Friday, September 28, 2007

Living in Da Yoop part 2

This old painted picture (1908)postcard shows the natural beauty of the upper peninsula or the U.P. (now known as Da Yoop, as made famous by a band from Ishpeming known as "Da Yoopers"). By the time I arrived in St. Ignace this was already turned into a tourist trap. But it's not hard to imagine how important this natural structure was to the Native Americans living in the area.
At the base of the Castle Rock lookout is an amusing Paul Bunyan statue accompanied by his mythical sidekick, Babe the Blue Ox. This Bunyan is rare. Instead of standing, ready to deforest Michigan, Paul sits, staring googly-eyed towards the lake. With a newspaper in his hands, we'd complete the visual that Paul is halfway through one of his mighty bowel movements.
Paul and Babe are surrounded by a low hurricane fence, to discourage lap monkeys. The statue and lookout are accessed via Castle Rock Curios, a gift shop with a classic neon sign out front and loads of souvenirs to salve that Upper Peninsula itch.
Castle Rock, ancient lookout of the Ojibways and often referred to as "Pontiac's Lookout", rises from the surrounding lowlands like an ancient castle of the middle ages to a height of 195.8 feet above water level and 183 feet above road level at that point. A view from its summit is inspiring. Located 3 miles north of St. Ignace, Michigan. With Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox statues.
Photo by John Penrod
My dad once told me that my Uncle Ray Darbee freehand climbed the face of this stone to stand on top. My first view from the top was a lot easier, by way of stairs now built for that purpose and a platform with railings and coin operated telescopes on top. The view from up there is breathtaking. You can see the Bridge uprights and Mackinaw Island and the surrounding countryside for miles. I am not sure how many times I have made that climb, but the view is always worth it. My last climb was a few years after having my first heart attack, and after descending I purchased a patch stating, "I Survived the Climb of Castle Rock"at the gift shop.
One of my greatest joys was riding in the truck with my dad. I also road with many of the other truck drivers. Louie Nemeth, John Gruber, Tom Rabideau, Ollie Sprunger,  Rich & Jim McDonald and Lawrence Smith (a cousin of Dad's), just to name a few. And of course sitting with Doc Johnson, the crane operator. Once, in a swampy area Doc ended up with a GIANT snapping turtle in the 3 yard crane bucket, it barely fit. Some of the truckers wanted to kill it and eat it, but doc wouldn't hear of it. He picked the bucket back up and gently lowered it back in the swamp where the guys couldn't reach it and tipped out the turtle. He said anything as old as that turtle deserved to live on unmolested, Dad and I agreed.
They used many gravel pits in the construction of I-75, one near St. Ignace was the place I first shot a .22 rifle that Dad borrowed from one of the guys. He took the whole family there on a picnic (something we did often, as did other truckers) and showed John and I how to shoot. It was lots of fun. Another near Rudyard was used a long time, it was also where the trucks and other equipment was parked. They hit a spring in one part and had a very cold pond where it became very handy to keep cold beer. There was a black bear that became a mascot to the construction crew and showed up at lunchtime to receive offerings of food. Other bears also showed up occasionally and once one found the beer stash, which made for some upset thirsty truckers after the work was done for the day. That bear season, one of the local ministers shot their mascot and proudly hung it from a tree branch in his front yard in town. After hanging there for so long that it surely was unusable. Someone backed a large truck up onto his lawn making very deep ruts and struck his tree so hard it had to be cut down, they also stole his trophy bear. They never found out who it was. But a white cross was discovered on a fresh grave in the gravel pit the next morning.
One time that I remember, was a fishing trip Dad took me on. Some of the truckers were staying at a motel in Cedarville, and got to use a small motor boat. So Dad took John and I there to go fishing with Tom Rabideau. Everyone but me was catching fish. No matter what Dad did to help, I just couldn't get one to bite and soon got bored. It was my first time fishing that I can remember. And it was many years later before I went again, but when I did, I fell in love with fishing in the Cass River, just 1/2 mile south from where we lived in Cass City.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Living in Da Yoop Part 1

As my father worked on building I-75 and in the winter the B-52 Bomber runways at Kincheloe Air Force Base, he had our mobile home (an 8x32 ft. trailer) moved from Cass City to a farm 1.5 miles south of Rudyard. Until this time we had lived in a rental cabin a few miles north of St. Ignace.

