THE FIREMAN WAS A LADY

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Courtesy of Lois Gollick, 407 Caledonia St,. La Crosse, Wiscosin 54601. Fry's Fantasy in a slip at Belmont Harbor, Chicago, Illinois
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Courtesy of Lois Gollnick, 407 Caledonia St., La Cposse, Wisconsin 54601 Cruising on Lake Michigan, Chicago. This was taken from the Harbor Patrol boat and is a bit ''fuzzy'' due to motion of both crafts. Note smoke rising from stack. I'm standing in the
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Courtesy of Lois Gollnick, 407 Caledonia St., La Crosse, Wisconsin 54601 Lois, Standing atop the Fantasy as she was nearing completion. Taken 1945 on the canal.
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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.

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