Saturday, August 18, 2012

A visit to the world's largest limestone quarry

The Calcite Quarry in Rogers City is the largest in the world. This year, the quarry is celebrating its 100th-year of continuous operation and has shipped 880,943,995 tons of stone since it opened in 2012. On Friday August 19, I was fortunate to be able to participate in a tour of the facility offered by Carmeuse, the current owners of the facility. Here are some of the photos a took during the tour -  and fear not - there is a historic aid to navigation involved!
We boarded school buses at the Great Lakes Lore museum in Rogers City for the short drive to the south end of town, through the security gates and down to the working face of the quarry. 
It is always possible to view the quarry from the viewing station on the quarry rim which is the white structure in the photo above, however, public tours of the plant are limited to one day a year.
The limestone is loosened by drilling and inserting explosive charges, and is then scooped up by a loader and dumped into trucks for transport out of the quarry for further processing. Here two trucks await their turn with the loader at the current working face.
The Cat G994F loader empties a shovel full of stone into one of the waiting Cat 789B trucks
Our school bus gives a good idea of the massive size of the Caterpillar G994F loader. This loader was purchased new in 2007 at a cost of 3.25 million dollars. They have a 16 cylinder engine which outputs 1,577 horsepower and consumes approximately 43 gallons of diesel fuel an hour.  
The tires on the 994F loader are 13 feet in diameter and cost $54,000 each. The front tires are outfitted with chains to protect them from rock cuts. The chains themselves cost $72,000 per set - this is expensive equipment!
These tour participants standing beside one of the tires gives a good sens of just how large a 13 foot diameter tire is!
The bucket has a 25 cubic yard capacity and holds approximately 33 tons of stone. It takes seven passes to fill one of the quarry's huge Cat 789B trucks.
A Cat 789B makes its way toward the loader. These trucks hold have 1,771 horsepower V-16 engine, with a capacity of 195 tons of stone, carry 851 gallons of diesel fuel and run at a top sped of 35 miles per hour whether empty of full. At a cost of $2.5 million dollars a piece, even the truck's tires have a price tag of $19,000 each.
The Cat 789B pulled up in front of us, shut off its engine and the driver descended from his cab so we could get a close up view of the monster vehicle.
The Cat 789B stands 26 feet 9 inches high and 25 feet wide. The size of this man standing at the front bumper gives a good idea of the size of these massive vehicles.
After making their way out of the quarry, the loaded trucks buck up tho this building which houses the primary crusher. This building was erected in 1921 and contains 2 60-inch crushers which take the large stone and break it into pieces approximately 5" in diameter.
Here is the view inside the primary crusher building. The truck has backed into the dump area where it lifts its bed and disgorges its 195 ton load into the first crusher. The stone is them lifted by chain conveyor into the second crusher where it is crushed to yet smaller diameter. 
Here is the view down into the second crusher - watch your step! After passing down through the crusher, the stone falls onto a conveyor below the building where it is transported to the top of the Screen House.
Here we see the tall Screen House and the two conveyors which come from beneath the primary crusher. Largest diameter stone is separated in the intermediate gray separating building and conveyed out by the conveyors to the left. Smaller stones continue up the conveyors into the Screen House where they pass from floor to floor falling though progressively smaller screens. They are then moved by a series of conveyors, augurs and chutes to storage piles for eventual shipment. 
Here we see a conveyor, discharge augur and chute depositing larger diameter stone in a large pile to the left of the Screen House. We observed that it takes approximately one minute from the time the stone is dumped in the primary crusher to pass through the initial sorting screen and onto this pile.
Another conveyor, discharge augur and chute deposits a finer grade of stone on a pile on the opposite side of the Screen House. The concrete retaining wall and door serve as the service entrance to the conveyors which are located beneath the pile and carry the stone out to the dock to vessels waiting to transport the material.
Here we see one of the conveyor tubes onto which the stone is piled. Openings along the top of the tube allow the stone to fall through into the conveyor to an augur at the end which carries the material to the hoppers for loading into vessels.
We were fortunate that not only was there a vessel taking on stone in the harbor when we were there, but that it was the ARTHUR M ANDERSON - the last vessel to communicate with the EDMUND FITZGERALD and one of the first vessels to head back into Lake Superior to search for potential survivors.
Here we see stone being loaded into the holds of the ANDERSON. The conveyor from which the stone is pouring can be moved in and out to distribute the load equally within the vessel's holds. Good communication between the deck boss and the conveyor operator are critical to ensure that this operation is conducted both efficiently and safely.
Once loaded, the ANDERSON will head out past the breakwater into the azure waters of Lake Huron and make her way downbound for Buffalo where she is scheduled to unload. There's our aid to navigation on the end of the breakwater!
The Calcite Breakwater light was established in 1928 and consists of a standard skeletal cast iron tower, typical of the era. With its light standing at a focal plane of 49 feet, it is visible for a distance of 14 miles in clear weather, and is indispensable to mariners seeking to enter or depart the quarry's harbor after dark. (Note, this photo was not taken during our tour, but was taken during a GLLKA lighthouse excursion from Mackinaw City to Alpena a couple of years ago, on a much cooler day!)

