Category Archives: Michigan

The Pull of Leelanau

There is definitely something magical about Leelanau.  Standing upon the hills that are the remains of long ago glaciers, we get a sense of calm that we have yet to find elsewhere.  Miles of orchards, vineyards, shorelines, trees, and meadows continue to pull us in.  In reading that, one would think that the question at the end of our last post would be answered…will we be back next year?  It turns out that we indeed will be, and it will definitely be different than it has been in years past.  More on that in a minute.

I’m happy to announce that the rope project is complete!

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This is the last piece they asked me to do; a rudimentary barrier across a set of concrete stairs outside the Cannery.  Out of 200 feet of rope, I ended the project with a foot to spare.

Also, we had a nice surprise when a couple walked into the Cannery and asked “Are you exploRVistas?”

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It was long time blog followers Kathy and John, who came all the way from Delaware to visit Sleeping Bear Dunes!  It was fun to visit with them for a bit and we wish them well in their travels.

So, back to the future.  Over the past several years, I’ve had a habit of browsing on Zillow, the real estate website.  Those sessions always ended with a ‘maybe someday’.  Well, someday has arrived.  We found some land with a view, a hill, a driveway, a building site, deer tracks, trillium, and bunch of maple trees.  Seeing that it is a glacial moraine composed of sand and gravel, it passed the perc test with flying colors.  We mulled it over, sorted out the initial details, and closed on it this past week.  Will this take us off the road as fulltime RVers?  Not for several years, as we are going to build in phases.  We intend this to be a summer home, as we plan to continue to winter in Florida, sprinkling spring and fall travel into the mix.  We will change our status at the national lakeshore to community volunteers, once we complete our upcoming project.

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Here is our building site, looking south.  We have room for a small home, a large garage, and an RV or two.  A few of the trees will come out to open up a long view of the surrounding area.

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This view is looking north.  There are lots of possibilities as to what we will do with the space.  We will be doing most of the work ourselves, so plan on us taking a few years until our heads hit the pillows in our new home.

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One of the first things we wanted was a shed to store a few things in.  We’ll attempt to get that built in the time we have before we head to the UK.

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If it doesn’t get totally done, we will finish it when we get back.

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Diana is making sure the site doesn’t get reclaimed by the forest.

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She is making quick work mowing the ground cover the previous owner put in. Our new to us string trimmer is perfect for the job.

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A few of the leaves have started to turn color, so we should be in for quite a show when we get back from our trip.  Our trees are about 90-plus percent maples.

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Be sure to stay tuned over the next several years as we turn our little slice of heaven into a place to call home.  This next week will be a busy one, so look for our next post to come from somewhere in London.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

A Very Different Year

When we chose to return to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore this summer, we were hoping to build upon what we learned in 2018.  That has indeed happened, making this a very different season than we experienced last year.  And even though the subject matter was pretty much the same at our venues, the constant flow of new visitors has made each day unique and special.

When we first arrived, Ranger Matt asked if we would learn a new skill and work it into our interpretation; rope splicing and binding.  Many of the ropes in our museums were becoming frayed and worn and needed replacing.  Also, since our structures were built at the beginning of the 20th century and are not entirely critter-proof, mice find their way in during the winter.  Evidently, Mickey and Minnie have a thing for hemp.  🙂  I was given 200 feet of synthetic rope to replace the old lines with.  Larry, a volunteer with Inland Seas Education Association in Suttons Bay, stopped by to teach me how to backsplice a rope into an eye splice, along with making a sailmakers whip to keep the rope ends from fraying.

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This is my first attempt at a sailmaker’s whip on a practice piece of hemp rope.

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The lines are intended to act as a non-intrusive barrier between the visitors and the artifacts.

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The new line is much thicker than the old.  I found it difficult to maintain the structure of each strand, due to the slippery nature of the synthetic line.  Still, I was pretty happy with the way it ended up.  Note the hooks, which are made in our blacksmith shop.

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I needed some additional hooks and spikes for the Cannery, so Linda and Liz made them for me.  They are two of our volunteer blacksmiths, and they did an outstanding job!

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While I worked on the rope, the view from our ‘office’ was amazing!  Off on the horizon, the 1,000 foot freighter Mesabi Miner steams empty from delivering a load of iron ore to the steel mills near Chicago.

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Some days reminded us of the reason the lifesaving station was located where it was.  Here is Old Glory flying straight south on our radio tower/flagpole, with gloomy skies looming overhead.  Could the gales of November be far away?

 

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That earlier peaceful view can change in an instant.  In this photo, the 767 foot long freighter Philip R. Clarke heads north along the horizon through heavy seas.  Seas like this brings a crystal clear reality to our interpretation of the U.S. Lifesaving Service, as the visitors get a glimpse of what the surfmen were up against.  Most shake their heads in disbelief that they would row out into those conditions.

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The park’s Heroes of the Storm program helps folks to visualize a beach rescue using a Lyle gun and a breeches buoy.  Here is Ranger Gayle explaining the role of the 7 surfmen who worked at the station.

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One of the surfmen acts as the black powder charge in the gun, as the crowd yells BANG.  Here he runs at full speed with the projectile, trailing the shot line.  Captain Diana waits with crew member Raggedy Ann aboard the ‘sinking ship’ (our flagpole) for the line to arrive.  Every program has a fresh set of characters, and is as entertaining for us as it is for them. 🙂  Sadly, this year’s high water levels brought about a temporary halt to our actual Lyle gun cannon firing each Thursday.

