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Life on Freighters of the Great Lakes

Nelson Haydamacker

Publication Year: 2010

Long before popular television shows such as Dirty Jobs and The Deadliest Catch, everyday men and women---the unsung heroes of the job world---toiled in important but mostly anonymous jobs. One of those jobs was deckhand on the ore boats. With numerous photographs and engaging stories, Deckhand offers an insider's view of both the mundane and the intriguing duties performed by deckhands on these gritty cargo vessels. Boisterous port saloons, monster ice jams, near drownings, and the daily drudgery of soogeying---cleaning dirt and grime off the ships---are just a few of the experiences Mickey Haydamacker had as a young deckhand working on freighters of the Great Lakes in the early 1960s. Haydamacker sailed five Interlake Steamship Company boats, from the modern Elton Hoyt 2nd to the ancient coal-powered Colonel James Pickands with its backbreaking tarp-covered hatches. Deckhand will appeal to shipping buffs and to anyone interested in Great Lakes shipping and maritime history as it chronicles the adventures of living on the lakes from the seldom-seen view of a deckhand. Mickey Haydamacker spent his youth as a deckhand sailing on the freighters of the Great Lakes. During the 1962 and '63 seasons Nelson sailed five different Interlake Steamship Company ore boats. He later went on to become an arson expert with the Michigan State Police, retiring with the rank of Detective Sergeant. Alan D. Millar, to whom Haydamacker related his tale of deckhanding, spent his career as a gift store owner and often wrote copy for local newspaper, TV, and radio.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page and Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. vi-vii

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pp. ix

There are many people we need to thank because without them this book would not have been written. These folks were kind enough to provide us with their knowledge, wisdom, support, and encouragement whenever we asked for it and sometimes when we didn’t. They deserve nothing but kudos and in no way should be blamed for any errors that may be found in our little book. ...


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pp. xi

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Algonac to Ashtabula

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pp. 1-15

I would watch them glide by as we bounced around on the choppy waters of the St. Clair River while ‹shing for pickerel from the Mickey II in the 1950s. The massive giants glided through the blue-green water, some surprisingly quiet considering their immense size and power. Others you could hear for miles as their old steam engines kerchunged a steady, deep cadence. Several stories tall and more than two...

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Up Light to Taconite

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pp. 16-31

We got our sailing orders: Up light to Taconite. This meant we were to sail north (up) to the Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie without a load (light). Then, after checking at the Soo for any changes in orders, we would proceed to Taconite Harbor on the north shore of Lake Superior. For two weeks we had worked at preparing the ship. We were not privy to the ship’s orders or its preparation timetable, but after the...

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Cleveland Panic and Other Joys

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pp. 32-45

After we left Taconite Harbor at dawn, the deckhands were allowed to sleep, but later that day we were rousted out and told to wash the deck. High-pressure hoses 1.5 inches in diameter were connected to fire station faucets, which were evenly spaced along the ship’s railing. We grasped the long, tapered brass nozzles with both hands, then looped the hose up and down, like an inverted U. With the hoses...

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Laid Off

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pp. 46-58

Up to this time sailing was all I hoped it would be. In addition to learning a lot I was working with a bunch of great guys and earning a decent wage. It certainly was head and shoulders above working at the boat plant in Algonac. But at some point disturbing rumors began floating in and out of the crew’s conversations. The iron ore shipping industry is solely dependent on the well-being of the steel mills at the...

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Shuttle Run

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pp. 59-77

I spent the rest of the season on the Mather running the same type of routes we had sailed on the other ships, loading at the northern ore docks and unloading at the southern industrial ports. Captain Maddigan was a good skipper, although the mates said he had one strange quirk. It seemed he always worried a week ahead of time. If we were docking in Duluth he would worry about our next dock in Cleveland. ...

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Deckhand to Deckwatch

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pp. 78-90

After I was called back to work from being laid off from the Mather, I told my Dad I wanted to buy him a car. His old 1954 Pontiac was on its last legs, and I had been able to save quite a bit of money because there were few living expenses on the boats. I bought work clothes as needed, tobacco, an occasional drink while up the street, and film for my camera. Everything else went to my bank account. On a trip past...

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Portage Ship Canal

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pp. 91-103

We were upbound with a load of coal for Marquette, Michigan, and I was excited because I had never been there before. The coal was for commercial as well as residential use. Pickands Mather operated a coal business in Marquette, and we were replenishing the supply. As we approached the breakwater, Shorty, our watchman, explained that Marquette has two harbors, the Lower Harbor off the foot of downtown and the Upper Harbor, called Presque Isle...

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“Reply Immediately”

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pp. 104-106

On November 22, 1963, we were on our last run of the season and unloading at the docks in Cleveland. At about 1:45 in the afternoon I noticed a man on the docks conversing with a group of workers. There was a great deal of head shaking, and men’s shoulders slumped as if they were suddenly carrying the weight of the world. The unloading machinery began to shut down, and the operators left their control...

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Epilogue - Mickey and the Michigan State Police

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pp. 107-108

On the day Mickey turned 21 he submitted his enlistment application to the Michigan State Police headquarters in East Lansing. After taking the written entrance examination and undergoing the medical exams and physical fitness testing he was accepted into the Fifty-eighth Recruit School and graduated on August 24, 1965. As a trooper he was stationed at the New Buffalo Post, the Brighton Post, and finally...

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Forty-Plus Years

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pp. 109-114

In the 40-plus years that have passed since Mickey sailed in the early 1960s the Great Lakes shipping industry has seen many changes. We could not do justice to that topic in a single chapter, but a brief overview of some of the changes may be of interest. The Interlake Steamship Company, the company Mickey sailed for, provided information concerning the changes that have taken place in its fleet operations. In the 1960s Interlake operated as a division of Pickands Mather...


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pp. 115-118

Photographs 1

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Photographs 2

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E-ISBN-13: 9780472026425
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472033256

Page Count: 152
Publication Year: 2010