectfully,   Henry Ericksen

Satisfaction of this requirement would have necessitated, we imagine, a trip off the island to visit a naval architect or a shipbuilder in Sturgeon Bay, and the production of a satisfactory plan outlined on blueprint - in triplicate for approvals - and then the purchase and installation of pump and piping.  These were likely unforeseen cost in material and labor that fell into the cost of vessel operations.

Pennants signal a special occasion -
North Shore at the Burger Boat yard prior to launch in 1931.
Vessel was built for a Milwaukee owner, used in service there
for two years before Jepson purchased and placed it into
Island service.  This vessel remained in service until the Griffin
was built in 1946.

It could be that the mounting expenses faced in operating, the winter challenges, and wooden vessels that grew more problematic with age, caused Jepson to look toward a new design.   He had a basic plan in place by 1939, and whether or not he came close to acting on that blueprint is unknown.  By early February of 1940 he had reached an agreement with Carl and Arni Richter to sell his operation, and when the season more or less began, April 11th 1940, that transaction officially took place.

North Shore on the ways, after conversion
to auto/passenger service.

Even as late as 1951, Jepson was very much involved with commercial vessels.  According to the Dec. 27, 1951 Door County Advocate, Jepson initiated a double trade of vessels, the Velox for the Lester H. Smith with Murray Cornell, and then the Velox was traded to Glenn and Alvin Sorenson for the fish tug Sorenson Bros., an all-steel boat.   According to the story, Jepson used the fish boat Lester H. Smith the previous four years to "carry mail."     [A sign of brisk commercial fishing enjoyed during that era, in a related note below the Jepson reference it was reported that for the winter, "There are now 17 tugs moored at the ferry, Standard Oil and Cornell's docks at Lobel's (sp) Point.]

Jepson was a true entrepreneur, starting up a number of businesses, and planning others that may never have gotten off the dock, such as vessel service from Sturgeon Bay to Marinette.  He operated at least one supper club, the Mill, an establishment still operating today near the "Y" north of Sturgeon Bay.

He was married three times (Karen Sorensen, Esther Orman and Dorothy Young) to wives who preceded him in death.  His daughters were Jane Jirtle (who was married to attorney Don Jirtle of Kewaunee) and Hazel Flaherty.   His sons were Gordon and Earl.

Jepson was born March 25, 1881 and he died May 23, 1978.   Pall bearers at his service were:  Cecil Anderson, Jim Anderson, John Hanlin, Ed Marsik, Lloyd Orman and Arni Richter.  His funeral service program read:

Captain Bill was a man who was at home upon the water. He was a member and served in the U. S. Life Saving Service.  He sailed on the Great Lakes, owned and pilot dthe Lucile, Minnie S., Wisconsin, Welcome and the North Shore.  Captgain Bill owned and operated the Washington Island Ferry Line, the Ship Yard, two night clubs and the Hotel Washington.       He will be remembered for his stories of the sea, his longevity, his generosity and his love of our island.

-  Dick Purinton

Monday, March 9, 2015

TRAGEDY of MARCH 1935 - Island Waterfront - Part XI

Island Archives photo showing the car emerging from the Death's door waters.
 A grapple caught the right front wheel, and men on the right - with yet 

more men off-camera - strain on the line. 
 Men in center stand on a boat's cabin top.  
The photographer is unknown, but Mrs. Jacob Johnson of Gills Rock,

who believed she saw the car pass her home early Sunday morning,
and whose husband was later credited with being among the first to locate 
the site of the disaster after following wheel tracks out onto the ice,
was credited for another photo published by the newspaper.  It's 

possible Mrs. Johnson was the photographer here, too.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

March 10 of this year marks the 80th anniversary of a tragedy in which six young Island men lost their lives when their car plunged through thin ice in Death's Door.

Despite the passing of years, this incident still taps into veins of emotion, because of the details that surround the incident, and because of the number of lives in this community that were changed by the event.   In researching this blog, I've used various newspaper reports, some published only a few days after the event itself, and others that were written years later in retrospective.  These
reports reside in the Washington Island Archives in a file named, appropriately, "Island Tragedies."

