“This book is a rollicking, humorous, readunlike any book ever written about Isle Royale. Dan Kemp is a great storyteller.”Peter Oikarinen,Author of Island FolkThe People of Isle Royale
A Yooper's Summer on Isle Royaleby Dan Kemp
They checked the weather reports, and everything looked clear. Everything had to be clear before the boys could traverse dangerous Lake Superior. Confident in their decision, Digger and Wayne take to the water in a fourteen-foot rowboat, and following a harrowing adventure across deep, blue waters, they make it to the incomparable Isle Royale, off Michigan's Upper
They checked the weather reports, and everything looked clear. Everything had to be clear before the boys could traverse dangerous Lake Superior. Confident in their decision, Digger and Wayne take to the water in a fourteen-foot rowboat, and following a harrowing adventure across deep, blue waters, they make it to the incomparable Isle Royale, off Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Residents of the UP, known as Yoopers, these boys are ready for trouble, and trouble finds them right away when National Park Ranger Robert Davies, whom the boys call "Dudley," after Dudley Dooright, decides to keep a close watch. Even so, the ranger's careful observations can't stop the boys from bootlegging, getting cozy with local gals, and helping travelers in need. By the end of the summer, these best pals have broken every rule in the book, and forced Dudley to write a few new ones. Isle Royale is a majestic piece of untouched land, lacking in electricity, but filled to the brim with colorful personalities and freedom. Digger and Wayne will never be the same, but neither will the little island that feels just like paradise.
“This book is a rollicking, humorous, readunlike any book ever written about Isle Royale. Dan Kemp is a great storyteller.”Peter Oikarinen,Author of Island FolkThe People of Isle Royale
Michigan native Kemp offers a hilarious personal story of a madcap summer--disguised as fiction to protect the not-so-innocent. As a student at Michigan Tech in 1965, Wayne Kallio gets a summer job on remote Isle Royale, a National Park Service island on Lake Superior. Wayne and his buddy Digger are "Yoopers"--natives of Michigan's isolated Upper Peninsula--and they aren't strangers to the area's challenging physical and atmospheric conditions. However, they seem determined to prove their idiocy early by traveling to Isle Royale on the Sisu, Wayne's tiny 14-foot aluminum boat. Their arrival, after a harrowing journey, sets the tone for their summer as they go on to face disapproval and distrust from local National Park Service rangers; one vindictive, obsequious ranger, nicknamed Dudley, seems determined to catch them on a misdemeanor. Wayne and Digger are told that the first question tourists ask upon their arrival is, "Sonny, where can a person get a drink around here?," so Wayne decides that he will supplement his meager earnings by selling smuggled beer and whiskey. The pair's laugh-out-loud antics prove the saying, "God protects idiots and drunks"; they're cunning, and dumb, in a way that only college men can be. The novel reads like a memoir, with little dialogue and, sometimes, inadequate character development; for example, Wayne describes Kathy, his summer love interest, purely in terms of her physical assets, but readers can only infer, through her continued association with him, that she's either extraordinarily patient or as crazy as he is. That said, Wayne occasionally strays from his frat-party behavior long enough to reveal that he's empathetic and has a healthy intellectual curiosity, and Kemp memorably evokes the mid-century setting. A lighthearted novel that makes for a fine summertime diversion.
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A YOOPER'S SUMMER on ISLE ROYALE
By Dan Kemp
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Dan Kemp
All rights reserved.
"Rested on an Island, On an island green and grassy, Yonder in the big sea water." Hiawatha
We didn't anticipate any problems. Digger and I checked the weather reports, wind reports, NOAA broadcasts, and Coast Guard reports for June sixth through June ninth. Nothing led us to believe the weather was pause for thought. We were ready as anyone could be to cross Lake Superior in a fourteen foot aluminum boat. Never mind it was probably the smallest boat to cross since the fur trappers made John Jacob Astor rich. The Big Lake has claimed hundreds of vessels of all sizes and has spawned harrowing tales from those that survived. When you're nineteen years old, there is no doubt in your mind that you are going to be one of the survivors.
The risks of crossing the Big Lake go way beyond most bodies of water. The weather is hard to predict as Lake Superior can create its own weather due to its size, geographic location, and water temperature. Storms and winds can occur almost instantly. In early June, the water temperature is in the mid-thirties which presents additional risks. If the waves are high enough, an open boat will quickly fill with water and the spray will cause hypothermia. If you happen to capsize, your life expectancy can be measured in minutes.
