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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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You have to know when to step aside.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

Little Boat Things

Recently, a new friend Troy Madlem said (my paraphrase) that he appreciated the boat process but that you had to wade through a bunch of fluff in my blog posts to get there. So here are a few little things about the boat without so much of the stories:

It all started with these balsa wood models that I made around age 13-16. At the time they were working boats, one had an air motor, and the others had sails.

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The dream became more compelling in 1972 when I was in high school and my dad bought this 16′ Marlin Scorpion with green metal flake paint. It had an 85 HP Johnson motor which pushed the boat close to 45 mph and your heart rate over a hundred. This was never known for sure, as it had no tachometer, speedometer, fuel gauge, or any other gauge, but it was capable of pulling a barefoot skier.

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My brother Joe and I took a few runs on Shavehead Lake in the early 80’s. We sat back on a knee board and stood up as the speed increased. I did enough to say I “footed”, but Joe got pretty good. A hard fall convinced me eventually to stick with skiing on the “Green Flash”, our O’brien slalom ski with a concave bottom that could really cut.

And so these little things led to the day I decided to make the dream a reality and build a boat of my own.

Below is the first stage of the process, a 1/5 scale model made of 3/8″ plywood, cherry and maple. The motor is thanks to Jeff Margush’s sculpting.

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Then, the model took a proportional weight test in the hot tub. At 1/5 scale, 1 pound is equal to 125 pounds in real size. So the 2 lb. exercise weight in the driver’s seat represents an adult man with the seat. The miscellaneous mix at the back adds up to the 420 lb. Evinrude 135 hp motor.

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Next, is a photo of the assembly of the cross frames. It shows the dowel assembly and the custom clamping that was often required for irregularly shaped parts. This may be overkill engineering, as the joints were then reinforced with plywood gussets.

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Here is a photo of shaping curved parts with a self-guiding router bit. Notice the bearing at the top of the cutter. I would carve or rasp that top edge to a fair curve and then rout the rest to join it. This was a cut and repeat method until it looked right.

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The strong back is the assembly that the cross frames are attached to. It is one of many operations in boat work that is eventually is removed from the boat, but is essential to get right if the boat is going to have fair lines.

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Then, the longitudinal stringers and structural parts were added. This is where a multitude of spring clamps shine, being easy to place in tight spaces.

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Eventually, the top stringers were added, being let in to the cross frames, sawn with a wonderful Japanese pull-stroke saw.

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To help match the stringers as they came forward, I clamped on the short sticks and torqued the pieces until the angles were the same.

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Here is Jeff Margush and his son Jason, installing the fiberglass fabric to be embedded in epoxy. This created much more stiffness and puncture resistance for the marine plywood core.

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By themselves, each of the steps above is a little thing, but when they are done well, and in combination with many other parts, become a thing of beauty. Here is our friend and favorite musician Jon Guerra, with his wife Val, my daughter Amanda and their friend Sarah.

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The title track of his recent album, Little Songs, is about offering the best of what we have as first fruits back to God, the words, the tunes, our hearts. It is an inspiring way to live.

Some unattributed author wrote, “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.”

The Third Boat Turn

By definition, a turn follows a period of straight movement or consistent activity with a change in direction.  It is often connected with a landmark to describe it, or some memorable drama.  You can turn over a new leaf, see the hands of time turn slowly, or watch a marshmallow turn golden over the camp fire, as sunset turns the day to dusk.  Hopefully, you will experience the one good turn that deserves another, and never have nowhere to turn.

You could also make a wrong turn.  In the case of the road below (near Portage Point), in my opinion, it would only be the wrong way to go if you were seriously out of time to explore.

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It is exciting to see the winter turn to spring in northern Indiana, marked by the sap buckets hanging on the maple trees.  It takes around 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup.

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Not far behind is the blooming of the daffodils, left over in the woods behind our house from someone’s planting long ago.

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One of my favorite turning events happened at Little Eden Camp in my teen years.  One of the week’s highlights was the canoe trip on the Little Pine River near Manistee.  We would load the canoes on the cars, and head for the river.

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The first stretch we were usually a bit cautious as we reacquainted ourselves with how to guide the boat down between rocks, logs and sand bars.  Before long, however, some paddle splashing would inevitably begin, and a few boats would get turned over.  Below, Dad is steering with Anne and I in the front.