The six young men left the Island to play in a basketball game on the peninsula, in Ellison Bay, on Saturday, March 9, 1935.  There were also fans who attended the game.    Collectively, fans and players traveled on to Sturgeon Bay and a hotel Saturday evening.  The general plan was that all parties in their several autos would meet up again in Ellison Bay at a set time on Sunday, and then return across the ice together.  For unknown reasons - impatience to get home, perhaps - and at an exact time still not known for certain, the single car carrying the six basketball players departed Gills Rock for the island and in their route across the Door veered from the prescribed, safe track by heading too far east, only to find ice too thin to support their car.

Others, when they returned later that Sunday, had no idea the players were missing until it was discovered that none of the group had yet reported home.  That was in the early afternoon of Sunday, the 10th.   Searching was initiated.   Car tracks in the snow leading from the Gills Rock shore were followed over the ice, eventually leading searchers to an open hole.  An airplane plane from Escanaba was also alerted, but by the time it arrived over the area, the scene of the car's disappearance with the six players was already known.

What remained was the unpleasant task of retrieving the car and bringing the six bodies to the surface.   For more complete details, the reporting in the Door County News (Thursday, March 14, 1935) serves best.

               *     *     *                                             *     *     *

                                      SIX YOUNG MEN DROWN IN DEATH'S DOOR

Caption reads, in part:  "This photo was taken
as the body of Ralph Wade was found -
photo by Mr. Jacob Johnson, Ellison Bay"
Accident Occurred Before Noon on Sunday
All Bodies Recovered; Funerals Held This Week
Bulletin:  Calmer Nelson, Door county coroner, made the statement that an investigation into the accident would be conducted next week.  The date for holding the investigation was not announced.
              -           -           -
The worst tragedy in the history of Washington Island occurred some time Sunday forenoon, when an automobile bearing six young men, all prominent in the life of the community, dropped through the ice of Death's Door as they were enroute to their homes from a short trip to Sturgeon Bay, and they lost their lives by drowning in the icy waters.

Those in the group were John (better known as "Bub") Cornell and Ralph Wade, the former 22 and the latter 28, both married; Leroy Einarson, 21; Norman Nelson, 19; Raymond Richter, 21; and Roy Stover, 19.

Wade was the owner of a tavern and dance hall.  Cornell, married last September, was a fisherman, the son of Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Cornell.  Einarson was a son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Einarson, proprietors of the IdaBo Inn;  Norman Nelson, son of Mr. and Mrs. Nels C. Nelson, assisted his parents on their farm.  Richter, a member of the coast guard at Jackson Park, Chicago, was a son of Mr. and Mrs. Earl Richter.  He was home on a 25-day leave of absence.  Stover was the son of Mrs. James Johnson.

It appears that the young men formed part of a group to come from the island to witness and participate in a basketball game played at Ellison Bay Saturday evening.  Following the game they decided not to risk the trip across the ice of Death's Door after dark and came to Sturgeon Bay to spend the night.  They left Sturgeon Bay about 9 a.m. Sunday and it is reported that the car, driven by Cornell, was seen going onto the ice at Gills Rock about 11 o'clock.  When they did not reach home by noon, searching parties of island people were formed, and late in the afternoon an airplane from Escanaba, Mich., was chartered in an effort to determine whether they had become lost in the fog or had met with misfortune.  It was too late that evening for the plane to do anything, but early Monday morning searching parties located the spot where the car disappeared through the ice, only a mile and a half or two miles from Gills Rock.

The spot where the car plunged to its watery grave was located by Wally Arneson, Escanaba, in an airplane and Jake Johnson, of Gills Rock, and the bodies of Cornell and Wade were recovered.  The car had gone down in 120 feet of water and it is thought the two men, who were in the front seat, were able to get out and attempt to reach safety by crawling on the ice.  However, the water was so cold that they were unable to stand it, and apparently sank after putting up a stubborn fight.  Their bodies were removed Monday forenoon by coast guardsmen.

(The search was then called off until the next day due to weather, and it resumed on Tuesday, March 12.)

The intensity of the search effort can be seen in the face
of the man at left above the taut grapple line.
The Coast Guard's boat "Bull" appears to be
the vessel shown in the background.
(Island Archives photo)

At about noon Tuesday the body of Norman Nelson was removed from the water by coast guardsmen and volunteer workers, who remained constantly at the spot endeavoring to get a grappling hook on the car.  

