Memories that Last a Lifetime (cont'd)

As background information I think it might be worthwhile to tell you that my parents lived in Jackson, Michigan and we had access to a local private lake. I did have limited experience in what might be called boat construction, if that is what you might wish to call it. Our parents had previously purchased for the tidy sum of $100 an old, rusty, previously owned "raft" as it was commonly called - a 10' x 25' floating barge, so to speak. The raft was supported on empty 55 gallon fuel-oil drums connected to the underside by conduit strapping, which was fastened in place by double-headed 3" spikes, as was not uncommon in those days. No aluminum pontoons, that's for sure, as they were just coming into vogue.

The railings were comprised of light gauge steel pipe and affixed to ¾" plywood decking that was supported by a 2" x 10" frame; it even had a partial canvas ("bimini"?) cover over the stern to protect the captain and his mates in case of rain. At the prodding of our father, my younger brother Joel and I worked very diligently, tediously scraping and sanding all that rusted railing. We worked on that project in the basement - during the wintertime in Michigan - so to make ready for the launch the following spring.

With ever-present grinding dust and sweat we primed and painted the railings and then "with Dad as the supervisor," we assembled everything just in time to be launched in late May for the first memorable summer of many trips on the lake.

The "raft" was propelled by a 20 hp pull-cord Evinrude motor; it worked like a charm and both my younger brother and I were often allowed to captain the vessel during the formative years of our youth. Our family enjoyed many outings over several years on the lake on that old "raft" and they remain truly inspiring memories of my childhood.

I think it is important for the reader to understand that although I had two brothers, one younger and one quite older, and a hard-working father, none of us had any experience in woodworking, or even nautical design for that matter. But, my point is that here I was in the summer of my 9th grade planning to build a boat! I had absolutely no experience working with wood, didn't really ever contemplate using tools owned by my father on such an ambitious project and possessed no practical knowledge involving such mechanical skills. But despite all of these misgivings I did have a sense of blind ambition and somehow enlightened curiosity.

A few years after all of this water-borne fuss I somehow got the itch to do something constructive. Both my younger brother and I had just been released from school for the summer and so this is how I spent the month of June, 1962 in the 14th year of my life, keeping from being bored....

Upon receipt of the Glen-L plan package, I studied the plans and materials list, visualized how to go about achieving the task at hand and then bought several sheets of ¼" marine-grade (I think) plywood, a couple of 1" x 8" (?) redwood boards, "stinky" exterior grade wood glue and a bunch of screws, all delivered free of charge by the local lumberyard. I had saved my money (we didn't get an allowance as kids back then) and even borrowed something like $5 from my younger brother just to pay the bills (you know, Joel, if you happen to ever read this - I don't know if I ever paid you back for the loan! But, promise me I will make up for it someday - for sure!). Keep in mind, back then I think plywood was something like $4 per sheet - and I do believe at that price it was marine grade! So, for the tidy sum of something like $30 I had everything I needed to build the MiniMaxed.

I can't recall what my parents thought of the whole project, but obviously they were supportive. My dad, not being a handyman, just kept an eye on me and as he often did told me to "just be careful." I started construction of the MiniMaxed in the basement and eventually assembled everything in the garage over a couple of weeks. I did all of the work myself, sawing the plywood with an old jig saw and cutting the ¾" redwood with a handsaw. I made sure "I measured twice and cut once," as they now say, and I carefully pre-assembled everything before the final fastening process commenced. I screwed everything with my bare hands using a Craftsman screwdriver (so many screws and a few blisters!). I didn't know that I should have used hand protection (gloves) when attempting to fasten so many screws by hand!

Finally, I finished the construction phase of the building project, frankly to what seemed the astonishment of not only the elderly neighbor down the street (he stopped by once or twice wondering what all the noise was about), but perhaps even my parents, neighbors and myself as well. I then proceeded to find a local retail outlet for fiberglass tape and epoxy resin, and proceeded to tape and soak all of the joints in accordance to the plan's recommendations; of course, that was an eventful exercise as apparently the blend of epoxy and hardener didn't take the first time around due to the sale of out-dated hardener, so I had to remove all the gooey tape and repeat the process with more tape, epoxy and fresh hardener - replaced free of charge. I had never even heard of fiberglass tape and epoxy resin, and I do believe that back then it wasn't known that epoxy could have been used as a substitute for the stinky (horse-based byproduct?) wood glue. I remember excitedly priming and final painting the boat white, and then painting 2" wide, medium-blue color striping (with the help of masking tape) along each of the fiberglass joints just to provide some visual interest.

My dad and I eventually found for the tidy sum of something like $35 a 10hp outboard motor, which as it turned out wouldn't remain started so we had to return it and get a refund. Then we found for about $25 an old, highly used, but not abused, 7.5 hp. Mercury motor that I used for propulsion. I really wanted a 10 hp but couldn't afford the price for a newer model used motor. Dad and I (Joel, too?) placed the four foot wide boat and motor in the back of that old Oldsmobile station wagon and drove the ¼ mile to the lake and quickly launched the Glen-L MiniMaxed.

