Our Promised Land

Chapter 6.     HUBBARD LAKE


Arthur G. Thayer

Thayer Coat Of Arms

Copyright © 1983 with all rights reserved by Arthur George Thayer




      Hubbard Lake, with its clean, cold water, is about three miles wide and eight miles long. A man named Auss Backus had several cabins at the south end of the lake. It was three miles from his cabins to our farm (25 miles by car, mostly on dirt logging trails). Years before, Auss had been told by his doctor that he had consumption and that his days were limited. After selling his home in Detroit, he bought a team of horses and a wagon, loaded his belongings and all the beer the wagon could hold, and went north. At Lincoln, Michigan he followed a logging road to Hubbard Lake, where he sold the team and wagon and built a cabin. He regained his health and, as tourists came, he erected more cabins. He took the city folk fishing and hunting and to the taverns. In back of his cabins is a small mountain he called Mount Maria, which is now a ski slope.

 Auss Backus' Boat House with Arthur Hazen and Arthur Dow Thayer with a pike. (1942)

Auss Backus' Boat House with Arthur Hazen and Arthur Dow Thayer with a pike. (1942)

      Auss built a houseboat and would "putt-putt" around the lake and into the West Branch Creek. On the lake, waves would rock it or even wash it ashore despite the use of a heavy anchor. In later years (in the '40s), the houseboat was used by fishermen during rainstorms or as a place to eat their lunch.

      A dam at the north end of the lake raised the water level five or six feet. As a result, the shoreline was eroded and for forty feet along our shore there were many stones. Just west of the dam was an Indian settlement where the Indians would weave baskets. East of the dam was a farm. Between that farm and our farm were perhaps three or four homes or cottages. The west side and half of the east side of the lake were forested with second growth trees. There were no homes or cottages.

      Tourists came to fish for the 30 to 40 inch pike, 12 inch perch, and 2 to 3 pound bass. They brought tents, but later lots were plotted and cottages and gravel roads put in. Dad plotted his lake frontage and Mom christened it "Berachah", a Hebrew word meaning "a blessing" --- perhaps in reference to their "Promised Land".

Hubbard Lake Sunset

Hubbard Lake sunset in the '40s.

Hubbard Lake East Side - Our Promised Land: (right side) Balli Rd., barn and house, (left of center) White Cabin

Hubbard Lake, Mom and Dad's "Promised Land", the cottage, left center, the home and barn in the pines.

      Oscar owned a 25 - 30 foot launch, the "Evening Star", which had a Kermith engine. In the spring he towed rafts of pulpwood from the mouth of the West Branch Creek to the dam at the north end of the lake. The pulpwood went down through the dam, into the south branch of the Thunder Bay River, to the Fletcher Paper Company at Alpena. Before Oscar bought his launch, pulpwood was probably towed from the WestBranch Creek to the dam the hard way. A 30 or 40 foot square barge was chained to the ends of the log boom containing the pulpwood. A capstan winch on the barge had its cable attached to a heavy anchor, which would be placed on a heavy rowboat and oared toward the dam with the cable payed out to its full length. The anchor would be dropped to the bottom of the lake in shallow water and the winch started. Men would push and pull on the capstan bars that wound up the winch and, thus, tow the barge-raft and the pulpwood. When the barge came to the anchor, the anchor would again be placed on the rowboat, the cable payed out and reset. Heavy winds would blow the raft away causing consternation.

      In 1923 or 1924, the Lost Lake Woods Club was started in an area east of Hubbard Lake. It extended from Hubbard Lake to Routed 10, the state road through Lincoln, Spruce, and Alpena. The club manager's son, Bill McPherson, became my great friend. In our high school days, Bill and I played golf at the club's then new 9 hole golf course. The greens were questionable, the fairways rugged, and the rough impossible. Occasionally when looking for our ball in the rough, we'd find one or two balls someone else had lost. One redeeming thing could be said for the golf course -- it was not crowded! Bill and I were best-men at each other's wedding. He eventually settled near Petosky, Michigan.

      Winter meant it was time to fill the ice house. Men preferred to cut the ice when it was 14 to 16 inches thick. By the end of the winter, the ice might be 24 inches thick. Though one year, in '27 or '28, it was 36 inches.

      At first it was handcut. Then Dad bought a Model "T" engine, bolted it on a swing frame on a heavy sled, bought a large circular saw and mounted it on an extensin of the frame, and made a guide to control the depth of the cut. If the saw went too deep, it caught the water and stalled the engine; otherwise, the ice dust would follow the saw kerf for perhaps fifty feet and then spurt up in the air.

      An area would be sawed and then it would be necessary to use an axe to chop out the first block of ice. A spud would break the next block free. A chute was hooked to a sleigh or truck and, with ice tongs, one or two men slid the ice block up the chute onto the sleigh or truck. The loaded rig settled and two or three inches of water flooded the ice. If the ice cracked, the rig might go into the water so the driver did not waste time leaving the lake with his load of ice blocks. Each man hauled the ice to his ice house where the layers of ice blocks would be covered with a little snow and then sawdust. It required several weeks of sawing and hauling to get everyone's ice house filled.

