During the summers in the 1950s, my family would often go out to Mission Point Lighthouse for beach outings or a picnic or two. We usually went to the end of the fire trail, the two-track that runs from M37 (Center Road) east through the woods, ending at East Bay.
On the way out there from Old Mission, we would pass an old, lonely-looking farmhouse. It sat on the left side of the road just before what is now Shorewood Drive. At that time, it was the only house on the long stretch of road north of Swaney Road leading out to the lighthouse.
Help Support Old Mission Gazette - Click Here
The house looked as though it never had a coat of paint, and even though it was a frame-built house, it seemed to have been there forever. It sat by a collection of ramshackle buildings, including a small barn, a corn crib, a small outbuilding, and an outhouse. Like the house, none of these seemed to have ever seen a coat of paint, the wood weathered to a dark gray.
The homestead belonged to my dad’s cousin, Chum Reay (pronounced Ree-ah). We always considered Chum and his wife, Marian, and their kids Maxine, Brud, Marilyn and Marty, the last pioneer family on the peninsula. Their small fruit farm was based more on family subsistence rather than commercial gain. The farm included a horse, a cow, some pigs, a large garden and a variety of fruit trees – pears, apples, prunes, some cherries, peaches and a nectarine tree or two.
They also had a late 1930s tractor that blended right in, as its paint had weathered away long ago.
Speaking of the pigs, my dad, Tug Boursaw, worked at that time at Butternut Bakery located on West Front Street. He would get garbage bags full of the expired pastries and rolls and take them out to Chum’s for pig feed. In exchange, in the fall we would get a side of pork to fill our freezer. This is how Chum preferred to do business.
The Reay’s were the last to get electricity, indoor plumbing, central heating and a telephone. And as a family, they seemed well-grounded, very happy and quite content.
In their front yard under a huge poplar tree sat a large, forlorn-looking flatbed truck. Faded red and surrounded by weeds, it appeared to have been sitting there a long time. What really caught my attention was some faded lettering on the door – “M. Reay and Son,” accompanied by a picture of a large black bear. On my family’s sojourns out to the lighthouse, I couldn’t wait to see that old truck with the bear on the door and wonder what kind of story lay behind it.
Years later, the property was sold, the buildings and house were razed, the orchard pushed out and the truck disappeared. I was so enthralled by that old truck, that all my life whenever I went out to the lighthouse, I flashed back to it sitting under that tree with the bear on the door.
Several years ago, I discovered the old truck hidden back in the woods two miles down the road, slowly being parted out. I was stunned. There I was, looking at the door with the lettering and the bear that had haunted me all these years. I had to have it! The land owner was kind enough to let me remove the door and take it home. I intended to hang it up in my car shop, as I considered it to be a historical piece of art. I also intended, as Chum had passed away many years ago, to find his son Marty and get the story behind the bear.
Last summer, lo and behold, at the annual Boursaw family reunion – which always includes old friends, many from the founding Old Mission Peninsula families – there was Marty Reay. Marty and I got reacquainted and arranged to do the interview below. We met on the porch of a rustic log cabin around the corner from Haserot Beach, not only to do the interview, but also to return the door to its rightful owner, the Reay family.
Marty and his wife Connie now live in Portland, Michigan, and they have six children – Dave, Kelly, Justin, Martha, Matt and Chris. Matt runs a snowplowing business in Portland, and the iconic door now hangs in his shop. He also had replica signs made for his snowplow trucks.
And to our delight, Marty’s granddaughter, Belle, drew a picture of the door for us, which proudly hangs in our office at Old Mission Gazette.
Read on for my interview with Marty, who talks about growing up at the end of Center Road in the 1950s and 60s, his dad Chum’s ice business, and his family’s long history on the Old Mission Peninsula.
Tim: Talk a little about how your family came to live on the Old Mission Peninsula.
Marty: Well, I was born in 1948, so anything prior to about 1952, 1953 is purely hearsay. My grandfather was Matthew Dunn Reay, and he came here from England by way of Chicago, as far as I know. My father – his son Matthew (Chum) Guy Reay – was born here on the Peninsula in 1903. So, I would say that he arrived here in the late 1800s. Story has it that my grandfather came over from England as a Ship’s Carpenter and came to Old Mission because of the boats and fishing that was here. That’s when he met and married my grandmother, Ella Tompkins. The story goes that Matthew Dunn was a bit of a rascal.
Tim: Well, there were plenty of those out here.