I didn't have enough money for the steering wheel and related pulley mechanisms, so for the first year the MiniMaxed was initially steered by hand - using the handle of the outboard motor. The boat putt-putted pretty good around the lake as due to its size I was the only occupant. With that 7.5 hp Mercury motor I didn't set any speed records, that's for sure, but it was definitely a sense of immense freedom and the excitement of actually piloting a boat that I had constructed with my own bare hands that made me happy.

The next season I added the steering wheel and cabling, etc. and used the old boat for a couple or three more years (only during the summer, what with the Michigan weather being what it is) and then the boat was "retired," relegated to the back yard until one day my dad decided to give it away. By that time I had graduated from high school and I was off to college. My dad had asked my permission to haul away the boat so it wasn't a surprise to me the next time I came home on spring break. Interestingly, I never even considered selling it, so I don't have any explanation for the manner in which the boat met its' demise, but that's the story and so it goes. These almost long-lost memories of my boatbuilding youth will for the remainder of my lifetime reside in what I hope will be my active mind, as I continue to cruise around the lake in my mind's dream, recalling my attentive and active youth of so many years ago.

That was my only woodworking and boatbuilding experience for so many intervening years, until about six years ago I purchased another set of plans from Glen-L for the 17' Whitehall. Yes, I did indeed build that Whitehall and that is a subject for another story, although photographs of the Whitehall can be found on the Glen-L website under Human Power craft - just click on the "Whitehall - traditional rowing craft" photo and search for the photos of my boat identified by the builder, Bruce Kibler. What is so amazing to me is the fact that I have built a total of two boats (so far) in my lifetime, 43 years apart and yet both plans came from Glen-L Marine! Who would have guessed the eventual outcome when I was such a young lad of 14 building that MiniMaxed!

I am filled with really nice memories of the MiniMaxed building and operating process, and even find it almost unbelievable that I had that much tenacity and ambition to embark on that type of project at such a young age. Still, I don't think it was too remarkable, only that it was somehow important to me to find out if I could accomplish what at that time was just a dream in my life. I remain thankful to both of my parents for instilling within me such a high work ethic. Those lessons from my youth are such a crucial aspect of what I am today - a hard working, conscientious professional who is hopefully seen as compassionate, caring and attentive to each and every aspect of my business and personal affairs.

As then, and still to this day, I can assure you that building a boat such as the MiniMaxed, Whitehall, or whatever, is not as difficult as it may at first seem. Just know that anyone can pretty much accomplish anything if they just set their mind to the task at hand. My recommendation to you is don't concentrate on the totality of the impending experience, but create a series of small steps that will eventually lead you to your goal. Otherwise, the prospect of such a building adventure will prevent you from commencing such an important aspiration, let alone place limits on your ability to achieve your dream. As for advice, should you have read this entire treatise, I can wholeheartedly suggest that you should never be afraid to try. Just review the plans and instructions, think out the process in your mind and then acquire the material, tools and equipment necessary - and just commence the process. If you will accept these most humble of words I can assure you that you won't be disappointed by the outcome.

I will also admit to you that I never had the benefit of being blessed with children. But if I had, you can be sure that I would, most sincerely to this very day, have found it to have been so very rewarding to have assisted my son, or daughter, or both, in building such a craft. There is a lot more that I could say about this subject, but I would just like you to know that I am proud to have embarked upon such a MiniMaxed adventure with nothing more than the acknowledgement that if I hadn't ever read that old Glen-L advertisement, then I would never have had the privilege of discovering my abilities and sense of self-recognition for this most rewarding feat. I will be eternally thankful for the experience and strongly suggest that should you have the opportunity to work with your kids to plan, create and finish such a project, you will never regret the experience. The memories of my achievement have been near and dear to me all of these almost forty-eight (yes, 48!) years since that blessed summer of my innocent youth; may you, too, be blessed with such delightful memories. Whether you are still a young adult, a parent (mom or dad), or even a grandparent, please understand that it's never too late to start the building process.

My best wishes to you in your newfound adventure. Should you wish to seek some further advice from me on your interest in commencing such a project, please feel free to contact me. I offer the benefit of my experience at no charge, just for the sake of perhaps making a positive and long-lasting difference in a youngster's life, as well as yours. For your information, my contact information resides with the Glen-L staff. They would be pleased to forward to me your contact information should you be so inclined.

Last, and certainly not least, thank you Glen-L Marine and your supportive staff for the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in my life.

Until then, may you find a fair wind at your back, the blue skies filled with sunshine and as your companion the anticipation of a very pleasant building journey ahead.

      --- Bruce Kibler