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Sometimes, turns come without asking, in unexpected ways.  In the summer of 1981, I had applied for and was accepted to the Hans Krieks Masterclass so we headed off to New York City.  We loaded up a small U-Haul behind the trusty Dodge Dart featured below, which did not have a working fuel gauge.  This caused us to misjudge how much extra gas it took to pull a trailer and we ran out of gas around midnight in Pennsylvania.

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Fortunately, in the days before cell phones, other travelers would stop to help someone in need.  We passed a message along with a man, who called Royce and Marci Yoder at the nearest pay phone.  In a couple of hours, Royce appeared with some gas and guided us to their house for the rest of the night.  Here they are when they visited us later in Manhattan.

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The class was more of an apprenticeship than a typical college program.  A group of five of us came together in September from all over the country to study furniture design with Mr. Krieks.  We spent one day a week in a studio class, and the rest of the week working on our assignments.  Below are a few of the projects I had started working on.  The first is a study for a tall chair, which later became a high chair for my daughter Adrienne, and the second is for a plexiglass and foam chair that never got built.

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It was my sweet spot, and I was thriving on the New York City design environment. Design was everywhere, in the architecture, the furniture, museums, store windows, and people.  One highlight was being invited to a private meeting with Niels Diffrient, an industrial designer who revolutionized ergonomic seating for office, airline and John Deere tractor seating.

I loved walking around downtown, hearing street performers, seeing great architecture and museums.

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One day in the middle of October, Mr. Krieks did not make it to class and instead a past graduate stood in.  We went through the motions of class and homework and carried on.  The next week he was sick again, and then we found out he was in the hospital.  He never returned.  Around Thanksgiving, Hans Krieks passed away, and the class was ended.

I continued working as a waiter at a Victoria Station in the Bronx, and Jan as a waitress at Ehring’s German Restaurant.   For the next couple of months we wandered New York City and traveled north as far as Rhode Island to explore a bit of the east coast.  By January, we loaded up the U-Haul and headed back to Indiana as it was time to turn the page.

This was a difficult and dramatic turn of events, which led to my eventual going to dental school, and following my father in Orthodontics.  However, I never lost the passion for design and with this boat it turns up again.  At the same time, I experienced another evidence of God’s redemption: His ability to add all of the past together and make something good.

Turning the boat right side up was a great milestone, because the difficult bottom painting was done, and because I have no plans to turn it bottom up again.  I first had to refit the cradle now that the bottom strakes were in place.

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Then my favorite assistant helped me get the carpet cushions and rope in place.  Each of the 3/4″ nylon rope loops is supposed to hold 750 pounds, which was fine as I estimate the boat weighs around 800 pounds at this point.

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The only problem occurred when the side of the boat touched the floor as we hoisted and rotated it vertically.  Below, Jeff Margush is supporting the bottom as we shorten the loops.

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Here is the crew of good neighbors who helped out, from left to right: Brad Kime, Don Florea, Payton Fish, Greg Tipton, myself, Jeff Margush, Brad Fish, John Kime and Mike Perron.  I bet they could successfully navigate the “Minnow” on a “three hour tour.”

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The biggest turn of events a person can have is the day they realize they are unworthy before a God of love and justice, and decide to seek His forgiveness and salvation.  As for me, like the old song goes, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”

Painting the Hull Bottom

Painting the hull bottom is a bit like going from Elkhart, IN to Grandma Liechty’s house in Archbold, OH when we were kids. Dad loaded up the six kids in the blue Dodge station wagon, generally with a brief fight about who had to sit in the back rear-facing seat. Then after what was probably only minutes into the two hour trip, someone would ask, “Are we almost there?” At an early age, everything was unfamiliar, and gave no reference point as to when it might end.

Below are photos of mom and dad in front of our house, and Joe with a neighbor friend at the back. Behind them is the blue Dodge station wagon.

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As we got older, we began to know Route 33, past the Midway outdoor theatre in Dunlap, the A&W Root Beer Stand, Olympia Candy Kitchen across from the Goshen Courthouse, and the big white house in the country near New Paris. The we came to the T-intersection where we turned left on Highway 6, heading over to Ligonier. After the stop light, it was down the hill around the pond, and through the country where we would sometimes race a train on the tracks heading east.

