The Adirondack Guideboat-Merlie Austin’s Guideboat

Last time we visited Bunny Austin’s guideboat shop.  Bunny’s family has been in Long Lake for six generations and many of his forebears have been boat builders.  Bunny is especially fond of his grandfather Merlie.  It is said that Merlie could build a guideboat in 300 hours, which is a torrid pace as far as I am concerned.  Bunny said Merlie put in long hours during the winter months and that he could build a guideboat in about a month’s time.  Merlie’s rib and stem patterns were passed down to Bunny.  Here they are:

Merlie Austin's rib and stem guideboat patterrns
Merlie Austin’s rib and stem guideboat patterns

One of Merlie’s guideboats resides not far away in Blue Mountain Lake in a place called the Hedges.  The Hedges is an Adirondack resort built about 1880.  It has been placed on the National Registry of Historic places by the US Department of the Interior.

A visit to the Hedges is stepping back in time to the 1880’s.  Here is a view of Blue Mountain Lake from the Hedges lawn.

A view of Blue Mountain Lake from the Hedges lawn.
A view of Blue Mountain Lake from the Hedges lawn.

In a recent post I talked about the Marion River Carry and the little railroad that took tourists from one end of the Carry to the other.  The steamer Killoqah would pick them up at the Raquette Lake railroad station and take them up the Marion River to the Carry.  Before the railroad was built in 1901, passengers would walk the 3/4 of a mile to the opposite end of the Carry.  Their baggage was most likely transported by carts.  At the eastern of the Carry they were met by the steamer Tuscarora.  Here she is in a photo from that period.

Steamer Tuscarora
Steamer Tuscarora

Once everyone was on board she steamed through Utowana and Eagle Lakes into Blue Mountain Lake passing through a swing bridge on the way.  She made a number of stops in Blue Mountain including a large hotel called the Prospect House.  She no doubt stopped at the Hedges too.

The Tuscarora was still around about 10 years ago.  She had been dry docked and used as a guest house by her owner.  There was talk of donating her to the Adirondack Museum but she was in such poor shape that it was decided it would cost too much to restore her.

Before we have dinner we stroll around the lawn and gardens at the Hedges.

Landscape at the Hedges
Landscape at the Hedges
One of the buildings at the Hedges.
One of the buildings at the Hedges.

The Game Room seems especially Victorian as do the interiors of other buildings at the resort.

The Game Room at the Hedges.
The Game Room at the Hedges.

It is time to head for the dining room and have dinner and to see Merlie’s guideboat.  It is hung from the ceiling in the Dining Hall.

Merlie Austin's guideboat.
Merlie Austin’s guideboat.

A plaque on the wall gives some history of the boat.  It is clear from the author, who is unknown, that the boat was cherished by its owners who went to great lengths to keep it in the family.  Here is what the plaque has to say:

Adirondack Guide Boat

Built by Merlin Austin Long Lake, NY

Circa 1900

History as I know it:

The cedar guide boat was built by Merlin Austin of Long lake, NY in the late 1800’s or in the early 1900’s.  It is 14′ 10″ long and I estimate the weight at between 45 and 50 lbs.  Harold Austin, Merlin’s grandson, says it probably cost $150 when new.

My family had a camp on Raquette Lake which they acquired in 1896. My grandfather, C. W. Anderson, gave the guide boat to my mother in probably 1903 or 1905.  Mother’s Wells College friends began to visit Raquette in 1903 and 1905 seems to be a particularly festive year.  I was told it was a second hand boat so Grandpa probably bought it from someone other than Austin himself.

During my days at Camp Anderson the boat was handled very carefully.  There was a painted guide boat which didn’t need much careful handling and was used for fishing and other chores.  Sometime in the 30’s an older cousin took the other boat to Sucker Brook and punched a hole in the side on a root.  The damage was repaired, probably by John Blanchard, a guide boat builder on Raquette Lake.

After Camp Anderson was sold in 1948 Mother and I started to go to North Point (on Raquette Lake) and we stored the boat there over the winter.  Our month-long stays started in 1948 and lasted through 1953.  Herbert Burrell, the owner, changed the operation of North Point in 1954 turning the main building into his private residence  and converting the surrounding buildings into housekeeping cabins.

