Full Circle

My father, David Gideon Lehman, was born January 25, 1926 to Joseph L. and Stella Lehman in Kenmare, North Dakota and joined their adventure. He was not quite three years old when his father died, which left little direct memory and no personal relationship with his dad. However, the sense of his mother’s grief and the weight of the load she had to carry, did leave a powerful impression, contributing to a lifetime habit of responsibility and sensitivity to people in need.

Here is Dad with all of us children, Anne, Margaret, Jane, Mary, Joe and myself by the pump handle on the home place.

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During the late twenties and early thirties, the shadow of the great depression hung over the country, and farming in North Dakota was getting even more difficult. Fortunately, Grandma Stella knew that true wealth was not about having lots of stuff, but having a Good Father, who she trusted to care for the fatherless and widows. Much kindness was expressed by the local Christian community, and she taught her children to have thankful hearts. And for a bonus, there was the one Christmas when some friends brought presents…

Dad’s older sister Mary remembers that her mother often read to the children, and played a variety of games, many of them being homemade. Grandma Stella often used scripture text calendars, teaching the children a new verse every day. Mary also said that Uncle Levi C. and Aunt Becca Kauffman helped them buy a small house, and move it to their farm where they could have a garden plot and a cow in the barn. As a young boy, Dad remembers being responsible to ride out on the pony and keep the cattle out of the corn. Here he is doing a show and tell about the farm where he lived for the first eight years of his life.

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When it was time to go to school, Dad walked one half mile down to the one room school house. His first teacher, Miss Anderson, got sick and died in the middle of the year, and she was replaced by Miss Coffee from Minneapolis. She had a harsh attitude and a pointing stick, used to correct wrong answers by hitting the student’s hands or heads. He does not remember her fondly. Below is inside of that school house where Dad went 85 years ago.

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In the early 1930’s, farms were experiencing crop failure from drought, dust storms, and grasshoppers and the gardens produced little. For awhile, Grandma received a Widow’s Pension from the State, but it had been reduced. Many people were leaving North Dakota, and Stella wrote a letter in November 1934, to her sister, Aunt Lina Zook in Fairview, Michigan asking for help. Her husband, Uncle Chauncey Zook took the letter to the Fairview Mennonite Church and a vote was taken to invite Stella and her children to come.

In early December, Grandma Stella took the letter of invitation to the North Dakota welfare board. They stipulated that if she would stay off welfare for two years, they would provide one-way train tickets to Michigan. Grandma quickly arranged for a sale, and they boarded the train with only a few clothes, linen bedding, a trunk of dishes, books and a few photos. This was right after Christmas 1934, and they arrived in Fairview with a new sense of optimism and faith.

Below is Dad returning to Fairview to be honored with the Wall of Fame Award.
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The refugee family was welcomed with open arms, and the whole church showered them with furniture, food and clothing until they were able to fend for themselves. Uncle Chauncey and Aunt Lina provided a small house for the family rent-free, and gave them milk, firewood, and helped in so may ways. Uncle Chauncey was a godfather in the most true representation of our Heavenly Father and is thought of kindly whenever the story is told. Below are Chauncey and Lina’s children, Delbert and Ruth, who grew up with Dad.

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They wasted no time that January 1935, settling in and finding their place. At a family gathering with the Zooks, daughters Vera, Vesta, and Ruth quizzed Dad on his reading. Vera said to give Dad the Bay City News, and the Gospel Herald to read out loud. He read well, and joined most of his church friends who were in 3rd grade.

The Fairview chapter of life was satisfying in so many ways and left its mark on Dad for the rest of his life. Opportunity was knocking, and he answered its call with preparation and persuasive diligence. When heart and soul are wound tightly together, with a dash of good fortune and a heavy dose of adrenalin, the memories made can last beyond the time when you can no longer remember your phone number.

So it was for Dad. Life was simpler then, with daily work around home, baseball in the summer, and basketball in the winter. School was done by Memorial Day, and summer kicked off with swimming at Smith Lake or the gravel pit, for those with no internal thermostats. The last swim was on Labor Day, and then back to school.

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In 5th grade, Dad found an old discarded baseball glove with most of the seams gone. He restitched it with string and began practicing, throwing the ball up in the air and running to catch it. Sometimes, he could persuade Josephine to hit ground balls for him to practice.

By junior high, Dad was splitting poplar and birch firewood with an axe for heating their home. This added muscular strength to his mental will to prepare. In the fall of 9th grade, Clyde Knepp was moving from shortstop to pitcher, and Coach Johnson was looking to replace him. After hitting grounders to half a dozen contenders, Dad was invited to step in.

In the next few years of baseball, there were quite a few double plays from Dad to Bob Shantz at second, who threw to first. One day over at Harrisville High School, a shallow blooper was hit over third base with bases loaded, and the runners took off. Dad sprinted back in the grass toward the ball, and with a leap at the end, caught the ball on the fly. He turned quickly and threw to Bob at second, who threw it to first, to complete an extremely rare triple play. Here is Dad standing by third base at Harrisville, some seventy plus years later.

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One spring day, the Fairview baseball team was down 4-1 against rival Alpena High. Dad came up late in the game with two outs, and hit a ball into deep right center with bases loaded. As he rounded third, and saw that the throw was inadequate, he came home to win the game 5-4.

As he started his senior year, a chance came to go to school at Hesston Academy in Kansas. His school day ended around 3:30 and he started using his time to practice basketball, including the revolutionary one hand push shot. The money ran out at the end of the semester, and Dad returned to Fairview. He managed to find his place once again on the basketball team, thanks in part to an encouragement from Coach Armitage.

