Submarines in Lake Michigan, May 2018

From St. Louis we journeyed north, stopping to see our nephew, Steve Smith and his wife, Brooke, in Champaign, IL. Brooke is working on her PhD in Veterinary Medicine and Steve is in sales in the plastics industry. Steve has also become an accomplished woodworker and we saw several examples of his work – very impressive!

Our destination was Plymouth Rock RV Park in Wisconsin. Pat’s sister, Mary Lee and her husband, Welton, have a seasonal site there. This park has everything from manufactured homes and park model trailers, to travel trailers and tent sites.

Our real purpose for going to Wisconsin was to see Mary Lee and Welton’s remodeled kitchen. After a couple of days at Plymouth Rock, we drove down to Milwaukee to check it out. While we were there we spent some time with their daughter, Ashley, and had dinner at a popular pizza place. Good times and good company, how could we go wrong? Well, I never got any pictures, that’s what could go wrong.

When returned to Plymouth Rock, we made plans to drive to nearby Manitowoc to see the Wisconsin Maritime Museum. When we arrived we were surprised to see so much of the exhibit devoted to submarines. That was when we discovered that the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company had built 28 fleet submarines during WWII. The first of these 28 submarines, the USS Peto was launched into Lake Michigan in 1942. The submarines completed their sea trials in Lake Michigan, then were floated in a special dry dock via the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans. Four Manitowoc submarines, the Golet, Kete, Lagarto, and Robalo are still on “eternal patrol,” having been lost with all hands in the Pacific while on combat patrol.

The Museum displays the USS Cobia, which wasn’t built in Manitowoc, but is of the same class as the Manitowoc boats. The Cobia was used by the Milwaukee Naval Reserve as a training vessel, and is now moored in the Manitowoc River. It has been maintained in excellent condition. We were guided through the Cobia by a former submariner. He gave us the best tour I have ever taken of a submarine.

Pat, her sister, Mary Lee, and I started our tour in the forward torpedo room and moved aft (towards the rear). The Captain’s cabin was the roomiest berth in the submarine – I wouldn’t call this roomy.

If you were a fan of WWII submarine movies the control room is a familiar site. This is the nerve center of the combat operations and is directly below the conning tower that housed the periscopes.

Farther aft was the crew galley where the ship’s company was fed. This space was also used for card games and movies. This picture shows almost the entire seating space.

Beyond the galley was the main berthing area for the crew – certainly a lot less space than the commanding officer! Sailors couldn’t hang their clothes, but were creative in keeping their best uniforms pressed.

We finished our tour in the Aft Torpedo Room. There are six torpedo tubes in the bow and four in the stern. Note that there are bunks directly above the stored torpedoes.

In addition to the USS Cobia, there were numerous exhibits on equipment used in discovering and salvaging wrecks, and shipbuilding in the past. The display of ship models showed the variety of ships that sailed the Great Lakes.

One model I found particularly interesting  was the Rouse Simmons, better known as the “Christmas Tree Ship.”

The Schuenemann brothers, Herman and August, had been trading Christmas trees in Chicago since around the start of the 20th century. While many rival traders sold to wholesalers and local grocers, Schuenemann sold directly to Chicago residents at dockside by Clark Street Bridge. By cutting out the middleman in this way the trees could be sold cheaply while still making a profit. The venture used the slogan “Christmas Tree Ship: My Prices are the Lowest”, with electric Christmas lights and a tree atop the main mast. The trees were sold for between 50 cents and $1. Schuenemann’s profits from selling Christmas trees never made the family wealthy, but his reputation for generosity was well established, and he delighted in presenting free trees to many of the city’s needy residents.

In November of 1912, Schuenemann loaded the schooner with 5,500 trees from Thompson Harbor near Manistique, Michigan and planned to make the week-long journey to Chicago.  With trees crammed into every possible corner of the ship. The weight of the trees was far above recommendations. When the Kewaunee Life Saving Station spotted the Rouse Simmons on November 23rd, it was low in the water with tattered sails, flying its flag at half mast to signal that it was in distress. George E. Sogge of the Two Rivers Lifesaving Station, located just south of Kewaunee, sent out the power boat Tuscarora on a rescue mission, but the Simmons was never seen again.

One of the displays gave us the opportunity to dress up in period clothing for a picture on the deck of a Great Lakes steamer. Unfortunately the exhibit was intended for children, while Pat was able to find clothes that fit, the only thing that would fit me was a hat.

On Thursday, May 24th, we headed south to the Great Lakes Naval Station, just north of Chicago.

About Michigan Traveler

Bob and his wife, Pat, are fulltime RVers. They sold their home in Michigan in June, 2011 and now travel the country, living on the road. Home is Where You Park It!
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4 Responses to Submarines in Lake Michigan, May 2018

  1. exploRVistas says:

    My hats off to submariners. I could never stand being in those cramped quarters, Bob.

  2. Robert Saier says:

    I’ll be following your posts from now on. They’re very interesting!

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