Just returned from two weeks in Kentucky working on the shantyboat. Considerable progress was made and the next step is to install the steering mechanism and mount the 40hp engine onto the motor well. Our plan is to launch the boat the next time I return to Kentucky and take it for a spin in a nearby lake. Assuming all goes well (i.e. It doesn’t sink….and the steering prevents us from ramming the dock) we will return the boat to the horse barn/shipyard and begin construction of the shanty which Art and I will live in while we journey down the Ohio River. It is very exciting that we are getting this close to putting it into the water. Thanks go out to my brother-in-laws, Allen and Mark, who continue to provide invaluable assistance with this project.
We are pleased with the progress made on the A. H. Hubbard shantyboat and our goal remains to begin our river cruise in the Fall of 2022–tracing the path that Anna and Harlan Hubbard began in 1946.
For more information on Harlan Hubbard:
Jerry & Art
I want to introduce you to an important member of Team Shantyboat, Art’s pickup truck, Big Red…also affectionately known as “The Beast”. Without Big Red pulling the trailer we would never be able to get the shantyboat to the water, or pull it out, and given the anticipated weight of the boat once it’s finished, we need something big and ornery enough to get the job done. The Beast is a 1991 Ford F-250 with a V8 460 engine. Given it only gets about 9 miles to the gallon (and that’s when it’s not pulling a damn shantyboat) it comes with dual fuel tanks. (Our apologies to the environment.) Of course the old-time shanty boaters would just build their boats on the banks of the river and wait for the next flood to get on their way, but we really didn’t have that option as there was no landowner eager to have a shantyboat on their waterfront property. Go figure.
And now for the bad news. Big Red was viciously assaulted by some local thieves last week who attempted to steal his catalytic converter. (Apparently this is a thing, so keep an eye on your catalytic converter.) In the dark of night, while Big Red was parked in front of Art’s house, they attempted to cut the fore and aft pipes on the converter in hopes it would just fall down into their thieving hands. Given the darkness, and their reluctance to use a flashlight to illuminate their thieving, they could not see two additional pipes that prevented it from separating from the truck. They fled the scene leaving their thieving saw blade behind them.
I am sure the Louisville Police Department has put their best men/women on it and having dusted the blade for prints will be knocking on someone’s door soon. (Insert laugh here.) Fortunately Art has connections (the guy knows everyone, yes, literally everyone, in Louisville) and took Big Red to a fine establishment in Louisville’s West End to discuss the problem with Bill Jones at Dad’s Muffler Shop. Dad’s was originally a taxi stand back in the day and Bill has been repairing mufflers there since 1974. You probably won’t take your new Mercedes there, but Art knew it was the place for Big Red. Bill looked at Art’s catalytic converter and declared it to be an after-market device that the thieves would have gotten about $20 for it on the black market. (I don’t believe this was the A Team of catalytic converter thieves.) Together, Art and Bill decided on a “cost effective” (cheapest way possible) plan to get Big Red back in action. Thus, another attempt at preventing the resurgence of shantyboat life on the Ohio River has been averted.
Having secured my Covid vaccine shots I am returning to Louisville next week and the A Team of shantyboat builders will reassemble to continue work on the boat. Construction of the shanty that sits on the hull shall commence.
Jerry & Art
Currently the A. H. Hubbard (our shantyboat named after Anna and Harlan Hubbard, two revered Kentucky shantyboaters) is in New Albany, Indiana where it is having some work done on the trailer. We are having a wench post fabricated and installed, eyelet rings installed for securing the boat, and a break away kit installed for the electric brakes on the trailer. What we haven’t figured out is how to brake the boat itself when this happens:
One of the things that fascinates Art and I as we build our boat is all the lost history involving shantyboat communities in this country. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries nearly every city and town on a major river had a shantyboat community. It is where the poor and disenfranchised gathered as well as the gamblers and drunks who were welcomed nowhere else. (Art and I may only qualify as drunks as bourbon is involved in most of our planning….however, the gambling moniker may apply as well given the image I posted above.) Many of the shantyboat communities were pushed off the river because the bureaucrats could not figure out a way to force them to pay taxes, and since shantyboaters were suspect every time any crime occurred, no-one objected when they were pushed off the river. As the economic divide continues to widen in this country, one wonders if shantyboats may one day reappear on our rivers.
