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Ashland Holiday station to close: Seniors lament loss of last full-service station
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Jim and Wendy Coffey hold a 1945 photo of the first gasoline station on their site, and another of how it appeared in 1980. Jim Coffey and his brother and co-owner John Coffey are closing the station that is the last to offer full service in the area. (Rick Olivo/Staff photo)

For as long as she can remember, Maryann Koval has been coming to the Lake Shore Holiday Stationstore West at 915 Lake Shore Drive W.

“It’s the best place in town,” she said. “Where else can you go where they actually wash your windshield and come out and pump your gas?” she asked.

In fact, it’s the only place in town that will do what used to be commonplace with gas stations — offer full-service fill-ups.

Maryann Koval said the elderly and disabled came to rely upon the Holiday’s full-service fill-ups. (Rick Olivo/Staff photo)

“It’s really nice not to have to get out on a cold winter day and pump gas, agreed Ed Butterfield of Washburn. “There are a lot of older people and people with disabilities who have come to depend on it.”

Holiday co-owner Jim Coffey has maintained that service with great pride, often going out himself to pump gas and wash windshields for customers.

“You get to know a lot of people that way,” he said.

A gasoline station of one sort or another has occupied the lot since 1945, Coffee said, first as a Webb Oil station then a Spur, later a Mobil and for the last 12 years, a Holiday.

The first gasoline stations on the site, Webb Oil, opened its doors in 1945. (Contributed photo)

But gas won’t be available there much longer. Coffey and his brother John Coffey have decided to close to avoid state-mandated safety upgrades.

Coffey has managed the station for the past 38 years. He and his brother also owned and operated the Holiday Stationstore on the corner of Ellis Avenue and Lake Shore Drive for 17 years before selling it back to Holiday six years ago.

“Now we just have the smaller store, and unfortunately, it is coming to an end too,” he said. “We knew this was coming for the last five years. The state wants us to do a petroleum upgrade. They want us to put in sumps and sump sensors on both the tank side and underneath the dispensers.”

The cost of the upgrades could amount to about $250,000, Coffey said.

“My brother is 67, I am 61. We are in the sunset of our careers. I don’t think we have enough time to offset that big an expenditure,” he said.

Coffey said fuel sales will end by May 23 and the store will remain open long enough to clear its inventory.

“We will still run the car wash, but she is coming to an end, within four to six weeks,” he said.

Coffey said he has offered the business for sale and has received an offer from a buyer.

“But it’s not going to be as a gas station, and I am not at liberty to talk about what business it might be,” he said.

Coffey said his greatest regret was seeing the end of full-service in Ashland.

“This location has had a rich history of full-service gas sales for 77 years,” he said. “It was kind of our niche when we took the place over. It was full-service then, and we found it very advantageous for handicapped people, senior citizens and even young mothers who have their children in the back seat.”

Coffey said the service was especially popular during the harsh northern Wisconsin winters.

“A lot of people have grown to like it,” he said. “More so than I ever anticipated; now that the talk around town is that we are planning to shut down, some of the seniors are really panicking and I understand that, and I feel horrible about it. It is my biggest regret.”

Coffey said he has no specific plans for the remainder of his life, but his wife Wendy, who has been working with him for the entire time he has co-owned the station, has plenty of assignments for him at home.

“Anyone who has worked that long deserves to retire,” she said. “But it is really sad in that this place has been a staple for Ashland for many, many years.”

It will be difficult as well for some of Coffey’s loyal customers to do without their full-service gas station.

Ed Butterfield of Washburn said he will miss not having to get out of his car to pump gas, especially in the wintertime. (Rick Olivo/Staff photo)

“It’s kind of sad,” said Butterfield. “It kind of aggravates me. I like to have people come and pump my gas and wash my window. I give them a tip and it’s good — it makes my day better. Now that this is happening, I don’t like it at all.”

Koval was in complete agreement.

“There are a lot of people who can’t get out and pump their own gas. What do they do? They can’t come here anymore if it’s not here,” she said.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, which regulates gas stations, did not return calls seeking comment for this story.


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Reconstructed Houghton Depot to be unveiled
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The restored Houghton Depot is now at Bayview Park, looking much as it once did after its construction in about 1883. (Contributed Photo)

As a boy in the early 1970s, Bill Bodin and his pals used the abandoned Houghton Depot as a place they could play in and have fun away from the prying eyes of adults.