I didn't tell Digger, but I thought the crossing was a hair brained idea from the get go. I got put in a corner after I let my mouth overload my ass. It all happened when we were sitting around the lounge at Michigan Tech, talking about everything and nothing. I just bought a new boat and in one of those insane moments, said that I wouldn't be afraid to take it across the Big Lake. That is not what you want to say in front of an all-pro cast of ball busters. By the time they were through with me, I was reverting to my fifth grade retorts; "Yeah, you'll see. I WILL take her across."
One of the two people we told about the crossing, Carl, drove us to the boat launch at Copper Harbor. The other person we told was a local undertaker and a shirt-tail relative of Digger's. He made us leave a note in his hallway that he could "find" in the morning, after we were well underway. There was no way he wanted to have this information in time to stop us, in case we didn't make it.
Our payload consisted of a spare fifteen horsepower Evinrude motor, fishing gear, five cases of beer, six bottles of cheap whiskey, seventeen gallons of mixed gas, sandwiches, and winter clothes. The whiskey and beer were mostly for resale on the Island. When we put the boat in the water, there wasn't much freeboard, so we decided to leave the spare motor with Carl. He said he would put the motor on one of the passenger boats in the next week or two. There still wasn't a lot of free board, but there wasn't anything else we could leave behind.
Oh yeah, there were also two yahoos: Digger (John Ojala), who came by his nickname because his father was an undertaker; and me, Wayne Kallio. The ball busters called me "RH" for Rock Head. My last name, Kallio, translated from Finnish into English is Rock.
Digger and I pushed off from Copper Harbor, Michigan at five in the morning, on June 6th, 1965, bound for Isle Royale National Park almost fifty miles away, in the middle of Lake Superior. Our boat looked a lot smaller than ever before.
We were on our way to our summer jobs and decided to cross the Big Lake mostly for bragging rights and double dare. My employment letter outlined a few of my duties as a bell-hop and salary. I would be making twenty-nine dollars a month plus room and board. At this rate, February is the only month I would have been able to make a dollar a day, but the Island is closed for the winter.
A few Lake Superior factoids: You could put the other four great lakes (Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario) in Lake Superior and still have room for three more Lake Eries. The water in Superior could cover the forty-eight contiguous states in almost six feet of water. The average yearly temperature twenty feet down is thirty-eight degrees. The average depth of Superior is nearly five hundred feet. You can put four New Jerseys into the Big Lake and still have room for Rhode Island. Isle Royale is farther north than Maine, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and most of the population of Canada.
I am having second thoughts. It had been just seven years since the sinking of the Carl D. Bradley where thirty-three of thirty-five sailors lost their lives, and the stories of the sinking were still fresh in my mind. Although the Bradley went down in Lake Michigan, the same storm made converts of most of the sailors on Lake Superior that day. The waves were thirty feet high and the winds were seventy miles an hour with gusts approaching ninety. The Bradley was the largest boat on the lakes at 623 feet, until the title was lost to the Edmund Fitzgerald at 729 feet, which was launched the same year the Bradley went down.
One of the guys who shipped on the Fitzgerald during that maiden season said he saw seasoned sailors genuinely afraid and praying during the storm that sank the Bradley. All of these things were on my mind. Digger just shrugged, "Ya gotta take some chances in this life."
As kids, we dreamed about going to the island. I will never forget an article in "Outdoor Life" magazine that detailed a fishing expedition to the Island. The author talked about inland lakes he fished and was convinced that he was the only one to fish them that summer. He went into savory detail about how he caught a northern pike on every cast! The Island would have been teeming with fishermen if it wasn't such a tough place to get to. It takes a full day to drive from Chicago or Detroit to one of the boat launch points. Then, it is most of another day to get to the Island. Finally, you need another day to get to one of the inland lakes by foot. Here we were, about to spend the summer on this magical place that I had dreamed about all my dreamable life.
The Upper Peninsula (U.P.) of Michigan is one of the most remote areas in the United States. The nearest traffic light was one hundred-fifteen miles from our house. The entire Keweenaw County had less than four people per square mile and only one law officer in the entire county. The phone book had one page for all of Keweenaw County and not all of the letters in the alphabet were used.
There has always been tension between the two peninsulas of Michigan. The folks from the Lower Peninsula mostly used the Upper Peninsula as a vacation spot and over the years, we became "UPers," which evolved into Yoopers. The Lower Peninsula folks thought they were being derogatory, and, in true Yooper style, we adopted the name proudly. Because of the remoteness, Yoopers feel a special kinship to one another and we all consider the U.P. as the biggest geographic fraternity in the country.