Marty: Yeah, well, my grandmother divorced him and remarried a gentleman by the name of Will Fairman. Then he died, and she married a gentleman by the name of Jim Wheeler. They’re all in the Ogdensburg Cemetery, all buried together – my grandmother, Fairman and Wheeler – on the north side of the road. Grandfather Matthew is buried by himself, way over on the south side next to the fence, on the other side of the tracks, so to speak.
Tim: Where did your grandparents live?
Marty: At that time in Old Mission, there was a little house down across from the American Legion Hall. That’s where Matthew and Ella resided and where Chum was born. The story goes, Chum was born about the same time as Irvie Franklin. Irvie’s mom died during child birth, so my grandma nursed Chum on one side and Irvie on the other. So, they considered themselves half-brothers and were best friends all their lives.
Tim: And the house is gone?
Marty: No, that house now sits next to Haserot Beach on the south side [moved from across from the Legion Hall].
Tim: So, Chum grew up and married Marian Zoulek, your mother, and they had four kids and lived in various places around Old Mission? [Note: Marian’s mother Ella Zoulek was my grandfather Garrett Boursaw’s aunt.]
Marty: Yeah, and somewhere along the line, near as we can tell around 1941, the farm became available to Chum through Willie Gill Tompkins.
Tim: Who would have been some kind of kin…?
Marty: Yeah, relation of some kind. So, we ended up buying it, and that’s when we moved to the last house on the road, as you called it. Because my dad lived through the Depression, he made the farm self-sufficient. He said, “I never would want for anything to eat. We can raise it here. We have meat, we have vegetables, whatever we need.”
Tim: That was my impression, and I was only four or five. I thought of you guys as the last pioneer family on the Peninsula … very self-sufficient and seemed to be pretty happy.
Marty: *laughs* Oh yeah. And we were, except I was not real happy that everybody else was driving Ford tractors and I was walking behind a horse. But, thank God, I had the opportunity to do that because I know how to harness and work a horse. I worked a horse from the time I was nine years old until I was 16.
Tim: You were probably one of the last ones to do that.
Marty: Yeah. Chum and I and Louis Kauer … he was probably the last one.
Tim: That must have been quite a challenge for a nine-year-old boy.
Marty: Well, I had to start pulling my own weight, as my brother Brud was long gone. He went to Korea and when he came back, he didn’t work on the farm anymore. He got a job and got married and moved to Traverse City.
Tim: Everybody wanted to get off the farm.
Marty: Yes, including me.
Tim: My dad [Tug Boursaw] and all his brothers wanted to – and did, with a lot of encouragement from their father [Garrett Boursaw].
Marty: Yeah, when I was 17 years old, I graduated from high school, dumb as a rock, but I knew one thing for sure. I didn’t want to be a cherry farmer.
Tim: So as a young kid, did the lifestyle there at the house remain pretty much the same? I know you had an old tractor.
Marty: Yeah, we had an old John Deere D, and we had a little McCormick Deering. I think both of them came from Tony Dohm, because we spent a lot of time up there. If I recall, back then he was the Case tractor dealer out here.
Tim: Yes, he was. Tony Dohm’s garage became Verna Bartnick’s art studio and the Old Mission Tavern. We have a picture, dated 1952, of my grandpa Garrett, my father-in-law Walter Johnson, and somebody else standing in front of Tony Dohm’s garage by a flat bed truck with three brand new D.O. Case tractors sitting sideways on the bed of the truck. They were being delivered to them there because they had bought them from Tony. So, what was a day like for you? I know you had livestock.
Marty: We had livestock. We had pigs. Always raised a cow.
Tim: Did you have morning chores or something before school.
Marty: Oh no, my chore was to get up and get on that school bus. Being the last house at the end of the road, with a couple exceptions, depending who was driving the school bus, I was the first one on and the last one off.
Tim: Did it turn around at your house?
Marty: Stan Wood, who drove the snow plow out here, made sure that the circle drive was plowed.
Tim: Your circle drive?
Marty: Yeah, our circle drive in front of the house was plowed out so that the school bus could just swing in there and turn around. It was that way for me and for my sister, Marilyn, going to high school.
Tim: She was much older than you, and so for the most part, you were the only child around the house?
Marty: Yeah, Marilyn is ten years older than I am. Maxine and Brud were 18 and 19 years older. Dad was 45 when I was born, mom was 41.
Tim: In the summer, besides the farm, did you work elsewhere?
Marty: Oh yeah, at the Old Mission Resort. My mom worked on the Resort. Chummy worked on the Resort. I worked out there, too.
