407 Caledonia St., La Crosse, Wisconsin 54601
'The Boat' was the embodiment of the man's brain-child and, at long last, here she was all ship shape her paint drying in the summer sun.
Over a period of many years the man, Clark LoRell Fry, had been perfecting his own particular type of power production and had actually been remarkably successful. Steam power was his specialty and he often laughingly said that he could smell a steam engine a city block away. He loved them all any size, shape or model!
In the early days of World War II a need for shallow draft boats became apparent and Clark, (as everyone called him never 'Mr. Fry'), was consumed with an overwhelming desire to build such a boat as his own personal contribution to the war effort.
Metal of all kinds was hard to come by, but whatever materials or fittings he required for 'The Boat', he got; and he got them on his signature rather than a Priority Number. The gods had certainly smiled upon him in those hectic days of shortages, rationing, priorities and red tape.
The entire hull was made of steel. At one time during construction it was estimated that there was a mile and a quarter of welding rod on her seams. Fuel bunkers lined the inside of the cabin, also constructed of steel, with plate glass windshield and windows. Her 'vital statistics' were 49' 6' length, 10' 2' beam, and approximately 15' draft.
The total boat including power unit, boiler, jets etc. was designed by Clark the result of years of study and testing of steam production methods and his own theories of getting the most power at least cost.
It was built in Chicago; our trial runs were made in a canal which flowed alongside the shipyard. Clark was elated with the initial tests. He was operating his heavy craft with a conventional 5 h.p. steam engine at heretofore unheard-of low cost. He had 4-directional maneuver ability made possible by the strategic placement of his own FRY jets.
During the entire course of construction it was always called, simply, 'The Boat'. But there came the time to have it properly registered and the necessity arose for a name. Several were discussed but when I suggested 'Fantasy', Clark liked that. And 'Fry's Fantasy' she became officially.
He had finally completed his series of tests on the canal and was anxious to take her out on Lake Michigan. The day chosen for her maiden voyage was August 4, 1945.
When the special upside-down boiler had been built to Clark's specifications and duly installed in the boat, I had jokingly told the welder that I was going to be firing it. He mentioned it to Clark, who emphatically told me that I positively could not. He said he needed a fireman who could get up a good head of steam and maintain it. Well, now.
The I have often been called 'stubborn', I won't admit to being more than 'sufficiently determined' to do what I make up my mind to do. In all my previous years of working with Clark, as his secretary, I had also been his 'extra hand' in running machinery, doing errands, keeping records and most anything and everything pertaining to his various projects (of which there were many, since he was an inventor). In fact, he called me 'The Old Reliable' and, in his off-hand way, seemed to think I could perform miracles, which theory I definitely found more frustrating than flattering. Have you ever tried to contact anyone by phone when all you know of his whereabouts is 'somewhere in Canada, hunting moose'?
Clark thought I couldn't fire the boiler on the Fantasy. Since he had taken my foolish remark seriously, I felt compelled to try; so I pestered him into agreeing. I'm very sure he didn't expect me to last long at it; but luck joined forces with my determination and that is how I happened to be firing the Fantasy on her maiden trip.
While I was getting up steam, Clark had gone to phone the Captain (I believe) at Belmont Harbor to advise him of our plans to come up, and also to get information as to where we were to dock there. With five passengers, and a crew consisting of Clark L. Fry as pilot 1 navigator and myself, Lois Gollnick, as the one-and-only (and strictly amateur) fireman aboard, we cast off from the shipyard moorings at 4:42 p.m. on what turned out to be a spine-tingling adventure.
We were detained a few minutes at the Locks. (We were told later that the man in charge had phoned the Harbor to see if we had clearance to go out). Unbeknown to us, storm warnings had been issued and all small craft had been ordered to take shelter. Since the Fantasy was a specially licensed experimental boat, however, she was not under local jurisdiction and they had no authority to question her activities. Perhaps that accounts for the fact that neither the Harbor nor the Locks personnel mentioned any storm warnings to us. In our ignorance, we blissfully headed out to the open waters of the Lake.
