OCTOBER 31st, 1951.
Daddy never cared much for fog.
Like the time, in Central Michigan, when he was driving from Crystal Lake to home in Saint Johns. To get from Crystal to Maple Rapids, Daddy drove south on Main (Co565) to M57, then east to Carson City. Next, Pop turned right on Co 555, a straight shot to Maple. then south to Hubbardston and on to Pewamo to make a left on M 21 and head for home. That was Dad's planed route ... it's paved. In 1951, only main roads were paved.
The area around Carson is flat ... Kansas flat. Carson famous for cucumbers and there's a pickle canning plant there. This mid fall evening, just coming on dark, the sky was clear, nice weather for Michigan on October 31st. It was dry and even warm for the season.
From October 15th, on through the middle of November, is when the 'Winds' hit the Great Lakes. After the end of November there's too much ice and the Coast Guard closes all shipping on the lakes, usually until March, but often, late April.
The Great Lakes Storm of 1913, the 'White Hurricane', was a heavy blizzard with Class 2 like hurricane force winds that devastated the Great Lakes Basin including Ontario, from November 7 through November 10, 1913. The storm was at it's worst on November 9, destroying shipping on four of the five Great Lakes. Lake Huron got it the worst.
It was a sneaky storm. 1913 didn't have the weather forecasting they do today and lake boats are still getting battered on the Lakes in November today. It's the time when shippers are trying for that last big shipment before the "Big Freeze."
The storm would come to a screeching halt, get a second breath and begin again. Boats that ran for shelter and made it, would admire the bright sunshiny day. The crews would smile and, "Let's get this show on the road." Two or three hours ... out in the middle of the lake, the storm would strike..."I'm Baaack!"
The Lakes are warm compared to the Arctic's frigid southward flow. Added to it, a major front swept in from the southern plains. Warm water, cold air and massive winds combined to kill 19 ships, and stranded or wrecked 19 others.
Should such a storm occur today, with a comparable volume of shipping, the monetary loss alone would exceed one hundred million dollars. Similar storms, like the November 11th, Armistice Day Storm in 1940, have had their share of shipping tragedy, but nothing like 1913.
1913 produced 90 mph winds, short-coupled waves were reported exceeding 35 feet on the water and whiteout conditions on the peninsula. Downed power lines, overturned rail cars and 250 reported deaths were recorded throughout the states of Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Provence of Ontario, Canada.
In 1940, Mom and Dad, and two month old baby Charles, were visiting her sister and brother in law, residents of a small coastal fishing and lumber town, Pentwater, Michigan, when the tragedy of Armistice Day struck. Three big lake boats and two smaller craft went down within sight of the Pentwater Lighthouse and breakwater pier.
Of the three big boats, the Anna C. Minch, the Novadoc, and the William B. Davock, only the Novadoc had survivors. All the crew, 68 men on the other boats, were lost. The Minch lies in 30 feet of water, the Davock lies in 200. The Novadoc was wrecked close enough to shore for the local people to rig a line and pull the men off. She is shallow enough that her engine is sometimes exposed.
As an Officer of the Court, Daddy had to tag the blocks of ice, as they came marching ashore on South Beach, each one with a drowned man inside, victims from the Minch and Davock. The blocks were hauled to the fire station to melt and release the dead.
In 1975, another victim of the Winds of November succumbed to 35 foot waves and 70 mile per hour winds. This lake boat was designed to be the absolute maximum size to sail the Saint Lawrence Seaway, she was over 711 feet long, just under 75 feet wide and draught not quite 25 feet in depth. Carrying twenty six thousand TONS of iron ore at a speed of 14.4 knots driven by a single screw turbine with seven thousand five hundred shaft horsepower, the Edmond Fitzgerald steamed into legend on November 10th, 1975 ... she took 29 men with her.
Warm weather and warm water create ideal conditions for fog in the event that sudden cold air causes low lying condensation. From just north of Maple Rapids, all the way to Pewamo, the road runs through a low lying swampy glacial feature formed by the retreat of the last Ice Age. The runoff from ice melt cut a much larger stream bed than the little Maple River flows through today. A well watered Wetlands, the area produces mighty fine duck hunting and a reasonable deer season. It also produces horrendous fog.
All it takes is for one of those arctic blasts that pulverize ships and create waist deep snows inland to come swooping out of the north and you have instant fog. Deep, thick, swirling fog ... the kind of fog that requires windshield wipers, heater blowers and headlights ... even in the day time.
Dropping off the flat glacial plain above the river into the Maple valley was like driving into the smoke from a peppermint field fire. Dense! There's the road ... and now it's gone.
"I know I had a hood ornament," he said to no one in particular and every occupant immediately said, "Daddy, slow down." Then we began to fret ... and touch each other.
My mother, ever practical, said, "Charles ... drive the centerline and go slow." Daddy made the turn from town on to Hubbardston Road. Farms and silos ghosted by unseen.
The Mercury putted ... the clacking vacuum wipers wiped, the heater was on full blast and the windows were wide open. It wasn't much after six o' clock ... on October, 31st, All Hallows Eve ... Halloween. We kids wanted to be home, terrorizing the neighborhood and generally eating ourselves sick on bags of Halloween loot. We had costumes ready to be donned and masks to wear ... if we could just get home!
Daddy was regaling us kids with His exploits of Halloweens gone by ... ancient history to us ... but interesting information ... to be used ... just in case. Moving the outhouse behind the hole was our favorite. The farmer was inside, asleep. He was determined that the neighborhood hoodlums weren't going to tip his 'shitter' again.
"Shit!" Daddy exclaimed. We thought he was describing the farmer's fall ... no such luck.
"Charles! The children ... shame on you!" Mother is positive HER children don't know those words. We were raised to be upright and upstanding members of the middle class. Mother was a climber. A social climber. Mother felt she should be a member of the upper crust and had pushed Daddy into politics.