National Geographic : 1948 Apr
Rex E. Hieronymus Dick and Tommy Nail Down the Deck. Each Hammer Stroke Brings Adventure Closer Here the raft, her parts built in a basement, is assembled on the bank of a canal near the boys' home, Western Springs, a suburb of Chicago. "Will she float?" skeptical bystanders asked. For answer, the boys pointed to the two pontoon floats, each composed of five steel oil drums. Buoyancy was 5,028 pounds. "Well," I mourned in self-condemnation, "this needn't have happened if I had been swinging the lead." "How'd you like to spend your vacation right here, Tommy?" asked his father. "You and your short cuts!" his son came back. Tom and I went overboard, shin-deep in the turbid water, and soon discovered that the sand bottom was really hard. Even though relieved of our weight, the raft was stationary as a rock. "Isn't this some river?" exploded Tom in disgust. "A mile wide and only 12 inches deep!" Downstream ahead of us the water was even more shallow; therefore, to float the raft we should have to work her back upstream against the swift current. The boys came over the side to add their efforts to ours, but even the four of us couldn't budge her. The only way we could get off the bar was to lighten the raft. River Falling 5 Inches in 24 Hours The man at the gauging station had told us that the river level was falling about five inches in 24 hours. That meant we had to get the Meanco afloat before nightfall. "This situation calls for a lemonade," hinted Tom. "Coming up," Tommy replied. Over the cool drinks Tom and I figured that we probably should have to lighten the raft by at least 1,200 pounds to free her. There was not much we wanted to jettison outright-only about 365 pounds of fuel and water. To make the necessary weight, we decided to tie to the raft all the things that would float and not be ruined in the water, and to heave them over. In addition, we emptied the ice locker, plugged the drain, set it afloat, and then put the things back in it as a raft. Out on the sandbar went the two 6-volt car batteries and the old Dodge electric starter-generator. Not only did their going help lighten ship, but they served to anchor some of our possessions. It was a 2-hour job to get all the stuff off the raft, but by noon we were ready to try shoving her off. To break the suction of the pontoons on the bottom, we bounced each corner of the raft. With a saucepan and a pike pole we cleared the sand from around the propeller and scoured out a groove upstream for it. These preparations ended, Tom and I took positions at the forward ends of the two pontoons, ready to heave. Dick and Tommy stood by to start the motor, using the pull cord, since our electrical system was now "on the bottom."