Aboard the Valley Camp 9/4/2011

It’s very seldom that Ted and I will make plans to leave the island together for more than a couple of hours.  Having fur babies at home sometimes curtails trips to other nice spots nearby, but normally we favor the pups over “places” almost without fail.  This time was a little different though.

Barb Metting, a long-time blog reader, contacted me a few weeks ago to say she was planning a trip to the island to visit relatives.  On the way here, she would be stopping at the Sault Ste. Marie (Soo) Locks for a behind-the-scenes tour a friend had arranged.  The friend’s husband, Jim Deemer, is an electrician with the Army Corps of Engineers at the Soo, and he had graciously said she could bring “the blogging lady” and Ted along.  When a call to Jill provided doggie daycare for Maddie and Bear, we were set to make the trip . . . and what a trip it was!

Our first stop was lunch at the Embers Restaurant in Mackinaw City.  When I spoke about therapy dogs to Chris Ann’s home owner association several weeks ago, they presented me with a gift certificate for two to the Embers for lunch.  This was the first time we’d had a chance to use it, but it won’t be the last time we dine there.  The Embers has a breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffet, as well as menu items.  I can’t vouch for any meal except lunch, but Ted and I were  very pleasantly stuffed with great food when we left!

I felt like I was back in Georgia after going through the buffet line and choosing between several entrees, tons of veggies and salads, and a couple soups. Dessert was included in the buffet also!

Ted took this pic of me with owner Bob Glenn, who bought the restaurant two years ago. It's located directly across the street from the Arnold Ferry Line in Mac City. If you're in the area, you need to stop by!

Heading north out of Mackinaw City toward the bridge.

An awesome day for a trip!

The only plan we had when we left was to meet Barb and Jim at 4:30 at the main gate to the Locks.  Before that we were on our own, so we were hoping to arrive in time to take one of the two hour “tourist” boats which actually travel through the locks.  We pulled into the parking lot for that attraction at 2:05 – just as the 2:00 boat was pulling away.

No worries!

As soon as we parked the car, our eyes were drawn to the 107-year-old Edison Sault Hydroelectric Plant.

The excavation of the canal for the plant began in 1898 and was finished in 1902, the same year the plant was completed. Sandstone from the canal and steel were used in the construction of the facility. Modernized between 1988-1992, it remains one of the oldest continuously operating power plants in North America, and engineers estimate it will still be operational at least another 50 years. A stellar example of efficiency, the plant operating staff consists of one hydro superintendent, one foreman, one electrician, one machinist, one welder, and four maintenance workers who work 8-4:30 Monday-Friday.

Looking north across the St. Mary's River into Canada.

The 2.8 mile International Bridge connects Sault Ste. Marie, MI to its twin city, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. The bridge is also the official northern end of Interstate 75.

Adjacent to the same parking lot was the Valley Camp Museum Ship, a 550′ intact freighter.  Built in Lorain, Ohio for the Producers Steamship Company, it was launched and christened in 1917 as the Louis W. Hill.  Sold in 1936 to the National Steel Company, it carried iron ore and coal throughout the Great Lakes.  Bought by the Wilson Marine Transit Company in 1955, it was renamed Valley Camp and carried a wider array of goods, expanding to grains and stone.  Sold in 1959 to Republic Steel Corporation, it once again carried iron ore and coal until 1967 when its triple expansion engine, still being fed by coal, doomed it to an early retirement.  Burning 50 tons of coal a day, and with coal bunkers holding only 300 tons, the ship could only stay out of port six days before returning to refuel.  With newer ships burning more cost effective fuels, the Valley Camp was retired.

In 1968 the ship was purchased by Le Sault Sainte Marie Historical Sites, Inc. for $10,000 and was towed from Wisconsin to Sault St. Marie in July, 1968, during the city’s tri-centennial celebration.  The Museum Ship is now listed on the National Registry of Historic Places as a historic vessel.

Thinking we’d have plenty of time to tour the Valley Camp, we paid for our tickets, and entered the world of an early 1900’s freighter.

An artist's representation of the Valley Camp in rough seas on the Great Lakes.

Examples of goods carried by the Valley Camp during her time on the Great Lakes.

It was really hard to take a photograph that would show the enormity of the Valley Camp. Even though, at 550', it is only a little over half the size of a freighter you will see go through the Soo Locks in tomorrow's blog, it seemed to go on and on and on. Every nook and cranny was filled with historical artifacts, like this lifeboat, one of two being restored from the S.S. Edmond Fitzgerald.

Each cargo hold housed hundreds of paintings, ship wreck items, models, and exhibits of objects related to maritime history.

One of the coal bunkers. The Valley Camp boilers were hand-fired, which means three men worked four-hour shifts feeding coal into boilers, which produced the steam to power the ship. The room in which they worked was a constant 120-130 degrees.

