Saturday, April 25, 2015

ISLAND WATERFRONT - Then and Now - What of 75 years? - Part XX

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

When thinking of the significance of 75 years of service, I keep coming back to the idea that there has been community commitment - a two-way commitment:  the ferry company to the Island and the public it serves, and the base of customers who use and rely on that service.

There is no better visual example I can think of than the christening ceremony for the ferry Arni J. Richter, held on May 24, 2003, just before that ferry was placed into service.   Present were Islanders, guests from off the Island, students and many other well-wishers.

I say well-wishers, because I think everyone wanted this ferry to be a great one, reaching the mark in every sense of the term, for the improvement of service it would offer in summer and winter.  Grade school children participated in a coloring contest, and one of the many entries submitted, with a personal message, is shown above. (Sorry, but I can no longer recall the artist's name.)

A chorus of voices led by Dan Hansen, the Island Music Festival Chamber Orchestra under direction of Stephen Colburn, representatives from the U. S. Coast Guard, and representatives of the design, construction, financing and legal support - each necessary to make such a vessel possible - and the many, many people who stood on the pier made this a community celebration.  It was an event for the community, with the intended purpose of providing future service to the community.  If you knew where you were standing on that day, you might identify yourself in the photos below.

May 24, 2003 - AJR Christening (photos by Arni Orman)

We've been blessed over the years to have talented professionals in our area who have furthered the development of our vessels, docks, piers and shore facilities.   Having excellent shipyard facilities, naval architecture design firms and engine suppliers handy, each a part of our regional economic community, has been an immeasurable positive for this business, and for the Island community, in turn.

Tim Graul Marine Design crew from Sturgeon Bay visited in 1998 to
inspect, measure and offer Voyageur improvements.
From left to right are Tim Graul, Arni,
Bob Thompson, Bill Hitt and Charlie Balestrieri.
We mentioned in the last posting that it would be impossible to name any particular event or achievement as having the greatest impact over the past 75 years, but one event that comes to mind that might be easily overlooked would be the naming of the ferry Eyrarbakki to coincide with the 100th Anniversary of the first Icelanders to come to Washington Island.  (The original four young men led the way for a greater Icelandic immigration that followed, here, in other states and Canada).
Launching of Eyrarbakki at Bay Shipbuilding - 1970
(Estelle Richter photo)

 Having made a trip to Iceland in 1969, perhaps with the idea of creating a special celebration in 1970, Arni and Mary Richter visited Eyrarbakki, home of Arni's grandfather, Arni Gudmundsen, and the port of embarkation for many Icelanders.  Ideas for a vessel name were exchanged with his Icelandic cousin by letter in the months that followed, as community plans were prepared for an Island celebration in the summer of 1970.  Arni and Mary settled on the name of that village, Eyrarbakki.

Other communities at that time had their own ethnic celebrations, and Washington Island had for years featured a summer Scandinavian Festival with folk dancing, smorgasbord and such.  But, in keeping with a genuine respect for Island ancestry, this celebration elevated the importance of the Icelandic settlers, and it still provides today a unique notoriety for Washington Island.

So, back to our original question:  what does 75 years in business mean, if anything?

There was certainly no long-term plan that Arni or Carl Richter had for continuing their ferry business as long as possible, but the combination of doing something they enjoyed, activities that proved profitable but just as importantly, served their community.  These were lasting goals that committed them to a particular approach to service.  And from that commitment, I think, came the need and desire to grow, to improve and modernize and do those things for which the community can hopefully benefit, as well as the business itself.

Hoyt Purinton with his grandfather in 1995.
There was never a master plan, but rather,
 uncertain struggle along
the road to business leadership
Now with 40 years under my own deck shoes, and from my association with Arni and all of the fine people I've worked with at the Ferry Line, I believe it is the broad range of talent and skills, people with a similar desire to serve the community in which they live, that instills  dedication in today's employees, excellent people, all.

The second thing I learned, in a somewhat unexpected manner, is that the time will come to provide greater opportunity for others, and that opportunity can be furthered by stepping back, with confidence that there are several ways to accomplish goals, and an abundance of good people to accomplish them.

