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Mason County Memories

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We left off last week with Captain Hoxie's tenure on the SS Illinois, in May of 1941 he went on to become Captain of the Milwaukee Clipper. He served in that capacity until his retirement in 1954. Captain Hoxie brought the Milwaukee Clipper to Muskegon on her maiden voyage. The Clipper was designed by George G. Sharp and re-built from the Juniata by the Manitowoc Shipyard at a cost of over a million dollars to refit. New regulations had docked the Juniata as wooden passenger ships were mothballed after the Morro Castle Passenger ship fire. The Juniata was saved and re-designed to be fire proof. Part of the job of refitting the boat was the removal of the wooden superstructure and replacing it with steel. At 361 feet long, with a 45 foot beam the Clipper, carried up to 950 passengers as well as autos during the four trips made daily between Michigan and Wisconsin. A significant amount of the business of the Clipper was in transporting new cars both from Michigan to Wisconsin and also in transporting Nash autos from Milwaukee. The Clipper was under pressure to maintain a tight schedule and Captain Hoxie liked to hold to that schedule. According to Captain Robert Priefer who worked with Hoxie and also went on to become Captain of the Clipper from 1959 to 1968 they only had about a half hour to 45 minutes to unload and load 900 passengers and autos. Hoxie would push to get in and out of port on time [full speed ahead and full speed astern] and at least on one occasion blew the whistle and started to move away from the dock while the Clipper was still being refueled. He also was a little mindful of the old lore that said that it was bad luck to sail the first trip of the season on a Friday. With that in mind he left dock one season at 11:30 pm Thursday night with half of the crew still on the dock. In the Otsego Union August 18th 1949 edition Captain Hoxie recalled one of his more exciting experiences as Captain, he reported that it was when the Clipper was weathering a 55 mile an hour Gale and the heavy seas burst the windows in the lounge, several inches of water came in and after quieting the passengers many of whom were drenched Hoxie took the wheel and piloted the ship safely into harbor. Another time a Chicago woman possibly suffering from amnesia, jumped from the Milwaukee Clipper. Many of the 900 passengers witnessed the jump and rescue. Upon notice that the woman had jumped overboard Hoxie reversed the engines and lowered a lifeboat with 5 crew to make the rescue. The woman was being watched by a porter who was assigned to monitor her because she appeared emotionally distraught at the time of boarding the ship. She was wearing a trench coat in the summer, a surgical mask, and she was concerned about the pollution. Robert Priefer was First Mate on that day and recalled that the Porter was following the woman, rather then watching and was moving every time she moved. He was concerned she was being spooked but before he could relay his concerns the woman jumped. When interviewed later she reported that she had no memory of boarding the ship or jumping off from the ship and only recalled a sensation of falling. The Bridge, once almost unchanged from the time of Columbus became home to "fancy gadgets" such as Radar, Telegraphs, television, and radios, the sails replaced with an engine room and more. For a Captain of the old school with a reputation to be tough as nails some of those changes undoubtedly were hard to accept. In an August 22nd 1955 article written by Nick Poulos he refers to Captain Hoxie's reputation as being one of the toughest, and most courageous Great Lakes Sailors. He goes on to quote Hoxie as saying "A ship can't make money at a dock" He went on to elaborate on his feelings about modern sailors. " Modern Sailors are too soft, they've got too many conveniences. All these new gadgets on today's ships do all the work for them. In the old days all we had, was a compass and hard experience to get by with." In another article written by Fletcher Wilson Captain Hoxie expands on his dislike of modern gadgets by insisting that the automatic pilot, a gyroscope operated device that keeps the ship on a set course not be "inflicted upon him." In his last command Hoxie Captained the Aquarama on her maiden voyage in 1955 as she left Muskegon for exhibition at Chicago. Alan K Hoxie was indeed a sea dog of the old school. From the days of the Schooner when he remembered learning some of his lessons at the end of a rope and eating whatever the cook would let him have to the Dean of Great Lake Captains with 58 years of sailing on the Great Lakes and Master of the Aquarama. He witnessed and was an important local figure in the rich Maritime history of our area. Captain Hoxie was remembered not just as a tough and courageous sailor of the old school but also as genial, spry and youthful. He retired on September 5th 1955 to pursue his hobby of motor boating and he passed away in 1963 at his home a log cabin he had built at the Middle Bayou on Hamlin Lake.

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