Friday, July 25, 2014

Leaping the Lake to Lambeau

The SS Badger leaving Ludington harbor. (photo from the ship's web page)
Our son Lee and I needed a road trip from our Michigan homes to Wisconsin.

Lee had business to do near Madison with a gallery displaying some of his stained glass art. I had a bucket list item to attend to--a visit to Green Bay to get a look at Lambeau Field after several hundred million dollars in renovations and expansions since I last was there to see a Packers game about 40 years ago. We decided it would be fun to go the old fashioned way, with a 60-mile voyage across Lake Michigan aboard the SS Badger.

A "road trip" on a boat?  Among other SS Badger trivia is the fact that it officially is part of U.S. Highway 10, linking the eastern and western sections of the route. We were amused by the highway sign displayed prominently on the ship, and thought it was a joke--a bit of research proved it wasn't. Another thing sets the Badger apart from other ferries; it is the only vessel registered as a historical site by two states.
We used a photo op to give Lee a souvenir.
The Badger is the last large coal-burning steamship in the United States, where many once sailed the Great Lakes and other waterways. It and a sister ship, the SS Spartan, were built in 1952 in a Wisconsin shipyard and launched the next year.

Of course, University of Wisconsin sports teams are "Badgers," so perhaps the sister ship was named just to even things up in cross-lake traffic. "Spartans" represent Michigan State University in athletics. The SS Spartan was retired from service in 1979 and now rests in the harbor at Ludington, Michigan, near the dock used by the Badger, serving only to supply replacement parts for its sister ship. Michigan comes out on top in daily operations, however. The Badger runs on eastern time; Wisconsin is in the central time zone. Michigan also has the upper hand financially, the state collects the sales tax on all tickets.

The Badger, built with a reinforced hull, originally served as an ice breaker as well as a commercial vessel. It traveled between Wisconsin and Michigan year round. It is a big ship. An important use for many years was transporting railroad cars between the two states. We saw the railroad tracks imbedded in the floor of the hold where now only motor vehicles are carried. The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad owned the ship for many years.

The need for railroad car transfers gradually declined, and in 1983 railroad interests sold the Badger. It was rebuilt and remodeled for service with an emphasis on carrying autos and passengers. However, it still has commercial uses. A huge tanker truck was driven into the hold shortly after our mid-sized sedan went aboard. A crew member said an important business for the ship is transporting oversized trucks carrying blades for giant windmills that generate electricity in new developments.

The Badger can carry 600 passengers and up to 180 vehicles. Nowadays, it runs from May 16 to Oct. 26. It travels slowly. The 60-mile trip from Ludington to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, takes about 4 hours. But driving between those cities via the northern route that crosses the Mackinac Bridge takes about 8 hours. Taking a southern route through Chicago would keep you on the road about 7 hours, but that trip can be much longer during rush hours.
The Badger can carry big rigs, such as the Budweiser Clydesdales' truck.
Unless one has a fascination for gazing at unbroken stretches of sky and water, a cross-lake journey can be dull. Badger management tries to make up for this with activities similar to those offered on a grander scale by ocean liners. Food and drink is available in a large cafeteria and a smaller lounge that has a well-stocked bar. A museum room has exhibits tracing the ship's history in detail. A few of the 50 to 60 crew members are hired as entertainers. A bingo game was in progress in one large area throughout most of our trip. Children were being entertained with a variety of games.

Ours was Lee's first voyage on the Badger, and my second. We had a ball exploring the old ship and agreed running our road trip over the waves was a good idea.

The conclusion of the trip was to be another lake crossing, which would be a first for both of us. We planned our return to Michigan via the Lake Express, a much newer ferry than the Badger that sails from Milwaukee to Muskegon and beats the older ship's travel time by about an hour and a half. Beautiful wife Sandy has traveled on the Express many times, and highly recommended it.

The phone call came when we were about five miles from the Milwaukee harbor. "We're sorry, but we have high winds and waves on the lake, and passengers wouldn't be comfortable. Our remaining trip today is cancelled."

Oh yes, several of the various descriptions of the SS Badger claim because of its size and design it seldom cancels a trip due to bad weather. We thought about that several times as we sat motionless on Chicago expressways or in countless construction zones in Indiana.

I phoned the Badger office today to check. "Did you folks cancel any of your trips on Wednesday?"

"Oh, no. We made all crossings on schedule."