Tim: What did you all do?
Marty: Chummy did everything from clearing beaches of poison ivy to building roads.
Tim: And your mother?
Marty: She cleaned, she cooked, she opened the cottages in the Spring. She had a regular crew. Betty Andrus was one of them.
Tim: And what did you do?
Marty: I pulled weeds, I raked, we pretty much built Forest Avenue that runs all the way through the resort. I hauled a lot of dirt with the old McCormick tractor and a dump trailer. We hauled gravel and clay from a bank across from Jim Horton’s, just west of Dickie Dana’s place.
Tim: Right, I remember the gravel pit on the curve on Tompkins Road.
Marty: We would park the trailer there, and I’d go up and shovel it full and haul it back to the road and dump that to fill in the low spots. Then we would bring the horse down and hook what we called a float behind the horse. You’d ride it and it had a lever that moved the blade back and forth, so it was either grading over or digging in to level the roadway.
Tim: When did Chum’s ice business start? [Blocks of ice were cut out of the bay and lakes to use in the summer for refrigeration. Using an ice-cutting machine and a team of horses, the 50- to 100-pound ice blocks were moved to an ice house where they would be cut again into 25-pound blocks and stored for summer use.]
Marty: Long before I came along.
Tim: Was it early enough that it was done with horses?
Marty: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.
Tim: And where did he get his ice from?
Marty: They cut it out of Swaney Lake, Bagley Lake, and East Bay off Haserot Beach.
Tim: I imagine they started with the small lakes because they froze first.
Marty: They would freeze first, and certainly, the best ice was off the bay. The picture that’s in the Peninsula Telephone Company book [“A Century of Service“] – that’s attributed to Louis Franklin on the ice machine, but I was told that’s actually Chum and Brud on the ice machine. When I was a kid, that ice machine still sat back on the old farm. It had wooden runners on it and was driven by a Ford Model T engine that turned a buzz saw blade on the front. That’s how they cut the ice, and before that, they used handsaws. They’d have a horse and sleigh out there on the ice to load the blocks on. Then they brought them over to the corner of Bay Street and Woodland Avenue where the ice house was.
Tim: Really? On which corner?
Marty: It’d be on the southwest corner. Because if you go to where the end of the street is, that’s where the blacksmith shop was. Near the end of Brinkman Road, there was a sawmill, and that’s where he got his sawdust to pack the ice in. They put down a layer of ice and then put down a layer of sawdust, then another layer of ice, then sawdust and so on. Once they got it up high enough, they would take boards and actually build a house around it and pack it full of sawdust. That kept ice all summer.
Tim: So, they didn’t deliver ice to any of the cottages until the people showed up for the summer?
Tim: And Chum did that, too?
Marty: Oh yeah. He did that.
Tim: And were you ever part of that?
Marty: I was part of that, but he wasn’t cutting ice by then. There was an ice plant in Traverse City on the Boardman River called “Richard’s Ice and Smoked Fish.” Chum had a pickup by then, and we’d go in there and get 400-pound blocks that would just fit across the bed of the pickup. The ice we got there was scored into 50-pound blocks, which were scored into 25-pound blocks. You could take an ice pick and hit it two or three times, and it would make a nice clean break. On the way from Traverse City, he delivered ice to all the cottages down at Illini Orchards [off the north end of Peninsula Drive], and Old Mission Resort, but he never delivered to the cottages on Neahtawanta Resort. There was an old guy that lived there just as you started out on the Resort. I believe his name was Howard, and Chum took the ice to him and he delivered it to the cottages. On our regular route, we delivered our 25- or 50-pound blocks, depending on the size of the ice box, and we might do that twice a week. Then once cherry time hit and the migrants were here, he set out big coolers in our front yard with a big sign on it that said “ice” and they would come and get it. I don’t ever remember delivering to their camps, but it was a busy time.
Tim: When did it start to peter out? When did you guys quit?
Marty: On Old Mission Resort, it petered out just as electricity came along, which probably would have been the late 50s. Then in the mid-60s, it petered out entirely when mechanical harvesters came in and replaced all the cherry pickers, because we supplied ice to all their camps.
Tim: When the houses on the Resort finally got refrigeration, the migrant camps were still using ice. Interesting, I never even thought of that. So, all the old ice chests, and whatever was lying around, ended up in the migrant camps?
Tim: As you were growing up, you guys were doing sustenance-type, self-contained farming – you had cows, pigs, chickens, a garden and fruit trees.
