Fast Days On The Water

Faster Nights On The Town

 

 

Ok I may ramble a bit here, but as the late Kenny "Jethro" Burns used to say to his old partner Henry "Homer" Haines and the boys in their band prior to launching into "Let Me Go Blubber" or "The Battle Of Camp Kookamonga" ...."We will start this one off together and all meet in the bar afterwards"

 

This story was inspired by of all things, my discovery this morning of a 1956 Monogram model hydroplane on E-Bay. Butchie and Me were always plastic model nuts and I always meant to buy one then for 98 cents, (two weeks allowance) when it sat on the shelf of our H.C. Grand 5&10 cent store in town. Somehow I never did....the auction by the way, is opening at $75.00.

 

Anyway coupled with my recent posting of one Larry Schulz at the helm of his rowboat tooling along the Great South Bay, these further adventures of life on the bay and other events have sprung forth, how that will lead us into town I don't know yet, but I got a feeling we are all going to meet up there by the time I stop typing.

 

I remember the first time I saw Sputniks ....both of them. I was in the same place, at the waters edge on Beach 10 in Mastic Beach. I saw the one that made history first. (the Russian satellite launched in October of 1957). Our sister's boyfriend Dennis, came rushing in the house to tell us if we hurry, we could probably see it from the beach. Gerry, Butchie, and me piled into his black '52 Ford coupe and into the night we went, pell mell down Jefferson Drive at a very high rate of speed. Dennis said it was due to pass over us any minute. The first thing we saw was the spotlight all the way over at Westhampton Airbase sweeping by every 30 seconds or so. But we all looked up and Dennis swore he spotted the tiny terror in space, that everyone was worried about, blinking in the heavens. I never knew for sure if that was Sputnik or not, but they all thought it was and that was good enough for me.

The second Sputnik was a lot easier to spot as it was a lot closer to the ground or should I say water. It must of been 1958 or 9. Doug Percoco was with me. It was early evening, still light out. We were walking Boots (my dog) down by Beach 10 and we heard it coming. It sounded like a bee. The bay was pretty flat and it was out near the channel heading east. It was motorvating to say the least with a rooster tail throwing the bay behind it for all it was worth. Doug said, "That has to be Bobby Ianello and Sputnik". It turned around and came in closer to the shore, I never saw a boat go that fast before. There was a very small island out by the mouth of the cove that led to Knapp's dock, Sputnik went right across it launching itself in the air, but not quite into space. After seeing that, I went from wishing for cabin boats like Bobby Neppell's 24 foot Chris Craft to wishing for a speedboat. Unlike the first Sputnik, I'd see the hydro again on the banks of Pattersquash Creek and that just solidified my need speed on the water. I'd get my wish with another fast boat from Patterquash, when the "Little Chief" sailed into our life a few years later

 

I still have wishes about Chris Craft's too. Especially the big 50 foot double plank mahogany cruisers of the early '50's . I did have the model kit back then, and got one again about ten years back. In the late '70's I tried to convince my wife we could be very happy living on one in Florida. Took her to see one, her first concern was the size of the bathroom...."It's called a head honey" , "Call it what you want", she said, "It's too small" But the main kebosh on the deal occurred when another boats wake came by and the big Chris ROCKED. "WHAT WAS THAT! ", she said. She grew up in Ohio.

 

Probably the hardest thing for Butchie and me to do when we got the Little Chief was to let the other one drive. None the less we did it. Riding in the front cockpit was almost as much fun and you stayed drier unless the bay was kicking up or you hit some cruisers wake. In my song Buzz & Pee Wee, Butchie and Me almost everyline is drawn from our personal life stories. The "Silver Schwinn , Green Studebaker , along comes Mary and it's see you later" comes directly from our circumstances of growing apart. By the time we reached the end of our first season with the "Little Chief" I got my chance to take the wheel a whole lot more, because Butch was moving on from bikes and boats to cars and girls. He was only 15 but his pals Willy Conklin and Al Janke had cars and Butch had his learners permit.

I recall the last day of our first boating season all to well. I was by myself over at the Property Owners Fire Island dock at Great Gun Beach. It had belonged to the Dana Estate and was just across the bay from Forge River. The MBPOA bought it in 1949 from Ella Dana for $7,200.00 including a bungalow and 12 acres of Fire Island* On that day at the dock, there was a guy there, I think his name was Ronnie, who had an 8 foot plywood skiff. He had one of those oddball size Scott outboards, I think it was a 12 hp model. His boat was very light and pretty fast even though it porpoised (bounced) a lot. We both took off from the dock heading for home at the same time and he gave me the nod. The one that says "Lets Race Pal". We were pretty close together side by side when a big cruiser came into view heading for the dock. We fanned out and passed him on both sides, but Ronnie got caught in the cruisers wake and started coming right towards my side. He turned hard and the last thing I saw was the bottom of his skiff as it slid up and crashed into my spray rail. CRACK the side of the Chief split from the top to the bottom leaving a half moon opening of around 14". We both headed back to shore. He said he was sorry, but he wasn't as sorry as I was. Plus he didn't have to face Butch or my father! His boat didn't get a scratch. ** I was lucky that I could still get across the bay in mine.