In the first game of the district tournament, Fairview played Gaylord St. Mary’s and won 32-26, with Dad scoring 16 points. Next, they faced Gaylord High and were down 23-26 with a couple of minutes left. Richard Kaufman shot a long one, that Dad fielded and put back for two. With just seconds left, Gibbs was fouled and missed his free throw. Dad had positioned on the lane where he anticipated the ball coming off, caught the rebound in the air and simultaneously tipped in in the bucket for the win, 27-26.

In the Regionals at Petosky, Fairview first overcame McBain High in a squeaker, 27-25. Then they prevailed over Frankfort, before playing Bear Lake in the final.

Dad got to play on the team that became legendary, winning the district, and regional tournament in 1944 for the only time in Fairview history. He stands below with Dick Handrich, captain of that team.

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Fairview provided the opportunity for the children to begin to work and gain independence of their own. Below is Dad in front of the 1/4 acre field where he planted and harvested nearly 100 bushels of potatoes.

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It also gave a chance for them to go to high school. All seven of the children, Reuel, Mary, Ruth, Genevieve, Dad, Ethyl and Josephine, graduated from high school at Fairview, four from Goshen College, two from La Junta School of Nursing and Dad from IU Dental School.

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Following high school, Dad went to work on a turkey farm near Detroit, and also on a boat taking horses to Poland after the war. Then he enrolled at Goshen College and diligently pursued a science degree, leading toward dental school. During this time, he married Doris Liechty, and started the family which eventually included Anne, Margaret, Jane, Mary, Joe and me.

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A formative event in Dad’s growing up years occurred one summer at the Fairview Mennonite Church during the yearly evangelistic meetings. He was around twelve and remembers being so moved by the Holy Spirit during the hymns of invitation, that he went forward to receive Jesus Christ as his Savior. It started a lifetime of being a student of the spoken and written word.

At many crossroads and critical moments as life unfolded, Dad found just the right help from God to go forward with purpose and provision. Most times it was the opportunity to work, in the cafeteria on campus or the construction job on the Indianapolis center circle. This led to the decision to take our family to Puerto Rico for a two year service term, doing missionary dental work. Here he is talking about dental health in a school classroom.
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Dad’s story is a book in itself, so I can only mention a few more of his activities and interests. He was the catalyst for bringing the Leighton Ford Evangelistic Crusade to Elkhart in 1972 and received the Layman’s Leadership Award from the Kiwanis Club that year for community Christian service. He served as President of the Elkhart County Dental Society, President of the Goshen College Alumni Association, and was a member of the Concord School Board.

He took us on family vacations to Little Eden, and the west coast, photographed beautiful flowers, had a passion for orthodontics, traveled the world in dental or mission trips, and enjoyed golf, reading, softball and skiing.

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Dad has had to exert great effort to overcome loss over the years, and to take opportunity with faith. His youthful dreams have either been fulfilled or put aside, and the resolution of life regret and pain seems mostly complete. The chafing against the immovable past is generally over and he is more contented than ever. Dad is thankful for the little things like his children coming to visit and Jan always having enough of something healthy if he comes for dinner.

Earlier this summer we were doing our bi-annual golf outing, and I asked if there was any thing else he would rather be doing, and he said no. He also told me that it is a pretty fine boat I had built. It never hurts when a father compliments a child, and it is not likely to ever be forgotten either.

Only a couple of weeks ahead, I decided to take this afore-mentioned boat to the Les Cheneaux Boat Show in Hessel, Michigan show. On Friday, August 12, Jan and I hooked up the boat trailer to the Honda Pilot, and headed north with Jeff and Cheryl Margush.

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We stayed at the Cedar Hill Lodge in St. Ignace and took the boat over to the marina early Saturday morning. After three years of mostly private building, it was an amazing time of affirmation, interacting with like-minded boat builders.

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There were 162 boats there, some of which are shown below. Thanks to Jeff Margush for all of his photography and much help all along.

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We were entered in the Contemporary/Replica Class and honored with first prize. At the end of the show day, we headed out to cruise the islands and sat for a few minutes with a mechanical problem of my own creation. Fortunately, we got a short tow by the Coast Guard, and a mechanic was there who had just the trick to get it fixed.

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The ride from Hessel to Cedarville, around the Les Cheneaux Islands was filled with the beauty of the north. The next day, my curiosity was rewarded as we explored Lake Charlevoix, particularly one hidden water cul-de-sac. Around the corner, we encountered this 82 foot boat and house.

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As we returned home and put the boat in the garage, I passed a milestone that seemed like it would never come, and then sneaked up to surprise me. Three years ago, my daughter Amanda had initiated the process of writing, with the blog she designed and has managed since then. These stories were written for my children and grandchildren, so that they might know a bit more of their family heritage. Maybe some of them will follow a dream, gain a stronger sense of commitment, and pursue Christian faith more actively from people told about here.

So with this post, I have come full circle, finishing the duty and pleasure of telling my stories and the challenges of building a boat in my basement. It is already a mix of nostalgia and the dreams of new places the experience might take me. Much gratitude and appreciation is due, especially to my wife Jan, who has tracked with me on this zig zag course and has been strong support of all my adventures.

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I also give genuine thanks to anyone, from more than 100 countries, who took time to read this blog. It would be really satisfying to hear from any of you.