The stubborn fight which John Cornell put up to escape death was shown when searchers came to the hole in the ice Monday.  Thrown up on the slush ice were his cap and mittens and a package of cigarets which he apparently had in his hand when the car plunged to the bottom. Mute testimony of his desperate struggle was also shown by the way the thin ice had been broken away as he attempted to get to solid ice and crawl out.  his chest was also severely bruised as he apparently tried to cling to the ice until help might arrive.  Just how long he struggled in the icy water will never be known.

The bodies of Cornell and Wade were removed to the Casperson Funeral Home at Sister Bay immediately after they were recovered, where they were prepared for burial.  Funeral services for both men were held Wednesday afternoon, with every resident of the Island who could possibly attend being present.

Mr. Cornell is survived by his bride of six months, the former Varian Hanson, his parents, and four brothers and four sisters.

Mr. Wade leaves his wife and two sisters.

At 4 o'clock Tuesday arrangements had not yet been made public as to funeral services for Norman Nelson.  In addition to his parents, he is survived by one brother and two sisters.

Leroy Einarson was the adopted son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Einarson.

In addition to his parents, Raymond Richter leaves one brother and two sisters.

Those left by Roy Stover are his widowed mother, Mrs. James Johnson, and two sisters.

Even in sorrow, residents of the Island breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday afternoon when coast guardsmen and other workers were able to bring the car to the surface and with it the bodies of the three remaining victims of the tragedy, Leroy Einarson, Raymond Richter and Roy Stover.  The bodies of the three men were in the rear seat of the car.

As in the case of the Cornell and Wade funerals held Wednesday, it is expected that practically every resident of the Island will attend the funeral for Norman Nelson today (Thursday), and the rites for the other three men on Friday.  In addition to Island residents, many friends from distant points and people of Door county made the trip to the Island to be present for the last rites.

Ice floes handicapped workers in attempting to grapple for the car Tuesday, and the fish tugs Clara C., Velox and Dawn, and coast guard boats broke through the slush ice and by maneuvering back and forth it was possible to clear a space large enough to permit grappling hooks to be manned and when a substantial hold was secured on the car it was hauled out on solid ice.  

                   *     *     *                            *     *     *                        *     *     *

During the days the recovery search continued and funeral services were planned - and likely for days and weeks afterward -  this understandably was the major island news, reaching everyone.   Imagine, for a moment, those family members who traveled to the island to attend one of the six funerals, and taking a similar route over the ice, perhaps questioning their own safety with the incident still so strong in their minds.  They would retrace their travels over the ice once more on their way home.

There were no portrait photos published of the young men, probably because there was no time to obtain them before going to press.  In order to make the news account more personal the names of off-island visitors and pall bearers were listed for each of the victims.

As noted in the Door County News story, there was fog on Sunday, a somewhat unusual but not unheard of circumstance in winter.  Such fog is often worse in the early morning hours, with visibility improving as the day goes on.  If fog had been encountered, this would help explain why the six, returning from the mainland earlier than the others, might have veered from the prescribed, safe route.  Autos with fans who returned later in the day, toward early afternoon, apparently met no difficulty in finding their way safely home.

Jake Ellefson, a retired Island commercial fisherman who was but 10 years old at the time, reflected on this incident, noting how disarming fog can be, generally thicker over water than land, and the boys may have committed themselves to continuing their crossing once out on the ice and beyond the peninsula, already partway home.  Jake's older brother, Steve, then a high school student of 17 or 18 and also a basketball player, also traveled to the mainland for that game.  However, Steve had received strict instructions from their dad that if he wanted to go, he would ride with Fred Mann, and he followed that advice, Jake said.  Noting the tight interior of the model of Wade's car, and given the fact the players were known to be quite tall, it was doubtful there would have been room for another in that car, anyway.  Such a tight, two-door car was a "coffin car" for ice travel, Jake noted.

Weather had been reported as being warm during the period leading up to the weekend game, and Jake surmised that snow mounded to support small trees or boughs that marked the safe route could have softened, with boughs easily toppled over, adding to uncertainty about the safest route that morning.