These next three shots are from the engine room.

Looking out of the engine room back down one of the long corridors that stretched the length of the ship.

A few of the hundreds of exhibits

This wooden block was lowered to protect crewmen who fell between the ship and the dock from being crushed.

What the ship whistles mean.

Scale models of different length freighters on the Great Lakes. The smallest one (far left) is the Valley Camp.

There was only one washing machine aboard for a crew of 32 men. It was a Maytag.

After being “below” for almost an hour, we were ready to see the light of day.  Climbing to the upper deck, we came out into the sunshine, and the “WOW factor” grew even bigger!

Being on the top deck really gave meaning to the size of the ship. Hard to imagine there are now supership freighters twice this long.

The crew's quarters were spartan, but comfortable - some trimmed with wood and equipped with bunks.

The dining hall.

The gleaming galley . . .

. . . and the Night Cooler, where during the overnight hours crew could pick up food prepared earlier.

Canada - from the highest part of the freighter we could access.

A superfreighter, which has just passed through the Soo Locks upriver, approaches.

The sightseeing boat we just missed coming back to dock.

This wheel is the original to the wheelhouse, which is all wood and brass.


Looking down the length of the ship through one of the windows in the wheelhouse.

When we looked at our watches and saw we only had a few minutes to get to the Main Gate of the Soo, we couldn’t believe we’d been in the museum almost two hours.  If we’d had it, I could have spent even more time exploring this most intact example of the classic Great Lake ore carriers that once numbered in the hundreds.

Tomorrow – the Soo Locks!


15 thoughts on “Aboard the Valley Camp 9/4/2011

  1. Wow, what an awesome trip!! Such interesting information. Bud would die to be there with you and Ted, as would I, but this is so up his alley. He loves this kind of stuff, he is such a history buff. I can’t wait to show this to him!

  2. Very interesting Brenda! Now I have more places to add to my list for future visits! If you and Ted go back, you should tour the bush plane museum on the St Mary’s river on the Canadian side! I bet your brother in law from New Orleans would like it too! 🙂

  3. Brenda,

    I’m just awe struck. How I want to see and tour the Valley Camp. Thank you! Thank you! Did I say Thank you? What a wonderful blog. I do have one question though: How much does that coffee pot hold?

    My dad worked on a freighter one year when I was a teenager, living in Cheboygan. We went to visit him once when the boat docked at The Soo. I don’t remember going aboard the boat, but I do remember being in the dining hall and my memory is just like your picture. The name of that freighter was the Ralph E. Caulkins and since it had coal fired boilers, I suppose it was about the size of the Valley Camp. I wish I remembered more.

    Oh, this is exciting!

  4. I loved the Valley Camp when my mom and I were in the Soo a few years ago. Just like you we spent hours in there and you don’t realize that you have because there is so much to see. The one exhibit I could believe was the row boats for the Edmund Fitzgerald and how damaged one side one of them were and another one was cut in half. Mother Nature is deadly.

    Another beautiful place to see is the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Whitefish Point. They have pieces of what was left of shipwrecks, plus the bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald. The website for it is http://www.shipwreckmuseum.com

  5. Oh wow! I’m definitely getting my b-i-l to check this one out (and tomorrow’s, too!) I remember in ’80 when my sister and I were there with both our families – we had been to the reunion on the Island and then spent a few days camping on Little Manistee Lake in Curtis. Our last day together (before we drove off to the west and they to the east!) was at the Soo. But we had promised to take our girls ‘out of the country’ and they had promised to take their boys ‘through the locks’ so we parted ways and watched as they boarded the tourist boat. for a brief moment, I wished I had her boys!! 😉
    Can’t wait for tomorrow!!

  6. Another fantastic, magical “journey through Bree’s eyes” today. Those of us who grew up on the Great Lakes, whose fathers, grandfathers etc sailed on these freighters, or worked on them sometimes forget the majesty of these ships and the hard work of the men (and women too of course) – because we have seen them nearly every day of our lives, they tend to become invisible. Thanks for reminding us how grand they truly are; and for allowing us to see them in a new light.

  7. I think I have the answer to Lowell’s question about the pot. Not enough. If Ted had brought his kayak, he could have paddled from one great lake to another and been famous like you.

  8. My husband and I need to go back! It looks like it has changed a great deal over the years and many exhibits added. Did you go to Clyde’s for a burger? If not you missed a great burger.

  9. Oh, another reason to come back north! What a wonderful exhibit. A lot of us who have grown up on the Great Lakes don’t think much about seeing these ‘boats’ when we cross a bridge or drive by a river. I remember my parents taking us to see them, and talking about them. Thanks again for more great memories!

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