Sunday, September 21, 2014

Delray Backdoor Shut -The West Jefferson Avenue Bridge Still Out of Commission

Rouge River Bridge on West Jefferson Boulevard
After ninety-one years of accident free operation, the Rouge River Bridge, aka the West Jefferson Avenue Bridge, sustained serious damage to its northeast side. Shortly after 2:00 AM on May 12, 2013, an intoxicated bridge operator prematurely lowered the bridge onto the Great Lakes Class freighter, the Herbert C. Jackson. It instantly collided with the north section of the double-leaf bascule bridge. The bridge's hydraulic gearing and its electrical equipment were unharmed in the accident.

The bridge was closed immediately to vehicular and pedestrian traffic, both ends of the double-leaf bridge were left fully open to accommodate unhampered freighter use of the Rouge River. With this bridge in its down position, Great Lakes Class freighter access to the Ford Rouge Plant would cease. 


The single-leaf bascule bridge has a long history. It originated in Medieval Europe to help defend castles and walled towns by using winches and counterweights. Commonly known as drawbridges in English speaking countries, this style of bridge was used for crossing a moat or narrow river leading to the castle gate. Drawn upward with winches and counterweights when under attack, these single-leaf bascule bridges prevented easy access by invaders.

Tower Bridge in London
Probably the most famous double-leaf bascule bridge in the modern world is the Tower Bridge in London. Construction began in 1886 and the bridge opened in 1894. Many people mistake it for London Bridge. The Tower Bridge is a combination of suspension bridge and drawbridge on the Thames River.


The Rouge River Bridge was completed in 1922 after some jurisdictional legal wrangling and some new law writing. The previous narrow swing bridge had needed replacing since the 1910s, and the federal government had plans to dredge the Rouge River to accommodate direct freighter access to Henry Ford's new, massive Rouge Plant Complex. The inadequate Rouge River Bridge and the Fort Street Bridge would both be replaced with double-leaf drawbridges at the cost of one million dollars apiece. Wayne County voters approved a bond issue to fund construction.

To reroute traffic across the Rouge River while the new bridges were being built, an out-of-service railroad truss bridge owned by Michigan Central Railroad was detached from its moorings. A flotilla of scows pumped full of water to lower them in the river were towed under the truss bridge. When the water was pumped out of the scows, they rose and floated the bridge with the help of tugboats to a location 200 yards upstream of W. Jefferson Ave. The Fort Street Bridge and the W. Jefferson  Avenue Bridge were closed on November 13, 1920, after the makeshift railroad truss detour was in place.

Rouge River Bridge fully open in winter.

Each leaf of the dual-leaf bridges is supported by four 12 foot square concrete footings sunk in the clay to the bedrock 70 feet below the waterline. One worker died of "the bends" during construction because he decompressed too quickly after working in a caisson.

The bascule double-leaves of the Rouge River Bridge were lowered for the first time on August 21, 1922. It opened for traffic on October 17th of the same year. Finally, the bridge reconnected the Detroit neighborhood of Delray with the city limits of River Rouge and the rest of the Downriver area. In 1923, the federal government completed dredging the Rouge River and Great Lakes freighters were now able to navigate upstream, unload their cargo, and turn around in a massive turning basin built by the United States government expressly for that purpose.

In our present time, it is estimated that twenty to twenty-five freighters navigate this narrow waterway weekly. The bridge handled 6,400 vehicles daily in 2012, according to Southwest Michigan Council of Governments data.

Once again, after its ninety-one year record of service, the Rouge River Bridge is closed. The collision with the Herbert C. Jackson on May 12, 2013 was the first accident of its kind in the bridge's history. None of the crew on board the freighter were injured. The 670 foot-long ship sustained a 2 inch gash in its hull about 15 feet above the waterline. The freighter's cargo was 23,000 tons of iron ore pellets destined for the Severstal North American plant in Dearborn.

Bridge's Control Station
Cindy Dingell, spokesperson for the Wayne County Operations Office, told reporters that the bridge operator was immediately tested for drugs and alcohol and was fired from her job, but no charges have been filed in connection with the incident.

Dingell said that Wayne County doesn't have the resources to rebuild the bridge and may have to ask voters for a bond issue to fix it to the tune of $850,000 to $1,250,000. The Rouge River Bridge is the only surviving pony truss bascule bridge in the state of Michigan. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on February 10, 2000.

