Michigan Heritage Awards
^ MHA Awardees List ^
J.W. Westcott Company and Crew
Westcott as it's back from a run with the freighter served in the background.
Photo by LuAnne Kozma, 2003
coworkers at their annual Lay Up Dinner in December 2004. From left
to right, top row: Dave Pincomb, Charlie Wundrach, Mike Knowles, Dick
Boyle, Jim Hogan. Middle row: Bill Redding, Mike Crawford, Don Carns,
Dave Domino, Paul Jagenow. Bottom row: Len Tanner, Sam Buchanan, Mark
Grabowski, Joe Mastripolito. Photo courtesy of the J.W. Westcott Company.
2005 awardee, Detroit (Wayne County), Maritime occupational traditions
In 1874 J.W. Westcott began a marine-reporting agency on the Detroit River.
Since then, this small, family-owned company and its staff and crew have
continued a tradition of delivering "mail by the pail," goods,
and personnel to Great Lakes freighters as they pass through the Port
of Detroit. Located on the river just south of the Ambassador Bridge,
J.W. Westcott Company's small white and blue building serves as a hub
for the maritime community.
During shipping season, J.W. Westcott Co. performs a very personalize,
round-the-clock service for the shipping industry, supplying anything
requested by the companies or the workers' themselves whether it is a
new stove for a freighter, groceries for a steward, or a trip to shore.
Canadian and American pilots are required to navigate sea-going freighters
through the narrows of the Detroit River, and J.W. Westcott delivers them
to the "salties" mid-river.
Westcott captains must master the dangerous maneuver of getting their
vessel, often the 45-foot J.W. Westcott II, alongside of and maintaining
the same speed as a freighter during the mid-river exchange of goods and
personnel, then pulling away decisively so that their smaller vessel is
not pulled into the wake of the larger freighter.
Many of Westcott's crew has worked there for decades as boat captains,
deckhands, and dispatchers. Like other tight-knit occupational groups,
they have developed traditional occupational customs, including an array
of slang and nautical terminology, work techniques, nicknaming, pranks,
radio conversation styles, storytelling and joke telling. In the face
of such a dangerous job, humor in the workplace lightens the mood and
puts coworkers at ease.
While on a delivery in October 2001, the J.W. Westcott II sank
in the Detroit River, resulting in the deaths of a Westcott captain and
crewman. The accident affected the entire maritime community. The Westcott
employees directed and did much of the work to restore the J.W. Westcott
II and put it back in operation in time for the next shipping season.
Owner Jim Hogan says of his staff, "the company and its participants
have not really gotten rich monetarily but they've gotten rich with experience
and time...their experience down here is in some cases priceless because
of what they do. And it's a very unique thing that we're involved with.
And we touch a lot of lives. We seem to be very important to a lot of
The J.W. Westcott company and staff are recognized with a 2005 Michigan
Heritage Award for 100 years of unique service to the Great Lakes maritime
community, for the real and symbolic community center the Westcott provides
the maritime community, and for its staff's individual skills as master
pilots, maritime raconteurs, and knowledgeable maritime tradition-bearers.
-LuAnne Kozma, fieldworker.
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