 If you would like to take a similar tour of the Calcite Quarry, be sure to keep an eye on the Great Lakes Lore Maritime Museum's website over the next year. Tours are offered once a year around the middle of August ever year. Here's a link the the museum's website. Just keep checking the "Events" link.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

180th Anniversary of the first lake lightship

With the opening of the Erie Canal to Buffalo in 1825, westbound expansion on the Great Lakes increased exponentially. The dangers represented by Waugoshance Shoal which lurked off the western entry to the Straits likewise represented an increasing threat to mariners threading their way through the area.

The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 had an incredible impact on western expansion through the Great Lakes
Responding to a cry from the maritime community, Congress passed an appropriation of $10,000 to build a lightship to mark the shoal on March 3, 1831. Bids for construction of the vessel were advertised in maritime newspapers that May, and the Detroit shipyard of Oliver Newberry was selected to build the vessel after the closing of bids in July. The workers at Newberry’s yard began construction soon thereafter. While no plans of the vessel have surfaced to this time, bid specifications from the May 12, 1831 issue of The Detroit Courier provide us with a fair idea of the vessel’s dimensions and how she must have appeared:
With a hull of white oak clad in copper, the vessel stood 46’ long between the perpendiculars*, had a keel length of 36’ and a beam of 17’ 9”.  Her large trunk cabin was built up through the deck to provide sufficient headroom for a crew of six men, and was outfitted with berths, lockers and a galley. The vessel’s twin masts consisted of 42’ long yellow pine square timbers mounted parallel to each other in a fore and aft orientation. Mounted on a wheeled carriage, the ship’s all-important lantern rode vertically on wheels against the inner surfaces of these two masts. Ropes attached to the carriage passed over pulleys at the top of each mast, and were fastened to counterweights which passed down grooves in the sides of the mast, allowing for simple and fast raising and lowering of the lantern for maintenance. Attached to the aft mast of this pair, a single trysail mast served to power the vessel to and from her station.

This model of the Louis McLane was built to reflect the original written specifications
A mooring ringbolt, formed from 1¼-inch diameter iron, was sturdily attached to the vessel’s keel at the bow and served to attach sixty fathoms of 7/8-inch chain to an 800-pound mushroom anchor in order to anchor the vessel at her station. To serve the vessel during fog and thick weather, a manually-operated four hundred-pound bell was also suspended in a small belfry on deck. 

The vessel was moored to a mushroom anchor similar to that above
Completed at a final cost of $7,350.00, the vessel was likely completed prior to May 1, 1832 in accordance with the contract requirement. Christened “Louis McLane” in honor of the Secretary of the Treasury at the time, she was likely towed to the Straits and placed on her station off Waugoshance Shoal on an unspecified date later that year.

The vessel was named Louis McLane who was serving as Secretary of the Treasury
Typical of the problems encountered by the vessel was the situation reported by Lieutenant James T. Homans on his visit to The Straits during his 1838 inspection of lighthouses of the Western Great Lakes. In his report to the Fifth Auditor of the Treasury, Homans stated that on his arrival in Mackinaw he found the lightship had been under repair in the harbor since being thrown on a beach after being torn from her anchorage during the 1837 navigation season. Finally returned to her station on the 20th of September 1838, she was again driven off a few short weeks later, leaving the deadly shoal at Waugoshance unmarked for almost a full year. 
The approximate location where the Louis MacLane was anchored
 Homans was succinct in his assessment of the situation, stating “I am satisfied she is very unfit for that location; and she can be usefully employed near the flats of Lake St Clair, where the shelter is good, I would strongly recommend that another one be immediately built upon a more approved model for the Straits so as to be ready for removal there on the opening of navigation in the spring.”

With typical Pleasonton-era foot-dragging, no move was taken to replace the vessel until 1844, when, according to entries in Light Lists, she was superseeded by a larger 101-ton vessel. However, history shows that no lightship was placed on Lake St. Clair until 1887, when LV-10 was placed off Grosse Point to mark the eastern entrance to the Detroit River. As such, it is clear that the Louis McLane was not reassigned to St. Clair in accordance with Homans' suggestion, and we have yet to uncover any records indicating the old vessel’s final disposition.

Stephen Pleasonton - Fifth Auditor of the Treasury, and the man responsible for US lighthouses in 1832
With the construction of the permanent lighthouse on Waugoshance Shoal in 1851, itself the proud holder of numerous “firsts”, the services of a lightship were no longer needed to mark the shoal. While numerous stalwart lightships would be subsequently deployed throughout the Great Lakes, the Louis McLane stands alone as the first to be so employed 180 years ago this year.

