Saturday, May 30, 2015


Rock Island and Thordarson boat house, after rain clouds cleared Wednesday.  
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

I had the pleasure of operating the Karfi this past week on Tuesday and Wednesday.   Weather wasn't so great.  We had heavy fog early Tuesday, and then light rain, with rain again the following morning, finally giving way to a short stretch of afternoon sunshine and clear atmosphere.

Tuesday saw light passenger traffic and  a few campers heading back home.  Wednesday, after transporting a few passengers in the rain on the first run at 10 am, there were no takers for our noon trip to Rock Island. As it turned out, there were none waiting to return from Rock Island, either, so Christian Foss and I took advantage of the empty vessel to shut down, moor, and hike up the trail toward the lighthouse to examine the predicament faced by well drilling trucks the previous afternoon as they traversed the rugged, mostly uphill route.

Unloading the well drilling rig, one of the heaviest pieces of
equipment, with close wheel base, of the various vehicles carried
aboard the ferries.  (Purinton)

At midday Tuesday, in the height of the fog, Jeff Cornell and Hoyt had brought three trucks from Detroit Harbor belonging to Charlie's Pumps and Well Drilling, Brussels, Wisconsin.   As it turned out, transporting the equipment to the Rock Island dock and unloading it over the rather narrow pier was the easy part.

Karfi approaching Rock Island Tuesday morning.
(Kathleen Ernst photo)

The real challenge lay ahead for Randy Holm, Park Manager, his co-workers, and the operators of the trucks.   Anyone who has walked that trail knows that it is steep and rutted, sometimes sloping away from the hillside.   In addition, soils were soft and greasy from consistent rains over the previous several days.  Progress toward the light was halted, temporarily, approximately 3/4 of the way to the light.  That's where the trucks were parked for another attempt on Thursday, in hopes the rains would let up, giving the trail a chance to dry.

On Thursday, efforts to get the drilling rig and pipe truck to the light resumed.  Sixteen fiberglass mats were transported to Rock Island that morning, weighing approximately 100 pounds each, which were then laid end-to-end to ease the trucks over the, muddiest, steepest, and toughest patches.  Randy Holm described this operation as successful, but not without intensive labor on the part of the two drivers and the park employees who laid mats, then lifted them after the trucks had passed, scraped mud and rock from each, and then reset them on the trail that lay ahead.  With that effort, the drivers managed to get their trucks to the lighthouse grounds.

Then, as a first step, the well head was removed from the original, three-inch well, giving the drillers access by means of a pump dropped down the hole to a ready water supply, and with lubricating water, drilling commenced.  However, at approximately 25 feet, the drill head bit broke from the drill shaft.  As of this Saturday morning, their hopes are to retrieve it from the hole, possibly by adding cement and then pulling the entire plug, drill bit and all.   Not only is the drill bit worth several thousand dollars, it currently blocks drilling efforts made thus far.   If extraction is unsuccessful, a new hole using a new bit will have to be started.

This rather involved effort to provide a new well is designed to replace the original well, one that's been in use by lighthouse residents since approximately 1904-06 (the date is uncertain), when it was drilled by the Koyen brothers using a drop drill.  Randy Holm believes the old well was drilled to a depth of 155 feet (probably close to the vertical distance to the lake level from the top of the bluff).   For the past 100 and more years this well tested A-OK, but as older wells go it was uncased, and the State wishes to replace it with a new, cased well.   Undoubtedly, this new well will be of a deeper variety, probably producing typical iron content and water not nearly as tasty.  [Note:  In a conversation with retired Rock Island Park Manager Kirby Foss this afternoon, he said that August and Volney Koyen towed their drilling rig over the ice to Rock Island by horse team, and drilled the well in winter, to a depth of 195 feet.] 

This newly acquired liquid may be some of the most expensive water-per-gallon in the state!  We wonder how many cases of bottled drinking water could have been supplied for the same cost as drilling this well.  There would, of course, have to be the carrying of the occasional bucket up the steps from the lake for washing dishes and clothes, bathing, etc., the way it was done in the old days!  The thought of it all gives one a greater appreciation for life at the lighthouse prior to advent of the turn-of-the-century well, when fetching water from the lake must have been routine, in addition to capturing rain water.

Those new knees worked just fine

Christian and I paused near the Thordarson gate at the top of the first hill, above the tank house.  It's been fenced in for safety reasons recently, and in fact it was slated for removal this spring due to its deteriorating condition and the resultant liability it posed for park visitors.  However, keen public interest in trying to replace it with a similar structure brought a temporary stay to its demolition.  During what might be a rather limited window, Friends of Rock Island and park officials will seek funding and ideas to construct a similar replacement gate, one that might weather another 70 or 80 years.

Gate with hanging flower planter, made of native cedar, one of several
iconic structures on Rock Island built by Thordarson.  From this
location, visitors can enjoy a sweeping vista of the boathouse grounds
and Washington Island's northern shoreline.   (Purinton)

Christian and I then hiked past the gate another half-mile or so,  where we came upon the trucks parked in the center of a level section of trail.  This truck roadblock was the reason Holm had elected to temporarily close this trail to park visitors (other trails remain open), and for obvious safety reasons the grounds at the lighthouse will be likewise be closed during drilling operations - at least through June 6th.   Reopening of the lighthouse will depend on progress made in drilling during the coming week.

Every so often along the trail shoulders we saw deep ruts where the wide-tired front wheels of the well driller rig had gotten slightly off to one side.  On steeper portions of the slope where there were rugged vertical sections, there was evidence of struggles to move forward, and then get unstuck, using planks and gravel fill.  Given the challenges faced, it was surprising these two trucks got as far as they did that first day in the rain, with the steepest portions still awaiting passage.

To aid this project along, on Friday park workers carried a portable mixer and sacks of cement in the park's backhoe to the light, from the closed truck that was parked in the field near the boathouse.

When completed, this well drilling effort will mark a bizarre beginning to what we hope will be a good season for Rock Island park visitors.  Memorial Weekend traffic was steady, for both Washington and Rock Islands, and there are widespread hopes for good summer weather to provide many pleasant days outdoors for visitors.

Well drilling rig operated by Charlie's Pumps,
Brussels, Wisconsin, when progress was stalled
partway up the lighthouse trail.  (Purinton)
Meanwhile, our family has been preparing for months for a trip to Iceland, and in future blogs I'll feature what we'll see and do, as well as concerns we have regarding our travels.

-  Dick Purinton