Rogers City: the nautical limestone city

When you approach Lake Huron from downtown Rogers City, you easily find yourself at Lakeside Park. And, as the logo says, Rogers City is “the nautical city.” There’s a rich history here of mariners and all manner of watery endeavors. But there’s a lot of digging going on here too.

This “Liberty Torch” welcomes visitors to the park and marina. Tom Moran, of Moran Iron Works in Onaway, fabricated it in 2004.

In late November, we had Lakeside Park all to ourselves. The park benches were empty. Our butts were the only ones in the gazebo seats. From the gazebo, you look out onto the breakwater.
I’m thinking that breakwater is mostly constructed of limestone. My rockhound days are behind me so I don’t know that for sure. But Rogers City is also the Limestone City.

Here’s a closer look at the freighter that was anchored offshore, beyond the breakwater.

This freighter is the “Great Republic.” That’s what it says in lettering in that white area just above the gray and black vertical striping. It used to sail, if that’s the right term for a ship with no sails, as “American Republic.” But in 2011 a lease expired and it was re-named the “Great Republic.” You can read all about this freighter here. It launched in 1981. It’s highly specialized and tricked out to handle rock and ore-carrying duties. It’s considered to be one of the most maneuverable ship on the lakes, with eight rudders, bow and stern thrusters, and variable pitch propellers. I don’t know anything about freighters, but eight rudders is seven more than any boat I’ve been on. It’s a “self-unloader” and can carry 1000 tons more than freighters of similar size.

Honestly, it just looked like a clunky big freighter to me. But it turns out that it’s 641 feet and 10 inches of special. That flock of Canada Geese probably knows it’s special. That’s why the whole gang decided to paddle by for a closer look. The Great Republic was anchored. We assumed it was waiting to load up or unload at the Calcite plant nearby.

The “John J. Boland” was also at anchor, a little closer to the plant.

It’s another self-unloading bulk carrier. It launched in 1973 as the Charles E. Wilson. Boatnerd says that it was renamed in January of 2000 after the first Charles E. Wilson was sold and started sailing as the Saginaw. I knew nothing of all this name-swapping stuff. And I don’t know who Wilson was or is or who Boland was or is, but apparently they got their names welded onto another pretty specialized freighter. This one has an adaptable digital gyroscope steering-control system and is described as a vessel with very few mishaps. It’s 680 feet long and can carry 33,800 tons of stuff. So, having very few mishaps is a comfort to those who work aboard.

Here’s the historic site sign that stands near the gazebo at Lakeside Park and explains why these freighters are all lined up.That’s hard to read, so I’ll tell you the main points.

The sign explains that “since 1912, the skyline south of Rogers City has been dominated by the buildings, machinery, and storage piles of the Calcite Plant, the world’s largest limestone quarry operation.” The world’s largest. Right here in our backyard.

There’s a  bit of puffing about what accounts for the humungous success of the operation. And we learn that the company started out as Michigan Limestone and Chemical Company. It was founded by a New York investment banker, William F. White. But the company’s general manager, Carl D. Bradley, is the guy who ended up being dubbed the “Limestone King.”  He died in 1928. You may remember something about Carl D. Bradley that doesn’t get mentioned on the sign. A freighter bore his name. It was the largest freighter on the Great Lakes from 1927 to 1949. In November of 1958, the Carl D. Bradley sunk in Lake Michigan. It broke in two during a fierce November storm. Thirty-three men died. Twenty-three of them were from Rogers City. Fifty-three children were orphaned. Two crew members survived. There are many places to read more about the shipwreck, including here. But the sign at the park’s gazebo isn’t the place for a memorial.

U.S. Steel bought the Michigan Limestone company in 1920. Carmeuse Lime & Stone, a Belgian Company, bought the Calcite operation. That’s who owns it today.

The sign at the gazebo says that since the mining started in 1912, the Calcite quarry has produced and shipped more than 878 billion tons of limestone. The estimate is that its stone reserves will last another 50-75 years. The sign says that the quarry is 5 miles long, 2 miles wide, and up to 150 feet deep.

Here’s what the quarry looks like to Google Earth:

Little Rogers City is dwarfed by the Calcite quarry and plant. The freighters in the photos were anchored just north of the peninsula that frames the bay above that “v” of green grass south of town.

If you head out south from town on Business 23 you can meet the Calcite Quarry a little closer than at a satellite height. Turn left into the parking lot at this plywood sign.

Don’t be misled by that little “M” and “S” squiggle. There are no swans at the Calcite Quarry.

The day we visited no one was at the viewing site. We climbed metal openwork stairs to get a better look from a platform height about six feet above the parking lot.