For more information on how a Chicago Type, double-leaf bascule bridge operates, tap on this link:

For information on my upcoming Zug Island: A Detroit Riot Novel book talk September 30, 2014:

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Allen Park's Uniroyal Giant Tire Heralds Entrance into The Motor City

The original U.S. Royal Tire exhibit was a Ferris wheel attraction at the New York World's Fair of 1964/1965, held in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in the borough of Queens. The fair was open for two six-month seasons. In 1964, it was open from April 22th until October 18th, and in 1965, the dates were April 21st until October 17th.

The history of the U.S. Royal Giant Tire is pretty straightforward. Originally rigged as a Ferris Wheel and powered by a 100 HP engine, it was over eighty feet high. It carried over 2,000,000 people at the World's Fair, many of them famous world figures. There were twenty-four barrel shaped gondolas, each carrying up to four people for a total of ninety-six passengers paying a quarter apiece. 

At the Fair's end, the tire was disassembled and shipped by rail to Detroit and reassembled as a static display outside the Uniroyal sales offices in Allen Park, Michigan. It is the world's largest roadside attraction. The Uniroyal office has since moved, but the Giant Tire still stands.

The tire is not made of rubber, but sightseers don't notice the difference whizzing past the landmark at seventy miles an hour on Interstate 94. The tire weighs just under twelve tons and is anchored in twenty-four feet of concrete and structural steel. It is rated to withstand hurricane force winds.

When the Michelin Tire Company bought out Uniroyal and Goodrich in 1990, they renovated the landmark in 1994 with a fresh coat of paint, a modern looking hubcap, and neon lights for the Uniroyal lettering. Four years later in 1998, the Giant Tire was modified again to resemble a "Nail Guard" tire. An eleven foot long, 250 pound nail (world's largest) was sticking out from the tire to promote their new puncture proof product. The nail was put up for auction on eBay in 2003 and sold for $3,000, with proceeds donated to the Allen Park Historical Museum.

In 2003, the Giant Tire was once again renovated as part of the I-94 corridor revitalization. The neon lettering was replaced with reflective lettering and spotlighting. It has remained a Detroit landmark and an Allen Park roadside attraction for forty-eight years heralding the entrance into the Motor City from Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus, Michigan.

It has been noted that the one thing the Beatles wanted to see on their American tour was the Giant Tire. Whether they stopped along the freeway to take a good look at it on their way into Detroit from Metro Airport isn't known, but when Paul McCartney and Wings were touring in 1976, the moment was commemorated.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Bob-Lo Island - Another Fondly Remembered Detroit Tradition

Bob-Lo Island was a family amusement park fondly remembered by Detroiters of a certain age. The park was located at the mouth of the Detroit River on Bois Blanc Island in Canadian waters off Amherstburg, Ontario. The name Bob-Lo is an American corruption of the French name for the island meaning White Woods. The Bob-Lo Island Amusement Park operated from 1902-1991.

The park's signature attractions were the Nightmare, the Falling Star, the Wild Mouse, the Sky Streak, and the Screamer. The park also had a Ferris wheel, a children's zoo, a train, and a carousel.  The island had its own marina.

In 1913, Henry Ford was said to have financed the Dance Pavilion designed by John Scott. The 35,000 square feet of dance floor was the second largest in the world, holding 5,000 dancers at full capacity. For many years early on, this was the park's biggest money maker, charging five cents a dance per couple. Dance police were stationed on the dance floor. "The Turkey Trot, Bunny Hop, and Bear Dances were against the rules. Two Steps, Waltzes, and the Society Walk (Fox Trot) were allowed. Doing the Rag would get you kicked out," wrote Patrick Livingston, author of Summer Dreams: The Story of Bob-Lo Island (Wayne State University Press.)

The dance hall boasted the world's largest mechanical organ called an orchestrion, made in Germany. The contraption with 419 pipes and an automated percussion section was fourteen feet wide and sixteen feet high. It ran on electricity and worked like a player piano. The orchestrion is pictured on the second floor balcony on the right side of the vintage postcard above.

Bob-Lo Boat Columbia - 1903
What longtime Detroiters remember most fondly about Bob-Lo was the boat ride up and down the Detroit River. Ninety-seven year old Helen Robinson remembered going to Bob-Lo Island as a kid with a church group. A sudden squall came up from nowhere and the boat's crew had to lower the canvas flaps and lash them to the railings. Helen said that they all knelt down and prayed. The boat made it to the island, the sun broke through the clouds, and they enjoyed the rest of their day at the park. Adults remember the moonlight cruises to the island.

The Bob-Lo Excursion Company expanded an existing park and operated two excursion steamers out of Detroit and Wyandotte, Michigan. These Bob-Lo Boats were designed by Frank E. Kirby and built by the Toledo Ship Building Company. The Columbia was built in 1901 and went into service in 1902, while the Ste. Claire was built and went into service in 1910. 