At the J. W. Cornell home that afternoon, Mary Cornell and her friend, Arni Richter, had returned from across the Door and were awaiting her brother, John Cornell, puzzled when he had not yet returned.  J. W. and Bub's older brothers would take part in the search, using their fish tug Clara C.   Upon the first body retrieved reaching the surface of the water, the newspaper reported that J. W. exclaimed, "That's my Bub!"

Arni Richter had been John's best man at his wedding, and Mary was maid of honor for her friend Varian Hanson.  In time, Varian would marry Don Olson, and they would raise their two children, Mary and Jim, in their Sturgeon Bay home.    Arni Richter and Mary Cornell married in November 1936, and four years after that, in April 1940, Carl and Arni took over ferry services from William Jepson. 

Roland Koyen, Bub and Harvey Cornell,
taken in 1930 when the Island ball team
traveled to Baileys Harbor for a game.
(from Mary (Cornell) Richter photo album)

Close friends Mary Cornell, Sis Hansen and
Varian Hanson (from Mary's photo album,
around 1930.)

             *     *     *

A Door County News editorial underscored the desperate need for safe winter travel for Islanders:

The people of Washington Island should have a safer and better mode of travel during the winter months than is provided by either automobile or boat, over the ice during the fall, winter months.  

While establishment of an airplane route between Washington Island and the mainland would be an expensive proposition, if it prevented another such catastrophe as occurred last week it would be well worth whatever the cost might be.  The Island people have gone further in development of air transportation than any other section of Door county, and have a landing field the has been frequently used, and which has placed Washington Island in closer touch with Escanaba, which has an airport, than it has with the Door county peninsula.

With a good airport within the near proximity of Sturgeon Bay it is possible that a mail route which would also take care of a certain amount of passenger business, might in time be established between Washington Island and this city.   The people of Washington Island are entitled to the full co-operation of all the people of Door county in any proposition that might better their transportation facilities, whether it be in the air or on the water.

Air service was out of the question as being too expensive, and the wooden-hulled ferries used in the 1930s, even when sheeted over with light iron, could not stand up to the punishment of ice service.  The dilemma of how to provide winter ferry transportation after 1940 fell on the shoulders of the Richters as the owners and operators of the Island ferry service.  But it wasn't until 1946, when WWII had ended and steel and motor parts and other needed materials were once again available for commercial shipbuilding, that the steel-hulled ferry Griffin was constructed and began Island service.  From 1946 onward, the former necessity of crossing over fields of ice in the Door in questionable conditions would be greatly diminished, with a few exceptions now and then.  Every so often, there would still be the need to take to the ice in order to transport mail, freight, and the occasional passenger, to and from Washington Island when the ferry couldn't get through.

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Added note:

In the hand-poured slab in the garage behind the J. W. Cornell home on Main Road (where our own family had the privilege of living for some 36 years, and where our daughter and her family live now) initials were scratched in the cement in October 1916,  Bub's (age 4 or 5) and those of his older brother, Claude (age 20).   In 1933, Claude Cornell became owner of a Stinson Jr., the Island's first plane.

-  Dick Purinton

Saturday, March 7, 2015

ISLAND WATERFRONT - Jensenville - Part X

Another photo from the Herschberger album, courtesy of Ann Young,
showing several homes in Jensenville.  This one was taken
in 1937.  The Spendrift is the boat in the foreground.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

I received more photos from Ann Young the other day, in part to answer my question, "Does anyone know what sailboat that might be?" shown sailing past the old Elbow Light in an earlier blog.

The boat is unmistakably Jack Herschberger's Spendrift, and the many photos Ann provided me, along with vessel registration, are not only fun to look at because they're about boats, they also show nicely the summer homes along the Jensenville shoreline.  You may be able to recognize some of them today, although most have modified windows, gables, porches and such compared with the 1920s-30s look.  I took the photo below from the ice just to see if I could match roof lines and windows, and other than knowing where Tim and Lois Jessen live today, as a relative 'newcomer' I can't feel qualified to draw conclusions as to which home is which.