The U.P. is not connected to Lower Michigan except by the five mile long Mackinaw Bridge. The Lower Peninsula inhabitants became "trolls" because they lived below the bridge. There has been a proposal on the table since the Mackinaw Bridge was built to add a trap door on the north bound lanes which would be activated as soon as the U.P. seceded from Michigan.
As late as 1837, the year Michigan was admitted to the Union, a federal report described the U.P. as "a sterile region on the shores of Lake Superior destined by soil and climate to forever remain a wilderness." There are some people that still hold to this premise. Michigan and Ohio were embroiled in a border dispute about a ten mile strip of land on the Michigan/Ohio border. President Andrew Jackson and Congress pressured the Michigan territory to accept the Upper Peninsula in return for the ten mile strip, which included Toledo.
Ohio was sure they got the better of the deal until copper, iron ore, and vast timber resources were discovered in the U.P. several years later. At one time, the U.P. supplied ninety percent of the United States' copper; most of its iron ore and the lumber built the cities in Lower Michigan. The U.P. produced more mineral wealth than the California gold rush.
Most of us Yoopers were poor, but we didn't know it. I always had an allowance growing up which consisted of being "allowed" to keep any money I earned by cutting grass or shoveling snow.
I was looking to buy a couple of outboard motors and happened to mention it to Bill Koskela. Bill Koskela was a boat pilot on the Island who also worked for the same company that hired me; the National Park Concessions (NPC). Bill told me that Piggy Lambert, the owner of Lac La Belle's boat, motor, sales, and service had a bunch of used motors.
Lac La Belle is a lake and small settlement almost as far north as you can go in the State of Michigan without a boat. In fact, it is about sixteen miles south of the sign in a cul-de-sac that proclaims, "US 41 ENDS."
I went there in March when the path to the front door to Piggy's was cut in the snow and was still higher than my head. That was what was left of our three hundred thirty inches of snow that winter.
The front of the building was lined with aluminum boats on end that were covered half way up with snow. Besides being for sale, I think they were used to keep snow away from the wooden siding.
I walked in the front door and the entire floor was littered with outboard motors. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Lambert."
"Just call me Piggy." Nicknames, even the harshest ones in the Yoop are an affirmation that you are liked and can take a ribbing.
There was no guessing how Piggy got his nickname. He had a huge belly that he hid beneath his bib overalls. He had his pants hiked so high, he really didn't need a shirt. He could have just cut armholes in his pockets.
"Well Piggy, I need a couple of reliable outboards in the fifteen to twenty horsepower range. I am going to be on Isle Royale all summer and getting them fixed may not be an option." The reason I wanted two motors was that the dock attendant from the year before told me there were never enough motors to rent out. I figured I could make enough to pay for both motors by renting mine when the National Park Concessions (licensed renter of boats and motors) ran out of motors. The NPC would never sanction this, but the person in charge of boat and motor rentals this year was Digger.
Piggy scanned the inventory and pointed out an eighteen horse Johnson and a fifteen horse Evinrude. Both were about five years old and in perfect shape, swore Piggy.
"How much for both?" I asked.
Piggy did his best imitation of mentally calculating the price and said "five hundred forty- five dollars for both."
I was at the mercy of Piggy's assessment of the motors. Five hundred forty-five dollars was a lot of money when you are making one dollar and sixty cents an hour at the local grocery store and eight dollars a week shoveling snow every day. Another point of perspective: a new Ford Mustang had a list price of around eighteen hundred dollars.
I was able to save enough from shoveling snow that winter to buy my fourteen foot Starcraft outright; but, I didn't have any money left to buy a motor. I believe there is no where but the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where a nineteen-year-old with no money could even think about buying an outboard motor on his own, much less buy two motors.
I said, "I'll take 'em, and I can give you twenty bucks to hold them until I get more money."
Piggy said, "It's a deal. Grab the Evinrude and we'll put 'em in your car."
I was surprised, but Piggy assured me he didn't have the space to store them. We walked back to the shop and I stood at the counter waiting for Piggy to complete the paper work. I stood there for a while and asked Piggy if he was going to prepare a bill.
"I don't believe in paper work and anyhow, I don't have the time or space to monkey around with all that paper," Piggy explained. "You owe me five hundred twenty-five dollars; what else do you need to know?"
"What happens if I don't pay you?" I asked.
"Well son, if you decide not to pay me, a piece of paper isn't going to change much. Besides, if you don't pay me, you will be the first one not to. If you can live with that, so can I." I don't think Piggy even remembered my name. Only in the U.P.!