Ferry crew and family members demonstrate the effectiveness
of an IBA (Inflatable, Buoyant Apparatus) - June 2005.

With the passing of the torch, so to speak, there ought to be - and I find that there is - a great deal of pride in observing the accomplishments of others, and in knowing that commitment and tradition continue.

That, I think, is the best - and only legacy of value - for a business that hits the 75th year mark.
       - Dick Purinton

Steve Propsom of Bay Ship with Hoyt during the indoor construction of
the AJR in 2003.  If there is a "face" of the Ferry Line today, it is that of
Hoyt... and Rich Ellefson, and Bill Schutz, and Bill Jorgenson, and Erik Foss,
and… the many others who make daily ferry service possible.

Friday, April 24, 2015

ISLAND WATERFRONT - Then and Now - Crew - Part XIX

Picking up food orders at the dock.  Erik Foss in red vest.  Back to
camera, Chris Fosco (of Fosco's Famous For Nothing Restaurant)
and looking into camera, Tom Harvey.   (taken 1980)
The Ferry Line's freight truck would limp along for another 30+ years,
sometimes with suspect brakes, sharp springs poking through the
driver's side upholstery, but never requiring a key for the ignition.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

When looking back on various milestones of the past 75 years, it's hard to pick one event, one achievement, or one decision as being the most important, with the greatest long-term benefit, either to the ferry business, or to the Island as a whole.

Instead, each new vessel christened, each major dock development or renovation, each dredging project, each new or improved shore facility builds on preceding work.  So, it's not just difficult, but impossible to say what was the most outstanding accomplishment.

Most important, however, and not to be forgotten, is the continuum of men and women who carried out their work, often behind the scenes, performing the daily tasks that actually make the ferries operable, who collect each payment, balance the accounts, provide answers to questions, direct drivers, handle freight, packages and mail, and accomplish those thousand-and-one things that support such ferry service 365 days a year.

This posting will reproduce photos of some of our crew, past and present, who may also be found on WIFL's Facebook page when they're posted in future days and weeks.

There are new faces who come to work at the docks each summer, often young people hired to staff the ferries, freight garage and ticket booths.  But, we're also pleased to name so many captains and crew who have made careers with the Ferry Line,  some with as many as three or four decades, with loads of experience behind them.  

It might be hard to beat the 60+ years of an Arni Richter, but I think of Dave Johnson and Nathan Gunnlaugsson, two captains who each had 40 years of service.   Based on unofficial data, at one time Nathan may have held the record for most crossings of Death's Door, but that record will probably be eclipsed by Bill Jorgenson (if it hasn't already been beaten) who spent the greatest share of his employment time on board a ferry (vs. working on shore).   Erik Foss, still a youngster, is, like Bill, fast approaching 40 years with the Ferry Line - longer if you count his time helping around the dock when doubling as a bike shop attendant.  Bill Schutz, office manager, recently started on his 36th year of service.

So, with no particular order in mind, here are some of the faces, past and present, of people as they worked for the Ferry Line, or who staffed the mainland Chamber of Commerce information booth, or who were our frequent customers - after all, our customers are who we are working for - captured in photos.

Many thanks, perhaps belated, for all you've done to keep the ferries and traffic moving!

- Dick Purinton

Jon Gunnlaugson, Arni, Nathan Gunnlaugsson
Dave Johnson
Vi Llewellyn and Gordon Wedel

