Sunday, July 1, 2018

Post # 23

Quote for the day. "People in the U.P. really believe they have perfected life."
Roger McCoy, Channel 50 (Detroit) newscaster during a radio interview on WJR January 1, 1993.


Bad Optics
by Joseph Heywood

A new novel in the Upper Peninsula series featuring Conservation Officer Grady Service is always cause for celebration. If you are a lover of the U.P. and its culture, great storytelling, one-of-a-kind characters, and have even a slight interest in the work of Conservation Officers and you are not a fan of the Service Grady books it's because you have yet to read one.

This eleventh in the series literally takes off where the 10th in the series ended but the book can be read as a standalone. After a record-setting number of arrests by Grady Service during the last deer season, with the ride-along help of life-long poacher Limpy Allerdyce, Service is called to Lansing and is placed on administrative suspension that grows in length from month to month. At first, Grady believes it is political revenge. But as increased visitors and suspicious activities by untraceable businesses begin to regularly occur in the Mosquito Wilderness Area it looks like the suspension might have been a way to remove Service from interfering with someone claiming mineral rights to part of the area. 

Grady has spent his career guarding the wilderness area and keeping developers at bay. He also knows the Mosquito area holds a secret that could contribute to its own ruin. Suspension or no suspension Grady will not stand by and watch it happen. So along with a few friends, tips from a former female governor, and a collection of wonderfully weird and amusing minor characters Service wades into the political swamp in Lansing and chases around the U.P. in pursuit of who or what is trying to pry the mineral rights from the state.

Heywoods' plots are like bottle rockets that go off in all kinds of unexpected and exciting directions. His dialogue is sharp enough to cut and often very funny.  But it's his wonderful sense of place and rich character development, paired with the author's innate storytelling ability that makes his books such runaway successes. In Heywood's last two books the life-long poacher and backwoods idiot savant Limpy Allerdyce has grown from little more than a walk-on part in Heywood's earlier books to a major character and a  hilarious, cockeyed Dr. Watson to Gardy Service's Sherlock Holmes.  Limpy, the UPs famed deer poacher, had an epiphany (he would neither know what the word meant nor how to pronunciation it) in the previous book and became Grady's unofficial partner in catching other poachers.  He may have stopped killing deer but he regularly murders the English language with both outrageously original Yooperisms and his knack for mispronouncing words.  In Allerdyce's world misdemeanor becomes missingdemanners, felonies become falconies, and when physically challenged while sitting and made fun of for his age and small size he replied, "I play bigger than I sit..."

Joseph Heywood is a storyteller at the top of his craft. For the uninitiated, the eleven books in what the publisher calls "The Woods Cop Mysteries" is a sheer mountain of reading pleasure. If one were to ask Limpy if the latest book in the series is any good, he'd probably say, "Youse betcha, cross my harp."

Bad Optics by Joseph Heywood. Lyons Press, 2018, $27.95

Michigan's C. Harold Wills
by Alan Naldrett & Lynn Lyon Naldrett

C. Harold Wills was a brilliant designer, engineer, and metallurgist who made significant contributions to the nascent Detroit automobile industry yet is probably almost unknown outside of knowledgeable automobile historians and aficionados. There appears to be no definitive biography of the man including this brief book which serves as a useful introduction to the influential car designer and manufacturer.

Wills attended post-high school night classes in metallurgy, mechanical engineering, and chemistry in Detroit in the late 1880s but it appears he was pretty much self-taught, and from childhood on had a talent for drafting. He was the first person Henry Ford hired when the Ford Motor Company was founded. Wills became Ford's right-hand man during the pre- WWI years. He designed and served as the chief engineer of Ford's Model T. Wills developed vanadium a light-weight alloy stronger than steel which was used extensively in the car, invented the transmission, and helped develop the Model T's four-cylinder engine. Wills also helped perfect Ford's assembly line by having a man drag a chassis, by rope, down the line while Wills attached doors and other parts to the car.