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The beach has all but disappeared.  The small cannon recoils backwards a few feet when fired, and the required distance for safe viewing would put our visitors in the fragile dune grass.  Lake Michigan has risen 9 inches in May alone and is 33 inches above average at near record levels.  To get Lake Michigan and Lake Huron (hydrologically one lake) to rise just one inch, an additional 390 billion gallons has to be added to it!

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Another foot and we might be mopping the floors in the Cannery!

It hasn’t been all work up here in Leelanau.  We did manage to get out for a ride on the Leelanau Trail, our favorite rail trail.

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It’s hard to see Diana’s TerraTrike grin from behind, but it is there.  🙂

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And the Music in the Park concert series continues for a few more weeks in Northport.  Plenty of dancing and wine make for a great evening each Friday.

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Indeed, Leelanau is a great place to be.  A few more weeks and this season will be a memory.  Soon we will be coming to you from new vistas in the United Kingdom and Ireland.  Will we be back to Leelanau next year?  If we do, we are sure it will yet again be different than years past. Be sure to stay tuned to our next Saturday morning post to see if 2020’s plans include this little slice of heaven.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Planes, Boats, Automobiles and Music

Leelanau and Benzie Counties, MI – July 19-25, 2019

Keep on movin’…

If there is one statement that can describe our last week, the aforementioned line would be it.  Finishing up our shift at Sleeping Bear Dunes last Friday, we hightailed it up to Northport, Michigan to see a musical duo named Mulebone  

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We had listened to this Brooklyn, NY based pair back in 2017 and couldn’t wait to see them again.  The music they play can best be described as ‘roots blues’, if you can imagine such a thing.  Their hit Keep on Movin’ provided a theme for our week to come. We met up with our friends Rod, Mary, Lane, Patti, JoAnn, Paul and Skip, along with several other acquaintances.  A great evening, indeed!

Saturday morning found me opening the Cannery boat museum, while Diana was off to the Visitor Center to answer questions for the park’s guests.  While I was vacuuming, I heard a roar much louder than the Dyson I was dragging behind me.

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Four A-10 Warthogs buzzed Glen Haven, doing a wing wag as they passed.  I managed to get a photo of the last one as it flew by.  Later that day, we had a torrential downpour that lasted a good portion of the afternoon.  A couple on their bikes holed up in the building with me while the rain fell.  The noise level on the roof was deafening!  So much for any chance at the lake levels going down. 🙂

That night, Diana and I headed back to Northport to see one of our favorite bands, The Accidentals.

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Taking their name from the accidental musical note, Katie Larsen and Savannah Buist met by chance in a high school orchestra class.  Joined later by Michael Dause, this trio turns out some very innovative music.  They were recently signed by Sony Masterworks and are fresh off a tour of the United Kingdom.  We’ve seen them numerous times; the most recent being last year with our friends Jodee and Bill.  Unfortunately, the word ‘accidental’ reared its ugly side on Sunday as the group left Traverse City:

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Someone ran a stop sign and t-boned their van.  Luckily, everyone….and most of the equipment…is ok.  Sad to say that Katie’s carbon fiber cello took a direct blow and will never play their hit Michigan and Again again.  Instruments can be replaced though, as can vehicles.  They are already back on the road and their music lives on.

Keep on movin’…

Our Sunday was a bit better than theirs.  We drove south into Benzie County and visited Point Betsie Lighthouse.

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This gem was built in 1858.  The grounds consist of a combined lighthouse/keeper’s quarters, fog signal building, oil house and a separate lifesaving museum/gift shop.

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The museum had several pieces of authentic lifesaving equipment, including this time clock the shore patrol would’ve carried on their nightly rounds.

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The idea was that they would walk to a post several miles down the beach and insert the key that was attached to it.  That proved to their station’s keeper that they walked the entire distance.

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I found this photo interesting in that it shows the lighthouse depot at the foot of Mt. Elliott Street in Detroit, which still exists. My great-grandfather and his crew departed from that very same dock on the USLHS Amaranth in 1892 to build Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.  The depot is about 1 mile from where he lived at the time.

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The museum also had this display that showed how to balance containers on a ship.  Being the hands-on guy I am, I picked up one of the blocks, which in turn caused the boat to roll over and dump the entire cargo.  Diana proceeded to reload the blocks on the deck and send the boat on its way.  🙂

Once we finished up at the museum and fog signal building, we headed into the lighthouse.

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The view to the north from the tower shows the entrance to the Manitou Passage.  The beach patrol from the adjacent lifesaving station would’ve walked north several miles each night to the key on a post.  The men at the Sleeping Bear station would walk south to the same post. We’ve made it our goal to attend the lighthouses’ bicentennial in 2058.  We will be 100 at the time.

Keep on movin’…

Monday found us on a morning hike before our shift in Glen Haven.

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Our purpose was to test out our new double-collapsible trekking poles that we are taking to the UK in September.  We like them so far.  The trail we chose for our hike was Alligator Hill up to Islands Overlook; an easy three mile round trip.

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This is Sleeping Bear Point from that viewpoint.  The black roof of the Cannery and the flagpole at the lifesaving station can be seen in the photo.

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This is the vista looking north.  South Fox Island is to the left and Pyramid Point is to the right.  Truly a spectacular view.

Tuesday saw me complete a project I’d been wanting to do since we purchased Hank the Deuce:

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This tonneau cover is specially designed to work in conjunction with my behind-the-cab toolbox.  It rolls up tight against the box when I’m hauling the fifth wheel.  It will keep the hitch and the other goodies we carry back there out of the weather.

Keep on movin’…

To wrap up the week, we met up with our friends Paul and Sheryl.  We’ve known each other since our college days at Western Michigan University.