Marty: Yes, we had a garden just south of the barn, and mom canned everything. We had green beans, yellow wax beans, green beans full-length, green beans cut up, we had them cross-cut this way, cross-cut that way, and there was every kind fruit. I mean, we had pickled crab apples, we had apple sauce, every kind of cherry, cherries with pits, cherries without pits, cherries with stems, we had peaches, plums, and jam, we had every kind of jam. In the old clay field way up back on the farm, there was one end of it that had wild strawberries, and she used to make at least one batch of wild strawberry jam a year.
Tim: That is a lot of picking. They are so tiny.
Marty: You could be out there all day long.
Tim: Did you get electricity and telephone at that time?
Marty: I don’t remember being without electricity, but the old house had knob and tube wiring in it.
Tim: Would that have been for a Delco generator plant?
Tim: Did it look like electric fence type wiring?
Marty: Yeah, that kind of stuff. The tube was where you went through the wood. The knob was on the outside. I was probably one or two years old when it got hit by lightning. The lightning came in on the electrical wires, and it followed that knob and tube wiring around the house and blew the plaster off the walls. Finally, it hit the ground and went on out. The telephone came along when I would have been in seventh or eighth grade. That’s when we got the dial type. A couple years prior to that, maybe ‘58 or ’59, we had the old crank-type phone hooked to Jack Solomonson’s [Peninsula Telephone Company] switchboard.
Tim: When I got out of high school in 1970, the first job I had was being Jack’s apprentice. I spent the first year taking phone lines out of trees and up off the ground, so there were spots out by you that were pretty crude even in the ‘70’s. I have to say, though, at that time, Jack was a one-man operation, and what he accomplished communication-wise for the residents out here was absolutely amazing. He was a miracle worker.
Marty: Yes, absolutely. Along Illini Orchards Resort, there’s the dune with the cottages and the phone line laid on the ground in a ravine or along the beach. The line ended at our place. It just laid along the beach. I mean that was it. “We got a phone!” Jack made sure everyone got hooked up eventually, one way or the other.
Tim: What was it like to be out there at the end of the road in the winter?
Marty: Ed Andrus lived in the lighthouse, and when he couldn’t get there from our house, that usually meant he was going to move to town for the rest of the winter. At that point, the school bus turned around in our driveway and that was it.
Tim: Were you the last to be plowed?
Marty: Oh, yes.
Tim: Did you miss more school than everybody else?
Marty: *laughs* Oh, yes. About the snow, I remember standing on the roof of dad’s pickup and the snow banks are still feet above my head. In the early 60s, we had a bad storm where we had to shovel off all the roofs. You could walk right up the snow bank onto the roof.
Tim: Yeah, people don’t realize — I remember those winters in the 1950s, and they were different. It was like Pluto. People don’t understand, those were real winters.
Marty: Yeah. This is folklore: Chum used to tell this story, and he told a lot of stories…
Tim: I always found him fascinating.
Marty: …He chewed a can of Copenhagen every day, so if he got snowed in, he rode the horse down to the store to get that can of Copenhagen and the newspaper and whatever else was needed. So, he says, “One day I’m riding to the store, and I’m riding along on the snow bank and I see Ted Ayers’ hat lying there – he had a black and white Scotch cap that he always wore in the winter – so I eased on over and leaned down and picked up the hat. When I picked it up, Ted’s head was underneath it. I said ‘Ted! Ted! My God, are you alright?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’m alright. I’m on horseback.’” So, the snow did get pretty deep.
Tim: So, when did the truck show up, and where did it come from? How did he get it?
Marty: I have no idea. I’m sure he horse-traded for it.
Tim: What brand?
Marty: It was a 1947 Dodge. The bear on the door is the trademark for Stark Brothers Nursery, and the “Son” on the truck door is my much older brother Brud, not me. Chum would drive that truck down to Louisiana, Missouri, and get little fruit trees from them.
Tim: How did he get hooked up with them?
Marty: Not a clue.
Tim: It seems to me, that would have been a little out of his wheelhouse.
Marty: Well, gotta make a living. That may have been why he got the truck – because he had this deal with them.
Tim: About what time did he start working for them?
Marty: Well, I’m thinking it was early ‘50s, because I made that trip with him when I was probably five or six years old.
Tim: That must have been fun.
Marty: It was pretty wild. He did one trip in the Fall and one in the Spring. The one in the Spring wasn’t too bad, but the one in the Fall could get a little rough because you’d get down around the lake and it’d be snowing.
