The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.
By Charles W. Borgwald and Milton N. Gallup
The Cleveland Ice Yacht Club was a group of more or less hardy individuals who took great interest in the rather rugged sport of ice-boating in the Cleveland harbor before contamination and city spoil ruined the ice for such recreation. In the early 1900s, soot, fly ash and refuse made the ice so rough that an edge could not be kept on the runners of the boats, and the deposit of animal and vegetable matter on the floor of the harbor created methane gas which in turn created gas holes in the ice. These gas holes became the greatest hazard because they would appear overnight at various places in otherwise sound ice. When the location of a hole became known, it would be marked by steel drums placed around it at safe distances, so it could subsequently be avoided. These holes caused many broken runners, tillers and, in a few instances, the breakup of entire iceboats, with injuries and dunkings for those involved.
The writers recall one such instance which occurred on Saint Patrick’s Day in 1925. We were aboard Milt Gallup’s Zero with Bob Morrow and several others, going at a very fair speed in a northwesterly direction, off about where the Stadium now is, when a new gas hole of no mean proportion was encountered, with the sudden result that Bob Morrow went into the gas hole, clothes, glasses and all, and Charley Borgwald went sliding past the hole over the wet ice with the rest of the passengers!
Morrow was pulled out and sent back to the club house, wet, but not hurt, on another iceboat, and the Zero was pulled back onto solid ice with but little damage. The rest of the party dried out in due time.
The Cleveland Ice Yacht Club was an offshoot from the Cleveland Yacht Club which moved its club house from the foot of East 9th Street to an island in Rocky River on November 29th, 1914, and temporary quarters for the C. I. Y. C. were established in a small house on East 9th Street Pier. Later, in the Fall of 1917, it moved again, to the home of The Cleveland Boat Club, which was the original building moved from East 9th Street Pier (with additions of a kitchen and porch), to a spot on a new fill forming a lagoon east of East 9th Street. On this fill was built Cleveland’s first radio station, then called a “wireless station,” which served the passenger ships operating between Cleveland, Buffalo and Detroit by Marconi dot and dash. Voice, for commercial use, had not yet come into being. (As a side interest, one cold winter day, in perhaps 1920, Milt Gallup saw, perched high up in the steel tower of this wireless station, a great white bird, perhaps two-and-a-half, or three feet tall. The Cleveland Public Library and one of the newspapers were notified, and the bird was duly identified as a Great White Alaskan Snow Owl. It is thought that this was the first and only time that such a bird has ever been seen so far south.)
It is interesting to note that the club dues were but $1.50 per year and this included a dinner at the end of the iceboat season, usually on St. Patrick’s Day. George Smith, who in business life was the manufacturer of the Gordon Propeller, a successful variable pitch propeller used by many power boaters, was the club cook and turned out some great meals. After 1918 prohibition was in force with the result that keg beer was not as good as prior to 1918. The strong liquor had to be served in the basement and nothing was said about it! But in spite of this some great times were had, including an occasional dance on a floor sanded to perfection by some of the more energetic members. (The floor at long last wore out!)
It would not be amiss to mention here a few of the active ones whom memory recalls. There was Rolland Francis, who forever strove to win races and built a new iceboat every two or three years; and Bob and Dolly Morrow, who raced both a class A boat and a class B boat. We might explain that a class A boat was some thirty feet long, had a mainsail and a jib, weighed perhaps 1,500 pounds, and carried over 375 square feet of sail. A boat of this kind, in a good wind, was a job for two men to sail. She would travel better than 80 miles an hour, and could carry as many as seven people. A class B boat was somewhat smaller, somewhat lighter in construction, and carried less than 200 square feet of canvas, Both boats were steered by the rear, or steering tiller, and runner. The Skeeter, or front-steering iceboat, had not come out at this time.
