After my Uncle Dan passed away, I realized that if I was going to record the memories of his siblings, I’d better get busy. Aunt Biss was the first. She joined my late husband Don and me on a cruise on the Erie Canal and I spent three days recording her stories. I was able to interview my father (Lad) and Uncle Ced on two occasions each and Uncle Dick and Uncle Dave, once each. This is the fourth installment of Uncle Ced’s memories.
As you go across the bridge from Stratford to Milford on the Post Road, on the left of some buildings at the end of the bridge. There is a dock down below on the Housatonic River. Just below the bridge on the Stratford side there were some fishermen’s homes. One of the fishermen had a boat for sale. Dad never liked to buy new stuff. He bought this boat. It was about 21 feet long and a round cowling. It had an old motor, a one lunger, that went putt, putt, putt. It was in nice shape, nice looking, a nice bow, but it was pretty old. That’s why they sold it, but Dad knew that. We named it the “Helen”.
Very soon after we got this boat, Dad decided it needed to be dressed up a bit. He got some lumber and he got someone else to do it, and they made a canvas top. It came up from the two ends and fastened in the middle somehow, you could walk around in it. At the same time, he put in a Ford Marine conversion engine which was a lot heavier than the original one. It made the boat lower in the back. He also decked over the whole back, with cabinets for storage. It was pretty high sided and very seaworthy.
Dad, Lad, Dan and I decided we take a trip out the Housatonic and up the coast to Milford. We were going to go to Hartford and it would take a couple of days. We started out – we had found out that we had a problem and we had done some caulking on it. It wasn’t quite watertight. There was a little storm over Long Island Sound and just about the time we got to the Connecticut River a real storm came up with high waves. We had a rough time of it, we really bounced around quite a bit and we were low on gas. It had gotten fairly calm, I guess the storm was over. We pulled over to get some gas and decided we’d stay overnight. We had kind of a rough trip. We pulled across the River to the other side where there was the beach and some houses. We anchored out, put the canvas over us, made up the beds and went to sleep. I was the first one awake the next morning. The Sun was out and it was quite nice. There was a small space between the canvas and the gunwale, and I was lying there with my head at gunwale height, looking outside. All of a sudden I realized there was water just a few inches below the gunwale. I yelled for everyone to get up. “Hey, guys, were thinking.” Dad had the seats made up as beds so we lifted one and the water was right up there. Anyway, we bailed and bailed real fast and we finally got the thing so we had plenty of free board, but my mother had baked us a beautiful cake. It was sitting in salt water. They don’t float well and they don’t taste good after being in salt water.
We had some friends named Burnham who had lived sort of caddy corner to us on Lansdowne Road in Larchmont. They had a cottage on Fishers Island in Long Island Sound. We started out to visit the Burnham’s in the Helen. It took us about an hour or so to get there. When we got there, Dad talked to Rufus Burnham. Dad was very interested in sailboats and asked Rufus if there was anyone on the island who could help us with this problem we had with our about. Rufus said “Yeah, he lives right around the corner.” He got him to come over and look at the boat. It was light enough so that we could pull it up on shore and turn it over. He stood there, puffing on his pipe and looking at the hull of the boat. Finally, he said “You came from the Connecticut shore in this?”
We kept the boat tied up at place on the Housatonic River and one day the owner called and said “This is Mr. French. Your boat sank.” it must’ve happened about six times. We go over there, drag it up on shore and dump it out. Dad got tired of this after a while.
Arnold Gibson’s father, stepfather actually, was an old seagoing man. I guess he’d been in the Navy. He had a Sea Scout troop and Dad said “You know, this boat is getting beyond us. Why don’t we give it to the Sea Scouts and maybe they can get some fun out of it.” He gave it to them and I don’t know what they did with it.
When we first went to the Island, probably about 1924 or 25, there was nothing on it at all. We’d take a tent. My Dad would load up the big old touring car. To begin with, we used a canoe and a rowboat to get out to the Island. Later Lad and his buddies built a barge that was hand-built in Trumbull. It was 15 or 16 feet long, it had a square bow and a flat bottom. It was always nice to have when you are moving your stuff out to the Island. Then the guys started getting motorboats, outboards, a lot handier to go here and there.
The barge was used to move the cook cabin. Lad and some of his friends went to the mainland and bought a one car garage. They sawed it in half, put it on the barge and brought it to the Island. They made it into the kitchen shack.
I will post other memories periodically.
For FREE copies of New Inceptions Magazine, an e-magazine, with several articles and stories based on letters and memories of my family, prior to and during World War II, you can click the following links.
Issue 1 Click Here
Issue 2 Click Here
Issue 3 Click Here