Photo taken the afternoon of 3.6.15 (not a good day for boating).
Cedars and pines obstruct the buildings, adding to the difficulty in
matching similarities of the oldest homes.

Jack Herschberger's Spendrift in late 1920s, with ferry
in at Gislason pier, background.

The above photo shows the ferry landing in the background, an indication this photo was taken sometime in the 20s, before Jepson moved his operations to Lobdell Point.    

What about the name Jensenville?  In her book Let's Talk About "Washington Island" (1950, copyright 1973), Anne T. Whitney wrote this:

Captain Christian Jensen owned an attractive strip of property stretching along the shores and running back to Detroit Harbor Road from the Trueblood land east as far as where the Herschberger home now stands.  He built several good cottages and his own unique home.

There was a glamour around Jensenville beach, and Detroit Road became a boulevard requiring very slow driving while criticizing the shocking bathing suits the city people wore, (Oh my, just look at that one!) and those whose eyesight had not failed them too sadly could see that some wore no stockings.  Mothers drove young daughters hastily away.  Lots sold like "hot cakes" in Jensenville.

Here is another photo from back in the day, showing the Spendrift with several other boats, one a being a former double ender lifeboat.

The Jensenville summer resident family names Whitney mentioned are names still associated with many of the properties there today, or they are related to Island residents now living in other parts of the Island, names such as:   Trueblood, Herschberger, Evens, Mueller, Koken, Kiss, Williams.                                                         

What about the Herschberger name?  Who was C. B. Herschberger, whose children were Jack, Ruth, Harriet and C. B. Jr.?  Although the following is a digression from the main topic at hand, it is an interesting diversion to read about C. B. Herschberger, (from information supplied by Ann Young, C. B.'s granddaughter) from a piece titled, "CHICAGO ROLL OF HONOR":

Clarence Herschberger, Chicago's first representative on Walter Camp's "All America" team, and the first player west of the Atlantic seaboard to win such recognition, was mighty in achievement but small in size.  "Herschie" in his greatest days weighed only 158 pounds, his power as a runner coming from his cleverness.  He and Walter Steffen are said to have been the only two Chicago players who could pivot off either foot with the same skill.  When tackled, he had the resiliency of a cat, squirming loose and bouncing to his feet before he could be pinned down.

But marvelous a runner as he was, "Herschie's" fame rests really on his skill as a kicker. There probably has been no better drop kicker in football history, and certainly there has never been his equal as a place kicker.  With Gordon Clarke holding the ball, Herschberger place kicked field goals almost from any angle or distance.  One of his spectacular feats was to kick a goal from the 37-yard line, while the ball was rolling on the ground.  He did that in an indoor name played against Michigan in the old Coliseum on Thanksgiving Day, 1898.

Herschberger played four seasons on the [University of] Chicago football team.  He began in 1894, his freshman year, was out the next season because his parents objected to his playing, returned in 1896, was captain in 1897, and played his last year in 1898.  He also won four letters in baseball and track.  As good a student as a football player, he graduated with a Phi Beta Kappa key.  Now a real estate dealer, his greatest avocation is working in the fine machine shop, much of which he built himself, at his summer home on Washington Island, Wisconsin.

Ruth Gislason, along with her husband, Lawrence, worked as cook and porter on Great Lakes freighters for many years after their Island store closed.  At one time, Ruth prepared meals for the Herschberger family in summer.  In particular, her skills as a baker were remembered.  Ruth Herschberger proclaimed, "When I die, don't put flowers on my grave, just Ruth's rolls all around it."  Ruth and Lawrence would sometimes go to Chicago in late fall or winter, there to be entertained by the Herschbergers.  (Information taken from a hand written remembrance by Varian Hanson, who worked as a young girl under Ruth in the Herschberger home - Washington Island Archives document.)

But, back to the vessel Spendrift, owned by Jack Herschberger and acquired in 1928.  It was a well-used craft for many years, it appears, and although it was a motor boat, occasionally it was rigged with mast and sail (as seen in photo of the March 3 blog about the Elbow Light).  Side panels lifted off to permit greater air flow to the cabin, and that feature is shown in a photo of an overnight cruise to South River Bay, an inlet several miles north of Fayette on the Garden Peninsula.