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At the stop light in Edgerton, the official route for Highway 6 went left through the business district, but we always turned right across the tracks to beat the inevitable truck ahead of us. Then there was another straight stretch of road where we would try to keep concentrated on the horizon. Finally, someone would yell, “I see the church steeple.” A few miles more and we would reach the old white church at the corner of 6 and Route 66. Then it was less than 5 minutes north into Archbold, past my Uncle Herman’s shop, Uncle Wes’s Chrysler Dealership, the A & W Root Beer stand, and the huge limestone church, to Brussels Street where Grandma lived.

Here are Grandpa Joseph and Grandma Emma Liechty, with Uncle Wayne, Shirlyn and Ellen and Dad and Mom, Anne, Margaret and I

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We hadn’t really arrived though, until we checked out the deer head in the den, heard the chime of the Grandfather Clock and sampled a lemon drop from the cut-glass bowl in the living room.

So when the boat hull planks were installed and the surface faired, I started thinking about when we could have the turning party to get going on the topside again, wondering if “we were there yet.”

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Looking back, I remember discussing my painting time schedule with an experienced sailer/builder who just smiled knowingly. I imagine he was thinking, “You aren’t at Grandma’s house yet.”

My previous experience with paint was of the house variety, redecorating walls at some houses where we lived. There, we just opened the can, which was already mixed at the store, and started brushing paint around the trim and the corners. Then we got out the roller for the big surfaces. It seemed like quite a job, but we might complete a room in an evening.

Then I got introduced to the complexity of finishing the bottom of a boat. The first activity after fairing the wood was to place the glass fiber cloth and imbed it in epoxy. This would have been a great time to call my friend Brad Collins for expert advice, but I didn’t think of that. It seemed similar to what I had done on the inside so Jeff Margush came over and we plunged ahead.

The first problem was that a 20 foot boat (even a skinny one) is a big surface. Second, since I couldn’t imagine positioning the 6 oz. fabric after a sticky sealcoat, we started dry on the hull. Third, I laid the fabric out on both sides, overlapped at the midline, which gave no great stopping point.

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Fourth, the strakes provided a difficult contour, making it difficult to stretch the fabric evenly.

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This led to using much more epoxy than was needed, so during the time before it kicked off, the epoxy flowed down under the fabric and created some mini-waves. Fixing it required much extra effort and some new tools which I had to acquire immediately. I bought a carbide paint scraper, some 60 and 80 grit sandpaper, and went to work.

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I have heard that the only two ways to learn are by instruction and by experience. Experience helps you to avoid making mistakes, but you can usually only get experience by making mistakes. I would rather wear the big “S” (Superman) on my shirt, but it keeps popping up on my forehead (Stupid).

The net result was that when I put the glass fabric on the sides (this time 4 oz.), I made sure to be more careful. I still laid it on dry, because it is so hard to position a large piece alone. This time I used a minimal amount of epoxy, which I applied by brush, and a large plastic spreader, with fine success.

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Then, it was time to start an entirely new adventure. With wood furniture, the way to change the shape of wood is by carving or sanding it, to retain the natural grain to finish. I have never added any fairing material. However, in the case of this boat, I had to add some green fairing compound to blend where the fiberglass cloth overlapped.

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When I began to research boat paint, and bottom paint specifically, I found a complicated array of choices. Since the boat is intended to be used mainly in fresh water, and kept on a lift or trailer, the anti-fouling paints were not so important. Instead, I took a recommendation from the tech team at Jamestown Distributors to try Interlux VC Performance paint which is a hard 2-part epoxy finish used on speedboats and racing sail boats.

This meant starting with the Interlux 2000E Primer, following these steps of preparation:
1. I washed the surface with warm water and a Scotch Brite scrub pad to remove the amine blush. This really does matter, and success can be readily seen as the water on the hull goes from beading up to laying flat.
2. Next, I used the recommended solvent wash, and dried immediately behind it.
3. Then I mixed the base with reactor in the recommended 3:1 ratio.
4. Let it set for 20 minutes induction time.
5. Used a short nap foam roller and a natural bristle brush to apply.
6. Repeated two more coats.