Excursion steamers were built primarily for day trips. They were propeller driven, powered by a triple expansion reciprocating steam engine. The boats were 190 feet (58m) long and 50 feet (15m) wide and were said to hold 2,500 passengers. The Columbia and the Ste. Claire are the last two steamers of their type still afloat. The Columbia ran the original Bob-Lo run for eighty-one years, a record of service on a single run unequaled in United States maritime history.

In 1945, Bob-Lo Island Excursion Company made history rather than family memories. Sarah Elizabeth Ray took part in a company sponsored trip to Bob-Lo Island with twelve other female workers involved with the war effort. Ray was removed because she wasn't white. The State of Michigan filed a racial discrimination law suit against the company and won. The case was taken to the Michigan Supreme court and upheld.

The company policy excluded "so called 'zoot-suiters' and 'colored' because they were deemed rowdyish, rough, and boisterous." Their position was that they were operating a private concern in another country not subject to United States jurisdiction. The case was taken to the United States Supreme Court in 1948 where it upheld Michigan's anti-discrimination provisions on the grounds that the company's policy was a violation of United States Commerce Department regulations.

Another company tried to run the park after the Bob-Lo Island Excursion Company sold out in 1991, but the park closed permanently on September 30, 1993 and sold off its rides in 1994. The Columbia and the Ste. Claire have been moth-balled at the U.S. Steel docks in Ecorse, Michigan since 1991.

The Columbia is being restored to the tune of about $15,000,000 with the goal of being completed by September of 2015, to resume active service as a sightseeing attraction trolling the Hudson River in New York City. The Bob-Lo Boat was unceremoniously towed to Toledo, Ohio on Tuesday morning, September 16th, 2014 for a year of restoration.

S.S. Columbia in dry dock awaiting restoration - September 2014

Related links:

Photographs of the Bob-Lo Island amusement rides.

YouTube video of Bob-Lo boats moored on Detroit River outside of U.S. Steel (the old Great Lakes Steel) docks on December 1, 2012.

Bob-Lo Island update, now becoming an upscale residential development.

The Bob-Lo Island Dance Hall Orchestrion: 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Detroit's Ghost Town Delray and O-So Memories

O-So pop was a local Detroit soft drink sensation bottled in Delray at 8559-61 W. Jefferson Ave. Not as famous as Vernor's Ginger Ale but just as beloved. John Kar's bottling works opened in 1922, located north of Peerless Cement and just south of the old Delray Bridge onto Zug Island, also known as the "one way bridge" no longer in use.

Adults from the Baby Boomer generation remember that O-So was the bargain pop of our day. The clear glass bottled soft drinks were colorful and the flavors were fabulous. Linda J. Kulczyk remembers watching the mechanized bottle filler in action. "The place smelled like bleach and sugar water. Rock and Rye was my favorite flavor," she wrote on the Old Delray facebook site.

Other popular flavors were creme soda, lemon-lime, cherry, grape, strawberry, root beer, and orange. I don't believe they had a cola drink, though I could be wrong about that.

John A. Stavola, Jr. remembers "as a kid, they bottled the soda right there and the dude (perhaps Ed Kar, son of the founder) used to fish right out of the back window of the place." Diana Bors McPeck used to work there when she was young. Her grandparents were friends with the owners. Diana recalls, "I was paid in pop!"

One of the old timers working the same shift as me at the Zug Island coke ovens was nicknamed 'Pop'. He would buy several cases of assorted flavors of O-So pop every day in the spring and summer and roll them in from the parking lot on a hand truck (dolly) with a cooler full of ice. Pop sold the stuff for a dollar a bottle, a 400% markup. He also sold salted peanuts in the summer and fresh roasted chestnuts in the winter. On a hot day, everyone was glad to hear him call out "COLD POP." He was a door machine operator on the receiving end of the ramming machine. For the life of me, I can't remember his real name. Everybody just called him Pop.

When I worked as a laborer at Zug Island in 1967, the Delray downtown area already showed signs of two decades of neglect. Many of the shops and second story residences became little more than tenements for transient workers. After the Detroit Riots in July, the writing was on the wall for Delray. Like many other Detroit neighborhoods, white flight went into hyper-drive.

It's always sad to see an established community fall into ruin and abandonment. But almost one hundred years of history and heavy industry had taken its toll on the Delray neighborhood and turned it into what it is today, a virtual ghost town within the Detroit city limits. 