The Spendrift (25'6" x 5'10" beam x 2'6" draft) was built by Dan Kidney of DePere in 1911 and was powered by a 7 HP Straubel engine.   Anyone who may be interested in engines of the past will enjoy this link describing the history behind the Straubel engines, a northeastern Wisconsin manufacturer and machining company:

Spendrift at South River Bay.  "Looking from side with
cabin sides up because of hot weather" - 1931

Pile driver

Finally, before leaving the Spendrift and Jensenville area I should provide the answer to my own questions, "What is that thing behind the crowd gathered on Gislason Pier?  Was it a navigational buoy of some sort?" 

In yet another photo furnished by Ann Young, a group of folks (Herschberger family members or friends, most likely) gathered at the Lobdell Point ferry dock with that same device behind them.  The iron guide to hold piles while they were being driven, and the iron block that was raised and then dropped onto the top of a piling, can be more easily seen.  Other photos of the time period also show this same piece of equipment mounted on a float, and so we assume Capt. Jepson may have been the owner and operator of this pile driver.     -  Dick Purinton

Group seated on pile driver, which in this photo appears to be
resting on top of the pier next to the ferry Welcome.  (Probably
taken in early 1930s)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

ISLAND WATERFRONT - Then and Now - Part IX

Another photo from the Herschberger family album from the 1920s.
A crowd is assembled on Gislason dock in Jensenville,
presumably to greet passengers arriving by ferry.
Do you recognize anyone?
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Before moving on to new territory, I need to make a few additions and corrections.

Thanks to additional information from Ann Young we have more names to add for the photo below, taken by a member of the Herschberger family.  (Most negatives are still in the family's possession, according to Ann.)

More identifications:  Besides Gordon Jepson in pilot house window (son of ferry
owner William Jepson),  from left are:   Charles "Buzz" Gislason, brother
Gene Gislason, unknown man, Ruth Herschberger, Harriet
(Herschberger) Platzman, and unknown lady.
Charles and Gene were sons of Ruth and Lawrence Gislason.   Charles was named, we suppose, for the brother of Lawrence who died and received posthumously the Croix de Guerre from the French government for losing his life in WWI.   The Island's Gislason-Richter American Legion Post 402 was named  in Charles' memory.  (Ludlow Richter was killed in WWII.)

Gene had an illustrious career in the U. S. Coast Guard, and he was decorated for bravery in landing craft operations at Normandy.  He retired with the rank of Captain.  One of Gene's retirement projects was to tabulate information about as many Washington Island working craft as possible.   His tablet of information was edited, and added to, by Hannes Anderson, himself a retired U. S. Navy Captain.

Do you remember the photo of an early ferry or island freighter under sail?  (See the Feb. 17th posting for a photo)    The name on the bow is too small to be read.  Ann Young thought it might be the Wisconsin, but there were a number of small freighters that had a similar look, and most of them had curved lifeboat davits mounted on the wheelhouse.   From Eric Bonow came the suggestion it might be the Marion, also used for a brief time period as a ferry.  He offered the photo below as a comparison, noting the rather "blocky" aft house that was partially enclosed by a weather curtain (which the vessel in the other photo also displays).  In this photo, too, a steadying sail is bent on, ready to be hoisted when away from port and on course with fair winds.   I give the nod to the Marion.

Marion at unidentified pier, year unknown.  

Anyway, this is another interesting photo.   In the foreground, is that a float for working on vessels, or an early channel marker of some sort?  And speaking of channel markers, what is that float with raised structure in our top photo, tucked behind the Gislason pier?   Could it also be a private channel marker set out by the ferry operator or commercial fishermen?

Finally, in a correction, I must withdraw my comments regarding the Goodrich Steamer photo having been submitted in Fred Richter's application for the Elbow Light.  It was not a part of his application. (See blog posted March 3rd)  An error by someone else in combining the two was then compounded by my wrong assumption.  However, I'll stand by my statement that no vessel of that size (length and draft) ever fit itself into Detroit Harbor!

I think we've cleared the decks now and can steam ahead into future blogs.  But keep the comments coming - and photos, if you have any.   Google makes it hard to respond to these blogs, but I also receive occasional comments by private email.  Let me know if its OK to reprint them in the comment section.   I'm not comfortable in reprinting them or using your name without your permission.