The snow and ice on Lac LaBelle and the Big Lake finally melted. Bill Koskela had a camp not far from Piggy's shop and let me keep my boat at his dock. Bill was a retired Superintendant of Schools turned boat captain. Bill always morphed into the character he happened to be at the time. When he spoke about his teaching career, he took on the role of a teacher; when he talked about being a boat captain, he took on the character of someone that never made it through eighth grade. Also, there wasn't a single sentence that didn't contain some profanity no matter what role he was playing or who was around.
We made a few shakedown trips to try to get an estimate of how much gas we would need and how to load the boat in case of heavy seas, but nothing can prepare you for a trip across Lake Superior. On one of those shakedowns, I traveled about ten miles along the coast of the Big Lake to the mouth of a river that was only accessible by foot or by boat. I still hadn't gotten around to getting a boat license, and was on my way back from the short fishing junket when a small boat shot out from behind a rock formation, trying to intercept me. Fortunately, the would- be interceptor had a smaller motor than mine and I steered wide at full throttle.
As I looked back to see who this lunatic was, I saw a uniformed guy holding what appeared to be a badge. I stayed on the throttle and was beginning to put some distance between me and the badge. I figured it was a conservation officer who was probably watching me fish. Not only did I not have a boat license, I also didn't have a fishing license, life jackets, or running lights. I guess you could add resisting arrest to that list.
Now, Captain Courageous replaced the badge with a pistol. He was screaming and waving the pistol. I positioned the gas tank further forward to get a mile-or-two per hour more speed. Captain Courageous started firing the pistol. Hopefully, they were warning shots. I sat on the floor of the boat and tried to keep the motor between Captain Courageous and my head. I was getting close to the inlet of Lac La Belle and I could see the commercial fishermen had just returned from pulling their nets. They were all standing on the dock next to the sign that said "NO WAKE – 5 MILES PER HOUR."
The boys were hollering and shaking their fists as I blew by wide open. They didn't realize that Captain Courageous was in hot pursuit. It was another three miles to Lac La Belle where I kept my boat and I began thinking about how I was going to hide a fourteen foot boat in a rather small lake. By the time I reached the dock where I launched from, I had about a two mile lead on Captain Courageous and it was almost dark. Bill Koskela's dock wasn't visible from the channel to Lake Superior, which meant you had to be in Lac La Belle to see it. Bill had his boat on one side of the dock and I was using the other side. I noticed that there was a narrow space between the deck and the water, and I was able to push my boat under the dock right next to Bill's. Bill's boat acted as a shield and the only way you could see my boat was if you got next to the dock and looked underneath. Besides, it didn't look like a boat would fit underneath the dock.
I figured Captain Courageous would call or radio for help, so I jumped in my car and headed for home. There was a public boat ramp in Lac La Belle, and by the time Captain Courageous got there, he must have assumed I loaded my boat on a trailer and left. As I got closer to home, there was a State Police car coming at me, going like the hammers of hell.
I decided to name the Starcraft, the Sisu, which is Finnish for whatever comes after courage ends. Sisu is what takes over when a Finn is battling overwhelming odds and doesn't allow him to quit. All four of my grandparents came from Finland and so did Digger's, so Sisu only seemed fitting.
We were ready to put our sisu and the Sisu to the test. Carl pushed us away from the Copper Harbor Marina dock and it was game-on!
The clarity of the water in Superior never fails to amaze me. As we drifted from the dock in Copper Harbor, you could see the rocks at the bottom about twenty feet down. As I looked out at the open sea, the blueness of the water beckoned, and seemed to say, "No problem - come on out." Rough water is only part of the danger the Big Lake poses. If you capsize at this time of year, you may be able to live for forty-five minutes, life jacket or no life jacket, provided you keep your shoes on.
Hypothermia is an ever present threat. Body heat is lost more quickly in water than on land. Water temperatures that would be quite reasonable as outdoor air temperatures can lead to hypothermia. A water temperature of fifty degrees Fahrenheit (F) often leads to death in one hour, and water temperatures hovering at freezing can lead to death in as little as fifteen minutes.
Excerpted from A YOOPER'S SUMMER on ISLE ROYALE by Dan Kemp. Copyright © 2013 by Dan Kemp. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
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Meet the Author
Dan Kemp grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, making him a true "Yooper." Besides writing and storytelling, Dan splits each year between the Florida Keys and traveling around the United States in a motor home with his wife, Joan.
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A great read. Isle Royale in a special place and Dan's stories of his time working there are exceptional right from the start of his trip by14 foot boat from Copper Harbor across Lake Superior.. This is a must read and it makes me want to return to the island as I did as a boy scout