David Lehman
Elkhart, Indiana

As some unknown person said, “Never be afraid of doing something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark and professionals built the Titanic.”

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Long Journeys

My grandpa, Joseph L. Lehman, was born January 7, 1890 to David S. and Annie Burkholder Lehman at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.  Little is known of his growing up years, but apparently at age 27, he must have had a question that needed an answer.  This, along with a spirit of adventure, took Joseph west on a long journey with a friend around 1917, to follow the wheat harvest. This is Anne, Jane, and Joe discovering the beauty of North Dakota when we went there a couple of years ago.

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Stella Elmira Sharp was born Oct. 27, 1893 at East Lynne, Missouri.  When she was 6 1/2 years old, she moved with her parents, Gideon and Salina Yoder Sharp, to a homestead near Kenmare, North Dakota, where they lived in a sod house.  She later lived in Fairview, Michigan, Belleville, Pennsylvania, and Garden City, Missouri.  When Joseph came through Colorado, he met Stella where she was taking nurses training in La Junta.

The attraction of some common past, and perhaps the same wanderlust, along with  the call of God, led them to be married, at ages 30 and 27 on October 31, 1921 in Garden City.

Maybe some of the same factors came into play December of 1976, as I hitched a ride with Erie Bontrager on his mobile home transport to Louisville, Kentucky.  The snow ran out somewhere around Columbus, but it was still cold when he dropped me off at the truck stop.  These were the days before insurance ran the world, and after asking a few drivers for a ride, one guy agreed to take me on south.

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Then I had a series of rides with a trucker, a family in a camper, and and a few miscellaneous rides that left no enduring impression, besides needing to keep your wits about you on the road.  This got me into northern Alabama.  At that point, I was riding in a GMC truck with a large flat bed with a big construction man driving.  It was dusk, and all of a sudden, the lights went out and the ignition went off, and the truck was coasting to a stop.  The driver got on his CB radio for help and soon another truck came along.  Being a little nervous, I asked the other guy if I could go on with him and he said that he could drop me off at the Birmingham bus station.

It was late evening when I arrived at the station with my back pack and the winter clothes I started with.  The keyed up feeling from the day would have been replaced by fatigue, if the place hadn’t been so sketchy.  There were a few loners, some twos or more, with a least one in each group keeping watch.  The occasional roving eyes suggested it would be best not to sleep there.

This was a near impossible place to hitchhike from, so I bought a ticket to ride a few hours to Talahassee, leaving at 4 o’clock in the morning.  The bus took a circuitous route, with many stops before arriving mid-morning, and I got out on the road again.  The next ride there was the worst of the trip, as the driver was a true crazy and would not let me out without me getting a little animated.

Then there was a family going on vacation to the beach, a business man, a VW bus with an offer to share the previously illegal plant (I declined), and a few more forgettable rides.  Finally around dusk, an elderly black man stopped in a 20 year old, boat-sized Oldsmobile.  He was headed to Tampa, so I threw my pack in the backseat and off we went.

Somewhere near Ocala on I-75, after sunset, the same thing happened as the night before.  The lights went out, and the ignition cut off, and we were coasting to a stop.  He was pretty upset, but I told him I would help him get to his family.  We were near a road cross bridge, so I went down the hill and flagged a car down for help.  After they slowed, and I moved to the side, they sped up again and left.  This repeated in some form for half a dozen vehicles, so I went back to the broken-down car.

A sign said that a Rest Stop was one mile ahead, so we left the car and started walking.  The old man said he would never get home, but I said we could go together.  Finally at the rest stop, I freshened up in the bathroom, and we went out to find a ride the rest of the way.  I would ask people coming, and they would look at the pair of us with suspicion, and say no or nothing.  This repeated itself over 50 times in an hour, and the old man was getting more discouraged.

Finally, since people obviously did not trust the two of us, I began making requests for a ride for him only, and I would go separately.  This took another half hour and then some kind soul allowed him to go with them.  After he was gone, the third person I asked agreed to take me along.  I got dropped off in Tampa in the middle of the night, with no hope of a ride, so I found a city park and went to sleep under a bush.

After about four hours, I got up and continued hitch hiking along the highway.  After a few more rides and some interesting conversations, I was finally walking into the Red Coconut RV Park in Fort Myers, Florida, where Ed and Marge Neufeld were quite surprised to see my grungy winter costume, and my scruffy unshaved face before scruffy was popular.  Ed took it in stride, and Patty and Martha seemed amused.  Jan had been forewarned but still showed the lack of confidence that I would deliver on that possibility. You’ll notice the NAIA Decathlon shirt, which I was proud of, but also the subtle question of who I came to Florida to visit: my friend and college roommate, Ron, or was it his sister?

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Those few days included the hello and novelty of a dramatic pursuit, the attraction from some common past and family friendship, a reignited heart throb going back to junior high orchestra, and a brave goodbye as Jan pursued her Study Service Trimester adventure to Haiti.  Perhaps the same desire for adventure, along with the call of God, led us also to be married, at ages 23 and 22 on August 19, in Elkhart, Indiana.

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Joseph had worked in North Dakota when following the harvest, and was apparently captivated by this land of stark beauty and opportunity.  Maybe he saw what I saw on an August evening, a gentle breeze at around 75 degrees, with the low angled sun brilliantly lighting the houses and barns.  The flat land of waving wheat was turning white with a promise of a fine harvest.