With no place to go we started traveling. Then friends found a place on Blue Mountain Lake called “Crane Point”and in 1960 the family started going there.  Since I wanted the boat I approached Mr. Burrell about picking it up.  He told me he loaned to an executive of AT&T who rented Camp Uncas from him.  I held my breath wondering if I would ever see the boat again.  It was a great relief when he did go and get the boat.

Building an Adirondack Guideboat-Visiting an Old Friend

Time to visit an old friend, Bunny Austin.  Bunny has be under the weather lately but I hear that he is now doing fine.  Now Bunny’s real name is Rev. Harold Austin, but his mom called him Bunny and it stuck.

In the town of Long Lake, NY with a year round population of 900 souls, certain of them are highly thought of, perhaps even revered.  Bunny is one of them.  His soft, gracious manner, his trademark, endears him to the town.

His family has resided in Long Lake for six generations and most of the men in the Austin family have built guideboats.  Currently Bunny is restoring an old guideboat and teaching others in the family how to build them.  Below, Bunny sits for just a minute to have his photo taken.

The Rev. Harold "Bunny" Austin
The Rev. Harold “Bunny” Austin

Here he is with the boat he is currently restoring.

Bunny with the boat he is restoring
Bunny with the boat he is restoring

Bunny built his first guideboat in 1978 after he retired from distinguished service in the Marine Corps.  His son, Rob, borrowed the boat to travel the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to raise funds for his college.  Here it is.

Bunny's first guideboat, built in 1978
Bunny’s first guideboat, built in 1978

Here is a look inside inside Bunny’s first guideboat showing the repairs made after the boat barely survived the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.  It took a new bottom board, replacing the garboard planks and some ribs, and perhaps a stem.  I admire someone who can do these kinds of repairs.  Taking a guideboat apart and putting it back together takes exceptional skill and patience.  I would much rather deal with building a new one.

View inside Bunny's first guideboat.
View inside Bunny’s first guideboat showing repairs that were done.

Another visitor, Domingo, joined me as we toured Bunny’s guideboat shop that day.  Domingo is from San Franciso and is fascinated with guideboats.  On the tour Bunny carefully explained the details of guideboat construction.

Here we see a boat under construction on a “stock” that rotates.  I call it a rotisserie builders jig because you can rotate the nascent boat 360 degrees.  That’s really useful in making sure everything fits properly before fastening things down.

Bunny and Domingo at the stock.
Bunny and Domingo at the stock.

This boat happens to be one hat Bunny’s son Rob is building.  Rob lives in North Carolina so progress is slow.  Bunny remarked that Rob has a feel for boat building since he has built shrimp boats in Louisiana.

Here Bunny explains how ribs are taken from red spruce roots.  These slabs, taken from a red spruce stump, are called flitches.

Bunny explains getting out ribs to Domingo.
Bunny explains getting out ribs to Domingo.

While we were up in the loft looking at the “roots”, Bunny showed us an old painting of him and his family done while he was in the Marine Corp.  That’s his wife Evi, on the right.  Sadly Evi passed away about 3 years ago.

Bunny's Family.
Bunny’s Family.

Bunny said he enlisted in the Marine Corps with the hope of becoming a Marine pilot.  On the rifle range during boot training he recorded perfect scores in marksmanship.  This delayed acceptance into flight school because he was so valuable teaching riflery to recruits.  Later he would fly the Marine Corps fastest fighter jets on reconnisance missions.  One particularly hairy time occurred during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The proof that Russia was setting up missile launch pads 90 miles from our shore was provided by these reconnisance missions.  They were very dangerous undertakings with at least one of our pilots being shot down.  When that happened, Bunny’s commander called him and said that he wanted photos of the area where the pilot went down.  Bunny said “OK, I’ll fly in at tree top level”.  His commander said, “No, I want you to fly at 35,000 feet”.  Bunny said, “I’ll be a sitting duck up there.” His Commander reiterated that he was to fly at 35,000 feet.   Bunny flew at 35,000 feet.

Next time, Bunny’s Grandfather Merlie.