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The manufacturer says that VC Performance Epoxy is intended to be sprayed, although others wrote of applying by the roll and tip method. This was my only option, so I read about it, made some notes and plunged ahead:

1. I opened the can of base and first took 10 minutes with a stir-stick to get the solids mixed into the liquid uniformly. Shaking the can was not recommended as it would introduce many bubbles into the paint.
2. Added the catalyst into the base with a 1:1 ratio, mixing again around 5 minutes.
3. Allowed to sit 25-30 minutes for induction.
4. Applied with a short nap roller and brush tipping.
5. Did total of four coats.

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Various instructions say either not to thin, or to thin as needed, not exceeding 15%. Having no previous experience with two-part epoxies, I didn’t know what it should act like at 65 degrees. Bottom paints are made not to flow much, so vast expanses of hulls can be rolled on without rivers of runs. This is done by making the paint more like mayonnaise than honey.

I also didn’t know how much to sand between coats, and so the defects of the first coats just got passed along into the remaining layers. After the third coat, my rolling and tipping had produced a mediocre finish which I spent a 13 hour sanding Saturday trying to fair and work out the tipping lines.

I tried one more coat rolling without tipping, hoping it would lay well enough to leave the paint sheen alone. This produced positive stipples like textured wall paint. It could be that I did not thin enough, and that there is a technique possible to do it well at a certain temperature. I just know it is temperamental and difficult.

Epoxy paint soon becomes very hard to sand, filling the paper quickly if you try to sand dry. Wet sanding preserves the paper, but makes seeing the defects more difficult. Epoxy hardness requires using 60-80 grit paper to remove, but also needs 1000 grit paper or higher to bring a bit of sheen to it. This means a lot of frustrating repeated steps, going through grits like 120, 220, 360, 600, 800, and 1000.

Eventually, the best results were gained wet sanding, using a spray bottle to dampen the surface, an orbital, wood and foam hand blocks, and a squeegee to clear the surface for the best observation.

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My cousin Jon Smucker was kind enough to come over and help with the second long Saturday sanding. He has the craftsmanship of a surgeon and the perfectionism of our Liechty relatives. Jon told me a story of twenty plus coats of varnish on his Century boat trim work and said, “Given time and commitment, nearly anything can be accomplished well.” That, plus lunch provided by his wife Jan, was a great encouragement for getting back on track.

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So the question still stands, “Are we there yet?” Some of the most challenging activities involve difficult repetitive action with no specific end in sight. But then again, it’s only work if there is something you would rather do. As Bob and Judy Herrold recently emailed:

“Never be afraid to do something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark and professionals built the Titanic.”

Fairing the Hull

Fair can mean a lot of things, according to Webster. It might be fair weather, or a night at the 4-H Fair, or another of the meanings below:

1. Fair- pleasing to the eye or mind because of fresh, charming or flawless quality.
e.g. These fair ladies (Margaret, Jane and Mary) with brother Joe were a big hit in their homemade ski suits on the slopes.

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2. Fair- sufficient but not ample.

e.g. There is a fair chance that these Lehman kids have successfully packed all they need for vacation.

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3. Fair- Conforming with the established rules.
e.g. To make the competition fair, each Soap Box Derby racer went twice against an opponent, switching sides after the first run. Unfortunately, the driver on the right side lost on both sides, that’s me.

In my defense, it wasn’t fair that most of the cars were built by the dads while mine was completely me. Later, I found out that some engineer dads knew about aerodynamics, alignment and wheel camber, axle flex, no-play steering methods, slick lubrication, etc. So their cars tracked straight.

My cable steering system apparently never got tightened enough, so my ride was a bit more interesting, if not as fast.

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4. Fair- Open to legitimate pursuit, attack or ridicule
e.g. When the whistle blows, it is all fair game with this motley crew of Lehman cousins.

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5. Fair- Not stormy or foul.
e.g. The weather is fair, but the chance of coming back dry is not so much. Here cousin Paul Smucker joins my sisters, Jane, Margaret and Mary in the boat as I push them into harms way.

