SUPERIOR READS: exploring auto, folksong histories

Reviews by Tyler Tichelaar


A History You AUTO Know of

Western Marquette County (1899-1968)

By Robert D. Dobson


Robert Dobson is known for writing books based on researching old local newspapers, namely the Ishpeming Iron Ore and the Negaunee Iron Herald. Now his research has turned to a focus on automobiles in Western Marquette County. Dobson’s twelfth book is only 88 pages long, but it’s a dream come true for lovers of car history. Dobson has detailed all the mentions of automobiles in the newspapers from 1899 to 1968, including historical images of automobiles taken from newspaper ads.
Beyond just the automobiles themselves, A History You AUTO Know chronicles how automobiles changed the way people lived in Marquette County in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century. Readers learn about early gas station locations, how cars increased tourism and where those early tourists camped, how streetcars went out of business, how bus service began, the creation of the first speed limit laws and four-lane highway and even about local stock-car races.
The book opens in 1892, when the streetcar running from Negaunee’s Iron Street to Ishpeming’s South Pine Street had as many as fifty to sixty people per trip. On circus day in 1899, it carried over 2,000 passengers before 10 a.m. Clearly, streetcars could not keep up with transportation demands. That same year, the first automobile was seen in Ishpeming, when Harry Pickands brought his automobile there from Marquette. But the automobile’s introduction was slow—not until 1903 did an Ishpeming man buy the first car in town. Early automobiles also had their problems. In 1905, George Newett, editor of the Iron Ore, bought a new Franklin car. At the sight of the car, an excited little boy threw his hat up in the air; the hat got swept under the car and wedged in the cogs, stopping it dead. That same year, Mrs. Sarah Winter received a new double seated Premier touring car, a sign that women were pioneer drivers alongside men.
Can you imagine being arrested for driving too fast at 15 mph? It happened in 1908. By 1919, a farm auction at Michigamme led to 175 cars coming to town and only four wagon teams. Soon it seemed everyone had a vehicle, and by 1933, even Santa Claus had jumped on board, riding a fire truck when he came to Negaunee.
The book’s section on World War II is especially interesting. It begins with people robbing a gas station, followed by the government placing excise taxes on many items, including auto tires and inner tubes. New war taxes were $5.00 for an automobile. The war also led to the building of smaller economy cars.
Of course, Upper Michigan weather played its role with automobiles. Readers are told of people stranded in their cars during blizzards. In 1963, plug-in car heaters began to be used, and in 1965, auto owners were told to keep a window open a bit in case snow under and around the car caused carbon monoxide to enter.
All told, the book is divided into 23 parts that cover such topics as Auto Owners Form Clubs 1910, Auto Parades and Fairground Racing 1914, Ford Ends the “T” and Begins the Model “A” 1927, Non-Freezing Brakes and Other Auto Improvements 1939 and Stiff Sentences for Breaking Auto Laws 1940.
These are just a few of the fascinating automobile facts in A History You AUTO Know. If you’re a local car lover, you’ll love this book.


Folksongs of Another America: Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937-1946

By James P. Leary


This is not just any book of folksongs. The key phrase in the title, “Another America,” reveals that it’s an attempt to recover folksongs that have been forgotten—those of a diverse and multilingual tradition of immigrant, Native American, rural and working class performers in the Upper Midwest. The book documents 187 songs in more than 25 languages, with full lyrics and English translations. The songs range from ballads and hymns to political anthems and polkas. These are songs sung and played by Germans, Finns, Scots, Serbs, Swedes, African-Americans and others who settled in the Upper Midwest during the Great Depression and World War II. While these people strove to assimilate, they did not abandon their musical heritages.
At 430 pages, this book may seem a bit daunting, but it is filled with photographs, and because of all the lyrics, it’s a faster read than might be expected. The amount of work Leary did to compile this book and find sources is amazing, and it clearly was a labor of love for him as he tracked down biographies of forgotten performers and their descendants, as well as early recordings. Links are included to offer free online access to the recorded songs. I listened to several, marveled at the quality of the recordings and enjoyed their humor and instrumentation.
The book’s “Upper Midwest” focus refers specifically to Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. The songs from these areas are diverse in origin and ethnicity. Included are a former Czech soldier’s song transposed to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin; a Ho-Chunk warrior’s song repurposed for summer tourists; and a Finnish lullaby arranged to be sung onstage in a workers’ cooperative hall. Not only is this book a history of such songs themselves, but it explores the efforts to collect them and the politics that influenced both Leary’s and his predecessors’ decisions about what songs to preserve over the last eighty years.

Of interest to us in the U.P. will be the French Canadian folk songs, many of which come from Baraga County. For example, “Le Jour de l’an/New Year’s Day” was recorded in Baraga in 1938 and sung by Edward King of Baraga. It was said to be improvised on the spot at a party. King had several other musical friends in Baraga at the time, including John Cadeau and Joe Miron, who are included in photographs in the book.
In Newberry in 1938, Bert Graham sang a song called “Joe Williams.” Its opening lines are, Oh my name it is Joe Williams and my age is twenty-one, /I’m a rambling wreck of poverty and a roving son-of-a-gun. The song becomes quite rambunctious and includes several words not printable here. Leary gives us Graham’s biography and also the history of this and earlier drinking songs.

Many of these songs were sung in lumber camps. In fact, the U.P. proved to be the most fertile source of folksongs and included songs by Lithuanians as well as Finns. Lillian Aho of Calumet recorded a Finnish hymn translated as “Oh Lord, if I, a Wanderer of the Earth.” Songs by Norwegians, Swedes and even Croatians and the Dutch in the Midwest are also preserved.
I could say much more, but this book has to be experienced for oneself. Altogether, it’s a treasure trove of Midwest and ethnic musical history. It’s magnificent that this history has been preserved in such detail and with such care. Folksongs of Another America is published by University of Wisconsin Press.

Editor’s Note: Tichelaar is the author of When Teddy Came to Town and Haunted Marquette. All books reviewed in this column are available in local and online bookstores. For book review submission guidelines, visit

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