To accompany the opening of the Soo Locks at 12:01 a.m. Friday morning, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Soo Locks Visitor Center from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. for its annual open house, in which non-statists, community members and families gather gathered to learn all about locks and big boats.
In the mix were boating enthusiasts, like Know Your Ships 2022 author Roger LeLievre, Great Lakes Fleet deckhand Jarrett Dodge, Soo Locks Visitors board member Association Andrea Guerriero of DRE Designs – Great Lakes Marine Products and local woodworking artist Pat Whitehead.
During this time, children interacted and played with much smaller replica Soo Locks gravity lifts. This allowed them to open or close the MacArthur and Poe Lock valves, filling and emptying its chambers with the 22 million gallons of water needed for ships to pass smoothly along the 21-foot drop of the river. St. Marys.
Families ascended and descended the stairs of the three-tier Visitor’s Deck to admire the Soo Locks, where the Great Lakes Fleet’s 1,004-foot sister ships Edgar B. Speer and Edwin H. Gott floated through the Poe a few hours before.
After a night spent watching the ships, many woke up to head straight to the visitor center. Chocolate chip cookies and coffee awaited them.
At the center of it all was club ‘king’ LeLievre, a title bestowed on him by US Army Corps Chief Ranger Michelle Briggs, who amusedly sought to recognize him. for sharing his passion and knowledge of ships with the world. .
“These are the ‘nerds on the boat,’ smiled LeLievre, gently extending his arms up and down. “Those are my subjects.
For nearly 30 years, LeLievre has been teaching people about watercraft of all shapes and sizes through multiple visual, verbal and written works.
During the open house, he socialized with friends and signed books from noon to 2 p.m.
I was born and raised here,” LeLièvre explained. “My grandfather worked on the Kemp Coal Doc. This was where the SS Valley Camp is now, and we had a cabin by the river. So I couldn’t either. The boats were right there and I was mesmerized by them. As a child, I met this man. His name was Tom Manse and he published this book.
Manse had written and photographed a series of “Know Your Ships” books, passing away just as his 35th edition copies began rolling off the presses on April 27, 1994.
“He saw that I was interested in this stuff and took me under his wing,” LeVièvre said. “He taught me how to take pictures in the darkroom and how to file negatives. He dragged me when he was delivering books around the lakes and mentored me.
Inspired by his teachings, LeLievre went to study journalism at Central Michigan University. After graduating, he worked for about 30 years with the Ann Arbor News.
“When he (Manse) died in 1994, he left the book to me,” LeLievre continued. “I picked up where he left off. I’ve been doing it ever since. »
Using all the skills and knowledge acquired in the newspaper business, he was more than comfortable carrying on for his lifelong friend.
“What was a little side job actually turned into my retirement job,” LeLièvre said.
Whitehead was just one of many present to get his copy of the book’s 63rd edition. Whitehead is a carpenter who makes wooden decor, hatch covers, and planters. His miniature vessels can be found at Cozy Corners Tavern & Grill in Barbeau and Lake Superior Oil & Vinegar in the Sault.
Deckhand Dodge mingled with the group of boat nerds, sharing their experiences from 2019 aboard the 647-foot Cason J. Callaway.
“It’s a sister ship to the SS Arthur M. Anderson, which was the one that followed Edmund Fitzgerald the night he sank,” Dodge said.
A timeline on the SS Edmund Fitzgerald website showed the crew’s final transmission on Lake Superior at 7:10 p.m. on November 10, 1975, with Arthur M. Anderson about 10 miles behind:
Anderson: “Fitzgerald, it’s the Anderson. Have you checked?” Fitzgerald: “Yeah, we did.”
Anderson: “Fitzgerald, we’re about 10 miles behind you and gaining about 1 1/2 miles per hour. Fitzgerald, there’s a target 19 miles ahead of us. So the target would be 9 miles ahead of you.”
Fitzgerald: “Well, shall I erase?”
Anderson: “Yes. It will pass west of you.”
Fitzgerald: “Well, okay.”
Anderson: “By the way, Fitzgerald, how are you coping with your problem?” Fitzgerald: “We are holding on.
Anderson: “Okay, fine. I’ll talk to you later.”
The Fitzgerald’s 29 crew sank with the ship between 7:20 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Crew members who operate ships, like the Callaway or the Anderson, know the stories. Yet they are rarely deterred from working on these “engineering marvels”.
“It’s very rewarding,” Dodge said. ” I’m going back. »
Although floating on the waves of fresh water provides a feeling of freedom, there is hard work on the side.
“All you do is work, eat, sleep and pee,” Dodge said. “You work four hours and four hours off. There are people working 24/7 on the boat. They call you when they need you. I had hours ranging from four until my longest day, which was 20 hours straight. I was there for two months, but you can stay as long as they need you. You could be there by next January. It is very good money. You can progress very easily within the company, provided you devote the time to it.
Besides a lucrative salary, hard work is rewarded with plenty of food.
“There is a supply boat in Ojibwa, MCM Marine,” Dodge said. “They pick it up with a big crane, two to three pallets. We are taken care of pretty well. »
LeLievre described the dinner menu for Edgar B. Speer’s crew last night, while waiting to enter through the Poe Lock system.
“They had wild rice bacon cream of soup,” LeLievre said. “Grilled Pork Chops with Applesauce; breaded mozzarella cheese sticks and marinara sauce; beef stew on biscuits; homemade potatoes au gratin; Brown rice; fresh steamed green beans; and there were plenty of desserts. Saturday on the Lakes is traditionally steak night. It’s not just a small steak. I had steaks that didn’t fit on the plate. On Sundays, they give the cook a break. It’s pizza day. You will have the choice between a dozen different varieties of fillings, all mixed together. If it’s football season, everyone gets pizza. They return to the room and watch the game.
Breakfast options can include omelets, hearty strips of bacon, sausages, English muffins and more.
“Now you’re leaving,” LeLievre followed with a smile.
That’s when Guerriero, from Sault Sainte Marie, ON, Canada, Ontario walked through the doors of the Welcome Center.
Briggs jokingly introduced Guerriero as the first in line for LeLievre’s title as “King of the Boat Nerds”. Of course, there are plenty of people around who are eager and deserving to take one or the other title.
Guerriero’s DRE Designs – Great Lakes Marine Products Facebook page features photos, videos, merchandise and giveaways related to Great Lakes Shipping.
“I started photographing ships in 2015,” she said. “I started the page in 2018. I’ve loved them since I was a kid. My house faces the St. Marys River on the Canadian side and our house faces the Sugar Island Ferry. Our house was actually built by a ferry captain. When my parents bought it in the 1960s, you could see all the little elements of the house that it had made. That’s why our house was turned, facing the ferryboat on the river. We are the only house on the street like that.
Guerriero took video footage of Edgar B. Speer and Edwin H. Gott walking through Poe Lock during last night’s opening, attracting many eager eyes and ears.
“The page just hit over 41,000 likes,” she said.
According to Briggs, more than 200 people showed up last night to watch the 1,004ft Edgar B. Speer become the first ship of 2022 to pass through the Soo Locks, with her sister Edwin H. Gott next in line.
About the same number of people visited the US Army Corps of Engineers Soo Locks Visitor Center today. It is now closed but will open for the season on Mother’s Day, May 8. Visit his website for more information.