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We met for dinner at Cherry Republic on Wednesday and took in the Empire Bluffs trail on Thursday morning.  It was good to see them again!  We followed that up with another shift at the Cannery and on to the next week at Sleeping Bear.  Keep on movin’!

Stay tuned for our next Saturday morning post as we look for more of northern Michigan’s gems.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

A True Hero of the Storm

Every so often as people travel through time and space, the stars align to put them right where they need to be.  Such is the case with a gentleman by the name of Richard Selissen.  In November of 1958, Dick was a cook on the Coast Guard cutter Sundew, which was stationed in Charlevoix, Michigan.  Back then, as is the case today, large cargo freighters steamed up and down Lake Michigan carrying goods between various ports in the region.

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Just last week, I photographed the Wilfred Sykes as it steamed north through the Manitou Passage and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  This particular vessel was built in 1950. Eight years after the Sykes went into service, the steamer Carl Bradley was steaming north on November 18, 1958, from Chicago to its winter lay-up port of Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

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The 639-foot Bradley had been on the lakes since 1927, and had recently been hauling limestone between Rogers City, Michigan, and Chicago.  Two hours out of Manitowoc, U.S. Steel (the ship’s owner) sent orders  for the vessel to make one last run to Rogers City to pick up another load of stone.

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On many days, Lake Michigan looks like the photo above.  But this inland sea has been known to change in an instant.  On that day in 1958, a fierce gale was building as a storm system moved across the Great Plains of the central U.S.

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When these storms kick up, its not uncommon for the freighters to experience conditions as are shown in the photo above.  On November 18, the captain of the Bradley hugged the coast of Wisconsin to shield it from the sixty-five mile an hour wind that was coming from the southwest.  At some point, he knew he was going to have to turn northeast towards the Straits of Mackinac.  He did that just prior to the entrance to Green Bay.  The ship was moving with the wind with following seas and seemed to be doing well. Suddenly, the crew heard a loud thud.  The great ship had snapped in two in the middle.  A mayday was sent out and the thirty-five men abandoned ship into the relentless seas.

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The Bradley’s final resting place is shown in red on the map above at a depth of 360 feet.  The Coast Guard sent out several vessels to search for survivors, one being the Sundew, with a quickly assembled skeleton crew.  As the cutter left Charlevoix, local residents gathered to watch them head into the gale, fearing it would be the last time they would ever see the vessel.  The Coast Guard motto of ‘You have to go out…you don’t have to come back’ was surely on everyone’s minds that day. The captain of the cutter Hollyhock, which assisted in the search, described the trip as a “visit to hell”.

As the Sundew reached the Bradley’s last known position, Dick Selissen took up a position in the pilot house to assist in the search for survivors.  He spotted something unusual in the waves and notified the captain of it’s position.  It was a raft containing the only two survivors, Frank Mays and Elmer Fleming.  They had somehow managed to hang on through the night in the fierce gale and freezing temperatures.  Before they headed back to Charlevoix, the crew managed to pull 8 bodies of the Bradley’s crew out of the lake who hadn’t survived the ordeal.

Rogers City, where 23 of the Bradley’s men were from, lies 80 miles east by land of Charlevoix on Lake Huron.  Many of the crew’s families headed west across Michigan to await the Sundew’s arrival.  It was a somber sight as the ship came into port, her flags shredded from the storm.  The Bradley’s sinking hit Rogers City hard, as many families lost their sole breadwinner that day.

Fast forward many years later to a Walmart in Zepherhills, Florida.  Dick Selissen struck up a conversation with a gentleman who was very familiar with Dick’s summer home of Charlevoix.  It turns out that the man was Frank Mays, the seaman that Selisson had spotted in the raft so many years before.  Once again, the stars aligned.  What are the odds of that encounter happening?

This past Wednesday, Mr. Selissen visited our lifesaving museum at Sleeping Bear Dunes.  He struck up a conversation with fellow volunteer Lucy about the 36-foot motor lifeboats that he also had crewed on while in the Coast Guard.  I showed up in the middle of the conversation at our shift change, when he mentioned he had been stationed in Minnesota at the time.  I asked him “where in Minnesota?” and he said “Duluth…on the CG-36527.”  I told him “Sir, your motor lifeboat is a half mile up the street in the red Cannery building”.

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He had no idea it was there.  He was thrilled!  Again, the stars aligned for this hero of the storm.

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What an honor it was to be able to speak with this gentleman.  Thank you for stopping by Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Mr. Selissen!

Be sure to stay tuned for more about our summer in Leelanau in next Saturday morning’s post.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Michigan 2018 Wrap-up

Almost as fast as it began, our late summer in Michigan has come to an end.  The last few weeks were a flurry of activity, work, and fun!  Check it out:

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My sister Judy and brother-in-law Dale came to visit.  They went on a hike with us to Pyramid Point and checked out the maritime museums at Sleeping Bear.  We finished up the day with dinner at Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor.  It sure was good to see them!

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We also had a visit from my cousin Sue and her hubby John.  Its always fun to hang out with these two!  We caught a sunset with them at the Lake Michigan Overlook and a late dinner at Cherry Republic.

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Diana’s cousin Nancy and her husband David also stopped by, as did Nancy’s brothers Jerry and Reed.  After that, we saw our friends John and Julie, and then Diana’s cousins Evelyn, Linda and Brenda were in town.  We also were able to see our friends Camilla, Lane, Patti, Rod, Mary, George and Grace again.  Hope I didn’t miss anyone!

While at the National Lakeshore, we were encouraged to visit as much of the park as possible.  By doing so, we were able to give accurate information to our guests in the visitor center.  While out checking Good Harbor Beach, Diana spotted this cloud pattern, which is pretty typical over the peninsula.

