Category Archives: Michigan

Scanning the Skies for Rainbows

March 21, 2020 – Melbourne Beach, Florida

Written by Jim

In September of 1980, my phone rang in my college dorm room at Western Michigan University. It was my mom calling from Ohio to let me know about something that had happened to her and my sister. My grandpa had died a few days before in Indiana. He had been the only male resident of the Catherine Kasper Home for aging Catholic sisters at my Aunt Marge’s order’s motherhouse in Donaldson, Indiana. He had broken his hip while visiting and was granted permission to stay. I would visit him there, as it was a short drive from Kalamazoo. When I asked him how he liked it, he replied “Too many queens and not enough kings.” Truth be told, the only queen that mattered to him was his dear Minnie who had passed six years prior. This iron-willed homebuilder from Detroit sobbed that fact to me on more than one occasion.

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Back to that phone call. My parents were returning from a trip and stopped for the service the sisters had for him. I was going to meet the family for the main funeral in Detroit a few days later. My sister went to Indiana and drove Mom back to Ohio, as my dad had some loose business dealings to take care of before the funeral. As Mom and Judy were heading east, a rainbow appeared before them. The phone call had to do with that, as a rainbow is what my Aunt Marge requested when my grandpa asked her what sign she wanted when he got to Heaven. As I talked to Mom, I was looking out my dorm room window at a dazzling rainbow. While it was sad that Grandpa K had died, it brought a quizzical wonder at the coincidence of those color filled arches across the sky. Oddly enough, my aunt…the most spiritual one among us… never saw her rainbow. I’ll expound on why I think that is later in this post.

Over the years since, Diana and I have been treated to rainbows soon after a family member passes, almost without fail. Each time a gentle reminder that there is a God and a Heaven. This past Sunday, the requestor of that original rainbow passed away. My Aunt Marge, known to the sisters as Sister Mary Conrad Kirchhoff, was 95 years old.

As a child, she looked up to her older sister, my mom. Blackie and Blondie were their nicknames. She also looked up to her brothers Fritz and John and was protective of her little brother Ed.

After high school, she held a couple of secretarial jobs in Detroit before she heard the call from God to become a nun. She chose the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, an order that originated in Germany and had an American group of sisters in Donaldson, Indiana.

As a novice, her ‘little’ brother Ed came to see her. He would soon be off to war in the U.S. Navy, along with his older brothers who were serving in the Army.

Once she took her vows, she hit the floor running. She earned a Bachelors Degree from Loyola in Chicago and masters degree from St Francis College in Ft Wayne. She was a teacher and principal in Chicago, Director of Novices in Donaldson, the head of the order in the U.S. from 1973-1979, and then returned to teaching.

From 1983-1989, she was the first non-German sister on the worldwide board in Germany. Over the years, she travelled the world to places from Germany to India and Italy.

She even was able to meet Pope Paul VI. She was even fortunate to witness the day that same pope became a saint; the same day the foundress of her order did (Sr. Mary Catherine Kasper). She spoke with Diana and I about how she thought my mom would have been able to see more of the world than her. Never in her wildest dreams did she think she would be so blessed to have experienced so much. She finished her career as the Vice President of Mission Effectiveness at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Fort Wayne. Throughout her life, she opened doors to opportunities for her sisters to follow. When she didn’t know the path to take, she trusted God to show her the way.

And that is my belief on why she never saw that rainbow. Of all of our family members, she was the only one that didn’t need to. She had faith that her dad made it to Heaven…no rainbow required. God bless you, Aunt Marge. You were our moral compass. The world is better for you having been a part of it.

Below is a link to a YouTube video where she speaks of her years in Detroit and how she was called to become a sister. It’s a nice way to spend 5 minutes, if you have the time.

Sr Conrad’s calling (YouTube)

A Snowball in Florida?

February 1, 2020 – Melbourne Beach, Florida

Written by Jim

The metaphor of a tiny snowball rolling down a hill and gaining size was a thought that kept going through my head in early January. With the fact that we were on the coast in Florida…at an elevation of 10 feet above sea level and with us in shorts…it was just that; a metaphor. That thought was rooted in my attempted recovery from the most recent bout of whatever crud was going around. It turns out that it had snowballed into a full-blown case of bronchitis. I ended up coughing so hard that I pulled muscles in my back and aggravated my sciatic issues on my left side. I could barely walk, once I mustered the energy to get out of my chair. I was a mess, to put it mildly. On more than one occasion, I thanked God that I had decided against working for UPS this year.

First order of business was to get over the bronchitis. A trip to Surfside Urgent Care netted me several prescriptions, including an inhaler to stop the out-of-control coughing. If you owned stock in Walgreens over that period of time, you are welcome for the upswing in your portfolio. 🙂 The concoction of drugs, coupled with some great nursing from my lovely caregiver Diana, did the trick. By mid month, the snowball had stopped rolling.

The next thing on the agenda was to address the sciatic issue. My leg pain had subsided, but it was replaced with numbness. I contacted my nephew Dr. Dan, who is a physical therapist in Michigan, asking advice on what direction to go in seeking health care. My primary care doctor is in Michigan, and I really wanted to get a jump on this. Dan provided me with a ton of information (Thank you!) and a recommendation to seek out a good physical therapist down here. Florida has a law that allows a person to get 30 days of PT without a physicians referral, so I connected with one that was highly rated and accepted by our insurance. I’m happy to say that after a week and a half, I am making great progress! The snowball is indeed melting.

In Space Coast news, we’ve had three launches so far this year. January 6 saw the launch of Starlink 2, the second operational flight of SpaceX’s constellation of internet-providing satellites. With it being an evening launch that was flying northeast, we knew our best views would be further north of our winter home. We headed up to Patrick Air Force Base, which sits just south of Cape Canaveral.

What a show! What you are seeing in this photo (left to right) is the trail from the main engines, followed by MECO (main engine cut off). The next dot is the second-stage engine start (SES), followed by that portion of the rocket fading off into orbit. At that point, the rocket is outside of the atmosphere, so the flame disappears. Farther to the right, the first re-entry burn from the first stage can be seen, as it slows down to land on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, located several hundred miles out to sea. The final burn wasn’t visible, as it was over the horizon. I guess Earth isn’t flat, after all. :). For a full list of SpaceX acronyms…some of them hilarious… click HERE. BFR is one of my favorites, as is FTBA. 🙂

The next launch was the much anticipated IFA test. IFA stands for In-Flight Abort. NASA will be launching astronauts on SpaceX rockets, and this test was performed to see if the capsule could escape from an exploding rocket. We decided that Patrick AFB was the best spot to view it from, so away we went!

The weather had other plans, as the rocket disappeared into the clouds. We did hear a tremendous BOOM though (that’s not an acronym), as the rocket experienced RSD (rapid scheduled disassembly). Here’s what it looked like on Doppler radar:

The smaller green dot to the right of the explosion is the capsule flying away from the exploding rocket. The flight was a success and we should expect to see astronauts headed to the space station this spring.

The last launch for January was another SpaceX Starlink launch. Having a PT commitment later that morning, we chose to view it from our park:

It never gets old. 🙂

The other entertainment around here is Bingo and the weekly meat shoot at the local Moose lodge. This version involves a deck of cards instead of guns, but the prizes are still sizable cuts of meat. I won some delicious pork chops and Diana scored the 50/50 a few weeks back. It’s always a good time, as a large group of us from the park shows up. The caller refers to us as the Big Table.

We also had lunch with our friends Rod and Mary, we went to Merritt Island with our friend Paul and his Aunt Joan, and we did a Costco run with our full-time RV friend Kathy. This is the fifth state we’ve connected with her in.

And we’ve gained some ground on our garage project. We have all of our subcontractors lined up now and we’ve secured our land use permit. Once we have the building permit in hand, we can begin!

