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The Northwoods River News | Rhinelander, Wisconsin

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home : outdoors : outdoor news July 20, 2017

7/15/2017 7:25:00 AM
Traveling trails less traveled
The evolution of boats
By Buckshot Anderson
River News Outdoors reporter

Boat (bot) n. 1. A small, open watercraft propelled by oars, sails or an engine. (Collier's dictionary, 1961)

Not having access to a more recent dictionary, I'm not sure what the current primary definition of "boat" might be at present, and I'm sure it's much different than the one I quoted. Over the past seven decades I've watched the evolution of boats used in the Northwoods grow in size from those that fit in the cargo box of a standard pickup truck to gigantic monsters twice as large as the vehicle pulling them. I cringe to think what the future might bring!

There are probably very few folks who can recall what my dad labeled one of the "rites of spring" when he re-painted all our resort boats and anchored them off-shore for a week or so after ice-out to "swell up" and seal the cracks between the cedar planking. Back in the 1940s and '50s every resort provided a wooden row boat with each rental cabin, as it was extremely rare for tourists to tow a boat north when they went on vacation. The job of "getting the fleet seaworthy" was a major chore for resort owners every spring. The very large resorts generally hired handymen to help get their boats ready for the summer season.

In today's world, it seems over half of all the vehicles heading north on Highways 51 and 45 during the summer months are towing boats, many of which resemble Navy vessels. Of course, towing a huge boat north is the easy part, launching it safely into a lake after the fact often might be labeled "is another story." I've often told visitors who ask where they can spend an interesting afternoon to visit a busy boat landing on a popular area lake and they'll be very entertained!

During July and August of 1953, I was pressed into service at a popular boat landing on Escanaba Lake. My uncle, Bud Jorgensen, had a boat rental business at that lake where he offered boats for rent on all five of the lakes included in the state's "Five Lakes Project." My uncle underwent serious surgery in late June and was laid up for two months, so his 16-year-old nephew inherited the daily job of renting and cleaning two-dozen wooden Thompson row boats. (Rent was $1.50 per day!) That job was an experience which allowed me to realize watching a busy boat landing could be very entertaining, even back in the dark ages!

Few tourists had their own outboard motors, but some packed small three- to five-horse motors in the trunks of their vehicles, which they would use on the resort's boats or rental boats. Just watching someone attaching a motor to a boat often included a hilarious act!

Most memorable was watching a rather portly gentleman remove a brand new five-horse Mercury outboard from the trunk of his Oldsmobile and shuffle toward the docks where his rental boat was moored. I volunteered to attach the motor to the boat's transom, but he declined my offer. So, before I continue with my story, I need to create a visual picture of the stage where the act took place.

Bud had constructed five short docks spaced so two of his rental boats could be moored between each dock. In this case, one of the two spaces was empty when the gentleman carried his motor to the end of the dock and prepared to step down into the boat he had rented with his motor cradled in his arms. As he placed his right foot down into the boat, his left foot was still on the dock. Naturally, the boat began to slowly move away from the dock into the open space where a second boat would have normally been. Get the picture?

He did the "splits" and then fell off the dock on his back, still clutching his new motor. Luckily, the water was shallow and the lake bottom was firm. After the waves from the splash subsided, all I could see was his head and his toes above water. I really tried hard not to laugh, but failed in my attempt!

I raced to the dock, lifted the motor off his soaked body and helped him stagger ashore. He was not happy, especially when he saw his wife laughing and pointing at him. I put the wet motor in his trunk, refunded his buck and a half and watched the couple speed off.

Later that summer I missed seeing an even funnier dunking. Three obviously inebriated men arrived and rented a boat. They successfully attached a small motor to the boat and motored away, quickly disappearing after exiting the small bay where the boat landing is located.

Twenty minutes later I heard a motor and saw the three men who had just left the landing returning. I smelled trouble. When they docked, two of them were laughing and the third guy staggered up on the dock soaking wet. I needed to hear the story.

As the two laughers related, they entered the main basin of Escanaba Lake and turned east, running the motor slowly, following the south shore looking for, as they said, "a likely looking spot to fish."

Suddenly the boat ground to a stop, making them think they had hit a shallow sand bar. In reality they had accidently discovered a gigantic boulder about 15 yards off shore in 10 feet of water, the top of which was, and still is, only six inches under the surface. The guy who was seated in the bow seat, the wet one, stepped overboard to shove the boat off the imagined sand bar. Oops! I suspect the sudden change in temperature may have sobered him up a bit.

The trio declined a refund and quickly drove away. To satisfy my curiosity as to what they hit, as I was sure it was "the big boulder," I rowed out to investigate and found fresh green paint on top of the rock. Mystery solved. (Warning: The boulder is still there!)

Typical of what one might see on a daily basis at any local popular boat launch site, is what my clients and I witnessed at Lost Lake while we were enjoying a noon-time shore lunch in June of 1986. A brand new Buick station wagon pulling a huge "run-about" pulled into the public launch site. The Buick contained what appeared to be a husband and wife, plus three young children and a dog. After removing all the boat's restraints, the husband, clad in shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops, backed the huge boat into the lake until the rear wheels of the Buick were right at the water's edge.

Obviously he did not know the launch site on Lost Lake is very shallow, making launching big boats a real chore. He tried shoving the boat off the trailer, even though the boat was still several inches above the water. The boat never budged. Next, he backed further into the lake until half the Buick was in the water. Now the stern of the boat was slightly wet. He waded out and shoved again. No luck.

By then the wife was getting nervous and yelling at him, although we were unable to hear exactly what she was telling him. Beside that, the dog's barking head was sticking out one of the real door's window and all three kids were trying to climb in the boat.

After a heated verbal exchange between Mr. and Mrs. - Mr. backed the entire Buick into the lake! Now the rear of the car was in deep enough water to allow water to pour into the car through the cracks around the rear doors. Mrs. turned up her volume.

Try number three failed to budge the boat off the trailer, which prompted the driver to gun the Buick's motor, spin the rear wheels, causing the Buick to roar back up on firm ground, as water drained out around the rear doors. The dog barked, the kids yelled, the wife screamed and the husband drove away.

After we quit laughing, we finished our lunch, got back into my 16-foot cedar strip row-troller and I rowed out on Lost Lake so we could catch a few more crappies. My clients thanked me for choosing a lake that offered entertainment during noon-hour.

Pay a visit to your local boat landing.

Buckshot may be reached at:

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