The exposed joist ceilings allowed the voices of grownups to drift easily to the upstairs where my grandparents had army surplus cots set along the low angled roof of their cottage. The grand-kids all got their own cot, and I remember laying on my back and listening to the muffled voices recounting stories from before my time. It always seemed to me that I had been born just a little too late to witness the age of the wooden runabouts. The boats were the legends.
The names of some of the heroes were Static, Rocket, Mischief, and Scram. All these boats had disappeared, gone but not forgotten. The stories were told with a mix of melancholy pride. I knew they were hard work, constantly trying to sink to the bottom of the lake while also providing wonderful thrilling rides. One boat however, did overlap into my life; that boat was Static.
In the recesses of a long shed-roofed addition to my grandfather’s barn was a very long boat – Static. The trailer tires had sunken into the dirt floor. I believe my cousin Peter and I had discovered the boat on one of our very first explorations when I was about six or seven years old. In the faint glow of my memories I can see her there, long and low, with beautiful dark wood. When we were a bit older we were able to pull the cover back and sit behind the wheel and pretend to drive. I remember the feeling of excitement we both had about the boat, but also the sense that she was not heading back to the water. Luckily for Static there was a man named George Irvine who had the will to bring her back to the waters of Oak Orchard. That is a wonderful story of a man and his boat.
I guess it is the love of these stories, of people, and boats that has spurred me to try and capture as much of the glowing embers of memories still with us. The sadness I feel when finding photographs of amazing times that have become disconnected with their story encourages me to find out what I can. Perhaps the next generation will have a deeper sense of the history that is Oak Orchard. With the start of this research I have focused on my family and their boats, but as I dig deeper I hope to uncover other stories that will broaden my understanding of this place where I feel most at home.
Kyle Allen Leonard