Delray lost its ethnic heart and soul in the sixties. What was once a vibrant European mixture of Hungarian, Slovakian, and Polish immigrants dispersed among the Detroit suburbs, notably the Downriver areas of Allen Park, Lincoln Park, and Wyandotte.

Now, all that's left of the Delray neighborhood are mostly memories and photographs fading in family albums. Remember any of these places? First Slovak Church (Holy Redeemer), St. John's Catholic Church, The Hungarian Village Bakery, Hevesi Cafe (with dining and dancing), Joey's Stables, Fox Hardware, Szabo's Meat Market, Delray Baking Company, Al's Bar, Kovac's Bar, and King's Chinese Restaurant. They are gone but not forgotten.

Realistically, Delray is zoned for heavy industry and will never recover as a viable residential area. But I could be wrong. What impact the new international transport bridge will have on Delray is yet to be known or felt. One thing is for certain, the area is ripe for some sort of redevelopment.

For more detailed information on the community of Delray, check out this link:,_Detroit

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Rainy Day Murders Preparing for the Next Hurdle - Representation

Photo courtesy of Nicole C. Fribourg

I am finally at a point with my true crime project The Rainy Day Murders when it is time to get outside people involved. Getting this book ready for publication has been essentially a two person operation. For over the last three years, Ryan M. Place of Detroit has tirelessly researched the Washtenaw County murders (July 1967 - July 1969) of seven young women and the person accused of killing them, John Norman Collins.

Together, we have gone through thousands of pages of vintage government documents and newspaper clippings from the era, searched various archives in the towns of Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor where these events occurred, and conducted countless interviews with people who have first-hand knowledge of this case and/or the people involved with it.

Assembling these disparate elements has been akin to aligning a Rubic's Cube with some of the colored decals missing. Without the candid cooperation of the offender and the release of all government documents connected with these cases, the full facts will never be known. Still, by repeatedly invoking the Freedom of Information Act, Ryan and I have pieced together enough of the puzzle to reveal a gestalt of evidence and circumstance that goes far beyond the purview of random coincidence and lays the burden of guilt squarely at Collins' feet.
Originally, the working title for this project was In the Shadow of the Water Tower. I changed it in favor of The Rainy Day Murders (RDM), so as not to besmirch the city of Ypsilanti's beloved landmark which played no part in any of the murders. The sum total of the information we have compiled has been reduced to 645 pages of hard-wrought manuscript. During my latest rewrite and revision, it became clear to me that I really had two books worth of material, not only because of length considerations, but also because of thematic focus.

Ryan M. Place
The original scope of the project was to fill a void in the historical account of the Washtenaw County murders and restore the identities of the victims that have been obscured by time and a couple of misguided treatments of this subject matter. I have the benefit of over forty-five years of hindsight which those authors didn't have.

But new material started coming to us from the Michigan
Department of Corrections (MDOC) which goes behind prison walls and tells the story of John Norman Collins' years as MDOC inmate #126833. That story looks into his prison record, his escape attempts, Collins' many court appeals, California's extradition efforts, both Canadian treaty transfer attempts, his media manipulations, and a survey of some of John's prison letters which reveal his present life behind bars.

This story is still unfolding, but its climax will be John Norman Collins' fantasy defense in the Karen Sue Beineman murder case. It is quite amazing and lays bare the interior workings of his mind feigning the inability to separate fact from fiction.

My writing instincts tell me that the focus of the first book should be the crimes, the victims, the living history, and the facts as they stand or fall in the Karen Sue Beineman trial. That book comes in at 495 pages without supplemental material.

The second book has its focus on John Norman Collins since his conviction. It doesn't seem appropriate to include material about his life in prison in a book about his crimes against seven innocent, defenseless women whose fatal flaw was not recognizing danger until it was too late. As it currently stands, this second book is still in development. It is 150 pages long and has the working title of The Ypsi Ripper.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Prosecutor's Conundrum in the John Norman Collins' Cases

The Burden of Justice
Of the seven young Michigan women thought to be the victims of a sadistic serial killer in the Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor areas in the late sixties, only one case was brought to trial, the murder case of Karen Sue Beineman on July 23, 1969.

Arrested on July 31, 1969 was an Eastern Michigan University junior named John Norman Collins studying to be an elementary school teacher. From the second floor courtroom of the Washtenaw County Building in Ann Arbor, Collins was found guilty of Miss Beineman's premeditated murder in the first degree on August 19, 1970. Nine days later on August 28, 1970, Circuit Court Judge John W. Conlin sentenced Collins to life in prison without possibility of parole. After twenty years of serving his life sentence, Collins could be eligible for a pardon by a sitting Michigan Governor. That is Michigan law.