Tim: What were the roads like?
Marty: It was all two lanes. It was absolutely two lanes all the way.
Tim: Did the truck have a two-speed axle?
Marty: It was a four-speed with a two-speed axle.
Tim: So, it could cruise along.
Marty: Yeah. That [pointing to the truck door] is the first vehicle I ever drove.
Tim: Really, that?
Marty: That right there is absolutely the first vehicle I ever drove.
Tim: This thing’s got some meaning for you, doesn’t it?
Marty: Oh yeah…
Tim: I guess it was just kismet that I had to have it. What are the odds of that?
Marty: It’s wonderful. We would have a load of manure on it, and I could sit on the edge of the seat and push the clutch in. I didn’t have to hit the gas. All I had to do was push the clutch in.
Tim: Because old trucks like that had a throttle lever you could pull out on the dash?
Marty: It did have a throttle on it, and it would be in granny [low] gear as I went down between the rows of trees. Chum would be up on the back of the truck and he’d yell “Stop!” and I’d push the clutch in. I was just barely able to reach the pedal. He would throw manure around the trees on both sides, and then we’d go to the next one and the next.
Tim: It sounds like the old truck did a lot more than run down to Stark Brothers.
Marty: Oh, yeah. When we went down to Stark Brothers to fill his tree orders, I can remember them saying, “Take a few of these different kinds of trees and plant them. If the guys like them, maybe you can sell some.” So, on the farm he would have five of these, ten of these, some of those.
Tim: That is amazing, because in the introduction to this interview, you’ll see that was my impression as a four-year-old kid, that his orchard wasn’t your typical cherry farm. There were some peaches over there, some apples over here, some nectarines over there. I remember my dad would take Chum day-old rolls from Butternut Bakery to feed the pigs, and him saying your dad was a wheeler dealer, and we would get a side of pork or whatever for helping feed the pigs. We’d be back there on the farm in the fall, and we’d run over and grab a prune or a plum or a nectarine or a peach. It was great.
Marty: Yeah, everything was there. And right in the middle of that, the pasture was down below and right at the top of the hill was a three-acre corn field. From the time I was about nine or ten, he plowed that three acres with a tractor, and when he got it all leveled out, we marked it by hand using a long pole chain. We walked the length of the field, then cross-ways so that every 24 inches had a mark. Then we’d take hand corn planters, go down through there and plant on the mark. When it started to grow, I cultivated that corn with a horse. Double shovel, cultivator, harrow tooth, we did it all. And you’d go down one way and then you’d go cross-ways.
Tim: I don’t know what it is about cultivating corn with a horse, but it seemed to stick out in my dad’s mind. It seemed to be a sore spot with him. He said, “Yeah, when World War II came along, I quit high school a year early so I could go over there and get shot at. It was a lot better than being at the back end of that horse all day long.”
Marty: *laughs* Yeah, so what Chummy did was, the first year I did it, because we used that corn on the farm, he gave me a pig named Sophie. The following year for cultivating that corn, I got to keep the litter that she had.
Tim: So, he was wheeling and dealing with you, too? *Laughs*
Marty: Oh, yeah. *laughs* But again, another one of the Chummy’s folklore he told a lot … May Cowan had a boar pig, so Chum would haul his sows over to May’s to get bred. He used to take them over there one by one in a wheelbarrow, and he said to me, “Ya know, that sow of yours, Sophie … I took her over to May’s two, three times, figured she would take two or three times … fourth time I went to take her over there, she was sitting in the wheelbarrow waiting.”
Tim: *Laughs* Well, that’s a better story than Oliver Tompkins selling his dead pig to his brother for breeding stock.
Marty: *Laughs* Chummy and May were great friends. She was quite the lady.
Tim: Now, she was down the road a ways, around the corner.
Marty: She was just around the corner on Tompkins Road [where the Tester horse farm is currently located].
Tim: Wasn’t she a nurse or something?
Marty: She was the Old Mission caretaker. I mean, she gave shots, I’ve gotten shots from her. First thing, if you ran a fever or whatever, you went and saw May. Chummy called her Daisy May. Chummy had a nickname for everybody.
Tim: Did he have a nickname for that old McCormick tractor you took us for a ride on? I don’t know where we were going. My dad, me, and maybe my brother got on the trailer. I remember Chum saying “Put your shirts on. You can’t ride behind that tractor without a shirt because the sparks will come out and stick on you.” Do you remember that?