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6. Fair- to join so that the external surfaces blend smoothly
e.g. It took endless hours of sanding to fair the hull.

Building furniture, the skill I brought to the boat building process, did not prepare me for all of the work after building the wood parts. When I made a chest of drawers, I final sanded it and took it to a local finish shop for a coat of sealer and lacquer topcoat. The bottom of the boat is a different matter entirely.

To have a beautiful hull, the frames underneath have be right. As I was placing the planks, I did some shimming and trimming on the frames so the hull planks follow smooth curves. Having made them fit to each other with a tongue and groove joint also helped fair the curve and blend them side to side.

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After the hull planks were epoxied in place, the next step was to blend the surfaces together. At first, where there were offsets from one plank to the next, I started with a belt sander. This requires careful work, to prevent the sander from digging in too deeply somewhere not intended, and then having to add filler.

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One of the next tools used is the long board sander. I made this one of 1/2″ plywood so it would flex a bit, with two homemade handles. On the bottom, I cut parts of 80 grit sanding belts and attached them with contact cement, to change them when needed. Below is Jeff Margush, putting some muscle into smoothing the hull.

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In other areas, especially along the keel or the stringers, the hand plane is the best tool. Below are some photos of a low angle smoothing plane and a high angle smoother, making their signature curls of oak and cedar. This is quiet work, beautiful in the process as well as in the result.

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For detail smoothing, a scraper is the right choice. It is a bit temperamental, and difficult to get and keep a sharp edge, but when it is right, it gets to the area needed without tearing up long grain.

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As the surface improves, the eye is the best inspector for the edge lines and a hand the best sense for surface smoothness. After hours of planes, scrapers and long sanders, the hull came to a elegant, blended shape, ready for adding the fiberglass fabric and epoxy.

Below is the photo of the hull, showing areas where the first layer of plywood was sanded through to get smooth.

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As hard as it is to fair a boat, it is even more difficult to make life come out right. According to Oscar Wilde, “Life is never fair, and perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not.”

Fortunately, God offers forgiveness through Jesus Christ for our wrongdoings, and even provides redemption to turn our missteps along the way into something wonderful. That is fair enough.

Repairing the Hull

After turning the boat over, back to upside down, it was time to give attention to the final shape of the bottom. The first task was to close in the back holes where I had extended the stern sides to fix the front-to-back balance problem. It was more fully described in the post Roadblocks.

I needed to add hull plank pieces to join the ones that were cut off at the previous end of the stern.

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The first bit of preparation was cutting an angle on the existing hull shell to spread the adhesive over a larger area and strengthen the future joint. I used a 1:8 ratio, cutting a 4″ scarf on the 1/2″ piece of marine plywood. The best way I could figure out was to make an angle jig for my router, which produced a fairly consistent surface as I moved it up the line.

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The replacement pieces were not very large, but difficult because apart from the parallel sides, no other angle was square. I first cut the plank to width, and then took it to the bandsaw to free hand a rough angle cut. This is not so safe, but works out well if you hold the piece steady and don’t change the angle much.

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This cut defined the end that would fit against the existing hull, so then I took it to the jointer to cut the 1:8 ratio scarf. This could be done with a hand plane, a belt sander, or router but I decided to experiment with the jointer, for its precision. This is definitely dangerous.

It must be done patiently, a small angle at a time until the full angle is cut. After a few trial cuts, my extended finger eventually gave the right finishing angle.

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Then, it is back to the hull, to see if the end angle still fits and the scarf angle conforms to the previous router cut area. I checked with a metal ruler to see if it was the same height as well.

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When this was all done, I added the tongue and groove to the sides to make each piece join to the next in the strongest way. It also contributes to making sure the neighboring pieces are level to the next one.

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After that piece was done and temporarily screwed in place, the same process was repeated to finish the ten needed to fill the hole. When they were epoxied to the hull, they became just as strong as any other part of the surface, and will be invisible to inspection shortly.

By now, they are already covered with the next layer, and will never be seen again. Still, I enjoy putting my best effort into each piece, so that the boat has a good chance of functioning well and lasting a long time.