Sylvia (Hansen) Andersen - 1953
Steve Kalms, WIFL's Peninsula mailman
Brothers Con and Ray McDonald
Joel Gunnlaugsson - 1993
Beatrice (Anderson) Mott - 1986
Trucker Bob Bouche, Algoma
Greg Carr
Pete Nikolai and Lydia Foss (soon to be Nikolai)
Fred Hankwitz
Dave Johnson, Jr.
Kim Hansen and Janet Hanlin
Gil Truax and Randy Andrus - 1993
Alvin Cornell 
Carol (Swensen) Fruin - 1986
Bill Schutz - 1995
Gordon Steiner - 1989
Kurt Meyer Jr.
Lance Ellefson - 1993
Al Stelter - Ken Berggren - 2005
Getty Foss - 2005
Dave Johnson, Al Thiele, Rich Ellefson
Matt Kahlscheuer - 2006
Island Pizza neighbors Dan and Ethan Mathy with Nick Young
Erik Foss - 2004
Eric Bonow - 2003
Jim Rose
John Rose - Island Chamber - 1993
Bill Crance - 2000
Mark Dewey - 1995
Larry Goodlet - 1995
Arni Foss - 1993
Joan Blair - 1999
Jens Jacobsen
Our posting began with this truck, a late 40s Chev, purchased long ago from Egg 
Harbor Farms and used for freight until … about 2011.   Loaded with a hardware 
shipment, the hood is up, an indication of problems.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

ISLAND WATERFRONT - Then and Now - Richter Ferry Line - Part XVIII

Ferry dock aerial 1978 -  Jon Gunnlaugson's  tanker Griffin is docked at
Hansen's Standard Oil (the concrete surface looks new in this photo) and the
 crew of the Eyrarbakki, largest of the three remaining ferries then, and in
its eighth year of service, prepares to discharge a Coke truck and other vehicles.  
Adjustable, hydraulic ramp in foreground is in its 4th season of use, the only
spot on the dock then set up for bow loading/unloading.  Voyageur (top) and
C. G. Richter are idled on this day.  Bob Bell's orange International Scout is
parked next to the ferry office, foreground.  A telephone booth is
handy, alongside the building for patrons coming off  the ferry.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

We continue with the story of the Richter ownership and operation of the Ferry Line, now in its 75th year in this year, 2015.

The schedule comparison shown above is interesting for a couple of reasons.  For one, there was deference paid to Carl in 1940, with credit paid to "Carl Richter & Son."  This would soon change, and maybe it was more practicality than anything, acquiring a business name that would be readily associated with Washington Island.  But over time it was still the Richter name, Arni Richter's name, that would be closely associated with Island ferry service, and in a general sense, with Washington Island as a whole.  Arni's involvement in the Door County Chamber of Commerce, his role as a director for the Bank of Sturgeon Bay, and his staunch support of the Republican Party (that brought him in contact with several Republican governors, state legislators, and Congressional representatives) held both social and business implications for the Richters and the Ferry company. 

Another interesting comparison is found in examining the rates, where one-way passenger fares ($1.00 in 1940 vs. 87 cents in 1953) and auto rates were actually less in 1953 than in 1940.   Perhaps increased volume had something to do with those rates, but in 1953 there were two, relatively new ferries, Griffin (1946) and C. G. Richter (1950), still working off construction debt.   Farming and fishing were then two booming Island industries, with dairy and potato farming continuing apace, and commercial fishing was the king industry in terms of incomes and steady employment.  Those industries translated to a great deal of freight hauled, meaningful in terms of revenue for both the Anderson Transit Co. and the Ferry Line.  Perhaps the freight revenues helped to meaningfully support the business overall. 

The construction of the Voyageur in 1960 departed from the side-loading ferries that required wooden planks (later replaced by a steel plate) to span the gap between vessel and shore.  Although the Voyageur had only a single ramp, located in the bow, loading could be accomplished quickly by directing drivers and backing autos on board.  A creative crew with the right mix of traffic could load a dozen vehicles in a short time.  Oftentimes, the load was a mix of autos, trucks and trailers, and occasionally large equipment that earlier ferries simply were unable to carry.   

Hauling a semi by ferry was novel, unheard of until the Voyageur.  That was
why this first-time photo was taken of a J. W. Cartage truck aboard early in the
1960 season.   The design of a larger, open-deck ferry today seems a no-brainer,
but Percy Johnson spoke often of Arni's agonizing the day before he had to
sign a contract to build the Voyageur at Sturgeon Bay Shipbuilding and
Dry Dock. Financing was always a challenge, and Arni's business style was
to first have the major percentage of new construction costs in hand before laying
a keel, a pattern that has been followed to this day in keeping debt
to a minimum.

