Accompanying the opening of the Soo Locks at 12:01 a.m. Friday morning, the US 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 during which out- Staters, Community members and families gathered to learn all about locks and big boats.
In the mix were boating nerds like Roger LeLievre, author of Know Your 2022 Ships, Jarrett Dodge, Great Lakes Fleet Deckhand, Andrea Guerriero, Board Member of the Soo Locks Visitors Association of DRE Designs – Great Lakes Marine Products, and the local Woodworking artist Pat Whitehead.
Meanwhile, kids interacted and played with much smaller replicas of Soo Locks’ gravity elevator. This allowed them to open or close the MacArthur and Poe Lock valves, filling and emptying their chambers with the 22 million gallons of water needed for ships to smoothly negotiate the 21-foot drop of the St. Marys River be able.
Families ascended and descended the stairs of the three-story visitor deck to look out over the Soo Locks, where sister ships Edgar B. Speer and Edwin H. Gott of the Great Lakes Fleet had swum through the Poe just hours earlier.
After a night’s observation of the ships, many awoke to travel directly to the visitor center. Much-needed chocolate chip cookies and coffee awaited them.
At the heart of it all was Club “King” LeLievre, a title bestowed on him by US Army Corps Chief Park Ranger Michelle Briggs, who jokingly wanted to recognize him for sharing his passion and knowledge of ships with the world shared .
“They’re the ‘boat nerds,'” LeLievre grinned, gently stretching his arms up and down. “Those are my issues.”
For nearly 30 years, LeLievre has been teaching people about water vessels of all shapes and sizes through numerous visual, oral, and written works.
At the open day he met friends and signed books from 12 to 2 p.m
I was born and raised here,” explained LeLievre. “My grandfather worked at the Kemp Coal Doc. SS Valley Camp used to be here and we had a cottage by the river. So I just couldn’t. The boats were right there and I was mesmerized by them. I met this guy when I was a kid. His name was Tom Manse and he published this book.”
Manse had written and photographed a number of Know Your Ships books and passed away when his 35th edition came off the presses on April 27, 1994.
“He saw that I was interested in this stuff and took me under his wing,” LeVievre said. “He taught me how to photograph in the darkroom and how to put down negatives. He dragged me around delivering books around the lakes and looked after me.”
Inspired by his teachings, LeLievre studied journalism at Central Michigan University. After graduating, he worked for the Ann Arbor News for about 30 years.
“When he (Manse) died in 1994, he left me the book,” LeLievre continued. “I picked up where he left off. I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Using all the skills and knowledge gained from the newspaper business, he was more than comfortable going on for his lifelong friend.
“What was a small side job actually became my retirement job,” LeLievre said.
Whitehead was just one of the many in attendance to receive his copy of the book’s 63rd edition. Whitehead is a woodworker who makes wood trim, hatch covers, and planters. His miniature ships can be found at Cozy Corners Tavern & Grill in Barbeau and Lake Superior Oil & Vinegar in Sault.
Deckhand Dodge joined the group of boating nerds and shared his 2019 experience aboard the 647-foot Cason J. Callaway.
“It is a sister ship to the SS Arthur M. Anderson that followed Edmund Fitzgerald the night of the sinking,” Dodge said.
A timeline on SS Edmund Fitzgerald’s website posted the crew’s last transmission at Lake Superior at 7:10 p.m. on November 10, 1975, with Arthur M. Anderson about 10 miles behind:
Anderson: “Fitzgerald, this is the Anderson. Have you checked?” Fitzgerald: “Yes, we have.”
Anderson: “Fitzgerald, we’re about 10 miles behind you and gaining about 1 1/2 miles an hour. Fitzgerald, there’s a target 19 miles ahead of us. So the target would be 9 miles ahead of you.”
Fitzgerald: “Well, am I going to clean up?”
Anderson: “Yes. He’ll pass west of you.”
Fitzgerald: “Very well.”
Anderson: “By the way, Fitzgerald, how are you coping with your problem?” Fitzgerald: “We stand our ground.”
Anderson: “Okay, fine. I’ll talk to you later.”
The Fitzgerald’s 29 crew members sank with the ship sometime between 7:20 p.m. and 7:30 p.m
Crew members who operate ships like the Callaway or Anderson know the stories. However, they are rarely discouraged from working on these “engineering marvels”.
“It’s very rewarding,” said Dodge. “I’m going back out.”
Although there is a sense of freedom in swimming freshwater waves, there is hard work alongside it.
“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 hours to my longest day which was 20 hours straight. I was there for two months but you can stay as long as they need you out there. They could be out there from now until next January. It’s very good money. You can develop your position within the company very easily as long as you take your time.”
In addition to lucrative pay, hard work is rewarded with plenty of food.
“There’s a supply boat down in Ojibwa, MCM Marine,” Dodge said. “They pick it up with a big crane, two to three pallets. We’re pretty well taken care of.”
LeLievre described Edgar B. Speer’s crew having dinner last night while he waited to enter through the Poe Lock system.
“They had wild rice bisque with bacon,” LeLievre said. “Grilled pork chops with applesauce; breaded mozzarella cheese sticks and marinara sauce; beef stew on biscuits; homemade potato gratin; Brown rice; fresh steamed green beans; and there were many desserts. Steak Night is traditional on the lakes on Saturday. This isn’t just a small steak. I had steaks that didn’t fit on the plate. On Sundays they give the chef a break. It’s pizza day. You have a dozen different types of toppings, all mixed, to choose from. When it’s football season, everyone gets pizza. You go back into the room and watch the game.”
Breakfast options include omelets, savory bacon, sausage, English muffins and more.
“Now you walk it away,” LeLievre followed with a grin.
That’s when Guerriero, from Sault Sainte Marie, ON, Canada, stepped through the doors of the visitor center.
Briggs jokingly introduced Guerriero as the first in line with LeLievre’s title as “King of Boat Nerds.” Of course, there are many around the world who are eager and deserving of taking on either title.
The Guerriero 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 site in 2018. I love her since childhood. My home faces the St. Marys River on the Canadian side and our home is across from the Sugar Island Ferry. Our house was actually built by a ferry captain. When my parents bought it in the 1960’s you could see all the little elements of the house that he made. So our house was rotated to face the ferry on the river. We’re like the only house on the street.”
Guerriero captured video of Edgar B. Speer and Edwin H. Gott making their way through Poe Lock at the opening last night, attracting many eager eyes and ears.
“The page just hit over 41,000 likes,” she said.
Briggs said more than 200 people turned out last night to watch the 1,004-foot Edgar B. Speer transit the Soo Locks as the first ship of 2022, followed by Sister Edwin H. Gott.
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 8th. Visit the website for more information.