Apparently, the grand old lady of The Great Lakes still has some good sailing in her and even can outdo a younger upstart sometimes.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Winging It Safely

               Oh, they sailed out from England and were not far from shore
               When the rich refused to associate with the poor.
               So they put them down below where they'd be the first to go.
               It was sad when the great ship went down.
                          --from a version of "The Titanic"

Oh yes, the guys with the big bucks have long known how to place themselves in the safest possible positions. And they sometimes did it by making those less fortunate more susceptible to disaster. It therefore is strange that the moneyed classes could have gotten it so wrong when modern airliners became the travel vehicles of choice.

Many years ago, I heard mutterings about relative safety in airliner seating, so the idea is nothing new. The smokers exiled to the rear of the plane sometimes joked about it with observations such as, "The smoke may be doing us in, but if we crash we're in the catbird seats."
Be smart, move back
Safety and seating locations, however, never became much of an issue. But now that could change. The question popped up in a latest issue of AARP The Magazine. The AARP publication has huge readership, so we may assume the word will get around, and be relayed to those who can afford to travel in style. Here's the item:

"In 2007, Popular Mechanics published an analysis of 36 years worth of airline seating charts and 20 accidents, back to 1971. The numbers were decisive. Passengers sitting behind the wings had a 69 percent survival rate in an accident. Folks sitting over or in front of the wings had a 56 percent rate (first class was lowest, at 49 percent.)"

Wealthy folks fully understand 20 per cent differences. How long do you think it will be before first class is relocated to the tail sections of planes?

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Blogday Anniversary

Today is the eighth anniversary of this blog. No national, or local, celebrations were held.

Some fairly accurate calculations indicate more than 400 little stories have been posted since July 11, 2006. Some of them have been read. Some very nice people have been met in cyberspace. Those are good enough reasons to continue.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

You Called Me, What?

I thought oldsters were overreacting when they moaned about the way many of today's younger adults address their elders. That was before a recent trip to my credit union.

I may be cute, but I'm not your honey
A clerk I had never met called me "Honey," "Dearie," and "Hon" all in the same brief conversation. I was appalled and amazed, but not amused. In a flash I came to understand the feelings of my fellow fully mature adults who launch rants about having these labels hung on them by strangers. Waitresses seem to be the principal offenders, perhaps mistakenly believing the unjustified familiarity will result in bigger tips. If they think that, they are wrong.

It should not be difficult for juniors to use more respectful tried and true salutations when speaking to older people. "Ma'am" seems acceptable for older women. I feel good about a "Sir" applied to my geezerly presence. A snappy salute also would be nice, but that would be overkill and is not recommended.

While waiting for respect to return to polite discourse, which may be a long wait, I'm planning a counterattack. However, so far it's a tough decision whether to respond to unwanted terms of endearment with "Darling" or with "Sweetheart."

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

One That Got Far Away

We didn't have a separate outdoor page when I was sports editor of the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, but we had a lot of readers who were dedicated hunters and fishermen.  We tried to work in as many individual outdoors stories and photos as we could.

Early one afternoon a woman phoned to tell me about a big walleye her husband had caught.  It wasn't a record, but it was darn close.  She wondered if we could get a photo of the fish because her husband's birthday was two days away and a story in the paper would be a nice surprise.  I thought it would be an interesting feature item.

Our full-time photographer was busy.  He loaned me an old Speed Graphic, the kind of press camera now seen only in very old movies.  I'd learned to work one in a University of Wisconsin photography course, but had not used one of the ungainly boxes for nearly ten years. Nevertheless, it was the only camera available to me at the moment.

I went to the lady's house. We got the fish out of her freezer and I lined up a nice shot with one of the kids holding it.  I told the lady I couldn't say which day it would appear in the paper, because I never knew in advance how much space would be available.  She said that was OK.

Our photographer developed all film and made all the prints we used. Space for the fish scene was available two days later. I was just penciling a spot for it into a page layout when the photographer appeared with a blank negative.  I had goofed somehow; there was no big fish image.

No problem, I thought.  I phoned the lady that afternoon, explained the situation, and asked when we could schedule a reshoot.  She started crying.  "We can't do it over," she sobbed.  "We had Tom's birthday party last night, and I served the fish for dinner."

     (First published in 2008 in "Days With The Dads; Recollections of a Small-Time Journalist.")