Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Another tour boat story
Around the turn of the last century Minneapolis and St Paul had a really nice 'light rail' system, referred to as streetcars in those days. People were moved around town as well as out of town and one of the prime destinations was the vacation and resort area of Lake Minnetonka about a dozen miles west of the cities. There were resorts, amusement parks, and hotels and the best way for the public to access them was by water. Thus a half dozen steam powered boats were built that looked like the streetcars. This plan worked great until Henry Ford made sure that everyone had a car. Twenty years after they were built most of the boats were hauled out on to Lake Minnetonka, filled with ballast, and sunk in one of the deepest parts of the lake.
In 1980 a determined diver found one of the boats and it was raised from the bottom of the lake, its cypress hull in fairly decent shape after fifty plus years in the mud at the bottom. An all volunteer corporation was formed and restoration began in 1990 with the first public cruise in 1996. Where we became involved was in the annual removal of the Minnehaha from the lake and into it's winter storage facility. We were tipped off to this annual ritual by SkipperCharlie and BlueberryBets who lured us to Excelsior by sweetening the pot with a trip to the new Excelsior Brewing Compnay tap room after the boat was retrieved.
It was quite the exercise. In an all volunteer organization there never seems to be a shortage of opinions and this was no exception. The goal was to float the 55 ton boat onto a custom trailer and haul it overland to its storage facility about a quarter mile away. This would be done, in keeping with the vintage theme of the whole exercise, with what appeared to be a World War II era two and a half ton wrecker. Winches anchored the wrecker to the Minnehaha on the back end and a large tracked crane on the front end. The boat would be pulled carefully on to a homemade trailer and then slowly hauled up to the hanger style boathouse. It seemed fairly straightforward but then the best laid plans of mice and men.........
After much yelling, pushing, and adjusting the Minnehaha was finally on the trailer and the extraction process began. What became apparent as the boat came out of the water was that it was a bit skewed on the trailer and it was also running up the ramp a bit too much to one side. It was then backed back down, refloated, and the process was repeated. This time the trailer with its 55 ton load became stuck in the lake and the long tongue was bent and a couple axles on the trailer were badly bent as well. This forced the volunteer group to stop, get the gear fixed, and live to fight another day.
The Power of We in this case has not only raised the boat from the bottom of the lake, but also restored it, maintained it, operated it for the enjoyment of the public, and hauled it in and out of storage every fall and spring since 1996. Once the initial excitement of finding the boat was over, momentum needed to be maintained for restoration, operation, and maintenance. That has been done and lots of people have enjoyed tooling around the lake in a piece of living history. It was great to experience the camaraderie, mild anarchy, and the obvious community support involved in extracting the Minnehaha. The only blot on the morning's activity was some jerk in a high end black 4WD vehicle, some said the owner of the land, marina, dredge operation, or some such thing, that at least twice came screaming up in his luxury ride and got out to yell at the volunteers for egregious crimes like standing in the wrong place, parking to close to the water, etc. I guess, as my grandpa pointed out, there are just a lot more horses asses than there are horses. The people doing the work seemed to take it in stride, which is the mark of a good group of volunteers, the ability to move forward in the face of criticism and naysayers.
Ending the day with some cask ale and pumpkin balancing at the Excelsior Brewing Co. was just the icing on the cake. It was great to see the old boat, check out the exposed workings of the steam engine, and take in the positive vibes of a great annual community event. The Power of We at it's finest.