February 3, 2000
For additional information see the note just added after the script *

October 9, 1999

In our lifetime the Great Lakes have become a mecca for fishermen, hikers, climbers, campers, golfers, windsurfers and boaters, among others. Sports enthusiasts will insist that play is serious business. But, conversely, serious business often becomes a form of serious sport, and the Lakes have seen their share. It often takes the form of a race against time, usually the ending of the shipping season. The stretch of water passing Neebish Island has often provided the setting for one of the odder forms of these races. This sport is not regulated by an Olympic committee, a baseball commission, or any other such group. Insurance companies called the shots on this one.

In the St. Mary's River, just downstream from Sugar Island, Neebish, Chippewa for 'boiling water', looks across to Canada's St. Joseph's Island to the east and the Upper Peninsula to the west. Before a series of Neebish Cuts were created people could often cross from one island to another, even one country to another, by bridges across the rocks. The waters truly 'boiled'. Eventually the waterways were enlarged, allowing Lakes boats to navigate the St. Mary's River as well as the Soo. Cargo vessels could pass more easily from Lake Superior into the rest of the system.

Out of all the commodities shipped, none was more vulnerable than the wheat and corn shipped out of the prairie provinces of Canada. Coal and iron ore could safely sit around over the winter. But, a shipment of grain delayed too long at a critical time, especially when the Lakes were shutting down for winter, could easily spoil, costing thousands in lost revenue. Here's where the insurance companies came in. It's quite common for commercial use of the Lakes to end by the first of December, so the annual company policies were timed to end on November 30th. As temperatures begin dropping rapidly the race is on.

The 1926 race was a cliffhanger. A heavy snowstorm struck the region early on the morning of the 30th. Regulations banned loading grain during rain or snow. The skies cleared around 4 PM. The loading of the ships resumed. At the Canadian grain port of Fort William-Port Arthur 22 freighters took on 5,500,000 bushels of wheat and headed across Lake Superior to the Soo. When they arrived it was twelve below. They began moving through the canal. And then the pilot of the steamship Coulee misjudged his distance and wedged his vessel in the narrow channel. The game was over. Even the vessels that made it through to the St. Mary's became frozen in the ice. 247 ships in all. An icebreaker arrived out of Lake Michigan ten days later, when the weather relented a bit, releasing the ships. 1927 would have to be better. This couldn't happen again for another fifty years. But. The James B. Eads jammed in the West Neebish Channel. 22 steamers would finish their voyage in April of 1928.

For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor

* For another consideration affecting the timing of grain shipments on the Great Lakes see the following:

Cronon, William - Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (New York/London, Norton, 1991, ISBN 0-393-30873-1) pps. 120-132, the section on Futures

© 1999 David Minor / Eagles Byte