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80-year-old Negaunee author releases 12th history book

Robert Dobson, 80, of Negaunee sits in a dusty rose wingback chair at his home, ready to talk about his new book. Dobson has announced his final history book that is now available for purchase at local stores and on Amazon. The author has written 12 books featuring local history of mining towns such as Negaunee and Ishpeming. (Journal photo by Jackie Jahfetson)

MARQUETTE — Though mining is slowly becoming a faded profession, fragment remains of abandoned railroads and old roads detail the days of yesteryear. For some people, history is just history. But for others, those forgotten ports of transportation are stories meant to be preserved.

Author Robert “Bob” Dobson of Negaunee, has published his final book on local history titled “Two Wagon Roads, a Plank Railway, the Ely Railroad and the Dead Man’s Curve with the subtitle, “Plus Old Road and Railroad Maps and History of the Central Upper Peninsula.” Though Dobson will not be hosting any public presentations this summer due to the COVID-19 situation, he has supplied the Ishpeming, Negaunee, Marquette and Forsythe Township libraries with books where people can check them out.

At 80 years old, Dobson has written 12 local history books — featuring history on Ishpeming and Negaunee — and notes that this new book is an expansion to “The Plank Road and the First Railroad” he wrote several years back. He ordered 550 copies of “The Plank Road and the First Railroad,”and all of them sold out, with several people wanting to know more about the history of the roads.

“I wrote a book two years ago and I said, ‘This is my last book.’ But then the others sold out and people kept asking me, ‘Where’s that book?’ And I thought, ‘Well, I guess I’ll do another one,'” Dobson said.

But all along, Dobson thought about expanding the first book he wrote about the Plank Road and began rewriting four years ago. He looked back at several areas he incorporated in the first book then soon discovered that Dead Man’s Curve, which was on County Road 492, had disappeared due to housing development. He also came across two wagon roads he wanted to include in the new book.

The 110-page book features three sections: Dobson’s personal research and photo history of the first systems of transportation for getting iron ore from the Ishpeming-Negaunee area, road maps of the central U.P. from the early 19th century and then a 48-page history of roads from two newspapers from 1879 to 1968.

“This is really kind of a road book,” he said. “Not just of the title but then it continues on and the maps are a lot of road maps of about 1902 or so, several in the ’30s of what roads we had in the U.P. and where they went.”

Dobson has had a diverse career. During his high school years, he was a printer at the Globe Printing Co. in Ishpeming. After marrying his wife Ethel in 1961, the couple graduated from Northern Michigan University and taught school in Skandia and Gwinn. The Dobsons ventured to Ohio where they served two churches. Dobson served at Michigan Technological University in Houghton as a pastor and then as an associate pastor in Marquette, Taylor and Menominee. Then in 2003, the couple returned to Negaunee and that’s when Dobson began his research and writing career on local history books by taking notes of newspaper microfilms of the Negaunee Iron Herald and the Ishpeming Iron Ore.

With each book he publishes, he orders a printing of around 500 which seems to be a good figure to roll with, he said.

“It takes me generally about 10 years to sell a print of books. They go quick well at first and then I just keep storage supplied. Now at 80, how many people make it to 90, you know. I don’t want to pass away with a lot of books left,” he said, with a chuckle as he sat in a dusty rose Wingback chair dressed in a sky blue buttoned-up shirt and classy slacks.

Growing up in National Mine near Ishpeming, Dobson had a passion for mining history and it’s that interest that sent him down the trail of authoring 12 history books.

“I think in the U.P. … the mining company owned so much of the land. It was like growing up in a huge park. There were no private signs or fences or so on. Even where you had your house, you didn’t own the land. So the mining company had a right anytime to tell you to move your house or buy it and so on as they did in Negaunee for caving ground,” he noted.

Being an author, Dobson said “you have to keep your senses fairly short” so it’s easy to follow for readers and that’s why he has his wife Ethel, who used to be a former teacher, proofread all of his books.

With each book he writes, Dobson remarked that he sets out to discover the truth to all the ole tales that have been distorted in newspapers.

Dobson’s book is available for purchase at Snowbound Books in Marquette, the Snyder Drugstores in Negaunee and Ishpeming as well the Yooper’s Tourist Trap and Jim’s Jubilee IGA store on U.S. 41 in Ishpeming. People can also purchase the book on Amazon.

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