Actually, there is a fair amount of white stuff up on our hill, so we will wait until it melts before we head up there. We don’t want my snowball metaphor to become a reality. 🙂

Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Following the Autumn Leaves

October 6 – November 1, 2019 – Michigan to Florida

Written by Jim

In our last post, I mentioned relearning how to drive in the U.S. after spending a month in the U.K. and Ireland. Our delayed flight got us back after dark, so we had to navigate the aggressive freeways of Chicago in an unfamiliar rental car. Talk about wanting to get back on the plane! Once past Gary and into Michigan, the traffic eased and we were able to relax. Jet lag caught up to us soon after, so we grabbed a comfy room at the Hampton Inn in South Haven. After a delicious breakfast at the Phoenix Street Cafe the next morning, we headed back to Grand Rapids to get our vehicles. A huge thank you to Terry and Diane for allowing us to store them at their home!

We moved to our base for the next week, Woodchip Campground. Our spot was just a few sites east of where we spent the winter of 2014-15. This go around, we spent the week taking care of annual physicals, dentist appointments, haircuts and such. We even bopped over to Detroit for one appointment at Henry Ford Hospital. That gave us the opportunity to drop in on Diana’s cousin Debbie on our way home. It was great to see her again. We finished up the week with our annual trip to Kalamazoo for WMU homecoming.

It’s always good to to be with our crew! After watching the Broncos beat Miami of Ohio, we headed back to our old dorm, French Hall, to check it out.

Here’s Diana knocking on the door of her old room. No one was there, unfortunately.

From Kalamazoo, we headed back up to our property in Leelanau County. We wanted to get some measurements and talk to the county building personnel while we were there. Knowing our land is loaded with maples, we were hoping our trees were colorful.

Needless to say, we were not disappointed!

It was very exciting to be able to experience our first autumn on our little slice of heaven! A note of interest: one month after this photo was taken, three feet of snow fell here. The scene is far different, indeed. With the temperatures plummeting, we made the decision to head south.

After stopping to see Diana’s sister and family in New Baltimore, Michigan, we headed towards Wapakoneta, Ohio. This tiny town is home to Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon.

It is also home to the Armstrong Air and Space Museum, which is situated just a few yards from Interstate 75. We’ve driven by this unusually-shaped building many times since it opened in 1972 but have never stopped in. Fifty years and three months to the day of Neil taking that otherworldly step, we finally walked through these doors.

We were amazed at the amount of artifacts in this small museum, which included this space-flown shuttle tire that you could touch. It was far thicker than any tire I had ever handled. The exhibits also detailed the 25 astronauts that are native to Ohio. Some of the most famous are John Glenn (first American to orbit Earth) and Jim Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13.

Ohio is also the birthplace of Judith Resnik, a member of the crew of the ill-fated shuttle, Challenger. The small U.S. and Ohio flags to the right were in her personal bag that was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean floor. She was America’s second woman in space, having flown on the space shuttle Discovery in 1984. Not only was she an astronaut, she had a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, was a biomedical engineer, and an accomplished concert pianist.

And does anyone remember these? I drank many a glass of milk out of one of these as a kid. Libby Glass and Marathon Oil, both Ohio companies, manufactured and distributed these glasses during the Apollo missions. They have them for sale at the museum.

As we made our way through Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, we were surprised that we hadn’t gotten ahead of the autumn leaves changing color. The drive south was much prettier than we anticipated. Our goal was to stop and see Diana’s brother who recently moved to Franklin, NC.

After setting up camp, we took a drive to see Dry Falls. This beautiful set of falls is located along US-62, one of the most twisty and narrow U.S. highways we had ever been on.

They were named for the fact that a person can remain relatively dry when walking behind them.

The next day, we spent the day with Dan, driving into Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Our destination that day was Clingman’s Dome, one of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River.

Dan had been here in the past, having hiked this portion of the Appalachian Trail with a friend of his.

The colors from the top were outstanding. These mountains were where we drove out of the autumn display, as green leaves and palm trees soon took over as we headed further south.

Before too long, we made our way to Melbourne Beach and our little slice of Florida paradise.

We look forward to a winter filled with friends and rocket launches, so stay tuned for that. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

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!