In 1966 my Dad was pulling our boat to Roosevelt with his new Jeep Wagnoneer. It wasn’t quite brand new, but a 1965 demonstrator model he bought with only 13,000 miles on it. It was a great car for towing the boat with its 327 cubic inch, V8 motor and three speed automatic transmission. We turned off the Bee Line Highway onto a familiar dirt road that led to the lake. It was a downhill grade from the highway for the first five miles. The drop in that distance in about 1,000 feet which was gradual most of the way except one big drop off at the base of Baker Mountain. That is where the road becomes extremely rutted due to the •wash boarding• effect caused by the rain water falling on a road surface and washing the dirt away in little rivulets ( my word for mini rivers) running parallel to each other, perpendicular to the roadway. Besides the bumpy ride, the tires of the car and trailer if you are towing one start jumping up and down and actually leaving the road surface on the up motion. Then you lose steering control of the car as it slips sideways. If you a pulling a trailer, it tries to pass you in a maneuver called “Jackknifing”. To prevent all these bad things from happening, you best slow down to a speed that you feel you can control the car at. Sometimes the wash board sneaks up suddenly and you don’t have a chance to slow down. Dad was going about twenty-five to thirty miles an hour when suddenly we hit the wash board. Looking out the drivers side, back window we saw a boat just like ours trying to pass us. Dad had two choices. One was to let the car slide in the jack knifed position off of the roadway and down the steep embankment until it came to rest on its own accord or to drag the side of the car the opposite side of the road where the mountain was cut away leaving a rocky sheer wall. Well, he chose dragging the mountain but it took two time hits to get the car and trailer straightened out. The good news was that we were still on the road. The bad news was that the back fender of the Wagnoneer was completely creamed. Dad didn’t let this little incident ruin our fishing weekend. We completed our journey to the campsite, launched the boat and fished away as usual.
Roosevelt Lake -1967. Mark Tomich and I borrowed a car his Dad, Gus, had just sold to a friend. It had a trailer hitch and wiring all rigged up to tow Gus’ ski/fishing boat. Gus also had a fourteen foot aluminum fishing boat, both he acquired in some kind of super deal. He was always on the look out for a good deal to negotiate. One time he got me such a good deal from Wilson Camera for fifty rolls of Super 8 movie film for our Europe Adventure, that when we got back, I had to pay Wilson a little more to bring the deal up to their cost. So back to Mark who was a relatively new driver and this was the first time he towed a boat trailer. He did a great job getting us to the Roosevelt Lake turnoff. As we headed down the steep dirt road I told Mark about my Dad’s little accident the previous year. I even pointed out to him the spot in the road near the base of Baker Mountain where the Wagnoneer jackknifed and explained how the little sheer wall on the right side Dad used to drag the side of the car to straighten out the rig. Just as we got to the bottom of the big incline where the terrain flattened out in the Roosevelt Basin, I spotted some serious washboard road coming up just ahead of a sharp bend in the road. I’m not sure if I said it out loud but the thought in my brain was screaming that we were going a little fast for this bend especially with the washboard ruts just ahead of it. Mark thought he could negotiate, a trait he inherited from Gus, the turn, but the washboard ruts were too much to overcome . So as we came sliding to a stop with Gus’ boat and borrowed car in the jackknifed configuration, he looked at me, took a big swallow and said •Did I break anything?” We got of car and surveyed the damage. The rear of the car was undamaged, the boat was still on the trailer and trailer was still hooked on to the ball of the hitch. This was all good. Sometimes when the trailer tongue receiver jumps off the ball and the safety chain keeps the rig from becoming completely detached, the boat and its contents get a rough ride with all kinds of bad things happening. If the chain comes loose, then even worse things happen. We lucked out this time. Everything appeared to be in tact.