One expedition is recalled when, on one of those very rare occasions, there was good smooth ice found to the east outside the breakwater. Chuck Herbst on the Blue Ribbon, with Bobby Babcock and Charley Solders, led a parade of about six boats (one of which was Milt Gallup’s Zero), to see how far they could go. Three hours later they made Ashtabula, A hot lunch was consumed in an Ashtabula harbor “Gin Mill,” and the trip was started back to Cleveland. By this time the wind had come northwest, and had increased considerably in force. The trip back, following the marks made on the ice by the boats on the way down, took a scant 55 minutes from the harbor at Ashtabula to the Club lagoon at Cleveland! (It is 65 miles from Cleveland to Ashtabula.)
A few more of the old-timers who come to mind at the moment were Bud Bidwell, who sailed the Spade; Harry Kiefer, Frank Gerdon, John Donnelly, Charley Motley, Herman Lammers, and John Cox. Charley Solders, a lawyer, was commodore and Bob Latimer was secretary of the Club.
One particularly memorable occasion was on a day when the old pot-bellied stove refused longer to draw and consume the “cheap steam coal” that was provided. The weather was cold and the heat was waning. Somebody came up with an idea to get the soot out of the chimney. “Let’s get her good and hot and souse her with a bucket of water.” Great idea! Subsequently it was tried, with disastrous and quick results! Somebody forgot to remember that the stove pipe was probably full of soot, too. In any event, the pipe not only disjointed at every point but blew off the stove as well, and what little soot didn’t get up the chimney, wound up inside the club house. It is doubtful that it was ever all cleaned up in spite of much work on the part of the house committee. Anyhow it did clean out the chimney!
It may seem strange, but it is actually warmer directly on the ice than it is a little higher up, or back inland a bit from the shore, because directly under the ice is water, and the temperature of the water is never less than 32 degrees Fahrenheit, which has a tendency to temper the air directly above the ice. But take all this for what it is worth and remember that iceboating is a very cold, cold sport and one for which heavy clothing as well as tightly-laced boots, gloves and helmets should be provided. It used to be great sport to get a city slicker, all dressed up for Sunday afternoon, who had come down to watch the races, aboard your boat for a bit of a spin —particularly if there happened to be a fairly fresh breeze. The boat would start off silently, and rapidly gain momentum, while all the poor chap with his city clothes could do was to hang on and silently pray as the blowing snow and ice particles packed down his neck, and up his pants legs, and up his sleeves! One treatment like this was usually sufficient to keep him away from the race course forever!
A sidelight on the winter storage of power boats and sail boats about the grounds and lagoon of the old Cleveland Boat Club might be of interest. Each fall, or early winter, the Club members who intended to have their boats lifted out and placed on high ground for the winter would show up on a designated Saturday, get out from summer storage the wooden blocks and timber for shoring, placing them in small piles adjacent to the spot where the boat was to be wintered. Then the Great Lakes Dock and Dredge Company would be contacted and arrangements made to have a steam derrick on a scow come into the lagoon on a Sunday and hoist and place on shore all of the boats in one day. As we recall, there was a flat fee of something like $ 5.00 for this service, which usually took place about the first of December, after the summer work by the scow or dredge had been completed. Of course, the same thing happened again in the spring when the boats were placed in the water.
On these two days there was much activity about the Club. Every boat owner with his sundry friends and active crew was requested to show up at seven o’clock in the morning, and haul-out, or launching, started right then with everybody pitching in. Five or six would place keel blocks and lay out shoring, the boat would be swung over by the derrick, and twenty or twenty-five men standing in lines would hold the boat in an upright position on the placed keel blocks, while the derrick crew removed the slings and others set shoring and blocking. Then another boat was hoisted and after a short time a system was worked out so that before one boat was set for the winter another one was being hoisted and lowered onto the next set of blocks. Thereby, it was possible to hoist and store the more than one hundred boats that comprised the fleet.