My book, Chasing Zorba – A Journey of Self-Discovery in a VW Bus, is holding its own on Amazon and has been ranked in the top ten in the category of “new releases for auto travel” for the past two months. To any of you who have purchased my book, I am very grateful. There is nothing that benefits a starving writer more than a positive review on Amazon, so if you have managed to finish the book, and are so inclined, I would be most thankful if you posted a review. Who knows, maybe I will be able to afford groceries next week.
Work on the shantyboat will continue once the weather breaks and until then we will provide a little more history on Anna and Harlan Hubbard in the next blog post.
Your humble shantyboaters,
Art & Jerry
Happy Holidays and New Years Greetings from your favorite shantyboaters. (Assuming here you don’t know any others). Yes, we are a little slow, but what do you expect…..we are shantyboaters…..not speedboaters. Happy to have 2020 behind us, and while the coronavirus inhibited my travel some, thanks to Art’s perseverance and the assistance of our co-conspirators, Allen and Mark, progress was still made on the boat. It has become clear to us that while we still hope to get the boat in the water in 2021, the larger cruise/adventure/impending disaster will not happen until 2022. In anticipation of this, my wife Dianne gave me a high tech life jacket that inflates automatically once it hits the water–not really a vote of confidence in either our boat building skills…..or my ability to operate a life jacket successfully. Note the look of resignation in my face.
Many people (okay, it may have just been two–and they may or may not have been related to me) have been asking how my book Chasing Zorba is doing and whether it is available on Amazon yet. The paperback version is now available for pre-order and will be released on January 27th. I haven’t quite figured out all the metrics on Amazon yet but it is currently ranked 10th in “New Releases in the Auto Travel” category. Better than not being ranked at all, I suppose. The local Newburyport paper did a nice article on it and the copies available at the local book store sold out in the following week–all five! (lol) In any case, I am no John Steinbeck, but its been fun. As Zorba always said….whether you succeed or fail…the response is always to drink a shot of Ouzo and dance.
Happy New Year & Peace Out
While the shantyboat is not ready to launch, the book I wrote about my cross-country adventure in a VW bus named Zorba has left the dock. The book chronicles the journey I took in 2017 in a 1973 VW Type II Transporter. Much of the journey was captured on this blog but the book adds many stories and memories that did not make it into the blog. It was also not written late at night, cramped inside a hot and uncomfortable VW bus…..but I can’t promise my writing has improved any. The book begins with my original attempt to do a cross-country journey in 1972 in a 1966 VW Beetle….with my good friend Art, of course. That trip ended prematurely, but the dream of trying it again stayed with me my entire life. I hope you will check out the book.
The book is available in paperback in the publisher’s (BookBaby) store: store.bookbaby.com
The Kindle version is available on Amazon with the paperback version available there in January.
Thanks to all my friends and family who helped me put this book together. I am forever in your debt. And a special thanks to Art for letting me share our story from 1972. It’s not without its embarrassing moments. Meanwhile….Art and I project our shantyboat journey down the Ohio River to begin in 2022…the 50th anniversary of our failed trip in 1972. Gulp.
In 1972, after graduating from college, Jerry Steimel set out on a cross country road trip in a 1966 VW Beetle he called Zorba — named after the literary figure, Zorba the Greek. He aimed to break away from his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, and explore America—the country sharply divided over the war in Vietnam. He also sought to gain a deeper understanding of himself and the path his life would take. The journey ended prematurely in a small Alabama town far from his goal of California. He returned home, had a life well-lived, but always with a lingering feeling he had some unfinished business. Forty-five years later, during the first year of the Trump Presidency, the country was again in conflict with itself. Steimel took his dream off the shelf, and in a 1973 VW bus began a new journey of self-discovery on the back roads of America. It was a dream deferred, but not forgotten.
