2006-09-07 / News

LaJoice Inducted to Great Lakes Museum

St. Ignace Seaman Served Aboard Chief for 40 Years

This photograph of seaman Albert LaJoice is on display at the Great Lakes Lore Maritime Museum. (Photograph courtesy of Tim LaJoice) This photograph of seaman Albert LaJoice is on display at the Great Lakes Lore Maritime Museum. (Photograph courtesy of Tim LaJoice) The 40-year career of the late seaman Albert LaJoice of St. Ignace aboard the Chief Wawatam has been memorialized at the Great Lakes Lore Maritime Museum in Rogers City. About 300 people, including family members of Mr. LaJoice, attended a luncheon there Saturday, August 19, to honor new inductees into the museum, which collects personal histories of Great Lakes seamen.

Mr. LaJoice sailed on the Straits of Mackinac on the railcar ferry Chief Wawatam from 1920 to 1960, serving first as an oiler, then as a fireman. He also served on occasion as a water tender, and was licensed as an Able Bodied Seaman.

Like all sailors of his time, he lived on the boat and spent little time at home until the 1950s, when the seamen were unionized and Mr. LaJoice was able to spend more time ashore. The crew worked eight-hour shifts.

Born in St. Ignace August 10, 1893, Mr. LaJoice married Lorna Scoon. The couple had four children, Noel, Phyllis, Mary, and Robert Jerome. Mr. LaJoice died in 1971 at the age of 78.

Known as "the picture on the fantail," this photograph shows part of the crew of the Chief Wawatam May 8, 1926. It is attributed to photographer Clarence Eby of St. Ignace. Crew members in the photograph are (front row, from left) Charles "Paddy" Brown, third mate, Joe Taylor, chief engineer, Levi Furlotte, watchman, Charles Leveille, wheelsman, Captain Fred Ryerse, first mate, Amos Leveille, wheelsman, Allen Eli Bordeaux, second mate, Alexander Tromblay, watchman, Francis "Frank" H. McGoon, lookout, William A. Graham, water tender, August Holm, fireman, Charles "Black Charlie" Carlson, fireman, Myron "Barney" Drier, oiler, George Densmore, engineer forward engine, Charles Closs, fireman, John Goulding, first assistant engineer, Joe Merchant, second cook, Katie Hicks, cabin maid, Herb Matson, porter, Benjamin Merchant, first cook, John Thibault, porter, Charles Love, oiler, George Taylor, lookout; (second row) Charles Gamble, seaman, Gunner Nordstrom, seaman, Standley Bauers, lookout, Jim Tamlyn, wheelsman, Albert Sorenson, seaman, Joe Sterk, water tender, Al Groh, seaman, Fred Hiser, fireman, William "Blondie" Peterson, engineer forward engine, Robert Steel, fireman, William Lowery, second assistant engineer, Roddy Campbell, oiler, John Steel, seaman, Alfred Thibault, fireman, Leo Fogelsonger, fireman, Harry Cheeseman, oiler, Frank Rapin, fireman, Harry Wood, oiler, Charles Gooding, boiler inspector for U.S. Steamboat Inspection Service, Henry Durfee, coal passer, John Hanson, inspector from Marquette for U.S. Steamboat Inspection Service, James Keightley, visitor from the Algomah; (third row, seated) Don Densmore, fireman, George Morrison, oiler, Albert LaJoice, fireman; (behind John Goulding) Eric Matson, seaman. Other crew members at the time, not photographed, were John A. Stufflebeam, captain, Charles E. Lytle Jr., purser, Sam Backie, third assistant engineer, John "Jack" Lower, engineer on forward engine, John Cornelius "Neil" Stilwell, water tender, Wirley Stilwell, fireman, Hazen Schneider, fireman, Charles Wenzel, porter. Identification of the crew members is according to the book "Chief Wawatam, The Story of a Hand Bomber," by Frances D. Burgtorf, where this photograph was also published. (Photograph courtesy of Robert Jerome LaJoice) Known as "the picture on the fantail," this photograph shows part of the crew of the Chief Wawatam May 8, 1926. It is attributed to photographer Clarence Eby of St. Ignace. Crew members in the photograph are (front row, from left) Charles "Paddy" Brown, third mate, Joe Taylor, chief engineer, Levi Furlotte, watchman, Charles Leveille, wheelsman, Captain Fred Ryerse, first mate, Amos Leveille, wheelsman, Allen Eli Bordeaux, second mate, Alexander Tromblay, watchman, Francis "Frank" H. McGoon, lookout, William A. Graham, water tender, August Holm, fireman, Charles "Black Charlie" Carlson, fireman, Myron "Barney" Drier, oiler, George Densmore, engineer forward engine, Charles Closs, fireman, John Goulding, first assistant engineer, Joe Merchant, second cook, Katie Hicks, cabin maid, Herb Matson, porter, Benjamin Merchant, first cook, John Thibault, porter, Charles Love, oiler, George Taylor, lookout; (second row) Charles Gamble, seaman, Gunner Nordstrom, seaman, Standley Bauers, lookout, Jim Tamlyn, wheelsman, Albert Sorenson, seaman, Joe Sterk, water tender, Al Groh, seaman, Fred Hiser, fireman, William "Blondie" Peterson, engineer forward engine, Robert Steel, fireman, William Lowery, second assistant engineer, Roddy Campbell, oiler, John Steel, seaman, Alfred Thibault, fireman, Leo Fogelsonger, fireman, Harry Cheeseman, oiler, Frank Rapin, fireman, Harry Wood, oiler, Charles Gooding, boiler inspector for U.S. Steamboat Inspection Service, Henry Durfee, coal passer, John Hanson, inspector from Marquette for U.S. Steamboat Inspection Service, James Keightley, visitor from the Algomah; (third row, seated) Don Densmore, fireman, George Morrison, oiler, Albert LaJoice, fireman; (behind John Goulding) Eric Matson, seaman. Other crew members at the time, not photographed, were John A. Stufflebeam, captain, Charles E. Lytle Jr., purser, Sam Backie, third assistant engineer, John "Jack" Lower, engineer on forward engine, John Cornelius "Neil" Stilwell, water tender, Wirley Stilwell, fireman, Hazen Schneider, fireman, Charles Wenzel, porter. Identification of the crew members is according to the book "Chief Wawatam, The Story of a Hand Bomber," by Frances D. Burgtorf, where this photograph was also published. (Photograph courtesy of Robert Jerome LaJoice) His family remembers him as a lifelong hard worker.