Marty: Sparks will come out and stick on you … oh, ok, yeah! Because it had a piece of pipe on it from the manifold up. There was no muffler.
Tim: I always remember that. I sat back there waiting for the sparks to stick on me and burn my shirt off, but it never happened. You were driving the tractor.
Marty: Oh, yeah, it had a great road gear in it. The John Deere we had was an amazing tractor. It had more damn power…
Tim: Was it a four or a two-cylinder?
Marty: It was a two cylinder. It was a Johnny Popper. It had rubber tires and a big fly wheel on the side to start it.
Tim: Which I always thought was a precarious thing to do because you’re right in front of that big rear tire. If you forgot to take it out of gear and spun that big fly wheel and it started, you were done.
Marty: Yeah, it had a compression release on it because otherwise, you couldn’t spin it fast enough to start it so you’d open the petcock, turn that wheel, and if it took off right away, the petcock would still be open and there was stuff flying all over the place, so it was a race to get that closed. But that was a hell of a tractor.
Tim: Getting back to the truck, did it ever haul ice?
Marty: No, he hauled ice in the pickup. As far as I know…
Tim: The truck was pretty much the farm vehicle…
Marty: And commercial. It hauled the fruit trees for Stark Brothers because he was a salesman for them.
Tim: So then, they shut the old house down and they built that other little house.
Marty: Well, the little house, that was originally going to be a second garage. When I was a freshman in high school, they poured the slab. The lumber for it came from Mrs. Morgan, of Morgan McCool fame. She had this house up towards Wayne Hill — she had a house on State Street, too, but this was part of the old farm — so they tore the old house down and Chummy hauled all the lumber from there. It was all rough cut, like two by fours, all rough sawn, none of it was planed lumber, it was shiplap.
Tim: So, did you call him Chum or dad?
Marty: Oh, I called him Dad, absolutely.
Tim: Because my dad and all his brothers called their father Garrett. They never called him Dad. I just wondered if that was some generational or Peninsula thing.
Marty: No, it was “Mom and Dad.” Your grandparents, Garrett and Tissy [Clarissa], very fond memories of them. Garrett’s old blue truck, I believe it was an International. Chummy, on occasion, would use it if something was wrong with his. All this fruit and stuff that he grew he would peddle. He would go down to Lake City area or Farwell Center, and he would trade that fruit and stuff for hay. And then in the fall, he would go down there and haul the hay back. One time we had Garrett’s truck with a load of hay on it, and between Tompkins Road and our driveway, we hit a patch of ice. To this day, I can remember sitting in that big truck with that load of hay on, spinning all the way around and down in the ditch and back up on the road again, and Chum’s like, “eh, ok.”
Tim: Yeah, I did some rides in that truck because my grandpa made more money hauling the cherries to Alberta over by Frankfort. At the end of the day, a long day of picking cherries and loading lugs and the whole thing, he would take off and go to Alberta and unload it there and come back. I don’t know when he slept.
Marty: Garrett and Tissy and Chum and Marian used to play cards. Their house was a regular stop on Sunday afternoon. They were part of the friends that Chum and Marian had, Garrett and Tissy, Irv and Sophie Franklin, and I remember spending time with the Weatherholt brothers, Chuck and Clarence. Sometimes the Weatherholt boys and Irv and Sophie – not so much with Garrett and Tissy – would on a Sunday afternoon, go for a ride. I’d go to look at a horse over by Fife Lake or something. We even went to the Upper Peninsula one time to the brothers’ deer camp. You know, that’s what you did. Mom fried up a chicken, baked a pie, baked a cake. We would stop at a roadside park, eat dinner and then turn around and come home. A lot of that, a lot of that.
Tim: I remember your mother worked at Peninsula Fruit Exchange…
Marty: Yep, she worked there. She sorted cherries every winter.
Tim: Did she do that the whole time you were growing up?
Marty: Pretty much, yeah. Ken Manigold was there. I was trying to think who else was over there at the time, can’t remember the names. We used to be there all the time. I remember being in that plant with all those big old pitters running.
Tim: When did she pass away, and when did Chum pass away?
Marty: Well, let’s see, Christmas of ’64, I think was when Mom passed. It was my junior year in high school, and I remember that spring I missed 26 days of school. *laughs* Chummy pretty much came apart when mom died.
Tim: That must have been a tough time.
Marty: Yeah, when we came home from the funeral, we were sitting in the back of the garage that had become a house, and he was putting wood on the fire, and I said, “Dad, what are we going to do?” He looked me square in the eye and he said, “I don’t know,” and he didn’t know. And that’s pretty much when I decided I was on my own. I believe he died in ’77.