They didn’t know or much care that the building was the last surviving depot that once served the railroad that ran between Ashland and Bayfield. It was just a place to hang out.

“An abandoned building, neglected at that point, kids will be kids. We used it for hide and seek, or playing keep-away with the neighbors,” said the owner of Bodin Resort near Washburn and Bodin Fisheries in Bayfield.

These days Bodin is a town of Bayview supervisor and his perspective on the Houghton Depot has changed.

“This is a wonderful piece not only of Bayview’s history, but of the history of Chequamegon Bay,” he said. “Our forefathers utilized the train to go everywhere, as well as shipping brownstone out of the brownstone quarries, sending fish to the Civilian (Conservation) Corps camps. It was a mode of travel that allowed you to get into town without having to use the boat, well before there were established car routes. It is a nice connection back to our history.”

Bay-Area residents will get a chance to share that history June 11 when the rebuild depot is revealed and opened to the public.

One of the only existing photos of the Houghton Depot shows the structure n ext to the railroad tracks in 19th or early 20th century. (Contributed photo)

Bayview resident Paul Johnson, who helped head up the effort to rescue and move the depot to Bayview Park between Washburn and Bayfield, said the effort has been nothing short of miraculous. Johnson, a serious model railroad builder, came upon the falling-down depot a few years ago while showing a friend the route of the Bayfield Peninsula railroad that he had built a model of. Near the site of the old depot, he saw the man who came to own it, Mike Garnisch.

Garnisch told him that because of insurance requirements, he was going to have to tear down the depot or have it moved.

“He asked me if I was interested in it, and I said sure I was,” Johnson said. “I see it as a providence from God to get me connected. It happened just at that moment that he would drive out and see me,” he said.

The depot, which was converted into a residence in the 1930s, was rescued from possible demolition when its owner gave it to the Bayview History Committee. (Contributed Photo)

Thus began a two-year effort to move the old depot — a project that has taken $30,000 in donations and grants and the efforts of about 60 volunteers to complete.

It started out with a proposal by Johnson to the town board to save the building and a nearby paymaster’s shack from the old Prentice brownstone quarry.

The town board agreed to fund the $1,700 cost of rebuilding the much smaller paymaster’s shack, using hotel-room-tax money, leaving the small corps of volunteers to raise the funds for the considerably more involved Houghton Depot restoration.

“The Washburn Heritage Association accepted that role and we were able to move it in February of 2020,” Johnson said.

The building arrived at Bayview Park in February of 2020, when extensive renovation work began. (Contributed Photo)

The move of the rickety building was accomplished without the floor, which had been removed because of the rotted state of the subflooring, with the hardwood flooring stored in a barn.

The depot was placed on blocks while volunteers prepared a new foundation, constructed a subfloor and finally nailed the salvaged flooring back in place. The rest of the structure was returned to its original state, which required rebuilding the windows, replacing the ceiling to its original 12-foot height and residing two sides of the structure.

They also added a feature: A cutout section of ceiling that conceals a model railroad of the area around the depot. Cables and a winch system allow the model to be raised and lowered so that the working model train can be operated for visitors.

Johnson said all the time and effort has been worth it.

“Our area thrives on tourism, and here is a place for people to learn about and enjoy the history our area. They will be quite impressed with our presentation,” he said. “This whole effort brings people together. When new people come into the town of Bayview, they often come to our picnic area. By them getting to know the history and culture of the town of Bayview, they will have a greater respect for people who have been here,” he said.

Bayview resident May Gruhl said the project has been a labor of love for the Bayview History Committee since 2019, when the depot was acquired.

Gruhl

“It has been the fulfillment of a dream that Paul Johnson had,” she said. “As the last remaining depot on the Bayfield Peninsula, it is significant historically. The railroad came to Bayfield in 1883, and with it came the opportunity for people to connect with the rest of the world.”

At one time there were eight depots on the line, located at Bayfield and Washburn and other small communities like Bayview, Barksdale and Ashland Junction. The trains also made stops at the commercial brownstone quarries and the DuPont explosives plant. With the exception of the Bayview Depot, all are lost to history.

The Houghton Depot only survived because someone rebuilt it into a home after the railroad stopped running.

