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.

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