This ancient tree guards the parking lot.

It’s really hard to convey the scale of this tree. That little greenish “growth” just below the branches to the right of the middle of the trunk isn’t a fungus or a glob of moss. It’s Steve’s baseball cap. I hung it on a piece of tree bark to try to show the scale, but the tree trunk just gobbled it up. And Steve has such a big head that he typically buys his hats at Big Head Caps. This tree’s trunk is about 5 feet across. This tree is so big it was probably shading picnic-goers back in 1912 when the Calcite Plant was just a gleam in Carl Bradley’s eye.

So, you climb the steps and look down into a gash so deep and so wide that it rivals the Grand Canyon.

If you haven’t seen this, go look. This photo can’t begin to show the enormity of the quarry. Eight-hundred-seventy-eight billion tons of limestone came out of this hole.

These gigantic limestone boulders must have been rolled into place to celebrate the quarry’s 100th anniversary.

Those are roads down there. Workers drive huge mining equipment and trucks on those roads. They pass each other on those roads.

Generations of quarry workers dug this big hole. It’s not pretty. Not from space and not up close. But it’s impressive. Go see.

Happy knitterly holidays

This is Steve’s photo of the 40 Mile Point Lighthouse near Rogers City, Michigan. The friends of the lighthouse have done a great job of restoring it, inside and out. It’s our bicycle-season destination at the end of the great path that runs from Rogers City, along the shores of Lake Huron. Happy holidays!

I don’t usually mix knitting posts and “up north” posts, but tonight is a night for an exception.

Happy Hanukkah! Evelyn will look so cute celebrating in her Dreidel hat.

Yep, it’s another DMC Top This kit. These kits are finish-in-an-evening hats, with lots of wow factor for the little ones.

Pine trees don’t necessarily shout Christmas, especially if they’re knit into coasters in non-Christmas colors.

Oh, well. Even non-traditional tree coasters shout Christmas if a miniature Santa sweater is included. (No, that’s not a hand-knit.)

And how did Susan Weir’s Knitted Tomten sneak in among these non-traditional tree coasters? As explained here, he’s ferociously provokable on some rather odd points of etiquette.

These DK-weight coasters are Amy Marie Vold’s new slip stitch pattern: Tree Coasters. I knit the set my Tomten is eyeing in Drops Muscat.

They are quite addicting to knit. Here’s my Knit Picks Cotlin set, a 70% cotton, 30% linen DK weight.

Whatever’s your reason to celebrate, including hopefully the University of Michigan at the Orange Bowll, best wishes to you.

Plath’s Smoked Meats: a Rogers City Tradition

The Plath’s Smoked Meats story goes way back. Way back to 1913 when Emil Plath, Sr, a German immigrant, opened his small butcher shop in Rogers City and began selling sausages. I’m thinking many a homesick sailor out on the Great Lakes, and sailors shipped out of Rogers City in large numbers in those days, daydreamed about Emil’s sausages.

Plath’s is still going strong 98 years later. Their smoked pork is wonderful. We’ve also tried their hot dogs, polish sausage, bratwurst, and salami. Everything has been great. And their bacon tastes like bacon used to.

The third generation of Plaths runs the business now. Maybe it was Emil who bought the cash register. A big, big, bronze-colored, ornate cash register. With keys!  Keys, imagine that. Check out Plath’s website. But really, with a cash register like that, and such a hoot of a hot dog mascot, who needs a website anyway? Go to Rogers City and check out Plath’s in person but, at the very least, order some of their yummy smoked stuff via the web.

From Hillman to Rogers City is a pretty ride. Take your bikes with you and bike the Rogers City bike path along Lake Huron all the way to the 40th Mile Lighthouse. If your bike breaks, visit the Rogers City “BIKE SHOP” on Second Street (closed on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday). You can get your bike fixed, buy a snazzy new one, check out the selection of vintage guitars and water bottles, look through their old books and tons of what-nots, see their fence constructed of bike parts, and enjoy the shop’s special eccentricities. So go even if your bike is in good shape. Don’t miss the vintage, restored VW yellow Beetle in the backyard.

And, once you get to Plath’s, be sure to stop by The Painted Lady next door. They have everything from Polish Pottery (on the first floor) to a stuffed wolf (on the second floor). Toys, jewelry, books on local history, hand-crafts, kitchen stuff, a coffee shop, a framing store. The Painted Lady is one of the best gift shops in northeastern Michigan. Their facebook page has no photos, no discussions, no reviews, and nothing on their wall, but that’s because they are busy tending their really cute shop.

The sunrise side is not a shopping mecca.  But  there are some standouts and Rogers City has corralled a bunch of them.