* source The History Of MasticBeach by Janice L. Schaefer

** I think Tony McAuldy aka Tony Schicatanno wound up with that boat.

 

Butch was fairly non plussed by it and started thinking of ways to repair it. My father made up for it!!! He hit the roof and carried on about it for days. However he did make inquiries at a boat yard about the best way to fix it and paid for all the stuff we needed. A plywood patch was put in the inside and with glue, clamps, screws, and some epoxy it was soon as good as new. For the next season we planned a complete repaint including Columbia Racing Bronze for the hull.

Our second season with the boat also introduced us to Nick Chapman. Nick was quite the well known boat racer and at that time his outboard motor shop was located in East Moriches. Our first season he put a new water pump in our 10 hp Evinrude and did a few other minor repairs. It was Willy Conklin who told us about Chapman's move to Mastic Beach. Nick had set up shop at Captain Andy's over in section 5. Willy also told us that Nick had a '56 Merc 20 horse for sale cheap. That was all Butch could think about and we all went over to see it. Convincing our Dad was another thing entirely. It didn't make sense to him to trade a mint condition motor for one that looked like it had been raced and raced hard. Old Nick Chapman was quite a talker though and he agreed to an even swap of motors. That should of been a clue. My slight trepidation vanished as soon as we pulled out of the canal behind Captain Andy's and Butch opened it up........GEEEZ LOUISE.....It was only twice the power but it felt like we were going three times as fast. I was more than content to sit in the front as I don't think I would of been that comfortable at the controls. We were only going around 45 mph but on water that is the equivalent of around 90 mph on land. Coupled with the size of the boat 9' 10" and as close to the water you sat in it, yielded major thrills. By the time we got back to our dock I was ready to try steering it. Believe it or not Butch said drop me off on the dock. I want to see how fast it looks from the shore. I was a little nervous, but couldn't believe how much faster it felt with just one guy in it. The motor just screamed.... but not for long. Without any warning it would cut out and run on 1 cylinder, then cut back in an run wide open. It spent most of that summer in Nick's shop. It needed a new magneto, but Nick kept patching up the old one. It wasn't personal because he operated that way with everyone. He had a real charming personality and it was hard to stay mad at him. Though we were steamed, our father didn't get mad at him and basically said, "Boys I Told You So !....but you wanted that motor, so now your stuck with it. Nick's charm didn't work with Jimmy and Gary O'Donnell's Mom at all. She got so fed up with him jerking her sons around, that she threw him off the gas dock right into the canal. 1961 was quite a year for old Nick though as he won the Race Around Long Island that year, by using his head. He carried enough gas on board that he never had to stop, crossing the finish line on fumes.

 

Nick Is In The "ROWDY"

This photo of Captain Andy's was taken about a decade before Nick moved in to the shop on the back canal. Both the good Cap'n and Nick

have gone on to Davy Jones locker and I've heard this place is now an upscale restaurant.

 

Because I had an older brother to tag along with, I got to do some things a lot earlier. One of those things was hanging around "Big Town" at night. That's what the Denning boys called it. It was originally called New Town in the '30's as opposed to Old Town at the other end of Neighborhood Road in section one. The Denning's called that one "Small Town" but that name could of applied easily to both ends. We first started hanging around "small town" early summer evenings with our bikes around 1958. Bunches of kids would sit on the stoop at the dress factory there across from Dick's Soda Fountain. Big town was still a little intimidating because there were a lot of Real BIG mean looking city kids there.

Up in Big Town, it was almost like going to a car show with the machines, that would line the streets in the summer. Cruiser skirts, louvres, scallops and flames adorned '57 Fords and Chevs and the occasional '50 Merc or Ford. There were two bars, Schulte's and The Beachcomber that catered to teens in the summer. Every once in a while an occasional saddle bagged big Harley or two would cruise in to town too. Especially when either place had a name group like The Drifters performing.

 

One of the places that was a younger teen hangout was the Kozy Korner. It was an ice cream parlor, juke joint with a miniature golf course alongside. The one strange thing was, the owner Charlie Miller didn't seem to enjoy kids very much. As long as you were buying he was ok...but don't pause to hang around. A lot of times a group of guys would stand around on the sidewalk near his front door just to raise his blood pressure. In '61 Butchie got a summer job in Fischer's Market and I recall him blowing his whole first weeks pay $40.00 in two nights at The Kozy Korner and the carnival that set up in Pat & Mike's field. Usually we had to be home by 9:30 or 10 PM ( a real fast night) but when the carnival hit town, we were allowed to stay out later and a real swell time was had by all.

 

In the winter time things in town were a whole lot quieter, at least on the streets. We used to go to the Neighborhood Pizzeria now known as Ornofrio's and spend a lot of time playing pinball, the jukebox, and just shooting the bull in the booths. We were never asked to not hang around. As fledging guitarists Doug Percoco and I used to look in the window of Schulte's Stable a whole lot and sit on the stoop of Smiths Fish Market at the rear of the Stable listening to the bands. In a few years we too would be working with our own band The Islanders in there. Told you we'd meet in the bar!.......

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