The Fantasy was shrouded with mystery from the beginning. For security reasons we had permitted no photographs, newspaper write-ups or any kind of publicity. Around the shipyard, however, there was the usual coming and going of other boat owners, so her existence was not unknown.
When the sailors at Navy Pier manned their lifeboats as we were approaching on that eventful day, we figured they just wanted to get a closer look at us. We heard later that they were standing by on orders to rescue us, if necessary. Had the Fantasy gone down, I'm sure their lifeboats would have gone down first, and I feel certain they were well aware of it. I suspect they were cussing our foolhardiness, and probably at the same time praying for our safety so their own lives wouldn't be endangered. They had their binoculars trained on us, and we took turns looking back at them as we passed.
The wind was blowing briskly and the Lake looked dark and sinister. At times the waves were eight to ten feet high. Our rough encounter with the first few high rollers had us all gripped in suspenseful silence, broken only by the howling wind, pounding waves and the mechanical noises of the boat itself. She rolled; she pitched; she lurched. She shuddered and shook. Would the Lake or the boat be victorious? The odds seemed to favor the Lake, for a while.
I had prayed for a good day for the trip and, though this was hardly what I had in mind, it was truly a perfect day for rigorous testing, under extremely adverse conditions. Now, I sent up a frantic petition not to calm the Lake, but to help us safely reach our destination.
Like a good ship's officer, Clark's concern was for the well-being of his passengers. Did anyone want to turn back? Of course not! Clark had faith in the Fantasy, and we all had faith in Clark. So he set our course and we pushed full steam ahead come what may.
Our passengers all proved to be good sailors, and even appeared to be enjoying the rough ride after those first unpredictable rolls and pitches when anything might have happened. Being inexperienced, too, they probably did not fully realize the potential danger.
Aware of the possibilities, I had accepted the responsibilities when I 'signed on' as a crew member. I had witnessed the construction of the boat; I had helped run tests, and written up data (I kept shorthand notebooks handy at all times and was at the shipyard almost every day sometimes handing tools to the workmen or helping wherever I could be useful). She had been painstakingly built, with careful attention to the most minute details, for any kind of seas and any kind of weather. I had proudly painted her registration number on port and starboard sides and in two places topside, for air identification. And I had chosen her name. She just simply could not sink she wouldn't dare!
After cautious testing in the rough waters, Clark put her thru her paces in various maneuvers charging into the uncompromising waves; riding the crests and the troughs. The Fantasy proved her seaworthiness in response to all challenges and 'shipped water' only once, when he made a deliberate short turn. To feel her strength in battling the fury of the elements was pure joy!
As dancers keep step with the music, the Fantasy was now moving steadily forward with the rhythmic pounding of the waves. Our pilot-navigator didn't have to worry about steam, as I had a full head and, periodically, the pop-off valve 'blew', indicating 325 lbs. pressure.
A short way out the automatic oiler had exploded, spewing oil over part of the cabin, but I got the hand oiler going so that was no problem. I was burning coal briquettes which, for convenience and cleanliness, were sacked in paper bags. I had to take a bag of coal out of the bunker, hold it in my arms while I opened the firebox door latch with my foot, stand with feet a parts waying with the boat's motion aim the coal at the firebox door as it went past, and toss it quickly in. This was all kind of tricky since we were pitching and tossing quite violently. I only missed once, which necessitated my sweeping up the coal that flew around when the sack broke against the edge of the firebox door.
Courtesy of Anker Hanson, Malta, Montana Anker built this free, lance model steam engine in his own shop. It is a return flue model with a double simple and link reverse. Three inch bore, four inch stroke. The boiler is 24 inches O.D. and four feet long and holds 35 gallons of water. Main flue is 12 inches at firedoor and 10 inches at front. There are eight return flues two inches in diameter. The governor was built from a kit from Racers. Cylinders are from Goodban. Hanson made up the crankshaft, 1 5/16 on the mains and 1 7/16 on the throws. First reduction is 60 roller chain and sprockets, gear train to axle, difference on axle. There is a 25 gallon water tank on front of boiler and 7 gallon tank on back as well as a coal bunker.
The steamer operates on 120 p.s.i. and travels 2 m.p.h. At the controls of the steamer is V. J. Ludwick of Malta, Montana.
