My Little Town 20120711: Uncle David’s Boat

(8 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River.  It was a rural sort of place that did not particularly appreciate education, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.

When I was around eight or so Uncle David built a jon boat out of marine plywood.  Uncle David is really good at woodworking and makes some nice pieces.  As far as I know it was his first attempt at a boat.  I rarely write about living people, but the humor in this piece is not at Uncle David’s expense and I bet that he gets a kick out of reading this.

He did a really good job of it, and it looked really nice.  It took him several days to finish it, and since they lived just across the street I watched quite a bit of how he built it.  He had gotten some plans from somewhere, but could have built it without any prepackaged plans because he was that good.

He used screws and marine glue to assemble it, and I am assuming that he used either brass or stainless steel screws because he knew his stuff.  The boat was about eight feet long as I recall, but might have been a bit larger or smaller.  Jon boats are good in the stumpy lakes around Hackett because they have a very shallow draught, thus sort of skimming over stumps.

I remember especially how he turned the boat on its top and glued and screwed the bottom to the seats and gunwales.  After a final sanding, he put several coats of marine varnish (after he stained it) on it and after drying a few days, it was ready to go.  I also remember that he put oarlocks on it.

Once he took my cousin and me to Sugarloaf Lake, about ten miles south of Hackett, to fish.  He had a 9.9 horsepower engine on the boat, because the requirements for boating on Sugarloaf specified engines under ten horsepower.  My job was to sit at the front and watch for stumps and point which way he should steer to avoid them as much as possible.  We made a pretty good team and never hit one that did any damage.

One nice thing about his boat was that it was light enough that two men could lift it into a pickup truck or into his station wagon.  That made it really mobile and there was no need for a trailer.  My cousin and me on one side and he on the other were enough to get it into the station wagon.

I do not remember if we caught any fish that day, but it was fun to go anyhow.  After we were finished, we loaded it back up and went home.

One day Uncle David, my cousin, and my father and I went to a different lake to try some fishing.  It was also a less than ten horsepower lake, so we took his outboard.  He and my father took the boat out of the station wagon and put it in the water.  Dad was going to pull it out far enough to float it after they had attached the outboard, and instead of walking around the boat, just used the boat as a sort of ramp to get to the front of it.

Well, when Dad stepped that last step to the front of the boat, his weight was enough to push the boat down onto a sharp stob of a sapling and it penetrated the bottom.  Uncle David was not very happy, and that was the end of our fishing day!  We loaded up the gear and went home.

Uncle David patched the hole (it was around an inch in diameter) with two pieces of sheet copper and copper rivets, taking care to make sure that everything was dry before he started.  He glued the copper sheeting to the bottom and top surfaces of the bottom of the boat then, whilst the glue was still uncured, riveted the two pieces together.  After the glue dried, it was as good as new mechanically if not cosmetically.

Another time we decided to go to the Arkansas River to fish for catfish on an overnighter.  Dad had a pickup truck with a camper shell, so we took it and Uncle David’s station wagon.   I am trying to remember how many of us went, but I know that it was my cousin and Uncle David and Dad and me.  Since the river has a significant current, they decided to take an outboard that Dad had that was around 25 horsepower because the 9.9 horsepower one was just not safe in the current.

We got there in the afternoon and set up camp.  Uncle David had a lot of camping gear, and betwixt the gear that he had and what Dad had we were pretty much set.  We planned to fish in the evening, so we got everything ready and when it started to get towards dusk the four of us got into the boat and pushed away from shore.

We had already started the outboard, but it was just at idle and in neutral.  In those days outboards were not very reliable, so we had a paddle with us as well.  That turned out to be a good thing.  Four people in an eight foot boat is quite a load, but I was about nine and my cousin around seven, so we did not add that much weight.

When we were around ten feet from short, Uncle David and Dad decided that we were in deep enough water to lower the propeller into position and go out a little.  I can not remember clearly if it were Dad or Uncle David who was operating the outboard, but I suspect that it was Dad.  Uncle David is sort of a finesse kind of person and Dad was full bore.  Anyhow, as soon as (I am assuming that it was Dad) Dad put the outboard in gear and revved it, the entire back transom to which the motor was connected failed!  Now we were in a boat with no rear transom, in who knows how deep water, with it getting dark.

Uncle David is a fast thinker.  He got all of us towards the front of the boat so that it was not taking on water (the rear was above the water line) and took the paddle and got us back to shore.  It was hard paddling, because we had an anchor.  Uncle David had installed a safety loop to one of the gunwales and chained the outboard to it.  As I alluded to before, Uncle David is methodical.

We got back to shore safely and Uncle David and Dad retrieved the outboard, took out the spark plug, and poured the water out of the combustion chamber.  They also drained the crankcase and added new oil into the combustion chamber and crankcase, then put it in gear (with no spark plug) and manually turned the propeller to coat the wet parts with fresh oil to save it. It worked, and the outboard was saved.

That pretty much put and end to the fishing trip.  We fished from the bank a little but did not have any luck.  It was getting late, so we decided to stay the night and we went home the next morning.  Uncle David rebuilt the boat, but never invited Dad and me to go fishing with him again.  I do not blame him, since the only two times Dad was involved with the boat there was damage associated with it.

A few months later Dad ran an advert to sell the outboard since he did not have a boat.  Some man called about it and asked to see it.  He liked its appearance and asked Dad how much he wanted for it.  He did not ask too much because he just did not have any use for it.  The man look at Dad and said, “What did you do, drop it to the bottom of the lake?”  Dad was nonplussed and told him that he just did not have any use for it.  The man bought it and we never saw him again, so I assume that it served his purposes.  After he left I asked Dad why he had not told the man that the outboard had indeed fallen into the water.  Dad said, “He asked me if I dropped to the bottom of the lake, and we were on the river.”

Dad never did get a boat (he had one when I was really little, but it went with my brother when he married because he and his wife liked to ski) after that, but years later when I lived in southeast Arkansas would sometimes come and visit and I would take him out on the river to fish.  He always enjoyed that.

That about does it for My Little Town tonight.  Please add stories about growing up of your own in the comments, whether or not you came from a little town.  I enjoy reading them, and so do the other readers here.

Warmest regards,


Crossposted at

The Stars Hollow Gazette,

Daily Kos, and



  1. remembering distant memories?

    Warmest regards,


  2. I very much appreciate it.

    Warmest regards,


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