      Overnight the open areas would freeze and a half inch or more of ice would form. One time, not thinking about the open area of the day before, Uncle Chris fell through the thin ice. Luckily, he came right up in the same hole and Dad, with creepers on his boots, grabbed Chris as he surfaced and dragged him onto solid ice. Soaked and cold, Chris went home for dry clothes with no coaxing.

      In winter the ice on the lake would "BOOM" like the sound of a cannon or thunder when there was a change in temperature. Strain or pressure would split the ice, causing cracks miles long. The pressure was relieved in some areas, but stress intensified in others and more "BOOMS" sounded as splitting and cracking continued until the strains were equalized.

      Cars and teams traveled over the ice on the lake with some trepidation. Before we came to Hubbard Lake, a team of horses and a sleigh fell through the ice on the west side of the lake.

      In the fall and winter, the level of the lake is down several feet and ice and snow covers the lake, but in spring the lake level rises as the snow melts and refreezes. As a result, at certain times the ice may be as smooth as glass.

      Late one winter in the '30s, Dad needed sawdust for his ice house. The thick ice on the lake had little snow so Dad and I took my car and the big sleigh with sideboards to the south end of the lake below Mt. Maria and a half mile from Auss's cabins where someone had a sawmill. The end of the tongue of the sleigh was chained to the car's rear bumper and the sleigh fishtailed if we traveled more than 25mph. We shoveled the sawdust onto the sleigh and headed for the house. We left the sleigh near the shore and the team pulled it to the ice house.

      Just north of our farms, East Bay juts off the lake. Three or four men went on the ice at East Bay and drove to the west side of the lake. They had a Model "T" touring car with a brass radiator and had the top down. Where East Bay meets the lake, there is always a crack, but that evening it opened up twenty feet due to the wind. The men did not see the opening until they were on top of it and the Ford plunged into the water and sank. The well bundled men floated and swam to the ice and climbed on like penquins flapping up on shore. The next day, thanks to the brass radiator, they were able to hook chains onto the car and drag it to shallow water. They then hoisted the Ford up on the ice as a Model "T" is rather light. Hubbard Lake is quite deep and, to me, the water is always too cold, but nevertheless, we swam, fished, boated and in winter ice skated. Iceboating or skating was not a sure thing except in early or late winter due to snow. Twice Walter and I skated around the lake staying near the shore and halfway around built a fire to warm our lunch. One time I fell thigh deep into the water where the ice was honeycombed and gave way. I bent over the ice and rolled out onto what was, fortunately, hard ice.

      George, Walter, Bill, and I decided to make an iceboat. It was early spring and the ice on the lake was smooth in most places. Along our shore I found an old wrecked iceboat partly covered with gravel and snow. I dug in the flotsam and found three runners. They were 4" x 6" x 16" blocks of wood with rusted, partially embedded, steel plates. We borrowed four of Uncle Fred's 2' x 6' planks. I selected two dead balsam pines from our swamp to make a mast and spar and found an old painter's dropcloth to cut into a sail. Worn-out piston rings were attached to the sail, heavy wire became fore and back stays, and a heavy crowbar was chosen for the brake. The 2' x 6's were spiked to the rusty runners, which then dug into the ice, spraying chips whenever we moved the iceboat. Finally, a breeze developed and it was time for a run.

      With an operator at the cockpit, three boys pushed vigorously as the sail was swung into the wind. A strong gust of wind hit the sail and it tightened and tore. The cast iron piston rings broke, releasing the sail. The crowbar was never needed and the three pushers were exhausted. The 2' x 6's were returned to Uncle Fred's lumber pile. The mast and spar were salvaged and new plans laid for the next year.

      The next winter Mom stitched new canvas into a sail and strong, lightweight hoops were fashioned of green ash or elm strips. Two large dead pines became the backbone frame and a small cockpit was secured above the rear steering runner. Lightweight angle iron was shaped by a blacksmith and screwed to wood runners. Shafts on the runners allowed articulation. Turnbuckles were attached to strong wire and became fore and backstays. Twice I ran the iceboat in light winds. It glided smoothly and everyone took a ride.


                      Other Chapters

                        1.     Atlantic
                        2.     Silica
                        3.     Oil City
                        4.     Boat Trip
                        5.     Chris's Home
                        6.     Hubbard Lake
    Next - - - 7.     Hunting and Fishing
                        8.     Our Farm
                        9.     Schools
                      10.     The Depression and the 30's
                      11.     Michigan State University
                      12.     Jobs
                      13.     Our Home
                      14.     Boating
                      15.     Trips
                      16.     The Tropics
                      17.     With The Kids
                      18.     It Is Written


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Copyright © 2001 with all rights reserved by William V. Thayer

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