Tim: Are Chum and your mother buried at Ogdensburg?
Marty: No, they’re in the Catholic cemetery. They’re right next to your grandma and grandpa. Yep, they’re all right there. And of course, your dad and uncles are up on the hill a little ways from there.
Tim: So, what happened with the truck? What was the end of the truck?
Marty: I’m gonna say, probably, I might have been 15 or 16. It just kind of got parked out front. Chum always had a Chevy pickup and just south of 113 where it comes into 131, there’s a big gas station over there. Well, just south of there was a guy by the name of Bliss that had a junk yard. He lived at the junk yard and he had 12 or 13 kids, so he was always looking for food for them. It seems every spring we were always putting an old engine in the truck or in the pickup. So, Chum would go down there and trade food, vegetables, meat, or fruit with Bliss for a 235 Chevy engine for the pickup or a Dodge engine for the big truck. So, underneath that poplar tree in our front yard, there was a lot of engine work done before the truck got parked there for good.
Tim: And that’s where I remember seeing the truck. Every time we went out to the lighthouse for a picnic or something, I couldn’t wait to get there because there was that truck with the bear on the door. I remember my face being pressed up to the window of the car, you know, looking at that thing. I don’t know why, I just seemed to be fixated on that truck with the bear on the door. Then it disappeared until almost 60 years later I came across it out in the woods behind Dennis Bee’s farm. I was flabbergasted.
Marty: That’s amazing. Absolutely amazing. I was, at one point after you told me it was there, I was going to hunt him up.
Tim: Well, it left there right after I got the door off it. Don Rohl from over on Bay Street, he was kind of a handy mechanical guy, and if it didn’t run, he could get it running for you. He got a hold of it and I think they took it down to Jeff Jarrett’s shop which was just south of Gleason and Company. I think the rear end of it is somewhere in a homemade forklift still running around. I don’t know what happened to the rest of it, probably scrapped. So, the truck finally quit running and got parked there in your front yard under the tree…
Marty: Yes, I believe it was there when I graduated in 1966, and I headed down to Lansing with your Uncle Jack.
Marty: Yeah, going to St. Francis, I became a pretty good draftsman and decided I wanted to be an engineer. The state had this engineering program where you could come work six months and go to school six months. So, I signed up for it. Well, Chummy and Jack were good buddies, and I was going to Lansing, so Chum made arrangements for me to stay with Jack, who lived and worked down there. I worked at a desk in bridge design. I was a spec engineer, a spec draftsman. Your uncle Jack sat behind me, and Steve Sobkowski, who had moved away from Old Mission years before, sat in front of me.
Tim: No way!
Marty: Yeah, and that was in the old motor wheel plant down there. So, I stayed with Jack that summer, and then decided I was going to break out on my own and get my own apartment, which I did.
Tim: So, was Chum a hunter?
Marty: Chum was a rabbit hunter. He didn’t hunt deer. There were no deer out here when I was kid.
Tim: All gone?
Marty: They just weren’t here. First deer I saw I was riding a horse towards Jim Horton’s property. It was open then and not full of brush. I was riding across there and a deer came along the edge of the woods. The first one I had ever seen. I was probably nine or ten years old.
Tim: Huh. Isn’t that odd…
Marty: They just weren’t out here. But we hunted rabbits. When I got old enough, I hunted squirrel.
Tim: There was a lot of them out there.
Marty: A lot of them out here, and I used to be a good at it. That was good eatin’, too. Rabbits, I’ll tell you how we hunted rabbits. We always had dogs, and Chum and my Uncle Graham would go out and run the dogs. If it was rolling along on Saturday and mom didn’t have anything for Sunday dinner, about ten o’clock at night, dad would bring the dogs inside. He would take the gun and me to the back of the farm. There was a big stone pile back there. We sat there in the moonlight and watched for rabbits to run from juniper bush to juniper bush and then make a run for the stone pile. When they ran for the stone pile, we got Sunday dinner. I mentioned Uncle Graham, Chum’s brother … he was a great fisherman. I mean, he loved to fish. Chummy, eh, not so much, but he did some commercial fishing.
Tim: Out here?
Marty: Yeah, with his dad. They had pond nets set out along where the shipwreck Metropolis is out there [off Old Mission Point].
Tim: So, to sum it all up, when you look back at being at the end of the road, do you think it was idyllic? Was it the best thing ever or was it tough?
