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Letter from Robert Wernecke (Dairy Air Bob)
January 11, 2010

One of the advantages of being an airplane pilot in this area is that I get to see things that most people never see.  As ice starts forming in the lake, the random patterns and textures created from a single chemical, H2O, are a visual delight.
But when I looked over and saw a freighter going through the ice (in the wrong direction) toward the Sandusky coal dock.... I had to go over for a closer look.

This was my last flight of the day... and I was carrying passengers back to PIB.. so I took a couple of quick pictures through my airplane windows.
I was surprised to see an Interlake Freighter already at the coal dock, while a tug was breaking ice for a CSL freighter to approach the dock directly in front of the Interlake Ship.  I did not see any evidence of coal being loaded onto the ship at this time.
I emailed Capt. Russ Brohl who lives here at PIB, to ask him about this.  I knew that he had worked for the Interlake Steamship Company. He provided me with the following info:

Cool photos! I will forward those to the Captains of the CSL Niagara and the Captain of the (the boat I retired off of December 1st), Herbert C. Jackson. The Jackson is loading coal but at about 3 to 4 cars an hour as they thaw the coal four cars at a time in a heat coil approach shed. This is compared to 22 cars an hour loading rate during the above freezing season. The Niagara will load over 220 cars of coal. The tug breaking ice is the Great Lakes tug Ohio, brought over from Cleveland.

The Jackson could load two more loads of coal for Detroit Ecorse if the customer will pay the load time and tug time. Real late and real unpractical to load coal at this dock so late in the winter.
Normally, the loading of coal into freighters at the Sandusky coal dock is a pretty normal mundane, everyday activity over there in your backyard. But, today, it is not normal due to the presence of ice.  Why is this???

Obviously, there is a critical need for coal up in Ecorse, MI as well as in Canada.  I'm unsure whether the customers are steel mills or powerplants, but they are now willing to pay extra to have this coal delivered.  I don't know if they need this coal due to a short supply, or if they are getting it now to offset anticipated coal price increases later on.  

I fly over rail yards and near powerplants on a daily basis, so it's easy for me to see that we're using more coal every year to keep our lights on and our factories running.  The attached photos are undeniable evidence of the importance of coal to keep fueling our economy and maintaining our way of life...

Activity at the Sandusky Coal dock may "impact" ICE FISHING on Western Lake Erie in the near future.  If these freighters continue to run between Ecorse, MI and Sandusky, it means they will be "breaking ice" in the freighter channel in northern Lake Erie.  Any ice in Western Lake Erie, that is not "locked-in" between the islands, will have "room to move" if the wind starts blowing from a Southerly direction. 

Fishermen who go onto the ice in western lake Erie from the mainland shore, may find themselves stranded on a big sheet of ice, if the wind starts blowing from the south, and the ice separates from the north OHIO shoreline.  This is exactly what happened last year when close to one hundred ice fishermen made international news headlines.

I never saw any of the stranded fishermen last year.  They were more than 8 miles west of my usual flight path.  But I knew that fishermen would be stranded as soon as I made my first take off that morning.  There was a strong wind blowing from the South, and I had seen a freighter going through the North Channel the day before that.  It didn't take very long for the "inevitable" thing to happen.

That freighter at the Sandusky Coal dock, means that "history" has a good chance to repeat itself again this year...  

Please try to warn those who would go out onto the ice from the OHIO mainland.

Thank you.... and I hope you enjoy the pictures....

Dairy Air Bob


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Revised: January 11, 2010