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All that water makes for a dynamic sky.  🙂

The end of the season saw our maritime museum receive a fresh coat of paint.

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It was a tedious project, as there was lead paint that had to be removed. They really did a nice job!

We also were able to take a tour of Glen Haven with our supervisor, Marie.

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Here she is explaining the construction of the Sleeping Bear Inn.  The hotel was built in 1857, and the park is hoping to have it restored and put back into use.  Marie is a wealth of knowledge and a joy to be around.  🙂

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And here is one of the longtime residents, Leonard Thoreson, filling visitors in on the area history.  His parents owned one of the farms that is now part of the Port Oneida Rural Historic District.  Leonard can be seen riding his bike through the park just about daily.  The white plate on the front of his bike says “91”, which refers to is age.  What a treasure.

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One really fun thing we did was to work at the big relief map at the visitor center.  Here’s Diana explaining the park’s features to our guests.  It’s neat to learn about people’s interests, and match them up with what the park has to offer. People were really appreciative of our efforts.

Soon it was time to leave.

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We didn’t get a photo of Judy and Paul or of Bob and MaryJo, but we did get one of Rick and Debbie!  We sure enjoyed sharing our little campground with all these folks!

From Leelanau, we headed to Grand Rapids for a week.  While there, we were able to buzz down to Indiana to see my aunt and uncle again.  Both are doing well.  We also took care of annual physicals and such, finishing up the week in Kalamazoo for Western Michigan University’s homecoming.

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The weather wasn’t the greatest, but the rain held off for the game.  Western beat Eastern Michigan 27-24, so that added to the fun!

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We had quite the crew, first and second generation Broncos!  Brian and Sarah (olive and black shirts in the center) are getting married in a few weeks, and circumstance doesn’t allow for the group to attend, so….

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…we held a Bronco wedding!  Sarah was the Broncette and Brian was the Bronco.

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Brian’s brother Eric was the ring bearer, and he had us in stitches.   We had a reception, cake, dancing…you name it, we did it.  Diana and I even won the anniversary dance for a change! The entire event was way beyond what any of us thought it would be.  Man, we have fun when we get together!

From there, we headed to southeast Michigan to see Diana’s family.

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From left, our nephew Jared, Diana’s sister Cheryl, Dan and Becky (our niece), Diana’s brother-in-law Doug, Diana and I.  We had a great time catching up with everyone!

From there, we visited Diana’s uncle Bob and cousin Debbie.  While we were there, we camped in Diana’s hometown, Ortonville…just across the street from where we were married 36 years ago.  It was fun to be back there.  🙂

This morning, we headed south out of Michigan.  We are keeping a close eye on Hurricane Michael, as it is crossing our path to Florida.  It will be long gone by the time we get to Georgia, but we don’t know what sort of damage we are going to find.  The next few days should be interesting.

Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

 

 

Shipwrecks and Lifesaving on the Manitou Passage

One of the consistent statements we hear from visitors to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is that Lake Michigan’s Manitou Passage looks like the Caribbean.  When the sun shines on these crystal clear waters, the deep blue and turquoise colors are breathtaking.

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Peaceful scenes such as the 1000 foot freighter American Spirit steaming past the North Manitou Shoal Lighthouse in the distance are common here in Leelanau County.  Looking at this, it’s difficult to imagine the fury the lake can unleash…often within a matter of minutes.  Many a mariner has been caught unaware in these waters, and their ships have been wrecked near these shores.

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This chart shows the ideal route that ships aim for as a dotted line.  By going this direction a vessel can shave 60 miles off of their trip between Mackinac and Chicago, as opposed to going west of the islands.  This archipelago can also act as protection from strong westerly winds.  During a fierce gale in 1913, the steamer Illinois found refuge in South Manitou Island’s crescent-shaped harbor by nosing into the beach and keeping the engines running forward for 50 continuous hours.  It was at that point that the wind subsided enough for a crewman to go ashore and secure the ship to a large tree, so they could power down the ship.

Back in late 1800’s and early 1900’s, there weren’t any decent roads in northern Michigan and the lakes were considered a highway.  It wasn’t unusual for 100 vessels to be in the Manitou Passage on a given day, as it was also a major fueling station.  Wood was the fuel of choice back then for steamships, and these shores had plenty of it.  All of that traffic, combined with the occasional storm, brought about many shipwrecks. Over 100 vessels were known to have run aground, with many of them being refloated and saved.

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Over 50 were left in place to be dismantled by the power of Lake Michigan’s waves.

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One such ship was the Walter L. Frost, which ran aground along South Manitou Island’s shore in 1903.  It wasn’t too many years until nothing remained above the lake’s surface.

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In 1960, the Liberian freighter Francisco Morazan grounded on South Manitou Island after losing power, running over the subsurface remains of the Frost (blue arrow) in the process.

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Today, the remains of the Morazan are a visible reminder of just how brutal this lake can be to a ship….

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…and a flyover will reveal many of the other wrecks in the passage.

We had an excellent example of the moodiness of Lake Michigan this past week.

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This is a photo of the 620 foot long Mississagi, heading south through the fog towards Muskegon on Thursday.

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On the ship’s return northward on Friday, it was met with 50 + MPH gusts coming from the northwest.  As a reference, this photo was taken on the east side of the Manitou Islands, so the ship was not experiencing the high waves that were occurring out in the open lake on the west side.

