The Dream

The dream of building a boat goes back to my childhood, as many dreams do.  They germinate in a fertile mind, and go through ebbs and flows as something stirs the memory.


Around a half century has passed since I made my first boat, with a spinning paddle powered by a rubber band.  My model building materials were very primitive though, until one day when my mom sent me to the neighborhood dairy store to buy some Half and Half for making whipping cream.  This was a block and a half from our home on Myers Avenue, and across Highway 33 in Dunlap, Indiana.  In a stroke of good fortune, I passed the Golden Nugget Hobby Shop and looked in the window to see slot car racing and models galore.

What really caught my eye though was a box of a variety of sizes of balsa wood.  On future trips as my meager budget allowed, I began to buy a few pieces— dowels, rectangular rods, and several thicknesses of larger flat pieces.  On special occasions, like my birthday, I would get a real airplane kit to work from with parts already supplied.  But all of my boats were made from my small inventory of balsa wood pieces.  It never seemed like a handicap, however, as I had just as much fun starting from a drawing of my own.  Usually, the drawings were on heavy paper, which got cut out for patterns to transfer to the balsa wood sheets.

balsa boats

This began the construction of the model airplane gliders and boats, including those in the photo.  The two on the right were sailboats, which had been fully equipped with a mast, sails, fin, and tiller.  The one on the left was a an Everglades swamp airboat, originally equipped with a Cox 0.20 gas engine mounted on a tripod.

The Cox 0.20 engine was a screamer and temperamental, but it was the only model I could afford at the Golden Nugget.  I set it up an home on a bench mount, gassed it up and hooked up the glow plug.  Then I began flipping over the propeller over and over, and sometimes the motor would start.  Then I mounted it on the airboat.


One day at Little Eden Camp, I took the boat to the waterfront, ready to give it the first test.  It was set up to be free running, without radio control.  I tried and tried until my finger was sore but the engine would only sputter.  I quit and walked back to the cabin, where I gave it one more spin.  Amazingly, the motor started screaming and I ran back to the beach to launch it.  Just as I got  there, it ran out of gas.  That was the closest I ever got to seeing the airboat in action.

A generation later, when my son Austin was around 12, I finally finished my first radio controlled model, a six foot wing span glider, which I had been working on for a few years.   After a few successful flights from a 300 foot rubber band launch, I decided to convert it to a power glider.  I dusted off that old Cox 0.20 and mounted it on the airplane.


This time the old motor actually behaved well and started quickly.  I released the plane with a slight upward angle and it climbed in a circle pattern to around 120 feet.  All of a sudden it changed trajectory and dove straight down like a Kami Kaze into the turf.  The wing came off in two pieces and the fuselage took significant damage as well.  The old Cox 0.20 engine died and buried itself.

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