With his son, Willard (“Sully”), Kauppi operated Copper Queen and Isle Royale Queen, until his death in 1955. His family sold Copper Queen to the Grand Portage-Isle Royale Transportation Service running from Grand Portage, Minnesota, to Isle Royale. Re-christened Voyageur, she served another 15 years. The Kauppis sold Isle Royale Queen and the Copper Harbor business to Ward Grosnick.
Expansion at Rock Harbor Lodge increased the need for ferry service, so he contracted with the T.D. Vinette Boat Company of Escanaba to build the 57-foot Isle Royale Queen II, put into service in 1960. Designed by naval architect Walter Haertel of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, she had an unusually wide 18-foot beam. Her three Gray Marine engines cut two hours off the 6-1/2-hour crossing time.
Grosnick and his sons ran the Isle Royale Queen II until he retired in May 1971. He sold the boat and business to my family.
We were living in Livonia, a suburb of Detroit. I had relatives and friends in the Keweenaw Peninsula and had spent vacations in the Copper Country for decades. It was an easy decision to move north to take over the ferry, though I had no experience running such an operation.
My wife, Elizabeth, and I ran the business; our six children contributed from the start. Big changes came to Isle Royale soon after we arrived. In 1976, the park was designated as a National Wilderness Preservation System. More than 98 percent of the island was to be kept as wilderness. In 1981, the United Nations designated the park as an International Biosphere Reserve, giving it global significance in scientific and educational research.
More people began coming to Isle Royale; our business needed to grow. We added gift shops and we sought to replace the Queen II. Unsuccessful in finding the right boat to cross Lake Superior, we hired naval architect Timothy Graul of Sturgeon Bay to design a 24-foot lengthening of the Queen II. Vinette Boat Company added a back cabin and raised passenger capacity from 57 to 100.
In spring 1989, the boat was re-christened Isle Royale Queen III. The lengthening improved her ability to sail in high seas without diving and corkscrewing - that plunging motion that brings on seasickness. Thus the amusing nicknames of Barf Barge or Chuck Wagon became less common.
In 2004, the family replaced the Queen III with a larger, faster boat. We bought a sleek vessel named the American Freedom in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and sailed to Copper Harbor via the Mississippi River, Illinois River and Lakes Michigan and Superior. Rechristened Isle Royale Queen IV, her maiden voyage to the island was June 20, 2005. Her length of 100 feet and beam of 20 feet gives a comfortable ride in all but the severest seas. Powered by three 12v71 turbo-charged Detroit diesels, she crosses in a little more than three hours.
I had retired from sailing a few years before we bought this beauty. My sons - Captains Don Jr., Bennett and John - now pilot her. So we continue the legacy started by that brave Finnish fisherman who, with a kind heart, once squeezed on one more family for a ride to Isle Royale.