You Won’t Believe what they found when they opened my outboard engine

I was at the Green Gables Marina and Mike Hall was taking care of my broken motors. Within a few hours, he diagnosed what was wrong, but tracking down the parts for my 1968 Johnson and my 1978 Mercury was not so easy. When I mentioned to people that I was stuck here until my motors were fixed, people inevitably said, “Well, there are worse places to be stuck.”

With the laid-back town of Le Claire, the charmingly old school marina, and the lotus fields in sunset light out the backdoor of the shantyboat, I was inclined to agree with them.

Mike Hall of Green Gables is a solid guy, full of great stories, a generous spirit, and a talented mechanic.

It was like taking a forced vacation from my vacation. Though it was never really a vacation, although sometimes the delight we experience in the places we go and people we meet makes it feel like it. In truth, over time, the intense interviews, the always-on sense of discovery, the constant meeting people can be exhausting. When Freddie broke down and stranded us in Le Claire, Iowa, it was an opportunity for a break.


Looking out my backdoor, at the Green Gables Marina

Pretty quickly it looked like it might take a while to get a replacement drive shaft for Freddie. Mine had snapped right in half and the exact part that matched my motor was hard to find. It had long ago been listed as obsolete by the manufacturer, so the only hope was finding some old boy who had a stockpile of old motors and parts. In the meantime, I toured Le Claire and the towns across the river, Port Byron and Rapids City.


Hazel was a huge hit at Antique Archeology

Old habits die hard and I still ended up meeting interesting people to interview. At The Brother’s restaurant in Rapids City, a place with quite good diner food, I met Rhonda Anderson who works there. She and her husband Gary keep bees and do tons of other great homesteading things. Baking, preserves, hunting, gardening, fruit trees, and on and on.


Rhonda Anderson, ready to check on her 40 hives of bees

We talked about her time living on the river, meeting Gary, her “Grizzly Adams” from small town upstate New York, and the process of keeping her bees. Naturally, since I was interviewing her, she showered me with gifts of honey and home-baked fruit and veggie breads.

In this crazy world turned upside down, when I interview people for my art and history project, they give me gifts.

Somehow, a group of divers from the area heard about my project. They were Big River Rescue and Recovery and I met with Steve Ebel at his riverside home. In all seasons, especially in the icy winter, Steve and the Big River crew are bringing cars, boats, bodies, and weirder things off the bottom of the river, feeling around in the dark and frequently frozen river. Despite their combination of Midwest humility and pride in their work, it was clear that Steve and his dive crew are badass motherfuckers.


Steve Ebel patiently entertained my request to don his dive gear


Steve Ebel in his full dive gear

I also had an opportunity to meet Dave Rodgers, who grew up on the river in Cordova, Illinois. We talked about the boats he built, his career as a commercial fishermen, and mostly the old characters who are mostly gone now. “I had daydreams as a kid. Just walk down to the river, take a left, and go anywhere in the world. That used to be my big fantasy. Though I’ve never got much below St. Louis. I guess that’s the end of that.”


Dave brought an exciting surprise. Not only shells from which button blanks had been drilled out, but actual shell buttons, some with interesting imperfections.


After a week, Mike got all the parts in for the motors and had them installed and working. It was looking good for departure. I was excited. It had been a good week’s break from the usual intense fieldwork, and I was ready to get back to it, to get on down to the Quad Cities. I said my farewells to Mike and his family, and pushed off from Green Gables.


An unsuccessful first try to leave Le Claire resulted in a limping journey back

I got about a mile downriver and the shantyboat motor developed a new problem. The prop had “spun out,” the rubber bushing inside of the propeller had disintegrated as they do over time. So I limped back to the Marina and had another period of waiting for a difficult-to-find part.

By the time I left Le Claire for the second and final time, a week and half had gone by and I was climbing the walls with antsy impatience.


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