Metro Detroit man who worked on the Edmund Fitzgerald recalls day it sank

Dale Nelmark mostly sticks to welding jokes these days, long retired from his career in metallurgy on Great Lakes freighters. The only thing he can't weld is a "broken heart" or the "crack of dawn" he says, laughing.

But before he was joking about working with metal, he was repairing it on some of the most famous vessels to cross the Great Lakes. And that includes one of the region's most famous freighters of them all: the Edmund Fitzgerald.

"These guys on the boat would tell me that Lake Superior got pretty rough," Nelmark said. "The waves were all different configurations to the ocean."

It was 46 years ago that Lake Superior whipped up a storm that still burrows in the minds of many that remember the Edmund Fitzgerald sinking. While etched into Great Lakes lore, it still holds a special place in the hearts of many that remember it.

When the ship sank, its 29 crew members went down with it. 

Nelmark remembers some of them. He also remembers working on the ship's massive hull.

"When you weld, you're not soldering, you're putting metal on top of metal, but you want to make sure it's all amalgamating," he said.

It's his experience working on the ship that gives him ideas about what happened to the vessel. 

Nov. 10, 1975, was a very windy day, he said. And he suspects the hatches at the bow of the ship, which should have been hammered shut to keep watertight, were open. Then, the ship hit what could have been a 35-foot wave. 

With the cargo folds flooding with water, it began to tip. 

"The motor's back here, a great big propeller," said Nelmark, tipping the model ship's stern down. "When that got into the water so far, the propeller submarined it. Right straight down to the bottom."