-  Dick Purinton


Judge Herbert, from Chicago, owned a boathouse (and perhaps a rudimentary
cabin) where Tim and Lois Jessen live today, in the community near the old
Gislason Store known as Jensenville.   The Herschbergers lived nearby.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

A most welcomed occurrence resulted from an earlier blog on early Island ferry service.

Ann (Herschberger) Young has been going through a family album, and she passed along photo gems of the past.

Most important is that through this album we can learn more about the people in earlier photos I've used, the vessel ownerships, general waterfront relationships of the 1920s.  Questions raised from earlier photos are answered in part with the Herschberger photos, family members who, according to Ann, enjoyed photography and took the time to add captions and names to the photos.

The topmost photo tells us who owned the Caroline, a distinctive boat built by a man named Amundson in Jackson Harbor (who I believe lived on the property later owned by the Lindgrens).  The Caroline was a Herschberger boat, and we see C. B. Herschberger on board in one photo, and a group of men in another.

Profile of Caroline with family / guests on board in pleasant weather.

C. B. Herschberger was grandfather to Ann, John and Bob.  His son, C. B. Jr., was nicknamed "Bunny," who with his wife, Anita, owned a cabin on the far southern tip of Detroit Island.  (The cabin was built by Anita and her first husband named Wilson, according to Ann.)  Later on, this property passed on to his son, Bill, and then more recently, through his estate to his children, who still own that property today.

Arrow points out George Tobey Sr.
Gislason store is noted.

The following photo series tells us more about the Caroline and how she foundered during a run in rough weather for medicine.   She was later "abandoned," using the parlance of vessel undertakers.      Accordingly, C. B.'s hand-written notes made on the vessel's letter of registry indicate that government notification was made.

Caption to the drama shown above when the Coast
Guard takes Caroline in tow:
"1923 - Caroline sinking - plank sprung out at Sister Bay (?) -
Gale N. W. -  Trip made for scarlet fever serum - Boat just made
Lobdells Point"

With thanks and appreciation for the photos and information...

- Dick Purinton

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Arrow points to a vertical timber lifted by ice, its lower end
still embedded in the base of stones.  This aid marked the old
channel into Detroit Harbor.  Many years, during average
water levels, both this timber and the rock pile
supporting it lay just beneath the surface.  The modern-day
aid (#8) is a steel nun chained to a cement anchor
and maintained by the U. S.  Coast Guard.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Over the weekend of Feb. 21 we drove around the upper part of Lake Michigan to visit son Thor.  It was his 35th birthday.   If he thought those 35 years went by quickly, it was like lightning for us.

Passing through Green Bay, I took the opportunity to have my three month check-up on the titanium implants in my knees.   I received confirmation that the occasional clicking sensation in my new joints - something that concerned me - was simply the clatter of plastic inserts glued to the underside of each patella.  It wasn't quite the same as sloppy clearances on valve tappets, I was told, and I shouldn't worry as it's quite a normal function of artificial knees.

We looked forward to our winter's trip from the Island, and the further north we drove into the UP, the snow showed greater accumulation, more in keeping with expected ground cover for late February than our skimpy Island snow cover.   A major portion of the highway vehicle traffic we saw, especially as we drew closer to the Straits, consisted of 4-wheel drive vehicles pulling snowmobile trailers, dozens and dozens of them.

Between card games and snacks at our comfortable hotel in Petosky, we sandwiched in a couple of visits to the Van Dam shop in Boyne City to observe progress on their latest boat building projects.  Friday afternoon I met several of the craftsmen who were still working, winding up the last half-hour of their day and their workweek before they put tools away, swept up and departed for the weekend.

For someone who enjoys this specialized boat construction process, there's a lot to take in at the Van Dam shop.

The hull of a sandbagger, a uniquely developed
 Chesapeake Bay sailboat design, takes shape
quickly as the first longitudinal strips are added.
Here, at the end of the day, Thor scrapes
excess epoxy oozing from joints of
recently attached strips.   Beamy, bow-on view
with low freeboard resembles a Viking
Strips of cedar, about one inch in thickness, provide the first
layer in this sailboat's hull.   Two more layers of 1/8"thick
mahogany strips, laid on a 45-degree bias,
will follow, also held in place with epoxy.  Due to
hull curvature, stainless screws and washers
 are used to secure strips until the
epoxy dries, after which time they'll be removed.