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 After Joseph and Stella got married, they worked on a farm, and in addition, Joseph was ordained as a minister to serve the Spring Valley Mennonite congregation.  They soon began having children and Reuel, Ruth, Mary, Genevieve came along first.  My father, David Gideon Lehman, was born the fifth child on January 25, 1926 in Kenmare.

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Then came Ethel, and finally Josephine was born, on the day after her father’s funeral.  He had been loading some potatoes into the cellar at night and was found dead by the windmill with a bruised head.  That was October 10, 1928, and he was only 38 years old.  Grandma said he must have fallen from the windmill, but many other people thought there were reasons to suspect foul play.

Grandpa Joseph fulfilled his calling, and finished his race well. Two generations later, the way he left his mark is still evident in our family, in faith, fortitude and fatherhood.

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I sure would have been pleased to meet my Grandpa, and talk about the farm, his life of Christian service, and about the life lessons in building my boat.  Maybe we would have seen common ground in the courage to take risks and the commitment to follow them through.

Finally the boat has all of the essential ingredients to float and swim.  Andy Peterson at Starboard Choice Marina, connected the 135 HP Evinrude HO to the gauges and the navigation lights, and it was time for a test drive.  Below is a photo of the motor mounted on the transom.

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It is time to back it down into the water.

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What an amazing feeling to see it sit just right, at attention and looking fast sitting still.

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But it also could run, around fifty, with a beautiful small wake.

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To repeat my neighbor Mike’s comment from a couple of years ago when I was complaining about not being done, “If you want a boat this summer, go out and buy one.  Where is the journey in that?”  No question about that.

Finish Strong

Doris Jane Liechty was born August 17, 1928, in Archbold, Ohio, into the Joseph and Emma Liechty family, with two sisters and six brothers. She was the eighth child of nine, which allowed her not to be a “second mother,” and so after high school, she headed off to Goshen College. She majored in Home Economics, and her adventurous spirit took her on a trip with a student group to Europe.

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At college, Doris met my dad and soon began a relationship which lead to them getting married on June 16, 1951.

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They moved to Indianapolis, and lived in a little post-war house at 3217 West 22nd street. During that time, mom worked as a home demonstration agent, and they went to the little Mennonite Church on Kessler Boulevard.

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That is home where I lived my first few years of childhood, and the place my sister Anne and I escaped on our trikes for a long ride along Kessler Boulevard. But mom eventually found us, and did not chide us for the experience.

Then, we moved to Elkhart, Indiana. In our growing years, she took us apple, peach and berry picking, and rewarded us on those evenings with a cobbler or pie from the fruit of our labor. Then there was the pitting, snapping, and peeling of the fruits and vegetables, to can hundreds of glass jars for the winter. Here is mom in front of our house on Myers Avenue.

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Mom was a great cook, and always made holidays and birthdays special, with sculptured layer cakes cut into bunnies, dolls and cars. She also sewed clothes for the children, including this matched set for my sisters.

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Here is mom joining the fun skiing at Swiss Valley.

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Below is the family on a trip to the west coast around 1966.

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She taught me how to write backwards, and had us help with cookie decoration, gift wrapping, marzipan making, and the occasional ice cream socials for friends. Many friends and relatives came to our table, including the rather famous Elizabeth Elliot. Here are mom and grandma with five of us.

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One summer day when I was twelve, we had a back yard softball game and I was pitching. Mom was a good hitter, and that time, her line drive caught me right in the forehead. It dropped me right over backwards. Later in high school, when I told her that I was not up to the pressure of running cross country in the mornings and doing football practice after school, she understood, and said it would be okay if I did just one of them.

Her adventure on this earth ended early by most measures, at 45 years old. The year of 1973 was a hard one for her, walking through the valley of the shadow of death. She gradually began losing health, weight, and energy for the tasks of life. She did not seem afraid, for the Lord was with her, but the undone responsibility of care for her family must have weighed heavily on her.

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Finally, on a Sunday evening in September 1973, we were gathered around her bed, and she boiled down the meaning of her life into a short, quiet statement. “What matters most is your relationship with Jesus Christ.” It was a great legacy, and she was a good mother. She finished strong.

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No disrespect is intended in the comparison of a life finished well, to finishing a boat. Actually, the boat reminds me of my mother’s creativity, and I think she would have been proud. She had done some oil paintings, and always rewarded my artistic interests. Here is the boat before paint and varnish.

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I had worked very hard on the bottom paint, with less than stellar results, so this time, I had Dave’s Paint and Hot Rod Repair, in Elkhart, Indiana spray on the white side with a red stripe. Here are Dave Shank and his sidekick Kerry.

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Regardless of the actual outcome, the boat is looking fast!

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Varnish is the coating of choice for wood boats, for its beauty, toughness and water resistance. This does not correlate to easy, especially with no personal experience. I started with two sealer coats of thinned varnish, and had a few more coats sprayed on by Dave and Kerry. Then, I took the boat home where Jon Smucker and Jeff Margush helped me do two more brush painted coats of varnish.

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Eventually, enough varnish is enough, and I decided we had enough buildup for a strong finish. The next step is buffing it out to a gleaming luster, and then completing the rigging. There is a light at the end of the tunnel that does not seem to be an oncoming train.

Boat Going Through the Wall

Around 3 years ago, I started on the 20′ speed boat, thinking it might be a one year project. I first made some models and some half hulls, before launching into the full scale parts.

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The problem was that I needed to learn so much as I went along, and the mistakes from inexperience caused plenty of detours. But finally, in the spring of 2016, it became realistic that the boat was ready to move out. The basic shell was complete, along with the mahogany and maple veneer, and the wood work got a coat of thinned varnish sealer. This started waking up the color.