Marty: It was tough. It was tough, especially living in that old house at the end of the road. It was pretty bleak in the winter time.
Tim: Was it insulated?
Marty: No, no. When the wind blew, the window panes would rattle. It was pretty tough in there. *laughs* It had a woodstove down below and a register that went upstairs into one bedroom. There wasn’t a register in the other bedroom. The wind would blow through the window panes and in the morning, there’d be snow on the window sill.
Tim: A little drift?
Marty: A little drift, yeah.
Tim: Been there, know all about it.
Marty: The snow was just amazing. I remember Ed Andrus had to spend the night at our house. He had a ‘57 Chevy station wagon he had driven into a snow drift. In the morning we took that truck out there to hook onto it because Chummy had chains on it. We got out there and all you could see was the fins and tail lights sticking out of the snow. He got so far in there he had to crawl out the tail gate to get out.
Tim: Once again we are back to the old truck, a good place to bring this conversation to a close. Thank you very much. It has been a real pleasure.
Marty: Yes, absolutely.
I really enjoyed reading this. I was growing up on the south end of the Peninsula in the ’50s.
Enjoyable read. Thanks for the memories Marty, Tim and Jane.
Great story. Thanks for the history and memories of the “Last House” on OMP. I spent my share of good times there with Grandpa Chum. Thanks Tim and Uncle Marty. Nice work.
I enjoyed reading this article. It brought back memories of stories told to me long ago. Nice interview Marty.
Thank you so much. I had forgotten a lot of this. Grammy Zoulek used to tell so many stories it was hard to keep straight, but I did recognize a few.
I remember Chummy delivering ice to our Forest Ave cottage in the 50’s. It was a very exciting event for us children! Even after we got refrigeration, we had an ice box that still required Chummy’s deliveries. I think we kept it just to give him some business. And, we wanted him to come visit!
Fantastic, I learned so much. ….. I remember Chum. My mother and I visited him on many occasions – buying antiques. We actually bought his old barn and used the lumber to re-side the inside of OUR OLD BARN with tar paper between the two layers! He was an interesting man, and I have many memories of our visits… Susan Feiger
I so enjoyed reading this story. Thank you! The Wunsch family had a pig. Wonder is he was an off spring of Sophie!
What a fun read! I was a good friend of Maxine Reay when we spent summer with my Grandmother and the Franklin family across the road from Haserot beach. Have wonderful memories of Maxine and Brud and Chum and Marian. CHum delivered our ice to our own ice house , which still stand behind the house, and my great grandchildren call it the wood shed!
From Katy Kern, over at Neahtawanta Resort:
Tim’s interview was great!
In my youth, George Steinbeck “Steinie” who was the caretaker at the Inn delivered the ice to Neahtawanta. I think during the ‘50’s the Inn was called the Sun Rise Inn. Steinie delivered the ice on the back of the Inn’s pickup truck to the cottages the Inn rented and a few others around the resort. That truck has been restored by David Taft. Legend has it that Mary Atherton went to the Ford dealer in town and took a test drive of that truck and she kept on trucking to Neahtawanta never returning the truck to the dealer . Embellishment of the legend was that she never paid for the truck either. I think it was Abe Lincoln who said that if the ‘story is better than the truth, stick with the story.’
Tim’s interview also referenced a man named Howard near Neahtawanta. Howard Burden was the Neahtawanta caretaker and he also delivered ice to some of the resort cottages. Howard was a one of a kind too.
Marty and i used to be friends.
Sounds like a good time for a reunion, Richard!
[…] Old Mission History: Marty Reay on Chum’s Ice Business, Iconic Truck Door […]
[…] Tim’s interview with Marty here. It not only tells the story of the door, but also of Chum’s ice-cutting business and a lot […]
[…] Vi: Mrs. Wood – Lillian – was our telephone operator. She had been working for the Ortmans and continued on with us. She was there from eight to five. [Lillian was married to Stanley Wood, who drove a snowplow on the Old Mission Peninsula and was mentioned in our interview with Marty Reay here.] […]
[…] Old Mission History: Marty Reay on Chum’s Ice Business, Iconic Truck Door […]
Martys mom made the best salad dressing cake you will ever have. I have the recipe somewhere in my.stach of.recipes.
I enjoyed this story so much and I worked at Watson’s and remember Chum bringing ice there. Marilyn Reay worked there at the same time. I also remember the snow at Reay’s and could go no further. We had a lot of snow back in those days. I knew a lot of people mentioned in this story. Love it!!