It would be amiss not to mention that at noontime work stopped, and the busy boys repaired to the club house where a meal of corn beef and cabbage, or a great mulligan stew, prepared as usual by Chef George Smith, with all the fixings of vegetables, hot biscuits, and apple pie, was served. If the outside work with the boats and the rig was too heavy for some of the older chaps, they were invited to assist in the galley, or to wait table, and it sometimes did your heart good to see a prominent judge, doctor or lawyer with a white apron on, serving hot food to what looked like a bunch of day laborers! Anyway, it was great sport, and one of the enjoyable things to remember.
There were a few members who preferred to leave their boats to freeze in for the winter. This entailed a constant watch over them as a hard freeze would sometimes start a seam or break a poorly packed hull fitting (sea cocks and outside hull fittings below the waterline were filled with grease to keep from breaking because of ice pressure), and cause a leak that in a short time would sink the boat. It was common practice to cut the ice around each boat from time to time to keep it from squeezing the hull and from pulling the cotton out of the seams. This was done by sawing a channel around the boat, breaking the ice into chunks, and lifting the chunks out onto the ice away from the boat with ice tongs. So, along with iceboating and winter work on the boats stored ashore there was activity around the Club even in bad weather.
One fellow, however, seemed to have the jump on all the rest of the members who left their boats in the water all winter, Arthur Roberts always tied his boat in the same spot every year and it took the boys a long time to figure out just why. It seems that just under the spot where he moored his boat there was a sizable pocket of methane gas that emitted a constant flow of very small bubbles. These bubbles rising to the surface brought with them the somewhat warmer water from the bottom of the lagoon, which resulted in little or no ice formation around his boat! Other boats that were not tended and cared for would sometimes find themselves in the peculiar predicament of being either full of water or, because of the squeezing effect of the ice, forced nearly out of water and lying on top of the ice — and many times damaged.
Each December and each March the Inter-Lake Yachting Association held a fall and spring meeting. These meetings were usually held at the home club of the then commodore, and when Detroit, Toledo, Sandusky or Vermilion happened to be the place, the old Lake Shore Electric Company was contacted for the charter of a special car to pick up the C. B. C. and the C. I. Y. C. boys in downtown Cleveland, gather up those who lived along the route, and make the round-trip junket in one day. The iceboat boys from Lake St. Clair and Toledo were always very much in evidence, and with those from Sandusky and the Islands there was always sure to be much race talk.
In the Spring of 1925, the few remaining iceboats were taken to Sandusky and Chippewa Lake because it was thought that with the increase in contamination and city dirt the ice was no longer in suitable condition. Thus ended a period of winter recreation in Cleveland that still brings back lingering memories to the remaining few who took part in it.
About the Author: Mr. Charles W. Borgwald, retired since 1957, built his first boat, a canoe, in 1912, and added an engine in 1913! One of the original members of the Cleveland Boat Club, and its official photographer, he kept the canoe at the club’s dock, at the foot of East 9th Street, in Cleveland. Later he owned a 35-foot cabin cruiser, the Harmony. In 1925 he won the cup at a CBC race and in 1928 another for Inter-Lake Yachting Association’s ten-mile race at Put-in-Bay. He is still a member of I-LYA and has recently joined the Great Lakes Historical Society.
Mr. Milton N. Gallup, President of Noyes P. Gallup & Sons, Inc., Cleveland, has been a commodore of the Cleveland Yachting Club since 1934. In 1938 be helped organize the Cleveland Chapter of the U. S. Power Squadron, becoming commander of the unit in 1938. His family’s summer home was at Put-in-Bay, where, at an early age, he was initiated into the mysteries of the steam launch by his grandfather, his father and an uncle. In World War I he served in the U. S. Emergency Fleet and in the U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary in World War II. Mr. Gallup is a Charter Member of the Great Lakes Historical Society and helped found the Museum. He has been a trustee of the Society since its beginning and has contributed other articles to INLAND SEAS.