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But look what the captain did once he was past Leland and North Manitou Island.  With the full brunt of the gale hitting them broadside, he choose to turn the bow northwestward and head across the lake to calmer waters along the Upper Peninsula shore.  Once there, he turned northeastward and headed towards the Straits of Mackinac.  As he passed Mackinac Island, he witnessed the only shipping casualty of that day’s storm. The tug and barge Defiance/Ashtabula had run aground.  Once the gale subsided, that ship was able to be freed from the clay bottom with little damage.  The storm was strong enough to not only close the Mackinac Bridge to high profile vehicles but also the Soo Locks.  That rarely happens.

Nowadays, rescues are performed by the Coast Guard with helicopters and enclosed motor lifeboats.  Back when the Illinois sought shelter in South Manitou Harbor in 1913, the U.S. Life Saving Service (USLSS) had other equipment at their disposal.

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For the wrecks that were farther than 500 yards from shore, the USLSS would use an open surfboat to rescue stranded sailors.  The Sleeping Bear Point Life Saving Station performed 5% of their rescues in this manner.  But since most wrecks occurred along the shore, a beach apparatus was employed to bring the crew to safety.

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That consisted of several lines, a breeches buoy, and a cannon (called a Lyle Gun) to fire the initial line over the ship.  The breeches buoy was nothing more than a pair of pants (britches) attached to a life ring.  What this apparatus amounted to was similar to a modern day zip line.

Here at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, we perform a daily demonstration (summer months only) of the beach apparatus using young volunteers from the audience as surfmen.  This program is called Heroes of the Storm.

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Here is Captain Diana with her crew, Raggedy Ann and Andy, calling for help from her stranded ship.  A simulated Lyle Gun fires a projectile with a line out to the ship, which allows the captain to drag out the heavier rescue lines.

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Here is Captain Jim on another occasion sending Ann towards the shore in the breeches buoy.

A special treat occurs on Thursdays, right after the Heroes program.  That is the day an actual Lyle Gun is fired.  This cannon is the only gun invented by the U.S. Army to save lives instead of take them.

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An 18-pound projectile, similar to the one I am holding here, is loaded into the Lyle gun.  A 200-yard long shot line is tied to the end of it.  That is fired out into Sleeping Bear Bay each week.  Once the line is hauled back in, it is hung along the station’s picket fence to dry.  Once dried out, it is the park volunteer’s job to ‘fake’ the line into what is called the faking box.

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Here is Diana winding the rope around the faking box pegs.

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And here we are with 200 yards of faked rope.  There is a lid that is put over this afterwards. Once at the beach, the whole thing is turned over and the rope is slid off the pegs and into the lid.  Hopefully it doesn’t tangle when they fire the gun!  Let’s find out in this slo-mo video.  This took place the day we faked the rope:

Lyle Gun video: CLICK HERE

So there you have it.  That brought a smile to our faces!

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Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

 

The Finest Hours

“You have to go out; you don’t have to come back” 

Unofficial Coast Guard motto

 

September 8, 2018

A few months back, you may recall that we stopped into the Old Harbor Lifesaving Station while we were visiting the Cape Cod National Seashore.  One of the reasons for that visit was to see how a tour of a maritime museum is conducted.  Our tour guide, a National Park Service volunteer named David, inspired us with his ability to portray what life in the U.S. Life Saving Service was like.  While we were there, he gave us a tip to go see a famous Coast Guard boat that was docked in Rock Harbor, some 30 miles to the south.  It was the subject of a movie called The Finest Hours.

This turned out to be a case where history stared us right in the face and we didn’t catch it.

The next day, we set off to explore Cape Cod’s elbow, first visiting Chatham, and then Rock Harbor.  At Chatham, we parked in front of the Coast Guard station and lighthouse. This complex overlooks the Chatham Bars, a series of sandbars that extend out into the ocean.

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We were a bit more focused on this shack constructed along the shore, but we did note how far out the waves were breaking on the ever-changing sand bars.  Shortly after taking this photo, a driving rain came in off of the ocean, so we failed to photograph the station and lighthouse.  Instead, we headed up to Rock Harbor to see the boat that David had mentioned.  Once at the dock, we were greeted by this sign:

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Still not familiar with the story or the film The Finest Hours, we descended to the lower dock to examine the boat.

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Obviously well restored and impressive to look at, the CG-36500 was tied up with little explanation to it’s storied past, short of the fact that it was a gold medal boat that had saved 32 men.  Not knowing much about Coast Guard history, we focused on how impeccable this boat was and not much else.

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The fittings on the craft were impressive.  Still, we were somewhat more interested in the U.S. Life Saving Service on this trip than the Coast Guard, so this small beauty’s story didn’t fully grab our attention.  We left the dock with the intention to see the movie and to research the boat’s story.  One thing led to another, and that didn’t happen.

Fast forward to our boat museum in the former Glen Haven Canning Company building at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.   When we started our stint as volunteers here at the beginning of August, it was hard not to notice the largest boat in the museum as being similar to the CG-36500 we saw in Massachusetts back in May.

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Turns out it was not only similar, but built from the same blueprint.  Our boat, the CG-36527, had been stationed at Duluth, Minnesota.

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Both crafts, along with the 128 sister TRS 36-foot motor lifeboats, were built by hand at the Curtis Bay Yard in Maryland.

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Not being in the water, it appeared much larger than it’s fleetmate out on Cape Cod.  The boat is self-bailing, self-righting, 10 tons and its motor will run upside down.  Solid as a stone and virtually unsinkable.  It is rated to carry a crew of four and up to twelve survivors.

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The ‘pudding’ bumper on the front is a work of art.  Visitors comment that it resembles a mustache.

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Standing on an easel by the front of the craft, this poster is displayed.