Washtenaw County Prosecutor William F. Delhey made a deliberate decision not to prosecute John Collins for the other sex-slayings he believed Collins to have committed. The law enforcement community was confident that they had the right guy for the murders. The elusive serial killer was finally off the streets and the string of vicious, motiveless killings had come to an end after a reign of terror spanning three violent summers.

Because prosecuting the Beineman case was the most expensive criminal proceeding in Washtenaw County history to date, many people believed the other cases were not prosecuted solely for economic reasons, leaving the grieving families without answers. Somehow, the institutional belief that the greater good of the community had been served was little comfort to them. They had lost a loved one.

Taking exception with that point of view is Cris Bronson, a former secretary in the office of Prosecutor William Delhey during the span of the trial. She recently shared her insights with me regarding Delhey's decision not to prosecute Collins for the remaining murders.

"This oversight was not due to negligence or incompetence on the part of William Delhey. Nor was it about the amount of money which would be spent prosecuting John Norman Collins (for the other murders). Mr. Delhey had a strategy which was designated to keep Collins in prison for the rest of his life. Further prosecution was designated to occur successively if there was any risk that Collins was to be pardoned or otherwise released. This decision by William Delhey may have given rise to doubt over Collins' guilt in the other cases. But not so!

"Mr. Delhey had prosecuted another murderer of several individuals, throwing the full weight of each murder in one case against the defendant. The offender pleaded guilty by reason of insanity. Some time after this multiple murderer was committed, the State of Michigan changed its laws regarding those offenders who plead insanity defenses and were remanded to mental hospitals for the rest of their lives. The intent of the new law was to prevent mental health facilities from acting as prisons. The result in this specific instance was that this multiple murderer was released onto Michigan streets.

"Mr. Delhey tried to refile criminal charges against this defendant because the time for filing an appeal in the case had long run out. But the circuit court judge who had been assigned the second trial threw the case out as 'double jeopardy.' State and Federal laws prohibit charging an individual twice for the same crime once an official decision had been rendered in the first trial. Prosecutor Delhey was mindful of this and was determined that Collins would stay behind prison bars in Michigan to serve out the full measure of his sentence - life in prison.

"With respect to the law, the public release of evidence collected in the murders of the other victims held in abeyance cannot be made public. But Mr. Delhey had enough evidence to bring charges for each successive case as follow up to prevent this serial killer from being released to harm anyone else again. Although these cases are cold, they still remain officially open. There is no statute of limitations on murder."

There you have it. The State's evidence in these other cases would be inadmissible in court if the chain of custody were broken or if the facts were released to the public. This evidence will likely never be revealed, even after fifty years or when all the parties to these cases have passed on.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Fornology Hits 100,000 Milestone

I started my Fornology blog in May of 2011 at the urging of my publicist Paula Margulies. She explained to me the importance of establishing a brand and building an audience. I was happy to have just completed my first publishing effort, Zug Island: A Detroit Riot Novel, and was less than thrilled with taking on a new, open-ended writing challenge. How do I get started? What will I write about? How much of my time will it take? Who will read my blog?

I had never even read a blog before, much less developed one, but I knew that I didn't want to get mired down with blogging when all I wanted to do was get started on my next project. I mentioned these concerns to Paula, and she put it to me like this, "If you are not willingly to take the time and the effort to establish and promote yourself as an author, publishers will not invest their time and resources in making you a success." Paula's logic was irrefutable, so I reluctantly headed over to the brick and mortar bookstore like any print-oriented Baby Boomer and purchased a copy of Blogging for Dummies.

What I had first regarded as drudgery, slowly developed into a routine. On my first month, May 2011, I received 288 hits. By October 2011, six months later, I was averaging 500 hits per month. I was starting to feel more comfortable with blogging. Not only was I getting some public exposure, I was also developing my writing voice.

I set a goal of producing a new post every week or so, and then it happened, I got hooked on the instant gratification of blogging. Since October 2013, I have been averaging 5,000 hits per month. After three years and three months, I've reached a total of 100,000 hits. My core audience is from the United States, but Fornology has gone global. I've been told by people in the publishing business that the 100K threshold is when agents and editors start taking writers more seriously.

The publishing business is changing dramatically. It has never been easy to rise up above the slush pile of unpublished manuscripts which clutter the offices of most agents and editors. Today, if people in the publishing business show an interest in handling your work, they first go to your blog to see what you write about and how you handle the subject matter. With 100,000 hits, 260 posts to my credit, and an almost complete manuscript of The Rainy Day Murders, I'm open for business.

To learn more about Paula Margulies Communications, check out: