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Mason County Memories


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History Columns are arranged by year of publication in the Ludington Daily News



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Second Engineer Herman Schmock tells his story of the Butters

History Column 71 David K Petersen

Herman W. Schmock as a young man of 24 was serving on the Marshall F. Butters as the second engineer on the day of the Black Friday Storm of October 20th 1916. A few weeks back we discussed that storm and the 4 ships that were taken on Lake Erie that day.

Two of the ships, the Butters and the D.L. Filer had local connections, after the last column ran the family of H.W. Schmock shared a number of stories and some photographs that I felt were important enough to re-visit the M.F. Butters story.

Herman Schmock was born 1892 in Stronach near Manistee and grew up there and in Buttersville. Living so near the Lakes must have had an influence on his choices for employment. He spent most of his life working as a marine engineer first on the M.F. Butters and then for the Merchant marine during WWI, for Morton Salt and Freighters on the Great Lakes before being employed by Abrahamson Nerheim in the last years before retirement.

In his own words Herman Schmock relates his story of what happened that fateful day in the fall of 1916. "I came on watch at 12 and found everything as usual. We were about 18 miles past the southeast shoal, Lake Erie. The squall hit us about 12:15. "I saw it coming and put in the shutters to protect the windows. It hit us five minutes later. When the wind struck us it picked up the inch lumber off the deck and it went up like paper.

"Everything was 0. K. until 1:30 when I heard a sound and noticed the boat taking water from forward. I immediately put on the bilge pumps and two siphons, then notified the chief engineer, who in turn notified the captain to turn about, and try to lighten the cargo. Then the water came over our cranks and I knew then that our ship was doomed if our cargo wasn't lightened.

"Meantime, the chief engineer, mate, wheels-man, steward and fireman were on deck putting the lumber overboard. "At 1:50 the fireman on watch reported the ash-pan full of water. We tried to make a fake furnace; that is to have a draught and fireplace in place of fire only. "We started and the water came up to our waists and put the fires out. There was then nothing for us to do, for our end was out of commission. The captain tried to dump the deck-load by getting in the trough of the sea, but it wouldn't let go. Then our orders were to take to the boats.

"I left the engine room, for the water was about one foot from the dynamo floor. We went up' to the lifeboat deck and saw two steamers heading for us, and although the seas were at least 18 feet high, 1 didn't think there was any danger for help was near. "I went to my room, changed my clothes and filled my pockets with valuables. The seas washed into my room but I wanted to get a ring and watch-fob that a lady friend of mine had given me and for which I had rather go down than leave.

"After the boat was lowered on the starboard side ready to start anytime, I waded down the deck to the engine room after my pipe. I then enjoyed "Sam,'' but in rather a nervous state. "The steamer Billings came around a number of times and then the steamer Hartwell came, and the captain ordered us to come ahead. "We reached the Hartwell after an exciting trip, the lifeboat nearly going on the steamers deck the first thing. Our intentions were to go back after the rest of the crew, but our boat was crushed before we got out.

"In the meantime the Billings came storm oil which quieted the water. The steward, wheelsman, and .one fireman leaped overboard instead of waiting. That left the captain and one fireman alone on the boat. "By going down to take a last-look, tie captain got caught in the lumber and vas pulled out by the Indian fireman. '' Our mascot, a scotch collie, Schuster, was lost. He belonged to the fireman and he mourns him. He has our. sympathy, for he died a brave sailor."

Herman's personal account was originally published in the October 26th edition of the Ludington Chronicle after the sinking of the Butters. Herman went on to marry Mabel E. Sandberg two years later on February 14th 1918 they had one child Marjorie. His grandchildren still have the watch and pipe that Herman thought so much of that he went and retrieved them before the ship sank that day. He also had the presence of mind to grab his camera and to take a picture of the ship from his lifeboat as the Butters was foundering.

If you have any stories o photos you would like to share with our readers please feel free to contact me at 757-3240 or davep@blackcreekpress.com

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