The LOUIS MCLANE served until erection of the Waugoshance light station in 1851
 Article written by Terry Pepper, and first published in the Fall 2007 issue of the GLLKA BEACON

Monday, August 6, 2012

Tall Tower gallery views

Wind Point, Wisconsin, Lake Michigan
The tall towers on the western Great Lakes provide an unsurpassed view of their surroundings. Here are a few examples.

Au Sable Point, Michigan, Lake Superior

Big Point Sable, Michigan, Lake Michigan

Little Sable Point, Michigan, Lake Michigan
Presque Isle, Michigan, Lake Huron
Outer Island, Wisconsin, Lake Superior
Spectacle Reef, Michigan, Lake Huron
Stannard Rock, Michigan, Lake Superior
Twin River (Rawley) Point, Wisconsin, Lake Michigan
White Shoal, Michigan, Lake Michigan

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Volunteer at one of our lighthouses

If serving as a volunteer at a lighthouse sounds interesting, we are seeking volunteer keepers at both our lighthouses in northern Michigan – the St. Helena Island light station seven miles west of the Mackinac Bridge and at the Cheboygan River Front Range Light in downtown Cheboygan.

Volunteering at St. Helena Island Light Station
The St. Helena Island light station has earned the name “the Miracle of the Straits of Mackinac,” not just because of the incredible restoration that has been undertaken over the past twenty years, but because of a type of peace and quiet which can only be found on an uninhabited island in Lake Michigan.

At least one experienced keeper will be on site with you throughout your experience to provide guidance and assistance.Housing opportunities in the lighthouse are varied and are dependent on the groups scheduled on the island during your stay. Volunteer keeper openings are available from mid-June through mid-August, with tours of duty ranging from a minimum of 4 days through the entire two month period, based on the volunteer’s availability.

Positions are open to singles, couples and families; however any children must be at least 8 years of age. Volunteers will be transported by boat from Mackinaw City to St. Helena Island and will spend their entire tour of duty on the island before being returned to Mackinaw City. Duties can run the gamut from painting, sanding, cooking, washing dishes, dusting, hand-pumping and carrying water, serving as a tour guide, and clearing brush and weeds.

The fee for this unique opportunity is $100.00 per person for transportation to and from the island, and $25.00 per day for food and consumables – and trust us, you will eat very well!

For additional information check out the St. Helena volunteer page at our website, where you can download an application and watch a video of the experience at:

Volunteering at the Cheboygan River Front Range Light
If you have ever yearned to gain a glimpse of the lighthouse keepers life, while simultaneously assisting with the operation and maintenance of a historic lighthouse, you might consider serving as a volunteer keeper at the Cheboygan River Front Range light for a weekend during the summer season.

Two volunteers (couples or good friends) will share a bedroom at the lighthouse at no charge while providing an enjoyable and hospitable environment for visitors from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Keepers will emphasize safety precautions for the visitors as they proceed up into the tower and regulate the number of people in the tower. Daily cleaning of the lighthouse is necessary. An important duty of the Keepers will be to staff the gift shop. You will be trained to maintain a record of sales, collect cash, make credit card sales and make change. In addition, daily cleaning of the gift shop including dusting, vacuuming and sweeping will be necessary.

Since volunteer Keepers will work in pairs, you will be free to swap between gift shop and tour duties as you see fit. Keepers will also be responsible for building and grounds maintenance throughout the day. This may include sweeping down buildings, mowing the lawn, trimming grass, changing light bulbs, etc. There will also be special projects from time to time - ranging from carpentry, light demolition, painting, etc., depending on the individual keeper’s skills and abilities.

Located centrally downtown Cheboygan, the experience of serving as a weekend volunteer keeper at the Cheboygan River Front Range light offers a unique combination of staying in a historic riverfront lighthouse  while enjoying all the amenities of a bustling downtown area.

There is no charge for volunteering at the lighthouse. However, volunteers must be GLLKA members. For additional information check out the Cheboygan River Front Range volunteer page on our website, where you can download an application and a manual which will fully describe the experience at:

If you have any questions concerning volunteering at either the St. Helena Island or Cheboygan River Front Range light stations, feel free to email us at or call us at 231-436-5580.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Trees and lighthouses

As you will see from the photo below taken a couple of years ago, the trees around the Cheboygan Crib light have been allowed to grow to the point that it was getting difficult to take photos of the lighthouse. 

The Cheboygan Crib light as viewed from Gordon Turner Park in 2008
Thanks to a storm which blew through the area last night, one of the trunks was toppled, and a City work crew appeared in the park and removing the fallen tree.

Trees being removed from around the Cheboygan Crib light in 2012

 The view is now much improved, and photographing the lighthouse will be much easier.    In our opinion, there are a number of lighthouses around the Great Lakes which could benefit from a similar trimming. Here are but a couple of examples which come to mind.....

Michigan Island lighthouse in the Apostle Islands as it appeared through the trees in 2009
Mendota Lighthouse at the entrance to Lac LaBelle in the Keweenaw Peninsula on Lake Suoerior
Forty Mile Point in October 2011