“It had become the living room of the home. We took the two bedrooms and the kitchen off and moved it, rebuilt two of the outer walls and replaced the roof,” Gruhl said.

The old depot building was stripped of the two bedrooms, bathroom and kitchen additions before it was moved to Bayview Park. (Contributed Photo)

Final touches came from donations including a pair of depot-style passenger benches and a wood-heating stove. A replica platform has been built on the exterior and a length of track has been laid, matching the way the depot looked while in use.

“We are just thankful for the many who have helped, and the way things worked together,” Johnson said.


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Bayfield County sheriff to retire

For almost 40 years, Paul Susienka has been wearing a uniform of the Bayfield County Sheriff’s Department.

From part-time officer in 1982 to dispatcher, patrol officer, patrol supervisor and investigator, Susienka rose up in the ranks to become chief deputy in 1995.

He won election to replace retiring Sheriff Bob Follis in 2010, and now plans to retire himself at the end of his term in January.

“It will be almost 40 years to the day from when I first got here,” Susienka said. “I would be in my 70s by the middle of my next term, and it just seemed long enough.”

Still, he’s had second thoughts about the decision in the last couple of weeks. “It’s just hard to give up all the involvement. There is a lot of enjoyment with the job,” he said. “But at my age it just seemed that it was time.”

Susienka is a long-time resident of Bayfield County. He graduated from Ondossagon High School in 1972 and also graduated from Northwest University School of Staff and Command before signing on with the county.

In his 12 years as sheriff, Susienka has seen a lot of changes in the conduct of law enforcement and acknowledges that those changes are continuing.

“We have some benefit in the type of community we live in. We are rural and tend to be more engaged with the public,” he said. “It is something I think every law enforcement agency should do — engage with your public, get to know the public, talk to people, help them with their issues. Get that support. When you have the support of the community the community does not assume the worst when there is a problem. You are only as good as your community support.”

Susienka said he has worked hard during his career to build relationships with other law enforcement and state agencies, as well as with the county board and county administration.

Abeles-Allison

Bayfield County Administrator Mark Abeles-Allison said Susienka’s efforts made him invaluable to the county.

“Paul is an amazing resource. He has a mind like a steel trap. His legislative and statutory knowledge is unsurpassed,” he said.

Abeles-Allison said Susienka’s experience and organized nature made him a methodical and thoughtful leader.

“He cares about his employees and cares very much about the county,” he said. “Paul is a collaborator. He’s open to new ideas and he will be sorely missed,” he said.

Bayfield County Circuit Court Judge John Anderson agreed.

Anderson

“During his tenure as chief deputy and certainly as sheriff, he’s been very forward-thinking. He’s not afraid of looking at alternatives. He was very open to maintaining and keeping programs and treatment courts, using his deputies as part of our programs to do community checks on people for drug testing and to make sure they are in compliance,” Anderson said. “I have always appreciated his intelligence and his ability to look at things from multiple angles and not just look at problems from a traditional law enforcement perspective.”

Anderson said one of Susienka’s strengths is his habit of examining data and using that information to make decisions.

“Those are important leadership qualities. Instead of just guessing, he would look at the evidence and he was exceptionally good at that,” he said. “He’s going to be a very hard man to replace.”

Susienka has devoted a lot of his efforts to helping meet community needs. For one, he helped all-terrain vehicle devotees gain more access to more parts of the county. Jim Bender of Iron River, president of the North Trails ATV Club, said Susienka’s assistance was important for one of the club’s key efforts.

“I spent three years trying to get County Highway H opened up to ATV traffic so we could access trailheads. His recreational deputy stood behind it 100%, so I know the sheriff was behind it 100% as well,” he said.

Susienka said his replacement will face plenty of challenges, not the least of which is finding and keeping adequate staff.

“We are all struggling with a smaller pool of candidates,” Susienka said. “It’s not the only factor, but the negativity is part of it. If you are a young person looking for a career, you get the sense that the public doesn’t accept you, or are quick to criticize your actions. It is a discouragement.”

On top of that are extensive training responsibilities, and working on keeping up the morale of the department.

“The people aren’t our enemies, they are not our adversaries. The people are who we work for, the reason we exist. You can’t go about this profession thinking it’s us versus them,” he said. “We are part of the community and law enforcement needs to act that way.”


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