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, 3 MILES NORTH OF ST. IGNACE, MICHIGAN
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.