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The Good Old Kanahoya
For a few years in the early 20th century my grandfather owned a “camp” on Honnedaga Lake, in the large private preserve managed by the Adirondack League Club, an organization dedicated to hunting, fishing, hiking and recreation on 55,000 forested acres in upstate New York. The camp was named “Kanahoya,” an Iroquois name for a red-berried shrub growing by the water.
In 1911 he bought a used 25-foot Fay and Bowen launch, powered by a single-cylinder engine. Like the camp, she was named “Kanahoya.” She had a huge cockpit, and could easily carry a dozen passengers or more. He and his family used her on picnic excursions and to travel to Forest Lodge, the “clubhouse,” a mile away, where there were a boat house filled with canoes and graceful Adirondack guide-boats, tennis courts, a grocery store, an ice house, and a restaurant.
I loved the Kanahoya. She could and did hold Gampy and at least two of his offspring’s families.
At the bow flew a burgee with the club’s emblem, an eight-point buck; an American flag was at the stern. There was a small foredeck, then a huge open cockpit, and a smaller afterdeck. There was a small steering wheel at the bow, but she could also be steered with a wheel on the portside coaming. Some sister ships had a striped awning, though the Kanahoya’s cockpit was open to the sky.
The Kanahoya’s crowning glory was her one-cylinder engine, which sported a large iron flywheel with a shiny nickel-plated rim, just ahead of a tall black single cylinder with a gleaming brass cap on top, containing the magneto and a governor, whose little balls on the end of scissor-like arms spun around to control the speed of the engine. There were important looking throttle and spark levers, a glass bowl through which you could see the gasoline flowing, another for oil, and a bronze priming cup. There were grease cups at strategic points to keep the shaft lubricated. A six-volt “hot-shot” dry-cell battery was stowed in a locker on one side, its wires threaded under the floorboards. A tall shift lever with a spring-loaded grip straddled a toothed metal quadrant. You squeezed the handle to disengage the tooth from the arc and shoved the lever forward to go forward, aft to go in reverse, because under the transom at the end of the shaft was a shiny bronze propeller with reversing blades.
Starting the engine was a suspenseful project, requiring coordination, patience, and luck. First you’d switch on the current to the magneto, then set the throttle up a notch, open the lever on the side of the priming cup, and while one person slowly turned the flywheel (sitting on the starboard side and pulling it counterclockwise), another person would dribble gasoline into the cup, hopefully not spilling too much into the bilges. It made a whistling, sucking sound (the shift lever would be in neutral, of course).
Then you’d close the priming cup, reach across the flywheel to grasp it with both hands, and heave it toward you in the hope that the engine would catch. It never would on the first pull, but by pulling it two or three more times, if spark and throttle were set right, it would suddenly let loose a satisfying whump! sound. Pull it again, and the engine would catch in earnest. Whump, whump, whump would turn to putt, putt, putt, as you adjusted the throttle. You’d cast off from the dock, put the gear lever in reverse, pull away from the shore, shove the gear lever forward, advance the throttle and away you’d go, at a stately four or five knots.
Digging recently through a packet of old V-mails my father had saved throughout his service in North Africa and Italy in World War II, I came upon one I had written to him in 1943, which said in part: “You remember you said when I was ten, I could have the Kanahoya? Well, I’m ten now.” Wisely, he never replied.
The last we heard of the good old Kanahoya, she was hauled out of the water in 1948 and never launched again. I have searched in vain for any evidence of her eventual fate, but with no luck. Perhaps her old cedar and oak bones are resting somewhere in the Adirondack forest, slowly returning to the soil. And that grand old engine is putt-putting away somewhere in one-lunger heaven, or wherever old one-lungers go to die.