National Geographic : 2003 May
DETROIT, MICHIGAN pilothouse of the Buckeye, a 698 footer laden with 23,500 tons of iron ore pellets headed for Toledo. "Every time you look round, they've cut more men from the crews," grum bled Capt. Edward "Bud" Tambor ski, as he eased the huge vessel down the river to Lake Erie. "This indus try," he concluded, referring to lake shipping, "is dying." The captain's gloomy mood became more understandable when I found out that earlier, as I was climbing aboard from the Westcott, the freighter's steering mechanism had momentarily failed. The Buckeye, with me halfway up the ladder, had come within a few seconds of plowing into downtown Detroit when the helmsman regained control. Blissfully ignorant of the near disaster, I had wondered why Tamborski seemed a little distracted when we met. Now, in the fading glow of a pink sunset, we were slipping silently along at just under 12 miles an hour, past the dramatic metal towers of the steel plants, refineries, and power stations lining the shore of what still looks like the industrial heartland of America. In the darkened pilothouse, lit only by the glow from the instruments, the quiet conversation was of storms on Lake Superior-25-foot waves-and the trickiness of navigating up the river to the ore docks in Cleveland, "like a snake," and how, working two months on and one month off, laker crews don't have weekends like most people, and whether the items they ordered from that catalog will be in the mailbag the next time they pass that way. No one sounded like they'd rather be living somewhere else. O Reading mall by light of an open window, a crew man on a World War II-era steamer enjoys the fruits of the Westcott's labor. The tug may cut a quieter line than Detroit's sky scrapers and refineries, but for many a passing sailor the Westcott is the top landmark on the waterfront. Find more 48222 images along with field notes and resources at nationalgeo graphic.com/ngm/0305. Tell us why we should cover YOUR FAVORITE ZIP CODE at nationalgeographic .c om/ngm/zipcode/0305.