I told Mark to pull the car forward to see if it the car and trailer would straighten out all right. He did but it didn’t. The jackknife caused the tongue on the trailer to bend at a 45 degree angle. There was no way to straighten it out at the lake so I had to drive it as it was. You noticed I said •r! Mark didn’t want to have anything to do with driving it right then. The trailer pulled ok except for one thing. The wheels of the trailer were riding two feet off of the right side of their normal track. That meant that to keep the right wheel of the trailer out of the gutter I would have to ride the left wheels of the car on the very center of the dirt road or on the dividing yellow line all the way home. But again, that did not keep us from fishing.
Two weeks later. Mark wanted to take another stab at fishing. This time we took my dad’s Jeep Wagnoneer and Gus’ small fishing boat. To break the jinx of Roosevelt Lake we decided to head to Lake Pleasant. The county had just replaced the old boat ramps with new, steeper ramps to make the access easier for the large speed boats they wanted to attract for the national races.
As we pulled up to the ramp I was able to make an easy u-turn and started backing down the ramp. As usual, I stopped about forty feet short of the water so we wouldn’t be blocking the ramp while we transferred the gear from the car to the boat. After removing the hold downs that secured the boat to the trailer for transport, we were all set to launch. I started backing the trailer down to the water while Mark was heading to the bottom of the ramp to guide me back. The ramp was now so steep the boat started moving off the trailer. I didn’t want to step on the brakes because the trailer would stop but the boat would keep moving on the roller guides. What is the law? • A body at rest tends to stay at rest and a body in motion tends to stay in motion,” I think Newton was the first one to figure that out or at least, proclaim it. Well, he was right. I beeped the horn so Mark would turn around and see the predicament. He did and started to run up hill to reach the back of the boat just in time to prevent the second bounce. The first bounce was just enough to bend the prop and break the mounting bracket on the outboard motor. Mark and I looked at each other with funny expressions on our faces. Then we broke into the ·oh Poncho! Oh Ciscot routine from the old western •Toe Cisco Kid” when at the end of each episode, they would both laugh at the outcome and say the •oh Poncho, Oh Cisco” lines. What was Gus going to think? How can you have two boating disasters within a span of three weeks? We also did not let this incident spoil our trip. We fished all day with little success.
So here was the strategy. Mark was going to tell Gus that the boat was over at the Wagner’s house. We would take it in to Big Leo, the owner of Leo’s Marine, who has worked on both the Tomich and Wagner boats. As a matter of fact, my Dad bought our boat from Big Leo. So I dropped off the boat on the following Monday. Leo ordered the part but it would take about a week to get it from the factory. I was going to pay for it because if felt responsible for not taking into account the steepness of the ramp and beside, I had a job and Mark was still a senior in High School. So the plan was in place and we would tell Gus about this adventure after we had the boat fixed good as new.
That Thursday evening I got a call from Mark. “Larry!!” “Yes Mark.” “My Dad knows that we broke his little boat!” I ask him how that was possible. Mark had called Big Leo to see if the part came in for the motor mount. Leo told Mark that after Gus got the trailer straighten on the other boat, he called him to see if he could get his boat in for a tune up. Leo said someone wanted to borrow the boat to go skiing that weekend. Leo said that he told Gus he was booked up until the following Monday. Gus was disappointed. Then Leo told Gus he already had one of his boats in the shop now. Gus said that was impossible. Leo told him that it wasn’t impossible. Do you know a guy by the name of Wagner? Whoops! The cat is out of the bag. Mark wanted me to get over to his house quick.
When I got over to their house, Mark greeted me at the door. He did not want to face his Dad alone on this one. I went into their family room where I found Gus sitting in his easy chair/recliner where he was reading the newspaper. With his friendly half chuckle and friendly grin he greeted me. After my nervous “How are you Gus” Then without much hesitation I came right out and told him that we knew that he knew after he talked to Big Leo we had broken his second boat in the matter of three weeks. Gus smiled with that “all knowing” smile on his face. He had no problem with all of the events and understood why we wanted to fix the bracket and have the prop straightened before we told him we broke his second boat. Gus has always been great at sharing what ever he had with anyone who needed it. You couldn’t ask for a better friend.