Michigan and the Great Lakes


Life on Freighters of the Great Lakes
Nelson "Mickey" Haydamacker with Alan D. Millar

The colorful tale of a deckhand's life on Great Lakes ore-boats


Long before popular television shows such as Dirty Jobs and The Deadliest Catch, everyday men and women—the unsung heroes of the job world—toiled in important but mostly anonymous jobs. One of those jobs was deckhand on the ore boats.

With numerous photographs and engaging stories, Deckhand offers an insider's view of both the mundane and the intriguing duties performed by deckhands on these gritty cargo vessels. Boisterous port saloons, monster ice jams, near drownings, and the daily drudgery of soogeying—cleaning dirt and grime off the ships—are just a few of the experiences Mickey Haydamacker had as a young deckhand working on freighters of the Great Lakes in the early 1960s. Haydamacker sailed five Interlake Steamship Company boats, from the modern Elton Hoyt 2nd to the ancient coal-powered Colonel James Pickands with its backbreaking tarp-covered hatches.

Deckhand will appeal to shipping buffs and to anyone interested in Great Lakes shipping and maritime history as it chronicles the adventures of living on the lakes from the seldom-seen view of a deckhand.

Cover photograph: Thanksgiving Day, 1962. Crewmen on the deck of the S.S. Samuel Mather hosing off ice from hatches, tarps, rails and deck created by a storm the night before.

Mickey Haydamacker spent his youth as a deckhand sailing on the freighters of the Great Lakes. During the 1962 and '63 seasons Nelson sailed five different Interlake Steamship Company ore boats. He later went on to become an arson expert with the Michigan State Police, retiring with the rank of Detective Sergeant.

Alan D. Millar, to whom Haydamacker related his tale of deckhanding, spent his career as a gift store owner and often wrote copy for local newspaper, TV, and radio.

Praise / Awards

  • "A stimulating and well written chronicle of the physical and mental demands of an entry-level job on the Great Lakes Freighters . . . Captivating from beginning to end."
    —Grant Brown, Jr., author of Ninety Years Crossing Lake Michigan: The History of the Ann Arbor Car Ferries

  • "Extraordinary—a compelling combination of storytelling and information about the freighters that ply the Great Lakes."
    —Robert J. Stritzinger, Great Lakes Financial Management, LLC

  • "The lives of Great Lakes ship captains often hold fascination for readers. Nelson "Mickey" Haydamacker tells a story that proves enlightening, interesting and enjoyable from a different perspective—the life of a humble deckhand abroad Great Lake freighters in the early 1960's."
    —Steve Begnoche, Ludington Daily News

  • "Deckhand will appeal to shipping buffs and to anyone interested in Great Lakes shipping and maritime history as it chronicles the adventures of living on the lakes from the seldom-seen views of a deckhand. For those who are interested in the subject, it's hard to put down."
    —Roger LeLievre, The Great Lakes / Seaway Review

  • "[Haydamacker's] memories of a young man coming of age on the lakes are vivid and poignant and provide an intimate look into this storied piece of Michigan's soul."
    Traverse Magazine

  • "...an immensely likeable story told as if Mickey were sharing a beer with you in one of the dives he visited in many lake ports."
    —Joe Follansbee, The Fyddeye Guides

News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: Nelson Haydamacker interviewed in WBEZ Chicago piece (Link) | 2/8/2017

Media Kit

  • Photo 1 .jpg. The SS J. L. Mauthe and SS Charles M. Schwab during fit out, Ashtabula, spring 1963.
  • Photo 2 .jpg. Second Mate Dan Colman on a jury-rigged scaffold painting the stack of the SS Colonel James Pickands, 1963.
  • Photo 3 .jpg. Mickey covered with coal dust after a hard night on SS Samuel Mather, Thanksgiving Eve 1962.
  • Photo 4 .jpg. Taking a wave over the starboard side of the SS Samuel Mather in rough seas on Lake Superior.
  • Photo 5 .jpg. Watchman Henry Speiler and deckwatch Wesley Perkins hosing ice off the deck with steaming water on the SS Samuel Mather, Thanksgiving Day, 1962.
  • Photo 6 .jpg. Susent over the stern of the SS Elton Hoyt 2nd, 1962.
  • Hi-Res Cover .jpg
  • Press Release .doc

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 152pp.
  • 32 color photographs, 3 B&W images and 1 map.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2009
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03325-6

Add to Cart
  • $22.95 U.S.

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  • Deckhand, Great Lakes, freighter, ore boats, taconite, iron ore, Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair