This story comes to us from Roland from Ypsilanti, Michigan. He tells of his early childhood experiences living in Rogers City, Michigan near Lake Huron, watching fishing tugs and limestone freighters.
OUR LAKE HURON WATERFRONT
It was around 1943 that we moved from our farm to Rogers City, Michigan, into a duplex barely a block from the fish docks on Lake Huron.
I remember standing on those docks, looking out onto Lake Huron and watching with awe the freighters heading up-bound out of the Calcite harbor a mile south of us. Those majestic vessels were hauling limestone to steel mills around the upper Great Lakes as part of the war effort. Many of my uncles and cousins were responsible for mining the limestone in the Calcite Quarry. Other relatives were crew members on those freighters.
It was also awesome for my 3 or 4-year-old imagination to watch the little fishing tugs, gone far out into the lake early every morning, but back at the docks with their catch in the afternoon. The crews were busy unloading their whitefish, herring, perch and chubs, cleaning them, and icing them in large shallow boxes for shipment to wherever. Then they turned their busy-ness to mending their torn nets and winding them on wide holders for drying.
There were three tugs: the Katherine V, the Bobby Bill, and another one whose name escapes me. Wide, pudgy, low-lying, scruffy old craft, but so beautiful to me! In later years in visiting my old hometown, I would always stop at the docks to see the sad reminder of that once-thriving Great Lakes fishing industry: the old and broken Katherine V, sitting alone, high and dry up out of the water on some rocks. About four years ago, her owner hauled her down to the Jesse Besser Museum in Alpena, where she’s undergoing a complete overhaul, to be later displayed as a historical artifact. Such a passive ending to her active life!
We kids in that neighborhood played war. In fact, in our fantasies we believed we were helping older cousins and uncles who were off in the military to win that world war on distant battlefields. On that waterfront by the fish docks, our battlefield, there were lots of old metal canisters lying around. These old fishing-net floats became our depth charges, artillery shells, mines, maybe even our grenades. Then we had rubber guns, fantastic contraptions home-made out of lengths of narrow wood, with bands from tire inner-tubes to provide the spring action to actually shoot rubber-band bullets. There were long rifles, as well as shorter pistols.
For our war games it helped that three brothers in the group had their real-looking combat uniforms and plastic helmets. How I envied them! Their dad was First Mate on one of the Calcite freighters and earned real money to afford them.
By the miracle of childhood imagination and by the mysteries of the living Great-Lakes water, life on the Lake Huron waterfront in the mid-forties has become a treasure of rich memories.