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It is satisfying to imitate the Master builder who put us together in our mother’s womb, and knows the smallest details of our lives. As Eric Lidddel said in Chariots of Fire, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

Turning the Boat Over

The preparation for the interior details of the boat are mostly complete.  The dash is shaped and drilled for the gauges, the steering wheel is set, seat parts are attached to the frame with brass inserts, and are ready for upholstery.  The oil tank and battery have mounting shelves, and the tracks for the wire harness, fuel and vent lines are ready.

In December, Chief Inspector Andy Peterson from Starboard Choice Marine even came over for a site visit to make sure we hadn’t left out anything important.

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Liza Hartman and Nibha McCrae also came to look it over.  They had good attitudes, but did not do a very good job of the weight stress test on the back seat.

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 Brayden and Bella Lehman climbed aboard and made a playground out of the boat.

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 Clay and Hudson Reichanadter also helped in their own way.

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Christmas was coming, with our extended family planning to join us, so we arranged to have a Boat Turning Party.  The boat building had started upside down on simple legs at each cross frame, along with the inspiring 1/5 scale model.

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When we turned it over the first time, I had made a pair of cradles to hold it, custom fit to the hull.

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This time, I built a simple but strong leg supports out of 2x4s and screwed them to the top cross frames.  Below are those cradles on the bottom and the new legs on the top.

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The ceiling already had the 2×6 framework added, so we strung the 3/4″ nylon rope across it at the front and back support areas.  Our engineer, Danny Seibert, got the ropes right to get the process started.

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Then, we slowly hoisted the boat up and tightened the ropes.  With the ropes assisting for security, we lifted and turned bit by bit.

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The spectators in the basement gallery gasped a bit and cheered, and before long the boat was upside down again on the attached legs.  It was a moving experience for Clint Sprunger.

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Below is the trusty crew, all relatives, and our neighbor who often refers to himself as Uncle Doug, due to his extraordinary efforts with arranging for our children’s spouses, etc.

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Turning the boat was particularly appropriate, as December was coming to a close.  New Year’s Eve is the annual, most obvious display of the passage of time.  We think about a new start, of resolutions for change, set new goals and imagine new dreams.  For one, this 20′ speedboat goes in the water this summer, sink or swim.  There we have it.

For some of us, 2014 is a series of good memories.  But God is not unaware, or distant, from anyone left with a bitter taste or unmet expectations.  In John 12: 46, Jesus says, “I have come as a Light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer wander in the darkness.”

Shoes for the Journey

On November 10, after hiking up Clingman’s Dome to see the panoramic view of the Smoky Mountain National Park, I was ready to leave Newfound Gap, when coming down the trail was the unmistakable look of a through hiker. First, I saw the slight bend forward from the load of survival pack. He wore his story, coming on with an unhurried, steady walk, showing a ragged beard over a tired face, long hair coming out under a stocking cap, and the dirty clothes to match.

As he approached, I introduced myself and asked him some typical trail questions. His handle was Sardine, and he had two more weeks to finish at Springer Mountain, Georgia. Just looking at the worn and cut-up tennis shoes alone could have separated him from the rest of us tourists.

Then a young girl came up to join us, carrying the through-hiker pack, with the trail handle “Chin Up.” She was also wearing the high mileage hiking boots that spoke of rock cuts and scrapes, mud and water crossings, and going the distance.

Shoes are like that, telling much about a person and where they are going. In the fall of 1974, instead of going back to college for my sophomore year, I signed up for a year in Mennonite Voluntary Service. This took me to Frontier Boys Village near Colorado Springs, a group home for behavior problem boys. VS did pay $15 a month besides room and board, so I saved for two months and added to it the $20 cash that I brought from home. (This was long before college students had credit cards.) But then I went shopping.

I already had the basics: a couple of flannel shirts, blue jeans, and a coat, but I needed some Colorado shoes. I went to the Red Wing Store and found some gorgeous leather hiking boots for $48.95. That was expensive in the 70’s. I liked them so well I drew a picture of them:

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I was itching to do a real climb so I wore the boots everywhere to break them in, and oiled them up to make them water proof. It was already October, which is late in the season to hike because of the unpredictable mountain weather on Pike’s Peak. A friend dropped me off in Manitou Springs near the base of the cog railway. I was wearing Levi’s jeans, a T-shirt and a wool sweater, with a jean jacket over the top. My small pack was filled with a couple of ham sandwiches, bananas, peanuts and raisins, a canteen, knife, matches, and a sleeping bag.

