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Friday, December 7, 2018

We Made Rubber-Band Boats, Tested Them on Como Lake, and then One Fathers' Day

One summer (perhaps two), my friends Genie Forcier, Jerry Weiman and I got fascinated with the making and launching of rubber-band boats.
Correction: In St. Paul then and perhaps now we called them “binders,” not “rubber-bands.” It wasn't until I was in downtown Chicago walking between train stations on a trip home from from college that I found that nobody outside St. Paul seemed to have a clue as to what what a “binder” or even "rubber binder" was. At a Woolworth's or some store of that ilk, they showed me all kinds of 3-ring and 2-ring binders and notebooks and folders and book covers, but I had to spot my desired binders on my own. They looked at me like I had come in from Mars. “Those are rubber bands! “  In any case, Genie, Jerry and I made “binder boats.” Here I'll call them “rubber-band boats” to ease your confusion.
We each made the boats on our own in our basement or garage. I would take the soft-but-thick-enough wood at the end of an orange or peach crate and cut out a shape that resembled a boat as seen from above. The size varied, but I suppose six by ten inches might have been typical. From the not-pointed end I would cut out a rectangular notch slightly longer and wider than my paddle—a thinner, rectangle cut from the sides of my orange or peach crate. The motor, the rubber band, needs be anchored, so we would pound in a vertical nail half way along each side of the paddle-notch—far enough from each other to accommodate the several twists that would store the motor's potential energy until launch. The paddle would, of course, slide right out of the unwound rubber band—at first. We could ignore that problem however, because after many test windings and unwindings the rubber band had enough of a memory-twist to work with the paddle's natural buoyancy to keep us from losing the paddle when the engine played out.

The boat was now functionally complete. We would sometimes add a little paint, but usually no.
I don't remember how, but by some prearrangement Genie, Jerry and I would meet in the alley to walk the mile-plus to the little peninsula on the east side of Como Lake at Como Park.
On most trips we each had a brand-new boat, certain to work better than those taken on previous trips--or at least to look better in failure. The exception was Jerry's big boat. He made it from a scrap of plywood rather. About three times larger than our boats made from box-wood, with its rubber band cut from a bicycle inner-tube, it so outperformed our other boats that Jerry resisted taking a step backward in performance. He took that craft at least three times to Como.
We would walk onto the peninsula to launch-test our boats back toward the main shore. One of us would wind up his paddle, place his boat in the water, then release it. In typical cooperative-competitive way of friends we would cheer each other's success while quietly relishing every hint of our own boat's victory.
We did not relish the idea of walking into the lake to retrieve a boat dead in the water after its paddle stopped spinning, though I'm sure we risked it a few times. Como was not a swimming lake. Popular wisdom among all ages was that it was not “clean” and had “bloodsuckers” just waiting to feast on us. To avoid that fate, somewhere along the shore we could find a stick we hoped would be long enough to bring the errant boat to our feet.
Then, one day in early June of 1952, one month beyond my ninth birthday, as we prepared to leave Como Lake and walk back to our neighborhood, we and our fathers made it into history. Two clean-dressed adult men, intercepted us by the shore. One carried a writing pad, the other a camera. 

This clipping from the St. Paul Pioneer Press--Fathers' Day, June 21, 1953--tells all:

(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins

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