Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Big Muskie and the Huletts

In much of Southeast Ohio, including Perry State Forest, strip-mining scars still meander over the terrain, but they don't mar the dreamy nostalgia of the Big Muskie bucket, which sits in the Miners' Memorial Park in Noble County. The bucket is all that's left of the towering 220-foot walking dragline; and when the mouth of the giant strip mining machine was finally moved to the park, it was like a funeral procession.

The strangest thing is that despite the acres of earth she laid bare so unceremoniously and despite the distance between her violent activities and my life, I wax nostalgic when I browse the pages devoted to Big Muskie. Maybe I feel that way because there's nothing left of the Hulets, not even one of their gnawing steel mouths.

I was about seven or eight when Dad took me to watch the Hulett ore unloaders. He loaded cans of Stroh's into the XKE and drove down closed roads that wound through dangerous piles of debris to Whiskey Island. We finally came upon the Hulett's, which were outlined in white dots of light as they dipped graciously into the bellies of the massive oar boats. The air was thick with humidity and bugs, the smell of gasoline.

"They used to have to unload the ore boats by hand," Dad said.

"Really?" I asked, enchanted.

"Terrible, dangerous job. One wheelbarrow at time," he said, fishing his Zippo from his pocket. He paused and lit his cigarette, snapped the lighter closed with a sound I'll never forget. "Then came the Huletts."

"Must of used to take them forever to empty those boats before that," I said as they arced across the night sky.

"The new ships are self-unloading. They don't need the Huletts anymore. These are dinosaurs, Erin," he said and wagged his Marlboro at them. "You remember these."

A man emerged from another steamy parked car. He was shirtless as he stood before our headlights, a challenge. His pants were unbuttoned. He deflated a bit when he realized we were not a threat.

Dad sipped his beer. "Time to go home," he said.

From then on, I always looked for the Huletts from my perch upon the bluffs of Lakewood Park, particularly at night when their lighted silhouettes were moving ornaments upon the coast--something secret and unique in my derided hometown.

Eventualities unfurled over the years, as did I. The mighty Huletts did not survive. Neither did Dad.

I miss the Huletts.

I miss the damnable industry that surrounded them. I miss their terrifying steel works and gears. And when they were headed to the scrap heap, I wish one of those indignant historical groups that clamored and shook their collective fist had won. After all, they were right. We've lost something.

Maybe I'll drive down to Noble County this summer and visit Big Muskie's bucket--a vicarious pilgrimage courtesy of the coal industry. Maybe I'll place my hands upon her rusty steel flesh. Maybe I'll shed a tear and say a prayer.

Maybe I'll forgive her sins.

* * *


Big Mark 243 said...

See, stuff like this is why you get paid for writing. The feeling I have in my chest is the same kind of feeling I have when Gordon Lightfoot starts to sing about the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Jim do little said...

Erin, I've wanted to go see "Big Muskie" and I will. I consider you lucky because you saw the Huletts in action. I hear that they lurk behind the fences, in pieces, at Whiskey Island and Wendy Park but I have never seen them. Why is history more interesting when you're older, when you're part of it? Great article!

Erin O'Brien said...

Thanks so much, Jim and Mark. I haven't posted in a while as I've been busy with other things and I also wanted to make this one shine, so I took my time with it.

I'm so glad to hear that it resonated with you both.

JEFF9K said...


philbilly said...

Erin, I read my comment over before I posted it, and to you and your readers I offer my apology for being more churlish than usual of late, we fatboys hate the heat. Your take on the Huletts is beautiful. I wish my old man could've drunk beer and smoked Marlboros with your old man.

Erin, they (2 remaining) lie behind the fence along the road to Whisky Island that is named after Citizen Ed Hauser. They are not in a proper place of honor because the maggots that run the county wanted a new hi-rise fart-sack and coffee bar, at which point we paid $40 million for a Marcel Breuer design loaded with asbestos and a George Post landmark, the Cleveland Trust Rotunda, where my mom opened my first savings account in 1954, and we the taxpayers are now being told we must sell at a $10+million dollar loss. Nice job, boys.
What's that, asshat politicos, you take offense to my scorn? Just wait. tick tock.

Erin, go look for the Huletts, they are magnificent in rusting repose, more of a legacy even now than that of the last fifty years of college educated/ connected "bleedership" bacteria that stinks up Cleveland now and so desires their names be immortal.

My dad also took my brothers and me to see them, I remember the blinking blue Westinghouse sign as we approached Edgewater.

No, I'm not angry.

The Fool said...

Kudos, Erin. Nice writing...and a doff of the hat on turn at the end. The juxtapositions say a lot. I enjoyed this piece immensely.

Bill said...

I don't know if your Dad lived long enough to see your talent. In any case he is, or would be, proud and happy that he is, so often, prominent in your writing.

Rex said...

Beautiful story Erin. I too grew up loving the hullets and other mechanical marvels of the great lakes. As mentioned 2 of the 4 the Hullets are still there but may not be in a few years. In wineter they can be seen easily through the fence. There is a committee to save them but they have not been sucesful at fundraising. I hope if canal park by Sherwin Williams at Carter Rd. ever happens they may be rebuilt.

If you want to see another mechanical last of its kind go to Sandusky and look for the coal loader. This tower picks up train cars and rotates them to dump the coal into a ship. Seeing these train cars roll down ramps lke little toys is pretty fun.

Thanks for sharing your story.

Jack Cluth said...

"He paused and lit his cigarette, snapped the lighter closed with a sound I'll never forget."

That line alone brought back a lot of memories for me, none of them good. My father smoked, and the sound of the lighter meant I was going to be smoking vicariously again. My health and ability to breathe were always secondary considerations to his addiction...and I hated him for it.

To this day, I'm allergic to cigarette smoke. Nothing gets me from 0 to asshole faster than someone lighting up a cigarette around me.

Chandra said...

We stopped to see the "Big Muskie" last fall with our 2 year old. He, and we were fascinated. Truly an amazing peice of human machinery.

What struck me most is while living in WV, knowing the damage of coal, the land that the "Big Muskie" resides on is forever changed from what it was, but has been reclaimed and reshaped again by nature. The area she rests upon is truly peaceful and lovely. The picture of my son holding a wildflower attests to it.

I'm glad the piece of it remains to speak.....

Beautifully written piece.

dean said...

O'Brien: this rocks.

Erin O'Brien said...

I am here and loving all your comments. I have to go find the Hulett graveyard!

Sorry to be so scarce, but I got inundated with two surprise assignments and haven't had time to breathe.

Anonymous said...

Great piece. Never saw a Hullet but smoked a few Marlboro's and snapped some Zippo's shut. Funny how technology connects us.


jford said...

DAMN! What a marvelously written essay. Truly wonderfully, Erin.

Proud American said...

You ever going to fix that glaring grammatical error, Miss WriterPants?

Oh, wait. That's right. You're a lib. Being WRONG is okay as long as it makes you FEEL good.

Erin O'Brien said...

Grammatical errors make me feel so good in fact, Proud American, that I often make them while masturbating.

Thank you for your support.

Bill said...

Yes! Yes! Yes! Sounds grammatically corrct to me.