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A man with stories to tell: Raymond Shaw

Raymond Shaw is pictured during his oral history interview.

MARQUETTE — Everybody has important stories to tell–and often funny ones too. Here are a few from an oral history interview done with long-time Marquette resident Raymond Shaw.

“I had two rules for cutting pulp. I never went into the woods with a chainsaw by myself and I never had a beer before I used a chainsaw. After perhaps, but not before.”

Raymond Shaw would have liked to have made his living in the woods, following in the steps of his grandfathers who had emigrated from Ontario and Quebec to cut railroad ties in AuTrain. Instead he had a career first on the boats and then on the railroad. But he always spent his spare time in the woods, saying “I was a pulp maker all my life.”

There were plenty of strikes against him from the beginning. His family were outcasts (his word) in Au Train because so many of them had tuberculosis. He never knew who his father was and was raised on public aid by his grandmother, Ann Marie Ducette, because his mother, Viola Shaw, worked as a live-in housemaid in Marquette. He only saw her on her Sundays off when, as a special treat, she would bring the comics from her employer’s house.

Even after he and his grandmother moved to Marquette, he was not allowed to start school on time because of fear that he’d been exposed to TB and was instead sent to a ward at Morgan Heights for undernourished children. Once he started school, he bounced from one school to the next and finally left after 8th grade.

Yet at age 93, Shaw said “I’ve had pretty good luck. Everything turned out right mostly for me in my life.” He started working as a deckhand on the Cleveland Cliffs boat, Angeline, as soon as he turned 18 and returned to the boat after World War II, hauling coal to Georgian Bay and Marquette and then picking up a load of iron ore.

In his seven years on the boat he said the most exciting thing that happened was the time the captain came on deck while they were unloading coal at Sault Ste. Marie and sneezed so hard that his false teeth went into the St. Mary’s River. He was able to reassure the captain that there was a dentist in Marquette, Dr. Anderson in the Kresge Building, who could fit him out with a new set.

The captain was so delighted with the new teeth that he and the dentist became friends, dining together whenever the Angeline was in Marquette. Shaw added that Dr. Anderson had been a friend of his grandfather’s, bunking together when Anderson was working in the lumber camps to make money to go to dental school.

Shaw cut short his career on the boats because his eyesight was not good enough for him to advance beyond wheelman. After he left the boats in 1952, Shaw began a 34 year career with the LS&I Railroad, working as a weighmaster and yard clerk at the Presque Isle docks. He remembers that he was fortunate to have started just after they started using carbon paper. Before then they used a press that made an impression on tissue paper for the copies. Used tissue paper was then repurposed in the employee outhouse.

During his time, after a boat was filled, a checker up on the dock would complete a notebook with how much weight had been dumped into which pocket by which ore car. Instead of climbing the 108 steps to get the notebook from the checker, Shaw would just have the checker toss it down off the dock.

He remembered one day seeing a crew member from the Daniel Morrell sleeping in the grass and a bit later saw two crew members from the boat looking for him, explaining that the captain had said that if they didn’t get him back to the boat, he was going to be left behind. The Daniel Morrell sank later that season. Shaw always wondered if the sleeping crewman had made it back to the boat.

Shaw did go back to the boats, but for only 10 days, during the lengthy steelworkers strike in 1959. He had a good job, and could have stayed, but decided to go back to the railroad instead. He was fortunate, he believes, because otherwise he would have been out of a job at age 40 when the Cleveland Cliffs sold off their fleet.

He was also exceptionally fortunate, he believed, to have married, for the first time, at age 42, when he found a woman, Julia Halverson, who loved the woods almost as much as he did. When Julia died in 2017, she was buried in the cemetery in Au Train, on land donated to the town by Ray’s great-uncle, Sherrell Ducette, Jr. Ray, who died on February 27, has now joined her there.

The Marquette Regional History Center was grateful for the opportunity to record Raymond Shaw’s stories last fall. Now would be an excellent time for everyone to be sure their family stories are preserved. The non-profit StoryCorps has an app that helps with everything from figuring out what questions to ask to uploading the story to the National Archives at https://storycorps.org/participate/storycorps-app/ There are also many other resources online for help. and inspiration.

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