There’s that movie we failed to see…

So we watched the movie, then read the book of the same title.  The story goes like this:  A ferocious winter storm off the coast of Cape Cod in February of 1952 caught two World War II era tankers in its grip.  Both ships split in two between their bows and sterns.  The Fort Mercer was able to get a distress call off, and the Coast Guard sent most of their boats to assist in rescuing that ship’s crew.  The Pendleton wasn’t able to get an SOS off before it broke up, and it wasn’t until they were noticed on radar that the Chatham stationmaster Daniel Cluff went into action.  He ordered Boatswain’s Mate Bernie Webber to gather three other men and head out in the CG-36500 to see if there were any survivors.  Doing so meant they had to cross the dangerous Chatham Bars that we mentioned earlier.  Those sandbars have been known to rip boats to pieces in mild seas, and the waves that afternoon were upwards of 60 feet high!  Most of the locals considered it impossible.

“You have to go out; you don’t have to come back.”

Crossing the bar meant timing the waves, gunning the throttle on the upside and switching to full reverse throttle down the backside…so as to keep from driving the bow into the sand.  The ship’s compass was ripped loose and lost overboard almost immediately and the windshield was shattered.  Miraculously, they made it past the bars, but they were now running purely on Webber’s knowledge of the currents and the winds.  They somehow found the stern of the Pendleton, which was still afloat.  On deck were 33 men, anxious to get off.  (It was discovered later that the bow section had partially sank, killing the captain and crew that were in it.)

Remember, the CG-36500 is rated to carry a crew of four and up to twelve survivors.

Suddenly, a Jacob’s ladder was thrown over Pendleton’s stern and the men started down.  Webber brought the little lifeboat in close to get each man, backing away in between to keep from smashing into the tanker’s side.  Men were packed into the survivor’s cabin and onto every available space on deck.  The only man that didn’t make it was Tiny Myers, the ship’s 300 pound cook.  He fell into the sea and a wave threw the lifeboat into him, killing him.  Once everyone was on board, Webber pointed the CG-36500 back towards shore, hoping to beach it somewhere.  The tide had risen and they were able to cross the bars rather quickly.  As luck would have it, they ended up at the mouth of Chatham Harbor and were able to come directly into the dock with their soaked and freezing survivors.

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All four crew members were awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal for their efforts.  They tested CG-36500’s limits, which in turn performed beyond its intended purpose for them.  The mission is considered to be the Coast Guard’s greatest small boat rescue ever.  The craft continued to serve until it was decommissioned in 1968.  It was donated to the Cape Cod National Seashore with the intention that it would be displayed in a museum.  Funds never materialized, and the boat was left to rot in a storage yard, totally exposed to the elements.  The Orleans Historical Society acquired it in 1981 and restored it to the operational beauty it is today.

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In 2002, the crew was reassembled for the 50th anniversary of the rescue, and they were able to take the CG-36500 out for a tour of the harbor with Webber at the helm..  That would have been a sight to see. Clockwise from the front:  Andy Fitzgerald, Richard Livesey, Charles Bridges (Pendleton crewmember who later joined the Coast Guard), Ervin Maske and Bernie Webber.

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If you find yourself on Cape Cod, be sure to stop in Rock Harbor and view this wonderful piece of history.  Maybe rent the movie or read the book. Or if you find one of the 15 or so remaining 36 footers that grace our nation’s maritime museums, take a moment to imagine that night in 1952 when the Coast Guard witnessed their finest hours.

Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Sleeping Bear 2018

July 29 – August 14, 2018

We are happy to be back in Leelanau County, Michigan for the months of August and September.  We will be volunteering for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.   As we did for Oregon State Parks, we will be working as Interpretive Volunteers throughout the park.  Our duties include working in the two maritime locations, the visitor center, and as narrators on bus tours of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.

Campsite

As compensation, we are given a campsite at D.H. Day Campground.

We came in a few days early and camped at Leelanau Sands Casino, just north of Suttons Bay.  In order to stay there, we had to sign up for a Players Club card.  First time cardholders are given $10 in free slot play.

Leelanau Sands

I had a pretty lucky night.  The machine I was playing started going wild!  The guy next to me was laughing, as he thought I was doing pretty good for a 30 cent bet.  When I informed him I was playing on the casino’s money, his jaw hit the floor.  By the time we walked out, I was over $180 in winnings.  Not bad for someone who doesn’t frequent casinos!

Before we headed to Sleeping Bear, our friends Linda and Steven came and stayed next to us at Leelanau Sands.

Linda and Steven

We all went to Patti and Lane’s house for dinner, along with Rod and Mary.  We also went out to eat a few times and checked out Peterson Park.

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We love the view from up there, as it’s possible to see four islands on a clear day.

We also went kayaking on Little Traverse Lake with Lane and Patti.  Here they are heading back out after we had to get ready to go back to our camp.

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Pretty soon, it was our first day on the job….which also happened to be out 36th anniversary!

First day Sleeping Bear

Here we are in the Cannery, which is a fruit processing plant turned boat museum.

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The boat I am sitting in front of is identical to the one from the movie, The Finest Hours.  It is self-righting, self-bailing, practically unsinkable and the diesel engine will run upside down.

The other maritime location is the 1902 lifesaving station.  The boathouse is said to be the most completely equipped station in the United States.

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Here I am letting one our visitors feel how heavy the Lyle gun projectile is.  That particular gun would shoot a line over a disabled ship in order to establish a lifesaving zipline, then called a breeches buoy.  The Lyle gun was the only cannon ever developed to save lives, instead of taking them.

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We also have two open surfboats on display.

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And every afternoon, the park puts on a program called Heroes of the Storm, a reenactment of how a Lyle gun rescue works.  Seven children are pulled out of the crowd to serve as surfmen.  The sailors they save from the ‘ship’ are Raggedy Ann and Andy.  It’s really fun.  🙂

And on Thursdays, the park fires off a real Lyle gun.  It is a sight to see!

Lyle Gun 1

The initial blast…

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…pushing out the flame and the projectile.

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As the projectile gets dragged by the shot line coming out of the blue box, it turns around and heads out over the water….

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…eventually landing 200 yards out, dragging the shot line behind it.  The surfmen back in the day could launch the projectile up to 600 yards.

We also worked at the Port Oneida Fair, which is a celebration of the early 20th Century rural culture. Living history activities were held at several of the historic farms, as well as the school house, that are a part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

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Diana worked at the washtub station, teaching children how to do laundry.

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When the local TV station started filming, we  decided to watch the news that night.  Not only was she on there…

Corn Sheller

…so was I, teaching kids how to run a corn sheller.  🙂

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One gentleman was even teaching youngsters how to play a hammer dulcimer.

Blacksmith Shop

And who is that in the Blacksmith shop?  Well that is Diana, providing lunch relief for the blacksmith and keeping the fire going, while explaining the role of the blacksmith in the town of Glen Haven.  🙂

Northport

We also were visited by our friends Jodee and Bill!  Here we are at Music in the Park in Northport.

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We also checked out Sleeping Bear and the Old Mission Peninsula with them….

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…and their sweet fluffy dog Tessa.  🙂

Our last night with them, we managed to get tickets for The Accidentals.  We have been following this trio for several years now.  Their latest album Odyssey has been played in our CD players from Oregon to Florida to Maine and back to Michigan.

The Accidentals

Diana and I have seen them perform twice in the past at outside venues, but it was great to see and hear them inside an auditorium.   The four of us were blown away, hooting and hollering throughout the show.  If you ever have the opportunity to see them, don’t miss it.

Well, that gives you an idea of what we’ve been up to the past few weeks.  Stay tuned for our next post as we continue to find new adventures to share with you.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

 

Photographs and Memories

July 6 – 28, 2018

“Photographs and memories
Christmas cards you sent to me
All that I have are these
To remember you”

Jim Croce

Sometimes our lives move so fast, we forget to look back and see where we’ve been.  And while our 4 month rambling trip from Florida to Michigan was anything but quick, we had a tendency to focus on the road ahead to our next destination.  That all changed when we left Cooperstown, NY.  It was about then that our plans completely turned to Jello.  We knew we had several people we wanted to visit in Michigan and Indiana, but nothing spoke to us as what route to take or what order to do it in.  We had several options to choose from.  Day by day, the next stopping point was chosen, but the overall route continued to elude us.  What we didn’t realize was that a single event was going to end up choosing our path for us.  And once we were here, it turned out that each location held a period of reflection for us, filled with boxes of photographs and memories.

Our first stop beyond Cooperstown was Seneca Lake, NY.

Rig at White Springs Winery

We had wanted to spend some time at one of the several Harvest Hosts locations that our friends Linda and Steven (The Chouters) had stayed at last year.  We chose this dandy spot at White Springs Winery, just south of Geneva.

Jim at White Springs Winery

It was a great place to not only share a bottle of Pinot Grigio, but to enjoy a fabulous view!  Our original plans had us staying at two separate wineries, but we opted to move further down the road after a two night stay.

From that point, we had to decide whether to route through Canada or the United States.  We chose the latter, as we were thinking we would want to visit my aunt and uncle in Indiana first.  We spent a few nights at Westfield, NY on the southern shore of Lake Erie.

Barcelona Lighthouse

This charming little community is home to the Barcelona Lighthouse, which was built in 1829.  It has the distinction as being the first lighthouse to be lit using natural gas.  A concrete dome was built over a spring a half mile away to trap escaping gases, and a pipe was laid between the two structures.  Pretty fancy technology for the early 1800’s.  We also discovered that the area is a major grape-growing region, and was home to Welch’s near the end of the 19th century.

It was at this location that our route became clearer.  Diana received a call that her aunt wasn’t doing well.  We’ve always been close to Aunt Marion and Uncle Bob, so we made tracks for Flint, Michigan without haste.  We stopped at Cabela’s in Dundee, Michigan for the night, close to 300 miles from our starting point that morning.

Cabelas Dundee display

If there is one thing that Cabela’s does well, it’s how they showcase the mounts in each store.  The displays in this 225,000 square foot location are spectacular.  Instead of one musk ox, they show an entire herd of them facing off against a pack of wolves.

By the time we reached Flint the next day, Aunt Marion had passed.  We were fortunate to get a camping spot at the Flushing Moose Lodge just a few miles from Bob and Marion’s home, which ended up working very well for us.  We spent the next days with family, sorting through photographs and remembering happier times.

Bob and Marion

Here is a photo of Bob and Marion, looking their usual dapper selves.  🙂  They were quite a duo.  Marion was Diana’s mother’s sister.

During our stay, we took the opportunity to drive by Diana’s childhood home and to visit the cemetery where her parents are buried.  On the way back to Flushing, we drove by the house where Diana’s mother grew up in Goodrich.  This also was the spot where Uncle Bob met Aunt Marion over 70 years ago.  The current owners were outside, so Diana mentioned to them that her grandparents used to live there.  They graciously invited us in!

Diana at Grandma's house

Needless to say, Diana was overjoyed to be able to show me the home.  Many memories were shared, and several of the owners questions were answered as to how the house used to be. The woodwork on the stairs to the basement survived several remodels.

After the funeral, we headed north to visit my sister Judy and brother-in-law Dale in Harrison, Michigan.  We attended a benefit concert for the local library and visited the local veteran’s museum that Dale helps out with.

Grandpa Belisle

One of the displays was of Judy’s and my paternal grandfather, a veteran of World War I.  He was a Canadian citizen at the time, fighting as a U.S. Army soldier.

Jim paddleboarding

While we were there, I even had the opportunity to try out Judy and Dale’s paddle board.  I never fell off, but I sure felt it the next day!  🙂  Judy and I also pulled out a box of family photos, as I was looking for a particular photograph.  I never found it, but I did come upon this gem:

GG Schmitt

This is my Great Grandpa and Great Grandma Schmitt.  He’s the one who built Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, among other things.  This photograph is probably from the 1870’s.  We are only three generations apart, despite the many years.  Do you think we look a bit like each other?

From Harrison, we headed south towards Indiana.  We stopped along the way at the Moose Lodge in Otsego, just north of Kalamazoo.  We used that as a base to travel down to see my aunt and uncle.  We also went to dinner with our friends Mike and Cindy, and then the next night with Paul and Sheryl.

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We completely forgot to get a photo with Paul and Sheryl, but here we are with Mike and Cindy.  There was lots of catching up on what we’ve all been doing.  Two great evenings with two sets of wonderful friends.  🙂

And in Indiana, we were able to catch up with Uncle Ed and Aunt Marge, two of my mom’s siblings.  Uncle Ed wasn’t feeling the best, so we didn’t pester him with a photo.  While we were at Aunt Marge’s, we took a look through her photos to see if I could find the family photo I was looking for.  No luck again, but I did find these beauties:

Grandpa and me

Here I am with my maternal grandfather in 1976.  He was 92 and I was 18 at the time.  For the record, I loved Detroit back then and I still do today.

Grandma and Grandpa K

And here are my maternal grandparents, just before World War II.  Grandma is the daughter of the Schmitts in the earlier photo.

Mom and siblings

And here is my mom with my aunt and uncles.  Uncle Ed is in front, with (left to right) John, Mom, Marge and Fritz behind him.  All three boys would soon be in the war and Aunt Marge in the convent.

Aunt Marge and me

And that is where she is today, as sharp as ever at 94 years young.  It was great to be able to spend time with her and Uncle Ed.  🙂

We’ve spent the past few days taking care of doctor and dentist visits, and the general things we like to take care of around Grand Rapids.  We visited my parents’ graves and even found my buddy Richie’s crypt in a mausoleum in the same cemetery.  That kind of knocked the stuffing out of us for a bit.  You might recall him from our post, Reflections in the Rear View Mirror.

So after a bit of a pause while sorting through old photographs and memories, we are ready to move forward and make some new ones.  This week we head north to Leelanau to start a new adventure for us.  Be sure to stay tuned for our next post, as we describe what that entails.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

 

 

March Wrap-up and Spring Plans

The month of March has ended up being extremely busy for us, as we finished up our ‘to-do‘ list, socialized, and planned our spring and summer travels.  We started out the month with a day trip to Lakeland to watch our friend’s (Jim and Sue) son play baseball.

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Jake pitches for Fontbonne University, and their team was playing at the Central Florida Invitational Tournament. I played catch with him back in 2012 when he was only about 12 years old. Catching his fastball gave me a swollen and numb index finger on my left hand for a long time afterwards. My mitt would crack when the ball hit it; unfortunately, my finger probably cracked also. 🙂 As a college freshman, his pitching arm has only improved since that time.

We also were invited by our new friends Nick and Betty to join in on their weekly lunch get-togethers with other folks in the park.

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From right: Jerry, Linda, Betty, Nick, Ron, Nancy, Diana and me.

 

Here we are at our favorite pizza joint, Oceanside Pizza.  Over the course of time, we got to know several people in the park, which has been really fun!  During one of the meals, I discovered that Nick used to work for the same company in Louisville as our friend and fellow fulltime RVer Bill Murray  Small world.

Our ‘to do’ list is whittled down to a few small items, but not before a couple of things were tacked onto it.  Edsel 2, our new Escape, had an issue to where the clutches in the rear wheels weren’t releasing when we cornered, so our local dealer (Kelly Ford) took care of that.  They found that there was a technical service bulletin issued by Ford for the problem.  We can’t say enough about how great our experience was with Derek, our service adviser.  We also had our RV air conditioner quit on us the other morning, so we have a mobile tech coming tomorrow to replace that.  The general consensus in the park is that we did well by getting 11 years out of our current unit, especially since we exposed it to salt air the past three winters.

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We also were able to attend this years St. Patrick’s Day potluck in our park.  You may recall that we skipped it last year, as I had found out our good friend and my long time colleague Richie had passed the night before.  I wrote a post about it called Reflections in the Rear View Mirror.  Although we miss Richie, we were able to enjoy this year’s party.  After everyone ate, someone broke out their karaoke machine and we all ended up making a day of it!

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Here’s Bonnie and Ted taking their turn.  A few drinks later, I even joined in!  🙂

Our time this year in Melbourne Beach is quickly coming to a close.

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It will be just a few more sunrises and sunsets before we head out on our next adventure. Where will that take us?  Our plans are to head up the East Coast to arrive in Maine by the beginning of June, and then back over to Michigan for a bit.  The trip from here to Michigan is spread over a four month period, so we have a lot planned along the way.  Be sure to stay tuned for that, as well as our new work camping position in Michigan for the months of August and September.  Our plans are to come back to Florida next winter.  As always, we would love to meet up with you, should our paths converge. Feel free to contact us privately at explorvistas@gmail.com, if you would like to try for a get together. Until next time, safe travels!