Facing a New Day of Bad News

[Note that this post was broken off from the too-long previous post, so you may have seen it before. But chances are, you didn’t get all the way to the bottom, so it may be completely new to you.]

The next morning, we got up at dawn. After our coffee, we were ready to embrace the adventure of the new day. I got down the Johnson shop manual from the shantyboat library and tore into Mr. Johnson’s innards. I learned about and disassembled the recoil starter mechanism, a clever spring inside of a self recoiling rope take-up pully thing. I took it apart, cleaned it, checked the fit of everything, reassembled it, reinstalled it, and laboriously retensioned the spring. And still it didn’t recoil reliably.

I also took off Freddie’s prop to see if we’d broken a shear pin. But alas I found Mercury motors don’t have a shear pin. This was something more serious.

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Poor Freddie. The shantyboat got a tow across the river to Mike at Green Gables Marina who said “Oo, it doesn’t look good.”

We had offers pouring in for a tow across the river, several from people willing to boat down from far away ports of call. Carrie Stiers, Twilight co-owner, got on the phone to rustle up help. David Baker, tugboat pilot up in Clinton, Iowa offered to bring a boat down and tow us. Terry Krause, of course, offered to come and try and fix Mr. Johnson. In the end, we flagged down a passing pontoon boat who was off on a day’s adventure downriver. They were kind enough to tow us several miles to Green Gables Marina south of Le Claire.

Mike Hall met us at the dock and immediately started playing with our engines. When I told him what had happened, he shook his head and started talking to me about options. A new engine might be more cost effective, just warning you, he said. Though he might be the bearer of ill-omens, we immediately liked Mike. He seemed like an honest, straightforward guy.

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Poor Freddie has a broken shaft but Green Gables Marina has their best man Larry on it.

We helped move the motors into the shop, and Mike soon discovered that Freddie had a broken drive shaft. Not the worst thing that could happen, but certainly not the best or cheapest repair. At the time of this writing, I am still at Green Gables awaiting a replacement.

Mr. Johnson has a messed up recoil thing. Parts needed there too. We await. In the meantime, I’ve learned to start it with a rope around the flywheel. This was an interesting mid-river learning curve, extra motivated by an approaching barge.


Operation Dumbfuck: An attempt to move a 20 foot flatboat with a 14 foot johnboat and a broken motor in high waves and wind

After a couple of sleepless nights being battered by waves out at the gas docks, we engaged in Operation Dumbfuck, a foolhardy attempt to move the shantyboat to a more protected dock with the Donboat and our half-working Johnson amidst high wind and wave.

With the exception of a highly stressful moment in which Mr. Johnson cut out as the winds pushed us helplessly toward an expensive yacht, it all went perfectly smoothly. With the help of some welcome strangers, we got to our new protected slip space. Here we could barely feel the waves and overlooked a field of lotus flowers.


Final phase of Operation Dumbfuck. Thank helpful strangers and drink lots of beer.

That evening, I sat on the back deck of the shantyboat overlooking our lotus garden, watching the sunset, smoking a cigar and playing banjo.

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The next day Harmony headed out to her next adventure at a kids summer camp for creative adults somewhere in the wilds of upstate New York. Here’s a pretty photo she took near our new marina mooring.


A feral marina, silted in and overgrown, a sure irritation to the marina owners, but visually appealing.

With all the ships mates gone, I spent the first night alone on the shantyboat in more than a month. Woohoo!


Night alone on the #Shantyboat baking oatmeal cookies and watching The Apartment with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. #Billywilder #oscarwinner #academyaward #1960 #oldfilms #movietears #beamensch #blackandwhitemovies #cookies4one


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