Long Days and Deck Planks

As long as I can remember, I have been intrigued by adventure. This curiosity emerged pretty young, as do many traits of personality. We lived in Indianapolis, and when I arrived, there was already a big sister Anne. By the way, I need to give a huge credit to my Dad for taking and saving all of our old family pictures.


Below is a photo of us sitting beside the small picket fence and roses in the front yard, with our cousin Danny Swartzendruber. He might have been giving us a big idea.


One day, sister Anne and I decided to go out and see the world. Considering that we went together, I have to imagine that any sibling rivalry was temporarily calm. It is also unlikely we were at odds with our parents. If we were, we were too inexperienced at running away, to pack even the most basic provisions of food and water. Apart from a skinned knee, we were generally contented and amiable children.


Our house was at 3712 21st Street, about a mile from the Indianapolis Speedway, in the Eagledale neighborhood. It was a warm summer day, and for whatever reason, we headed east two blocks to Kessler Boulevard, on our tricycles. There we turned south toward the city, pedaling slowly and taking in the sights of the city.



Maybe it was the quiet at home, or just a mother’s intuition that alerted Mom to the fact that two kids has just flown the coop. I was beginning to wonder if I could find my way home, when she found us a few blocks down the boulevard. I can’t remember if she was more angry or relieved, but the result was the same when Dad came home. Below is the little house in the city that we called home while Dad was in orthodontic training at IU Dental School.


A few years later, we were visiting Uncle Wayne and Aunt Loveda Liechty’s house a couple of miles east of Archbold, Ohio. They had a tractor to pull a wagon, which was the main attraction. In the wagon are my four sisters, Anne, Margaret, Jane and Mary.


But we were offered some pop, which was a rare opportunity growing up in my Dad’s dental home, where we did not get daily snacks or sweets. Birthdays were an exception, and the photo below shows Mom’s special bunny cake for Margaret’s birthday, at about the age of our journey.


The fact that we had to walk 2 1/2 miles to the A&W Root Beer Stand, in Archbold, did not deter us. Aunt Loveda gave my sister a dime since she was in school and old enough to drink root beer. I got a nickel because I wasn’t in school and only drank orange pop. Then she gave us detailed instructions to go straight west, until the road came to a T and then turn left.

This seemed simple enough, until the the minutes dragged on and still only cornfields could be seen. The day was so hot that the asphalt on the gravel road had those sticky bubbles, and if you looked ahead you could see the hot shimmering mirage. We had to walk on the grass.

After what seemed like hours, we came to a cross road, and debated if this was the big turn. This was a moment of wondering if we were ever going to get there. Since there were no buildings, we kept going straight.

Finally, we dragged ourselves into Archbold, turned left at the T, and in a couple of blocks, and arrived at the A&W Root Beer Stand. Here we found our reward which was doubly good in proportion to the effort required to achieve it. Apparently, those were days when two bedraggled kids in town by themselves did not stand out, as no one asked who our parents were. Also, no one seemed to be concerned about our safety in the midwest farm community, as we took our afternoon journey.

Below is the crew of Mom, Anne, Margaret, Jane, and Mary, with Grandma Emma Liechty on Brussels Street in Archbold.


The boat is kind of like that, with wondering if we are on the right track, and sometimes the simplest task seems to have no end. Occasionally, it spanks you with dead ends and disappointments. Below is a jig I spent some hours on, to custom cut cove moulding parts, only to find the parts did not fit the proportion and angles of the corners. By the way, the blade must start very low and be moved up in repeated small increments to get a cut this big.


After a few detours and slow motion days, I finally concluded that the inside of the boat is finished enough to move forward. The picture below shows gauges installed in the dash, slots made for the steering hydraulic lines, wood supports for the shelves that conceal the wire harness under them, and a blue conduit for the wires of the navigation lights.


So, the current step is to make the outer deck planks and begin to close in the top. I had two 14-foot pieces of mahogany, 14-20″ wide, that came from a “garage sale” at Swartzendruber Hardwoods a few years back. It looked to be just enough to make the two side planks, in three pieces each. However, a screw-up on even one piece would make it seriously difficult to find another matching part, so I started by making patterns.

The first attempt was of construction foam, which was not nearly precise enough. Next, I bought a cheap piece of 1/4″ plywood and spent some time doing three detailed patterns for each side, so I could accurately lay them out on the mahogany boards.


Then, the patterns were oriented on the boards as well as possible to have the curve of the grain tracking with the boat profile.