By 1970 traffic justified a second open-deck ferry, an even longer vessel named Eyrarbakki.  If the Voyageur had been a grand improvement for carrying vehicles of all sizes, the Eyrarbakki went one better.  She had both a bow and stern ramp, and rather than the restrictive open deck of 50 feet of the Voyageur,  at 87 feet LOA the Eyrarbakki had approximately a 70-foot opening, making possible the loading of just about any combination of truck and trailer that could be brought over the bow.  (Eyrarbakki still has the largest unrestricted height, open deck space of all of the ferries.)   Standard vehicles (if they required less than a 9-foot overhead clearance) could be easily loaded in a drive-on, drive-off arrangement, and overall capacity came to 18-20 autos.  There were still large "Detroit boats" being driven for comfort rather than concern for fuel prices in those days, but new, smaller Japanese models had joined the highway mix, plus Detroit's "compacts" that provided options for crews to load an extra car here and there, maximizing usable deck space on a busy day.  

A major drawback in loading the C. G. Richter- especially in low water,
and especially with a heavy load - dealt with regularly throughout winter,
was to drive loaded trucks over the side ramp, timing the roll of the boat so that
the rebound in buoyancy would support the rear axle's wheels as the major
weight came into play.

On a cold winter's day, the Noble's hull was moved
from a construction shed to an opening and turned upright.
using two cranes.  Shown with the upright hull at PBI
are Arni Richter, Dick Purinton and Harry Purinton, who
represented R. A. Stearn, Inc. Naval
Architects.  Harry did much of the structural design and
engineering on this ferry, and the Washington in 1989 when
working for Tim Graul Marine Design.
At the time the Robert Noble was constructed, Tim Graul
headed up the PBI commercial design division,
completing Robert Noble design details. 

With a new ferry C. G. Richter in 1950, another in 1960 (Voyageur) and a third in 1970 (Eyrarbakki), there came a public tendency to believe that a new ferry would be built "about every ten years."  Pushing this theory along (and based solely on the coincidental rise in tourism and the need to keep pace with summer traffic, not a pre-ordained circumstance) was yet another ferry designed and built for launch in early 1979.  

Robert Noble launch, April 30, 1979 at PBI.  90' x 36', with
two, 365 hp Cummins engines, with 175 passengers, and 10'6" overhead
on the aft vehicle deck, made this ferry quite versatile,
the best in the fleet at the time.

The Robert Noble's design would enlarge, slightly, upon the dimensions and capacity of the Eyrarbakki, and in so doing it would render the C. G. Richter less useful - almost obsolete - as a summertime vehicular ferry. 

The answer, in order to get use from an aging vessel that still had many nautical miles left under her keel, was to convert the C. G. to summer passenger-only use.  

By 1984, an extension of 70 feet had been made to the Northport Pier, and as a result Gills Rock became a "passenger excursion" port, with the C. G. competing in summer, first with the Yankee Clipper, owned by Charles Voight, then after 1987, with Voight's new, aluminum Island Clipper.   

One fact of business Arni liked to recite was that each new ferry exceeded in cost the sum total of dollars spent on all previous ferries.  This reflected not only the nature of new construction, with increased complexity in safety equipment and design features intended to meet U. S. Coast Guard regulation, but also the tendency to improve each new ferry in size and utility.  With increased size came increased horsepower, and larger transmissions, all with added cost.   Each new construction contract was supported with the optimism that it would prove to be the right decision, and that a new ferry would help to sustain, if not increase, business for the Ferry Line and the Island.

Adding to the "ten year cycle" myth circulating in Door waters would be yet another ferry, Washington, also built by Peterson Builders, Inc., this one designed start-to-finish by Tim Graul Marine Design (TGMD).  It should be noted that during this period, Peterson Builders was attempting to transition from a heavy dependency on U. S. Naval contracts, which were becoming harder to obtain, while at Bay Shipbuilding nearly all shipbuilding efforts were going into the large commercial ship construction or repairs for the laker fleet.  Bay Ship didn't seek new, small vessel construction at this time, although that approach would change again in time.  