Although this is a biography of Wills the authors can't pass up interesting and intriguing automotive historical oddities.  The Dodge Brothers allowed kegs of beer in their plant and workers could partake of the suds while working. This was done so the plant didn't lose workers to bars during their shift. After instituting $5 a day pay Ford created a Sociology Department and posted rules of conduct that set limits for alcohol consumption, cleanliness, and what workers could spend their wages on. Agents called on homes of Ford workers to be sure rules were followed, monitored bank accounts, checked children's school attendance, and decreed any male over 22 who worked for Ford must be married.

After WWI Ford and Wills began drifting apart. Wills wanted to update and improve the Model T while Ford felt it was perfect as is. When Henry and his wife went to Paris, Wills built a new prototype to succeed the Model T. When Ford returned and saw the new model he tore the doors off and took a sledgehammer to the car. Ford also didn't like it that Wills shared his dividend check with fellow employees and didn't live a quiet and sedate lifestyle like the Fords. In 1919 the two parted ways and Wills started his own car company.

When the first Wills Sainte Claire rolled off the assembly line in 1921 the authors easily support their claim that it was a car ahead of its time. They point out it was precision engineered and made wide use of a new alloy that was lighter and stronger than steel which made for a very durable car. It also had a number of innovations including backup lights, four-wheel hydraulic brakes, and a twin overhead cam. To house his workers Wills built the model city of Marysville that had paved streets, street lights, public parks, schools, churches and new homes with running water, indoor plumbing, and electric stoves. For unmarried workers, he built dorms with cafeterias that rivaled the finest colleges dormitories.

This short, quick read features an abundance of photographs and illustrations. It is a welcome introduction to and a fascinating portrait of an important automotive engineer, innovator, and visionary who for too long has been either ignored or forgotten. 

Michigan's C. Harold Wills by Alan Naldrett & Lynn Lyon Naldrett. History Press, 2018 $21.99

100 Things To Do On Mackinac Island Before You Die
By Kath Usitalo

I like everything about this book except the title. There are simply too many bucket list books or alternatively titled "100 Things to Do In (insert place name) Before You Die." I'm betting there is someone out there writing "100 Things To Do When Waiting in the Checkout Lane at Meijers Before You Die." These books imply your life or accomplishments are in part measurable by these books. 

That said, Usitalo’s second "100 Things to Do...." book is both a unique and often surprising guide to a one-of-a-kind place. Mackinac Island is unique in that it seamlessly, artfully, and maybe simply by happenstance combines history, soul-touching natural beauty, a time-machine trip to the past, fudge, crass commercialism, outstanding examples of the 17th and 18th Century architecture, and more fudge.
Usitalo’s descriptions of her select group of 100  Mackinac Island tourist spots, restaurants, historic sites, fun activities, shops, guided tours, adventures, and special events are concise (never more than a page long), enthusiastic, and capture the ambiance of the island and the attraction. Her recommended eateries include dinner-jacket-required dining to relaxed bar and grills where you can eat high off the hog at the island’s only BBQ joint, or partake of the delectable whitefish in any number of ways including the Seabiscuit CafĂ©’s Whitefish Reuben with coleslaw and Swiss on marbled rye. You can also drink yourself into a caffeine high at a coffee house or tip back a Michigan craft beer, mixed drink, or even a fudge cocktail at a number of quaint establishments.

The book is full of surprises for even those who visit regularly. There are three places to overnight with your dog and Fido rides free on any ferry. The island is home to one of the oldest (founded in 1884) family-owned grocery stores in the nation. You can square dance weekly at St. Anne’s Catholic Church, or visit a bar that does business in a building that dates back to 1780. The public library welcomes visitors who can peruse newspapers and magazines from an Adirondack chair on a deck overlooking the Straits. There are also kayak tours that last a half hour or include an overnight campout on Round Island. I especially liked the very thorough index and an appendix of suggested itineraries that range from Fun for the Family to Winter on the Island.

This is a handy, compact, and a valuable guide for fully experiencing and enjoying Mackinac Island.
100 Things To Do On Mackinac Island Before You Die by Kath Usitalo. Reedy Press, 2018, $16.

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