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Once the hull had initial protection from water, Jed Long and Jeff Margush helped to beef up the stands it sat on, and brace them diagonally.

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We even put in sliding castor bases that allowed it to move well across the floor and clear the sill plate at the wall.

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Finally the day came for the moment of truth.  We had checked off the strength and safety requirements from neighbor, Mr. Fix-it Florea (Don), who provided the heavy duty castors, plywood for bracing, strapping to hold it together, and much thought about how to make the whole move as easy as possible.  Our first step was turning the hull 45 degrees.  That is Don on the front left, not letting the foot cast slow him down!

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Then Jeff Margush was voted as the one most capable to cut the legs off of the bottom with a Sawzall, so it would fit through the wall opening.

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Then it was time to start moving the speed boat out the hole in the wall. There wasn’t much room to spare, so we moved slowly and carefully.

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The system of riding on rollers turned out to work very well, and soon we were free of the house. It needed some help when it crossed the sill plate.

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And then, the boat was out of the basement, temporarily covered due to some drizzle.

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Soon, we carried it up the hill, and prepared a trailer for temporary transport. The strakes (spray rails) did not fit in between the bunks of the trailer so we just padded the trailer as well as we could, with a cheap mattress, some sleeping bags and some old blankets.

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Finally, the boat was positioned on the trailer, and there was a great sense of relief that all had gone well, with no harm to the hull bearers or to the hull itself.  This was also due in part to a friend Andrew Alger, a engineering test lab operator, who knows a lot about a lot and is not a teenager.

During the process, he helped build the moving framework, but also gave us a great surprise gift.  He took a time-lapse video of the whole move, which will be available to view soon.  Thanks, Andrew, and all the rest of you who made the day so successful.  I will never forget.

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All’s well that ends well.
Pa Wilder

Living Legends Part 3

In the process of designing my boat, I was looking around at classic wood boats and came across some Raveau boats.  They have beautiful lines, simplicity of design, and are built for speed. I found them very inspirational.  The photo below is  a 20′ Raveau driven by Steve Koenke, with a 65th anniversary special edition Mercury 200 hp engine.  It reached speeds in the mid 70’s.

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These boats were first designed and built by Marcel Raveau who moved from France to Long Island, NY in 1929.  By the mid 1940s, he was establishing a great reputation, as his boats were consistently winning the Albany to New York Marathon.  In 1959, Marcel moved to Sarasota, and Bob Walwork got a job as his apprentice at the Kiekhaefer Corp (Mercury).  They tested the Raveau race boats at the Mercury Saltwater Test Base in Sarasota, FL and also at Mercury’s Lake X Test site near Orlando.  They mostly built the boats during the week and raced all over the state on the weekends during the early 1960’s.

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Bob had driven his first racing boat, a Jacoby midget hydroplane, when he was eight, and got “hooked.”  By age eleven, he started racing in the American Power Boat Association races, leading to a lifetime of sport and pleasure boating.  In his teen years, he worked at a family marina in Penn Yan, N.Y. and developed a love for the mahogany runabouts.  In 1951, Bob joined the American Power Boat Association, and was Northeastern Divisional Champ in the “JU” Class for three years.

Bob married his wife Donna in 1960 and went racing the next day.  The photo below shows where one of his friends got some lipstick and wrote “JUST MARRIED” on the side of his boat.  Finished third that day….first race he lost!

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After three years with Mercury, Bob left to work again with Marcel Raveau, building, experimenting, and racing.  During this time, he had racing victories in the prestigious Orange Bowl around Miami Beach, and in the Orange Bowl Six Hour and Nine Hour Endurance races.  The photo below shows Bob testing a 17′ Raveau with a 150hp Mercury.

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After Marcel retired and returned to France, Bob continued building the boats until 1965, when he became General Manager of Fitchett Sales Co. distributing several major fiberglass and aluminum boat line.  In 1974, he became VP at Manatee Boat Co. supervising production of around 1500 boats a year.  In 1984, Bob started working with Stingray Boat Co. in Hartsville, SC designing and prototyping new models, where they patented the new Z-Plane bottom.

Bob is now finally trying to retire and in the process of moving out of his shop where he has been working for the last 28 years.  Originally, he opened the shop to do prototype work for other boat companies.  When a longtime friend talked him into building a Raveau again after about 30  years, it was so much fun that he eventually stopped the prototype business and started building Raveau boats again. Since 1995, Bob has built 35 Raveau boats in this shop.

In January 2016, I was privileged to visit Bob at his shop, make a new friend and witness history in the making.  The last Raveau is a 25 footer, which hasn’t been in the water yet.  His enduring efforts to preserve a classic design while improving hull performance are appreciated by many owners.

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Meanwhile, regardless if this is my last boat or not, I have enjoyed being a part of the wooden boat builders fraternity.  They have a passion for the craft, and respect for anyone who tackles the challenge to build one.

My most recent challenge was filling all of the screw holes that I used for holding parts together as the epoxy was setting. Since I had used wood washers and then removed all of the screws, the holes were only around 1/8″.

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 I experimented with several wood putties, a mix of epoxy with wood dust, and some end grain dowel rods.  None of these methods worked out very well for me, because I did not plan to use a filler stain.

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Eventually, I settled on making wood plugs of from the cutoffs of the wood I had used for the boat.  It seemed more likely that over time, the wood plugs would age the most consistently in color with the other veneers.  I drilled the screw holes in the  mahogany parts out to 3/8″, and made 3/8″ face grain plugs.

