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Mason County Memories


"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus" ~ Mark Twain


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



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In the last couple weeks we've been taking a look at Stearns Kentucky and the impact that the Stearns Interests had there. What most people don't realize is that it also had an impact here in Ludington as employees of Stearns in Mason County were often asked to relocate to Kentucky to work on various projects there. John Xavier Schrader was one of the local boys who found him-self working in Kentucky. John was born in 1882 in Canada and was living with his grandparents there until he was 14 years old. At that time he moved to Ludington to be with his father Levi Schrader. When John left for Kentucky and Tennessee to build sawmills in the logging camps, he was 21 years old and a single man. That changed within a short time but not in the way that most people and I'm sure John as well would have expected. He was sitting on the end of a log when the log was hit flipping John into the air and when gravity took over and brought him down again he was so seriously injured that the men at the camp did not think that he would survive. He was brought to the Hotel where he was put into a room and left to the kindness of strangers. A young woman who worked at the Hotel by the name of Charity Chitwood took it upon herself to care for John and nursed him back to health. The young couple was married in 1905. In later years when asked about it Charity said "I thought since I took care of him for that long I might as take care of him for the rest of his life." During the next fifteen years the family moved from camp to camp as John worked on setting up new mills to saw the logs being cut on the mountains. Every one of the eight children born there was born in a different camp. (Three more in Ludington) John's daughter Ruth Schrader Beebe who was born in the Lancing camp recalls that each time that they moved a new house was built for the family at the camp. One of the last camps that John worked on prior to coming back to Ludington was the Capachine Camp. One of Ruth's brothers Don Schrader wrote about their move to their new home and we'll quote sections from his story about it. " We departed from the farm with little or no regret. Our anticipation left no room in our minds for that. The feeling that returns to me most clearly is one of suspense in anticipation, an impatience to reach our destination, an almost unbearable breath holding tightening of mind and body. The only comparable state would be the feeling that small children have on Christmas Eve. "The household goods were all loaded. Old Cherry the cow was tied to the rear of the last of three wagons. Cherry did not share our enthusiasm for the journey ahead. She kept a strain on the rope which held her, dragging her feet and dancing from side to side to show her reluctance to leave the place where she had been born. "Our driver was Sam Perkins. He was a hill-billy, tough as leather, silent and efficient, much resembling one of his mules in disposition and deportment. Mom was a bit nervous about the weather, since it was early April and apt to be a very wet month in that part of the country. There were no covers on the wagons, not even tarps to cover the furniture and bedding. We traveled along a creek bed for a time, where rocks tiled the wagons from side to side and the iron rims on the four foot high wagon wheels clanged on the granite. About this time it started to rain, gently and steadily." The trip to the new camp over the mountains was not without mishap, Old Cherry the cow wrestled herself loose and ran back down the mountain to the old farmstead, the family cat who was also not very enthused about moving in the rain broke loose and headed for the brush never to be seen again. One of the wagons lost a wheel rim after cresting the ridge and it rolled down the mountain into a creek bed before stopping and another had to be secured from a local family. The homes were sparse in number along the way, two or three room shacks with tarpaper roofs, housing families with eight to ten children which helps to illustrate the seclusion and poverty that existed in the region. After leaving Kentucky John came back to Ludington Michigan where he continued working for Stearns at the Stearns Motor Works and then for Stearns Salt and Lumber, and when Morton Salt bought out that business he continued to work for them until retirement in 1948. His daughter Ruth Schrader Beebe recalls fondly that her father was a typical German, that he loved buttermilk and corn bread, but didn't like sassy and loud people. She says that they were friends and could talk. John was of a sturdy stock of skilled pioneers. He was a skilled carpenter that forged a life for his family in the hills of Tennessee and the shores of Lake Michigan working for Stearns Enterprises as did thousands of others who benefited from the jobs created by Justus Stearns. If you have any stories or photographs you would like to share with our readers please feel free to contact me at 757-3240, davep@blackcreekpress.com or mail to Ludington Daily News Po Box 340 Ludington Mi 49431

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