It was a cloudy day, 46 degrees and misty. I put on my stocking cap and leather gloves, and started up from the Barr trail head. I had the irrepressible curiosity of a kid, the invincibility of a teenager, with the energy of a distance runner.

Many of the miles I had run in preparation for track, cross country, and the climb, were done in the shoes below, favorites from my high school days. In 1970, you pretty much had only two choices for running shoes: Puma or the three stripes of the Adidas. This pair was green and yellow:

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I didn’t get started until 4:00 in the afternoon, but I hiked quickly for the first few miles, through the mountain forests, and across a few streams. I went alone, apparently with something to prove to myself, which never seems quite as obvious or necessary to parents and friends. I did not see any one coming down. This, in retrospect, should have been a clue. My goal for night was to stay at Barr Camp, about 7 miles up the 13 mile one-way hike to the top.

Around mile 4, the mist started changing to snow. I was warmed from the exertion and enjoying the beauty of the scenery, so I kept steadily moving upward. The mountain meadows were extraordinary in the evening light on the remaining yellow aspen leaves.

The temperature was dropping, and my hands were getting colder, but by the middle of the evening I arrived at Barr Camp. I looked around for some kindling and firewood, but it was all wet. Still, I tried to get some pine needles started on fire, but did not succeed. Soon I realized my fingers were too cold to hold a match any more, and I remember a chill of fear crossing my mind. I wondered briefly if I should turn back and run down.

Instead, I got my sleeping bag untied from my pack, mostly with my palms and my teeth, and settled it into the most protected corner of the drafty shelter. Then, since I couldn’t work my fingers, I just climbed into the bag, muddy boots, coat and all. A few minutes of sit ups and covering my head, the intensity of the body shivers was reduced. By around a half hour later, I got my boots untied, took them off and went to sleep.

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The sun comes up early on the east face of Pike’s Peak, and I woke up around 6:00 am. The sky was beautiful, and the snowfall had just been a light dusting. I got my boots back on as quick as I could, and continued upward the trail. By mid morning, the temperature had risen to around 50 degrees, melting the snow, and making the hike comfortable again. When I climbed above tree line, the view opened to 30-50 miles of panorama of other snow covered peaks of the Rampart Range. Around 11:00, I made it to the top and had lunch with the drive-up tourists.

Going down was a breeze and the redemption of the difficult climb. It was the long sunny view out onto the Colorado plains, the drama of the cliffs and gorges, the whisper of wind in the mountain pines, and the trickling, tumbling, glistening streams. By 4:00, I was back to Manitou Springs, which, depending on your point of view, might still not be considered civilization, but there were lots of people around.

Building the boat calls for some special shoes also. They have to be comfortable on concrete floors, and yet agile enough to climb in and out of the boat innumerable times, without doing damage to some fragile wood parts. Some of my old favorites, the Concord High School green and white original Converse All-Stars, and the Puma track shoes had gotten thrown away over the years. But, I guess, I don’t follow the rule that you should get rid of anything you haven’t worn in the past year. So I still had plenty of options in my closet to choose from.

I tried my old Red Wing leather work boots, but they were a little clunky. Fortunately, I had hung on to an old pair of Tommy Hilfiger leather tennis shoes from the 80’s. They still had a little time between broke in and worn out, and I found myself favoring them, until by now they are the “boat shoes.”

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They are not to blame for the slow progress as of late. That relates more to having gone on a family tour for nine days through the southeast. Below, Austin and Brayden are doing a live test of the cockpit dimensions and the steering wheel position.

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Recently, I have researched and bought most of the hardware items I will need: navigation lights, wiring harness, throttle control, gauges, steering wheel, etc. The first set of gauges were bought a month ago, but one was back ordered and another had an off-center face so I returned them. The next Tachometer had damage on the stainless steel ring (also returned), so I expect to pick up the last set next week.

The back navigation light required an angled mounting base, shown below.

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I made a special track for the wire harness so it would be easy to access for any future repairs. It will be covered by a removable shelf and the fabric covered cockpit panel.

