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Fading Summer: Holding onto Memories and Material Things

By: Randy Tucker

It’s an old adage, but one that rings true to anyone who has ever owned a watercraft. “The two happiest days of a boat owner’s life are the day they buy the boat, and the day they sell it.”

Our 24-foot pontoon boat fits that bill well.

We were looking for one back in 2008 and discovered the perfect boat on Craigslist just southwest of Denver.

My son-in-law Adam and I drove to the location, at 8,300 feet on the slope of the Rockies, a winding 30 miles from Aurora.  The guy wanted cash only, so I handed over a stack of Ben Franklins, we hooked up the trailer and set off back down the mountain.

The narrow gravel road still had snowdrifts on each side, and we tested the pontoons on frozen water before it ever hit the liquid variety.

Another 400 miles, and it was home just outside Riverton, Wyoming.

We used it many times those first few years. The boat began to evolve from a “Party Barge” with a Bimini top into more of a mobile fishing dock.

One memorable afternoon on Boysen Reservoir we fished, moved a few hundred yards, fished again, and planned to do that all day until the engine wouldn’t start.

The 140 horsepower Mercury outboard made that pontoon stand up when we hit full throttle, but she wouldn’t fire that afternoon.

Thankfully we were close to shore. We used the trolling motor to get in knee-deep water. My nephew Jake hopped into the lake, grabbed a tow line, and as my son Brian pushed the boat to keep it from running aground, the two of them walked it towards the marina.

As they began to work, an image from the movie “The Outlaw Josey Wales” came to mind. As Josey and his sidekick escaped the Union Army across a river on a hand-powered ferry, the nervous owner of the ferry yelled to his not-so-bright worker, “Pull, Lemuel, pull!!”  Brian and Jake knew the reference as I yelled it at them before disappearing over a hill.

The Boysen Marina was still a full-function operation, with a boat mechanic on duty some afternoons. I waded into the water, out on land, and cut across country to reach the marina as the boys towed the boat along the shoreline behind me.

I found the guy working the dock that day. He fired up a small boat, and we set off about a mile around the east shoreline to find the pontoon. It was much easier to tow with a boat than on foot.

A computer component had failed. The boat was repaired a few weeks later and we were back on the water.

My favorite times on the boat were with my dad. He loved to go to Bass Lake and worked the cattails and shallows on the west end of the little lake for largemouth bass.

Largemouth bass are relatively rare in Wyoming. We are a haven for trout and walleye, but bass are more accentuated to warm water. The water at a mile in elevation, up to twice that high isn’t ever really warm.

The trip was almost always the same. Brian and I would pick up dad, sometimes it was just the three of us, other times Jake, or Adam would join us, and many times our friend Trapper would go as well.

I’d back the trailer into the water with Brian on board. Once the boat floated free, he’d fire up the engine, pull away from the boat ramp, and I’d drive up, park the truck, and walk back. Brian would carry his grandpa through the water to the boat, or get close enough to the shore that he, Jake, Adam, or Trapper could lift him onboard.

My dad always caught the first bass and used the oldest bass lure in the tackle box every time. We’d throw crankbaits, buzz bait, or spinners, but he just tossed in a plastic worm, worked it a little bit and sure enough, he had a bass on the line.

As the sun set, the fishing improved dramatically in the falling light. The sunsets on a late summer day on Bass Lake are truly spectacular with the Owl Creeks to the north almost right on top of you and the distant Wind River Range to the west and southwest highlighted in the late glow of the sun. I often think of my dad in that setting.

The sound of Canada geese honking above, ducks hitting the water behind us and hungry coyote pups calling for their mother accentuated the scene with nature's perfect soundtrack.

He passed away two-and-a-half years ago. I haven’t been out on the pontoon since.

In earlier years, Brian and Trapper rigged it with lights for night carp hunting. They placed high in the annual “Carb Derby” at Ocean Lake just 10 miles west of the farm, one year harvesting over 800 pounds of carp with their bows. The pontoon smelled for most of that summer like decaying fish.

It’s just a material thing; it will eventually pass to the scrapheap, everything we make or use eventually does, but it holds a special place in my memory.

After sitting for the summer of 2019, and again this summer, it’s probably time to make myself happy about being a boat owner again and sell it.

I started the engine a couple of times in 2019 with the hose attachment on the motor, just to keep it running, and did again earlier this summer. I went out last week to start it one more time before winterizing it, and it wouldn’t fire.

A trip to Specialty Marine in Riverton revealed why it wouldn’t start. They called me from the repair shop and said there was no fire to the plugs, a component had failed. Specialty has taken great care of the Mercury engine a couple of times since 2010, this repair is about $1,000.

It’s decision time. Repair the Mercury outboard? Get a new motor? Or just part ways with the old pontoon and let someone else enjoy it.

It’s just a boat, but you get attached to it. I have the same attachment to old trucks, tractors, and my first car, my 1962 Chevy Nova that I sold a few years ago.

The whine of the motor, a cold sandwich from the cooler on a hot afternoon, and the sound of my dad’s wisdom going down to another generation are the value that it holds. But, those same images remain whether the boat does or not.

Anybody want to buy a boat?

Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at ratucker@wyoming.com.

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