The steel deck was rather slippery which made it feasible to wear sturdy crepe rubber soled shoes. When I opened the firebox door I wore welders' gloves to protect my hands and forearms from the intense heat. Clark had heard the coal as it clattered on the deck, though he couldn't see me from his station at the wheel. He asked if I was having trouble but I assured him that, though I had 'missed the basket', I was still on the team.
By now the grim expression had left his face, but he kept a steady careful watch for the bigger waves. When he yelled, 'HANG ON', we all grabbed for something to hang on to, and braced ourselves for the impact.
In approximately two and a half of the longest hours of my life, Fry's Fantasy eased into Slip 28 at Belmont Harbor (7:08 p.m.) with all the haughty aplomb of a princess royal!
Our passengers stepped ashore with Clark, who was greeted enthusiastically by the Harbor authorities and warmly congratulated on his successful accomplishment of an unprecedented feat a once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing! We received an impromptu cheer from the sizeable crowd of bystanders, mostly boat enthusiasts who would likely have been out yachting or sailing had the weather permitted, and whose craft we had noted straining at their moorings as we entered the Harbor.
During the exuberant handshaking and backslapping, Clark was given an honorary title and was henceforth known as 'Commodore Fry'. The crowd of spectators seemed overjoyed at our safe arrival, which had no doubt been the subject of much speculation among them. (A few self-styled 'experts' had said it couldn't be done). I'm sure we owed our very lives to the stability of the Fantasy, the skill of her pilot-navigator and, most of all, to the Man upstairs who was watching over us thru the entire ordeal.
The safety valve was popping off noisily, so I had stayed aboard to pull down the steam. When Clark came back to compliment me on 'a job well done', I was hanging over the gunwale, scooping Lake water over my face. He gave me a funny little laugh and said that I need not be seasick since we were now safe in the Harbor.
Actually, I had been seasick all the way out, after passing the breakwater, and everyone else aboard had thought it very funny. Clark's not knowing (and I wouldn't let anyone tell him), was really a silent tribute to my proficiency. Keeping up the steam was my responsibility and I was managing very nicely, thank you.
Realization came to me that day that, for most of us, life is an obstacle course from beginning to end. Neither the number of hurdles nor their height is important; what really counts is one's ability to take them in stride.
In spite of all the ups and downs. . .ooops, sorry. . . . . . I did enjoy the challenge of the blustery wind and angry waters, and the fighting spirit of the boat that was engineered and built to 'take it'. Because of her unique appearance and matchless performance, she drew admiring glances from curious onlookers wherever we went. And then, too, there were the skeptics who hoped to catch a glimpse of the 'real' fireman.
We were going to take a little ride one Sunday afternoon. As we carried our picnic lunch from the car down to the boat, two old codgers sitting on the dock were watching our preparations. One of them asked me if we were taking the boat out; I answered that we were. When he asked me how soon, I told him in about a half hour. His buddy, obviously hard of hearing, asked him what I had said. The man snorted derisively and said, 'That smart-alec kids they're going in half an hour.
I been here all day and they am not even got a fire started yet and I know it takes 'bout four hours to steam up a boiler big as their in.' I went aboard, shortly, and started the fire. As we cast off in a matter of minutes, with the pop-off valve 'blowing', I looked back to see the open-mouthed expressions of disbelief on the faces of the two old gents.
We took many pleasant rides on Lake Michigan that summer, cruising around among the sleek yachts with their polished mahogany hulls and shining brass trim. I fired for Clark on each trip, and got seasick every time.
It was our private joke that if I wanted to go along for the ride I would have to 'work my way'. I loved that boat in much the same way a man loves his battered old hat, or a teenager loves his hot-rod.
If I could re-live any one day out of the past, choosing that day would be easy. I cannot even imagine anything comparable to the happy, excited anticipation; thrills, chills, and near-spills; fear; suspense; plus the glowing pride of achievement that I experienced on that memorable day, when Fry's Fantasy plowed thru the storm on her maiden voyage, and I became the only 'lady fireman' on the first steam-jet boat ever to operate on the Great Lakes.