The Washington's design was a departure from previous ferries, most notably for the use of a center pedestal, or trunk, that supported a substantial superstructure.   The Washington had greater length and beam (100-ft. x 37-ft.) than previous ferries, but the increased overall dimensions, as it turned out, were somewhat offset by cramped lane conditions alongside the trunk, which incorporated public heads, engine room and passenger deck access stairs, piping and wiring runs, and light cargo storage.

Every vessel results in compromises, however, and overall, this ferry became a summertime savior by taking on long lines of vehicles and passengers, loading them with ease.   In certain instances, she's also been used in the freeze-up stages of December, having good sea keeping abilities, with less propensity to toss spray over the deck.  But, summertime use was its main purpose, to meet with the still-increasing patterns in traffic.   The 1990s, with financial bubbles not yet ready to burst, also brought increasing tourism, very much on the rise in Door County as a whole. This ferry, Washington, coupled with a new break wall built in 1994 that surrounded the Northport dock and made landings much less subject to wind and waves, became a very useful piece of equipment.  

Washington set to depart.   Crew: (L to R)  Jeff Cornell, Laura (Shellswick)
Lerner and Erik Foss.

The age of the C. G. Richter, having design qualities unacceptable to owners of longer and higher vehicles, and with increased bulk freight demand in the dead of winter (fewer Island goods were being stockpiled in advance, with less small package freight), and without the mass and horsepower to bull through frequently encountered ice conditions, and with its less-than-adequate passenger accommodations  (both heads and cabin space) her days were numbered.

But, it would take substantially more capital, plus the right design - whatever that might be - before a contract would be signed for a new winter ferry.  That timing proved to be 2002, a decision that followed much internal discussion and regular, annual deposits into a construction fund.  By that time, Arni Richter had retired (after making an official retirement statement, but one not always heeded!), and the new ferry to bear his name would have greater size, horsepower, and capacity than any of the other ferries.  And as before, it would result in greater expense than all previous ferry vessels combined!   

This card appeared anonymously one day at the Ferry Line office.
Its creator was quite perceptive of the divergence of opinion as
construction of the Arni J. Richter took shape in Nov. 2002.
(Taken on day of keel-laying at Bay Shipbuilding.)

The Arni J., as this ferry quickly became known, at 104-ft. LOA could carry 18 vehicles with ease, having broad vehicle lanes nearly 10 feet wide, with passenger cabins and passenger deck access, heads and engine room access offset in a structure along the starboard rail, giving it capability to carry several semi trucks by driving them straight through - this ferry came to be a considerable improvement for  winter and summer ferry service.  

Capt. Bill Jorgenson at wheel of Arni J., in ice.  Hull speed is
a consistent several knots, even in solid ice 10' thick.
Best of all, as it turned out the Arni J.  exhibited wonderful icebreaking capabilities.   This was due, in no small part, through copying the lines of the successful design of the most recent Drummond Islander ferry at Point DeTour, Michigan, also designed by TGMD.  A flight to Drummond Island in a small plane piloted by Graul convinced Arni there just might be a new and better design possible, rather than repeating or enlarging the C. G. Richter design.  (At one point, several years earlier, Arni had stroked his chin while he mused, "I don't think you'll ever find another design as good as the C. G. Richter for winter work!")

If Arni hadn't entirely agreed with the general design and parameters for the new ferry as they were developed with Tim Graul's expertise, he did go so far as to agree to put his name to it, and then to strike the bottle of champagne against a gangway upright when the moment for public approval was ripe.  His oft-repeated statement at age 92, and later, and not without intended humor, was:  "If my name's on it, it better be good!"  

-  Dick Purinton

Arni joked, after his first swing produced only a thud, that
he "might be getting a bit weak."  The occasion was
witnessed and enjoyed by several hundred people, and
accompanied by music, stories and adulations.