So far, this blog departs from the subject of my previous several blog entries, but doing so allows me to get underway slowly by inserting a few loosely related comments and photos, before spinning off into a continuation of Island waterfront history.

From the ferry's deck the morning we left, against the low sunlight I noticed a timber projecting upward from the old stone pile, the remains of the original channel marker.  During these past two months this same timber has risen between 3-4 feet, forced upward by the grip of ice and the rise in harbor water levels brought on by strong southerly winds.

My photo (at top) shows what nearly every winter traveler sees from the Arni J. Richter as the ferry departs from the Island dock and makes its turn southward down the channel and on toward Northport.  I highlighted the old timber with a hand-drawn circle and arrow.  The modern day red nun marking the east side of the dredged channel is frozen in the foreground ice.   You may recall I pointed out the old channel marker in my Jan. 31 blog, noted in a photo in which Dora Engelson stood before the ferry Welcome with several children in tow, taken sometime in the early 1940s.   As a novice, I learned from Captain Nathan Gunnlaugsson that this pile of stones with a timber protruding from it marked the "false channel."  It had been worn down so by ice movement and waves that most years it lay in waiting beneath the surface to snag unsuspecting boaters.  This "false channel" was the original, or natural, channel denoting acceptable depths, and it was used for many years by vessels entering Detroit Harbor proper.

The forces that are brought about by the hydraulic lift of the lake, following hard freezing around an object, has destroyed many a massive crib of timbers filled with stones.   We can see evidence along the island shoreline today of old fishing docks, torn apart even when considerable efforts were made by the pier owners to repair them.  Eventually, most crib docks and timbers were leveled, some in only a few years' time.   So, it comes as no surprise that a single timber remaining upright from an old navigational mark should be lifted by the ice, too.  What does amazes me is that this process took so many decades, including years when the stub projected above the lake level.  This winter, mother nature managed to extract this timber.

What is the history of this particular stone pile with timber?  Eric Bonow sent along some interesting information about the origin of this navigational marker, officially referred to as "The Elbow Light" (likely it referred to the dog-leg course change leading mariners into Detroit Harbor from the West Channel).   The photos and documents provided by Eric are courtesy of the Washington Island Archives.

At far left, the "Elbow" marker when it was in good shape (year unknown).  
 An unidentified small sloop heads into the harbor, its crew 
bundled in jackets and caps.  In the background on "Richter's Point,"  
Detroit Island, are buildings of the old fishing camp.

Fred Richter's application for a fixed red light was
made July 31, 1924, at a time when small freighters,
commercial fishing vessels, and relatively recent
auto & passenger ferries entered Detroit Harbor
with frequency.  The photo of a Goodrich steamer was
included with his application as an example of area maritime
trade, but it is unlikely this steamer (or any of similar
size) ever navigated to or from Detroit Harbor.

Fred Richter was one of nine children of Jacob and Anna Marie (Kalmbach) Richter.  He fished, along with his wife, Ida (Cornell), and they at one time owned the Pearl, a  boat named after their daughter.  (Two sons were Roy and Earl.)  The Pearl, according to a record of vessels compiled by CAPT Gene Gislason, was just under 30-ft. in length, and had been built by Nels Jepson in Detroit Harbor in 1906.

In the official Great Lakes light list, published some time after the light was installed, the aid's characteristics were as follows:

Fixed red, in 7 feet, on east side of north end of channel, at turn.

The light was affixed ten feet above high water, atop an "unpainted pile."

Under Light List "Remarks":
      Maintained by Mrs. Fred Richter, Detroit Harbor, Wis.

Anyone who has been boating at night in this harbor without the benefit of radar, GPS or depth finder knows how hard it can be to differentiate land formations from good water.   Although the gas buoy was in place at this time, located seaward from the entrance to the West Channel, we can assume the addition of this Elbow Light was welcomed enthusiastically by mariners for both nighttime and daytime navigation.

-  Dick Purinton