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There was a fair bit of color and grain variation, so I made plugs from a variety of areas of the wood, to match as well as possible, and placed them temporarily in the holes.  Then I removed them one by one, injected the hole with glue and tapped the plug in place.

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I decided not to drill out the maple holes, and left them the 3/16″ size that they were originally.  I tried end grain plugs, which were always too dark, and finally came up with a way of making small face grain plugs. I made 1/4″ square cross grain cutoffs about 5″ long.  Then I put them in my drill and turned them on the sander to create tapered plugs.  The end notched stick helps to stabilize the turning piece.

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When they were about 1/8″ at the point, I stopped the drill, and cut off about 1/2″ for an individual plug.  Then I injected the holes and glued the face grain plugs in place.  Below you can see both the 3/8″ mahogany and the 3/16″ maple tapered plugs.

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The next step was cutting them off with a flush-cut, pull-stroke saw, and sanding them flat with the surface.  This I repeated around 500 times and after sanding with a special hinged, variable-angle fairing board, they began to retreat from being so noticeable.

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After more fairing and sanding, it was time to put the seats and gauges in temporarily to see where the boat is headed.

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Next step up will be taking the boat out the wall where you see temporary framing. . .

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Living Legends Part 2

Another inspiration is my uncle, Russ Liechty, who was born in 1930, and grew up on a farm near Pettisville, Ohio. Being the last in a family of nine children, he felt no particular need for higher education because his Dad did quite well with only a sixth grade education.

His dad (my grandpa) Joseph Christian Liechty, was an entrepreneur who had several dealerships, selling Maytag products, Chrysler automobiles, John Deere tractors and a farm to complete the mix. He provided plenty of machines to take apart around the farm. Below is my Grandpa, Grandma Emma, my Mom and Dad, Uncle Wayne, cousins Shirlyn and Ellen with my sister Anne between them, and me in front of Grandpa.

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One by one, the brothers began taking over the family businesses. Russ did a little of everything, from mechanics to farming, and anticipated joining the car business after school. After high school, he drove a truck for a year until his sister Doris (my mother), who was at Goshen College, persuaded him to give college a try. Russ agreed to go for one semester, and got hopelessly “hooked.”

There he thrived and found a stimulating opportunity in education. This lead eventually to a PHD in Psychology and a career in college Administration and Student Development. For this reason, the guys at the factory in front of his shop call him “Doc” Liechty. The photo below shows Uncle Russ and Aunt Marge in the early days.

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The photo below shows my Grandma Emma Liechty and all of her children: Aunts Lorraine, Mary, and my mother Doris, Uncles Don, Wes, Herman, Wayne, Harold and Russel, along with Don’s wife Lois, Carly June and one unknown to me.

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Uncle Russ’s mechanical roots were tangled deep though, and he never lost the childhood interest in cars and trucks. I would put my money on him to be able to identify any year of Chrysler car or Dodge truck for the last century. (Added note: he reviewed this post for dates and details and did not refute this claim!)

A few years back, he bought a 1947 Dodge 2 1/2 ton semi-tractor in rather rough condition for $600. This began a five year full restoration that required complete disassembly down to the bare frame. Every part was cleaned, repaired, or rebuilt as necessary before reassembly began. The major components, i.e. engine, transmission, starter, generator, etc were all rebuilt by experienced professionals. It now has six new tires, all new glass, interior mats, door panels, headliner and seat upholstery. Uncle Russ did the body repair work, but the final painting was done by a professional.

This led to being featured in a major truck magazine. This is a really big truck for a man with a really big vision. It has an air horn to match.

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The Big Red truck is now estimated to be worth around $25,000 and is a parade and show favorite. Uncle Russ also restored a 1919 Dodge touring car, a 1949 Chrysler Windsor, a 1962 Chrysler Newport, a 1964 Dodge Dart convertible, 1964 Rambler American convertible and a 1936 Dodge 1/2 ton pickup shown below.

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Actually, this truck might be the best of all of the featured choices to pull the boat, should it ever get done. Currently, I am working on putting the mahogany veneer on the sides. This step required some special clamps to help hold the pieces in place as I was shaping them down to size. They have an inner concentric surface which tightens up as I turn them. The outer piece is just to hold the large floppy pieces in place during shaping.

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Here is the preparation for the second piece.

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Jeff Margush helped provide a full size pattern that helped create a good line down the side for the bottom of the veneer.

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And finally, Jeff and I epoxy the pieces in place, essentially completing the last of the major wood parts added to the hull. This is a huge milestone to pass, and the hope of getting in the water this summer.

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Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.

Napoleon Hill

Living Legends Part I

There are people who do lots of ordinary things, but have an extraordinary itch to scratch or a special question that begs an answer.  They live in the present, and usually provide for the daily demands with an 8-5.  The dream, though, is fueled by passion, a respect for craftsmanship, and maybe a dose of love for history.  These are people who have inspired me.

The payment for following a dream, is partly satisfaction from the eventual product, but the process is so long that it must offer its own reward.  Sometimes, this comes from a new design idea or a solution to an unforeseen problem.  In other cases, it is just the camaraderie with others of like mind, who also bit off a bigger bite than they could chew.

Straight out our back door, to the path through the woods, around the pond, past the Hillbilly Shack, behind the house, and next to the chicken coop, is a big garage that has lots of machines, toys and a Man Cave.  That is where Doug Martin is rebuilding a ’49 Chevy 3/4 ton pickup into a street rod.  That huge rear tire beside him, will help show the purpose of this modified vehicle.

