Minus 35 Fahrenheit aka Home @ Last


The Twin Ports of Superior Wisconsin and Duluth Minnesota has the distinction of being the worlds furthest inland seaport. Each summer ships from around the world visit the ports on the Great Lakes via the Saint Lawrence Seaway. There are fleets of ships that are too big to leave the Great Lakes as they unable to enter the seaway, These ships are known as “Lakers”.

While the Salty’s (ocean-going) ships have a season that is limited by the Seaway, the Lakers Season is only limited by the thickness of the lake ice. Their season can run 9 to 10 months or more depending on mother nature.

It was a cold February day in 1999 and we were still living in Walker, Minnesota which is about two and a half hours west of Duluth. I happened to be on the phone with our sales representative when they mentioned that they were experiencing sea smoke (caused by very cold air moving over warm water) it was mentioned that they were expecting the last ship of the season to arrive in the next 48 hours. At the end of the call, I told my wife about the conversation and that we were leaving for Duluth as soon as we were packed. Being that it was cold, the next step was to check the weather in Duluth for the next two days and to check with the boat watchers hotline on the ships expected arrival. The forecast was for  bitter cold of 30 to 40 below zero and no wind. I thought this is perfect, now I just need to get in place before the Roger Blough arrived. The Roger Blough was scheduled to arrive in Duluth between 7:30 and 8:00 am the next morning.

As usual, I woke before first light and got ready for the frigid photography ahead, this meant several layers of clothing prior to the outerwear. At 7 am I was out in the elements looking for my image. Since it was a balmy -35 degrees below zero I was only going to use my 4X5 view camera as there was less chance of something going wrong mechanically. The trade-off was I had to have my thinly gloved hands out of the warmer chopper mittens for a lengthly period of time. 

The Roger Blough was approaching very slowly and I was getting excited as I knew the possibility of getting a great image was high. I had 16 sheets of black and while film, as well as 16 sheets of color transparency film ready to shoot. My plan was to alternate holders so that I could get the Roger Blough at various stages of entry through the canal. 

As the ice-covered ship moved through the canal the film holders were placed in the camera and exposures were made as quickly as I could one after another until the ship was leaving the composition. It was not until the camera was packed up and back in the vehicle did I realized how cold I had gotten getting the last ship of the season arriving, “Home at Last”.