One by one, I began cutting them out and fitting them to the curved boat sheer line, and notching them to fit into the cross frames.


When they were all fit, and angled to meet the next plank, I joined the parts together. At the back scarf joint, I used biscuits to help with alignment.


Next was the critical glue-up step. When clamping diagonal parts, the pieces tend to slide sideways, so I used the wood screw clamp laid horizontally to resist side movement. It anchors on two small temporary blocks, fastened to the inside edge, where the screw holes wouldn’t show later. The green masking tape is to prevent glue ooze-out where it would be difficult to sand.


The one-fifth scale model hangs around on the table for inspiration. Grandson Clayton thinks it should become a radio controlled model for future use. Here the second side is being fit to the curve and notched.


Below is the photo of the first side being epoxied in place. Since it was a curved piece with the outside angled down, clamping mainly on the outside created enough glue pressure on the inner side as well. The clamp blocks were screwed in temporarily, and the holes will be filled and covered by a mahogany veneer that goes on the outside. This way, almost no screw holes will be seen, except at the back where more torquing was done.



Here is Jeff Margush, making up for my height and heft, with his trim and limber physique, finishing the inside epoxy fillets. Now, that is the measure of a friend.


Am I done with the boat yet? No, but the light at the end of the tunnel no longer looks like an oncoming train.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bow lines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

-Mark Twain

The Hole in the Wall

Even though my brother Joe is nine years younger, we have been doing adventures since the beginning. In the 60’s at our house, there was no TV, and the radio’s dial was off-limits for a teenager. The inside of our house had no magnetic pull to us, and besides, with four sisters, the boys had to stick together.


Early on, we went hiking along Yellow Creek from the Concord Junior High, ranging a mile or so from home, trying to walk across on the fallen logs. We also played catch with a baseball or football in the yard, and shot hoops on the sloping driveway.



Sometimes we went plinking with our slingshots which I made from forked sticks and some rubber surgical tubing that my Uncle Ernest Smucker, a surgeon, gave me. We spent hours with friends on the rope swing over the creek, where the exhilaration often led to a wet ending.

In the winter, we ice skated on the creek, or better yet, played hockey at the junior high tennis courts, when the Dunlap Fire Department came to flood it. We iced sledding ramps on the hill beside our house, and Joe had his neighbor buddies over to play.


When I went off to Goshen College, Joe occasionally came to stay with me in my dorm. One summer, at Shavehead Lake, we decided to try barefoot skiing and eventually taught ourselves how to get going off of a knee board. Below is Joe and sister Mary going slalom.


After Joe finished college, we did stuff like biking Parke county with a bunch of the old wood covered bridges and a night ride through Denver. But on one special winter day in Colorado, we went skiing. Below is a photo of where we got started skiing as a family, with Mom and Joe at Swiss Valley.


In his 20’s, he was just coming into his prime and I was rapidly leaving mine behind, but there was enough overlap for us to head for the moguls. There was one beautiful stretch of steep snow that we went down single file a few times to get the feel of it. Then, someone had the idea to go side by side, so we took off together. We were skiing hard and staying fluid in the right/left, up/down rhythm of the mogul paths. We were in the “zone,” making a memory of a lifetime, when we heard some clapping from the chair lift beside the run. That was apparently enough to break my concentration, and I took the inevitable thing that “pride goeth before.” It is sometimes also referred to in the trade as a “yard sale.”

As Joe got older, we still did some casual adventure, but I began mostly watching his performances.



You have to know when to step aside.


As Joe got into more serious life-threatening adventures like biking and hiking in Mexico, he went with his own crazy peers like Lynford Beachy and Jeff Hershberger. Then there was the summer that Joe even built a house to sell in Miller’s River Manor behind Oxbow School. Of course, he dragged me into the project to help with the wood floor.


So it was only natural that when I needed a hole in my basement for the boat to escape, it was Joe to the rescue. Realistically, the boat won’t need the exit hole until next spring, but he was coming to Elkhart over the summer, and he volunteered his enthusiasm in the boat project. Did I mention we will have to take it out sideways like a grand piano?


The real genius was inviting Todd Smucker, a friend from their softball days at Belmont Mennonite Church. Todd had the most experience with vinyl siding, with all of the tools and tricks to get the wall cut quickly and a temporary door in place.



Fight with your brother, if you must when you are young, but stick by him when you are older, because you never know when you might need help getting out of a hole.