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When it is all said and done, it’s going to be powered by a 12 valve Cummins Diesel, with twin turbos producing 75 pounds of boost, making 11-1200 ft. pounds of torque at around 750 horsepower, and throwing a big column of smoke.  Big truck for a big man.

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The power is transferred to the back tires through a Ford 9″ rear end, and a seriously customized frame.  The floor and fire wall had to be rebuilt to accommodate the front end changes, and the top was chopped around 6″ to create a “Cool” attitude.

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Right now it is in the dirty stage, cutting and welding.  After all of the assembly is complete, it will be totally taken apart to paint and polish, with a hope of getting street ready within a year.  As I inspected the truck the other day, I did inquire where the hitch ball would be placed, for pulling my boat.

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On the boat side of the neighborhood, the next step here is attaching the veneer to the top.  I first added the mahogany outer frame pieces in progress below.

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Next, I began filling in the center triangle with pieces of curly maple band sawn  3/16″ thick.

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Finally, the stern extensions were covered with 1/4″ figured mahogany.  All of these boards came from a Swartzendruber Hardwood Creations garage sale a few years ago, and were just waiting for the right project.  Even though the mahogany boards came from different trees, when all of one surface matches, it is well with the world.

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” The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is worth nothing without the work.”
Emile Zola

Boat Construction Details

At my pace, a few cutting boards or a mirror frame can usually be finished in a week. A queen size bed takes more like a couple of months and a dresser could stretch into most of the winter. So, having a goal of building a 20-foot speed boat in a year did not turn out to be realistic.

After all, the cherry and curly maple stair railing took a little over a year. One reason was that a friend gave me a nice piece of ebony wood, and Jan said that having a little black accent in the newell post would help it relate to the black piano. Of course, this added time to the process but now I can’t imagine it any other way.

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The top ebony trim is actually a mitered frame, with the corners reinforced by a 45 degree saw-curf insert.

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The stairway also took two 45 degree turns, which created several complications. Since I had strengthened all of the lower 90 degree riser corners with a dovetail joint, I decided to do a dovetail joint here as well. That involved a special holding jig, and much trial and error to get it right. Also, where the bottom molding meets the corner, it did not cleanly join the other wall piece and need a special transition piece to be made.

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In the same way, the boat has brought challenges that took longer, and added complexity, but become valued parts of the final product. When I showed my designer friend Jeff the gauges for the dash, he noted that the square ignition switch plate did not fit with the round shapes of the other pieces.

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I agreed, so I found a bolt, some washers and nuts to hold the switch plate, and mounted it in the drill. By spinning it against the sander, eventually the square corners gave way to a round plate.

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Unfortunately, the screw holes for attaching it to the dash were also cut off, so I needed to make a wood washer to hold it tightly for mounting. Some time later, this is the result:

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The navigation light mounting flange is made to hold the light tube perpendicular to the mounting surface. However, where the light goes on the back right panel would not be true vertical. So, this suggested that I make another custom flange, so it can be rotated for the light to be straight up.

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The outline of the cockpit had the earlier problem of looking too square. I started by adding the corner round, and then made a top corner piece to join the perimeter moldings. The problem was that the piece needed to make a curve and a twist to connect the dash to the side. When you count the number of failed attempts, you can imagine this was not the fastest way to go either.

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The second corner went better than the first, and led to another molding across the top of the dash. This was complicated by the fact that I did not want to put screw holes through it to attach it to the dash. Being curved did not help anything. Below is shown the clamps and special hold-downs to get it glued.

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Next came the side moldings, where the deck top did not have the final veneer surface. So I added temporary screw blocks to clamp the molding in place. Spring clamps are not as strong as screw clamps, but if you have enough of them, they work pretty well. The blue tape on the blocks is intended to prevent glue squeeze-out from attaching the blocks to the hull.

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Then it was time to add the veneer to the raised part of the deck. I started with 1/4″ cheap plywood patterns to give the best yield and grain direction on the mahogany.

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These pieces had outside and inside contours that needed to have perfect curves. The outside was left rough with some overlap to shape later. The inner curves had to be pre-shaped to beautiful lines with my favorite hand tool, the block plane. By setting the blade a bit aggressive, and turning the body of the plane diagonal, it is possible to achieve smooth inner curves that are superior to band sawing and sanding.

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Below is the step of rough fitting the top veneer cover pieces, and then clamping and screwing them in place. I attempted to have as few screws as possible, but some filling and plugging will be needed later.

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Then, the center bridge needed the corresponding veneer pieces to tie it together.

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And so, time marches onward. I have generally thought that I am never lost if I am not out of time. The problem arising is that my Dad’s big 90th birthday party reunion is occurring at Little Eden camp in five months, and the boat must be there. This doesn’t leave room for many more detours.

Fortunately, all I have left is the curly maple top veneer, the mahogany transom veneer, side veneer, fairing and hand shaping all of the final contours, paint and varnish, installing the fuel cap, navigation lights, tie bars, running the wires for the gauges and rigging, making a cradle to hold the boat on its side, a windshield and a trailer…

“Time sometimes flies like a bird, sometimes crawls like a snail, but a man is happiest when he does not even notice whether it passes swiftly or slowly.”

Ivan Turgenev

Building the Deck Top

In some ways, the insides of things are most impressive, showing the details of construction and engineering.  Some car hoods just have to be lifted, and doors opened to get the whole picture.  The face of a clock is only a small representation of the mechanical parts that run it.