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The bow eye is a small thing, with an important function of keeping the boat tied up. I had to devise a special drilling jig to get the holes accurately positioned in the front. It will eventually be epoxied into the white oak keel stem, which is the strongest wood in the framework.

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Back in the early 70’s, inspired by the craft work of the surviving hippies, I decided to make some leather sandals of my own. I made a pattern from my foot and cut sole pieces and strap to fit. Then I took them to an Amish harness maker and he stitched them up for me. They went many miles and eventually got retreaded, adding two more leather layers to the bottom. They make me think of the messenger Isaiah spoke of, who may have worn sandals like these:

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“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Isaiah 52:7

Back to the Drawing Board

Drawing has been part of my life as long as I can remember.  There were more than a few times in elementary school when my concentration was more on the doodling than on the class assignment.  Sometimes, even church bulletins came home with design ideas.

The drawings might have been the original funny faces that Stuart Smucker and I drew in 5th grade, or as below, images of President Johnson redone from the newspaper cartoons.  My favorite political artist was obviously Holland, as I temporarily modified my signature to imitate his.

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Sometimes, I would work on special styles of lettering, in the days before a hundred font options came up automatically on the computer.  This eventually led to advertising on the Goshen College community bulletin board for graphic design work.

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This led to a few jobs for friends like the wedding announcements for Royce and Marcia Yoder, and Paul and Julie Keim.  The pinnacle of my graphic art days was the commencement invitation for the Goshen College Class of 1977.

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Creating a business card and trying to make some money woodworking was the practical education which firmly qualified me to understand the term “starving artist.”

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Some of the lettering got transferred to wood carved panels.  One piece of wood came from the old bowling alley on the island down by the college cabin.  It was a happening place when my parents were there in the 1940’s.  I also found an old door panel from an abandoned cabin in Colorado, but the piece shown below was just a random piece of walnut I found.

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In September 1973, Dad asked me to work with the monument company on East Lincoln in Goshen, to develop the type style for my mother’s grave stone.  I provided a full sized alphabet, seen below, and the letters were cut from a vinyl material to make a pattern for sand blasting the script into the granite.

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Here is Dad at Violet Cemetery by the Elkhart River at Waterford.

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It was a heart-rending job and yet satisfying all at the same time, a way of saying goodbye to my mother when I was 18 years old.  The man who owned the business took me along to Fort Wayne to pick up the piece of granite and we stopped along Highway 33 at a cemetery by a church to see some examples of his work.  We had kindred spirits, and he asked me to consider coming there to work with him, as he wanted to retire and sell the business.  This idea did tug at me.

Designing an original boat is hard also, and satisfying, as it explores what could be from options never before done just this way.  This time though, the process is different from any thing I have done in the past, as it is a thorough collaboration with my friend, Jeff Margush.  He is a true and trained 3D guy, with lots of knowledge and experience on how it gets translated into a production item.  He builds and races a Porsche 914!

Almost two years ago, I told him about my dream and sketches of this boat, and he offered to “put it on the computer.”  This began the process of many hours, together and separately, laying out the shape in 2D, and then into 3D.  It would be hard to find a line on the whole boat that we did not both put our eye to, and come to agreement on.

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Every new part of the boat requires this process.  The side panels below started with some sketching, then on to full size cardboard parts and finally the marine plywood.  Below we are evaluating the cardboard shape, and the next picture is the final marine plywood piece which will be covered with fabric.

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The dash board was one step more complicated.  Again, it started with drawing and then cutting cardboard shapes.  Below is the photo of the cardboard pattern I emailed to Jeff and his return email with modification suggestions in blue.

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This led to another drawing and a cardboard pattern below:

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Next, I made a scrap plywood part with white circles for gauges and the steering wheel, trying to get it perfectly arranged before making the final version in mahogany.

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Every fall, the Creator also goes back to the drawing board to spruce up the midwestern woods.  This year was spectacular with long enduring red, yellow and orange colors, giving us again the great beauty of nature.  Who could resist going down this less-traveled road?

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Lot 12 is one of my favorite places in the failed land development experiment near Onekama, Michigan.  It has a beautiful view, overlooking Portage Lake and Lake Michigan, and is a great spot to pause a moment and be thankful.

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