"As a fireman, the job he held the longest, he shoveled coal into the furnace to create steam to keep the ship moving," said his son, Jerome LaJoice of St. Ignace, who also toiled aboard the Chief for a short time. "There were four firemen at a time firing the ship, and they each had four doors to fire. It was hard work, and he liked it. He was a big man and never sick a day in his life. He had a couple of accidents on the boat, and broke his shoulder once, but he never missed a day of work to illness."

Oilers on the boat continuously oiled moving parts on the engine, while water tenders had the important responsibility of monitoring levels of water in the boiler and replacing it as it went down, Mr. LaJoice said.

"The hardest part was when you came on duty, you had to clean out the fires," Mr. LaJoice recalled. "A strong gas would come off that coal smoke. We raked out the clinkers, the stuff that didn't burn, and put the ashes in a wheelbarrow and it went out into the lake. It was a hard job."

"There aren't very many of the older people left who worked on the boat anymore," Mr. LaJoice said.

During the winter months the Chief would sometimes be caught in the ice of the Straits for days on end. On one occasion, Mr. LaJoice and another crewman left the ship and walked across the ice to St. Ignace to deliver paychecks to the crewmen's families, then walked back to the ship.

The Chief Wawatam ferried railroad cars between St. Ignace and Mackinaw City from 1911 to 1986.

Mr. LaJoice was posthumously nominated to be included in the Great Lakes Lore Maritime Museum by his grandson, Steve LaJoice. Other seamen who served aboard the Chief Wawatam have also been inducted there. T

he nonprofit museum is collecting personal histories of sailors on the Great Lakes. To submit such information, museum staff can be contacted at (989) 734-0706.

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