Across the road from the cabins and south a few hundred yards was a tourist trap built like an old wooden fort called the "Trading Post" it had all kinds of souvenirs and trinkets, many made by the local Indian's and some interesting displays. A real kids paradise. Now it is someones home.

Behind the cabins, about 1/2 mile was Lake Huron and north about 1/2 mile along the shore was a large hill with a huge rock face that faces the lake called "Rabbit's Back" because of it's shape. Many locals claim it to be bigger than the famous "Castle Rock" just a few miles away.

My brother John and I spent many hours playing along the lake and climbing Rabbit's Back, sometimes with the cabin owners children. We also discovered that in the treeline a few hundred yards from the sandy beaches grew some of the best blueberry's we ever had. Tons of large sweet berries on low full bushes. We picked so many that we soon grew tired of blueberry pies, muffins, pancakes and whatever else mom could think of to make them into. On our many trips to town (St. Ignace) I would always beg to stop at the "Indian Village", another tourist trap, but what made this one different was that they had teepee's and wicciup's outside with "REAL INDIANS". They were local tribes folk actually dressed in costume and making some of the items sold inside the store. My favorite was the old Chief. He never seemed to tire of answering questions and telling old tribal stories all the while keeping his hands busy carving totem poles or making miniature birch bark canoes or whatever. I could listen to him for hours and his tales of "The Land of the Great Turtle". He reminded me of my great-uncle Joe Baker and his love of children and telling stories (but that is for another time). I think my dad had to pry me away from that place many times. It still exists, but all of the Indians are gone and all of their handicrafts are now made in Japan, Tiawan, or China.
This is a view I can still remember very well, it is climbing the trail up the very end of the Rabbit's Back. From where the flag is, looking in the same direction you would have a grand view of the lake and islands, and a long long drop to the beach. However when I made those climbs there were no steps to cross the crevasse or flag and platform, so this old penny postcard was probably made after I was there as I don't remember the trees.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mackinaw Bridge 50th Anniversary

For more photo's and info go to

I have had a great love for this bridge since I was a little boy in the third grade. My father drove truck for one of the construction companies that built I-75 from Saginaw to the Soo. We spent the summer from Grayling to St.Ignace, and in the fall moved to Rudyard for the school year. We made many trips over the Bridge taxiing service men from the Kinchilo AFB in Kinross. When we moved to Rudyard the townsfolk came out to help set-up our mobile home with a kind of barn raising type atmosphere. The merchants of town brought out groceries and other gifts and the churches set out a feast. The only request was that "No Serviceman Walked" and if possible to give them a ride as far as possible toward their destination. I remember many Sundays after church, transporting servicemen across the bridge and picking up another load and driving them up to the Air Base, and picking up more for the ride back to Rudyard. Once we had so many guys in and on the car you could hardly see the old '57 Ford underneath. So how could I possibly miss out on the celebration and parade that had a second childhood love, the Budweiser Clydesdale's. My fist up close and personal view of them was at a parade in Waukeegan , Illinois when we lived there when I was about 5 or 6. They don't look quite as BIG now but they are still very beautiful and impressive animals.
We left home on Friday morning without any reservations and no definite plans, other than trying to find a motel close enough to the bridge to see the parade on Saturday and the fireworks Saturday night. We found a nice motel right in the middle of the parade route in St. Ignace and didn't even have to leave the parking lot to watch the festivities. The parade also included a 50 convertible car show. One for each year the bridge has been open. Many politicians and dignitaries rode in these cars, including "Bridgette" a woman who was born on the day the bridge opened, and the new Ms. Michigan and many of the older ones. I think the oldest was from 1958. They also had a float with some of the original bridge builders.
That night we saw the fireworks across the straights in Mackinaw City, but from our vantage point on the lake shore, couldn't see many from our side.
All in all we had a great trip and brought back many souvenirs and memories