So, building the deck top was a bit sad as part of the interior is now permanently closing, hiding some of the previous work.  Below is a view of how the boat looked at the stage of adding long stringers to the cross frames.

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But time marches on, and this is the year the boat needs to be finished.  Here is the way it looked with the top frame work completed.

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As done on before on the hull, I first cut 3 1/2″ planks, this time from 3/8″ Okume marine plywood.  Then, the edges  were routed with tongue and groove cutters, which allowed easier bending in both length and width.  This kept the surfaces lined up for gluing, which made fairing easier.

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Below shows the first planks being positioned and screwed down.  I later remove all of the screws and fill the holes with epoxy.

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The photo below shows the plywood pieces covering the bridge between the dash and the front jump seat.  The blue tape is there to catch any glue that might squeeze out.

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More pieces are shaped and added.  Here the blue tape is holding them together temporarily.

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When the corner pieces were temporarily screwed in place, I used a self-guiding flush cutter to follow the contour of the curves.

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To inset the curved ledge for the hard top, I routed a cove shape on the plywood top.

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Then the pieces were turned over on the bench to rout a second cove from the bottom side.  When turned right side up again, I finished with a small flush cutter to trim the edge square again, completing a 1/2″ lip which follows the curved outline.

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Next, I made the tongue and groove pieces for the hard cover, and added plastic underneath before gluing them to the frame.

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The boat is still a long way from being done, but this step completed is kind of like getting Oral Pathology done in dental school.  It is a great relief.

Whatever Floats Your Boat

Integrity can be defined as: the quality of being honest and fair, adherence to a moral or artistic code, holding together, being complete or whole.  Most success just comes from enduring preparation, and stands on the quality of the foundation laid.  If work is done with integrity, it will be sound and complete.

It reminds me of a cool, clear Friday evening in October of 1971.  I was in the stands at a Concord High School football game, the only year I did not play on the team.  As high school friends sometime do, they tend to encourage behavior not strictly endorsed by the Establishment.  This evening it was an invitation from a friend with a pickup truck, to take TP to our orchestra teacher’s home and gift wrap his trees and house.

I imagine the discussion with my dad about the evening plan was rather vague, and shortly after the game, half a dozen of us were off to the grocery store.  Then the guy in the truck dropped us off at the appointed house, and said he would be back in a few minutes, waiting just around the corner.  We started the work at hand.

A few minutes came, the pickup truck returned, and just as we were doing the finishing touches, another car pulled up behind him with some lights flashing.  All of a sudden, the pickup truck with those friends, did not seem like my best option to get home.  I also was not interested in adding a police report or a trip to the station to the explanation I would have to give when I got home.

Fortunately, I had been running cross country that fall and was in the best running condition of my life.  I took off down a different road out of the subdivision, and settled in to a quick run with a bit of moon to see by.  I have often wished I had a stop watch going that night, because with the running training I had done that year and fueled by the adrenalin of fear, it seemed effortless.  This was preparation at its best, and I suspect it was the fastest seven miles I have ever run.

Upon arriving at home, I quickly got in bed and went off to sleep.  The next morning, I got up, ate breakfast, and walked … across the neighbors lawn,  through the woods past the Junior High, and over the bridge at Yellow Creek, up the hill to Concord High School.  It seemed a bit higher than normal.

At the school, I climbed up the steps to the bus that Saturday morning, almost exactly 44 years ago, which was headed off to the Regional Cross Country meet where I was scheduled to run.

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My coach, Dale Kelly, was optimistic for my chances, because I had won the Northern Lakes Conference two weeks before and qualified high in Sectionals.  I had not mentioned the events of the previous twelve hours.

In contrast to the evening before, the cross country race was only two miles, and it was easy to see the course marked out for us.  I started strong on my normal pace, but the pain that usually waited to the end came on early. It was apparent that under the surface where a good kick usually waited, there was no reserve left.

I had not strictly adhered to the code of sports preparation, and the result was a disappointing waste of perfectly good preparation.  That boat “did not float.”

This, I am hoping to avoid with the current boat building project.  The stakes are higher.  Any volunteers for the first ride?  I worked hard to strengthen the transom, the cross frames and the under structure so that it would hold together, and be solid in action.

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Even after a boat is holding together well, it is not complete.  Making it look beautiful requires the same quality of preparation.  A fair line or a smooth surface may be so easy on the eyes as to be unremarkable, but a lumpy contour screams for attention and sticks out like a sore thumb. Success all depends on the the structure underneath.

I am currently working at covering the front “jump seat” with a hard top.  The first step was defining the outline with a curved moulding.  Here are the patterns I made to start with.

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Below is the corner piece being glued in place, with masking tape to prevent glue squeeze out from affecting the finish later.

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Next, I added the curved connector moldings.

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Then I refined the inner curve with some carving and sanding, joining the lines of the corners and sides.

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And last, I built the frame for the removable hard top, inside the jump seat moldings.

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After some fairing, it is about ready to cover with the deck planks.

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Below is the boat as it stands, ready for decking.

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My daughter Adrienne came to visit recently, and then wrote of reading Psalms 33:5 from The Message:

“God’s word is solid to the core – everything He makes is sound inside and out. He loves it when everything fits, when His world is in plumb line true.”

She said, “It is so neat how the intricacies of the inside of the boat, which will not be seen by most people, have been made with such integrity.”  This, she thought, reflects the character of God.