We all know that Rome was not built in a day but as Emperor Hadrian encouraged his subjects: “Brick by brick, my fellow citizens, brick by brick.” And so it is with the shantyboat. Board by board it is coming together in spite of the coronavirus and in spite of not having secured an indoor location for the winter. The boards I refer to were secured from an old shotgun house that had been demolished in the Germantown neighborhood of Louisville. During the past month they have been planed to give them a more even fit and they will be used for the interior floor of the shanty boat.
Mark Operating Planer
We have also successfully secured a motor for the boat and Art has begun construction of the motorwell.
My next trip to Kentucky will not be until Spring 2021 but Art and my talented brother-in-laws, Allen and Mark, will continue to work as best they can given the varying weather conditions.
Some of you are aware that I have been writing a book on the cross-country trip I took in my VW bus (Zorba) in 2017. The book, titled Chasing Zorba, A Journey of Self-Discovery in a VW Bus, is now complete and once it is available on Amazon and other sites I will let you know. I don’t profess to be a particularly good writer, but it is a good story and I have enjoyed the process of capturing my memories of the trip onto paper. I hope you will check it out once it is available.
My wife Dianne continues to work on the documentary of our shantyboat adventure and in the meantime her most recent documentary on pollution in the Merrimack River, titled Troubled Waters, has received some recognition. It was awarded the top prize in the Documentary category by the Alliance for Community Media Northeast Region. Her film beat out two other finalists from New York City and you know how we Bostonians like to beat New Yorkers!
For anyone who would like to watch the film and take in its important message the link is below.
I’m happy to announce that the shanty boat now has a front deck…..or front porch if you prefer. This might be the most important piece of construction for the boat. It is here that the guitar picking, drinking, story-telling (bullshitting) and more drinking will take place as we float down the river. It is on this 6′ x 8′ space that Art and I will fully experience shantyboat life. The only thing missing is a dog to lay on the porch and listen to all of our stories. If any one has a animal willing to do that, please let us know. Our wives think it’s unlikely.
For anyone who would like a deeper dive into the construction of the hull, Art has put together the attached five minute video. Starring in the video, along with Art and I, are my two brothers-in-law, Allen and Mark.
Art made quite a score last week for the shantyboat securing some old hardwood floorboards (free!) from a shotgun house in the Germantown neighborhood of Louisville. This particular shotgun house was built in the 1800s and the boards will be used for the floor in the interior of the shanty. For those of you not familiar with shotgun houses they have a rich history in this country, particularly in the South. Shotguns have a very narrow front and stretch towards the rear of the house. The name comes from the belief that you could fire a shotgun in the front door and it would exit the back door without hitting anything. The design of a shotgun house is attributed to the fact that the city of New Orleans, where they have always been popular, determined your property tax by the frontage of your building only. Up until Hurricane Katrina, the highest number of shotgun houses were in the wards surrounding New Orleans, but so many were wiped out by the flooding that Louisville now claims the highest number of shotgun homes in the county.
The other reason Art and I are happy to have wood from a shotgun house is that the long narrow design very much resembles shantyboats. In fact, many shantyboaters, when they decided to leave the river, would haul their boats up onto land and they became in essence shotgun houses.
The shantyboat also got a visit from Captain Pete O’Connell this past weekend. Captain Pete is the Master Captain on the Belle of Louisville, a steamboat owned and operated by the City of Louisville. The Belle was built in 1914 by the West Memphis Packet Company and holds the record in her class for miles traveled, years in operation, and places visited. Captain Pete donated a cleat from a coal barge, which at one time plied the waters of the Ohio River, to the shantyboat. Thanks, Captain!
So what is a shantyboater’s dream? Free stuff!!!
Jerry & Art
I just returned from Kentucky after two weeks of working on the Shantyboat with my co-conspirator, Art, and my good friend (and brother-in-law) Allen. We have relocated our shipyard from the Portland neighborhood of Louisville to a horse farm east of the city where my niece, Sarah, provides horse riding instruction. Our thanks to Sarah for getting us in the door. We have rented two stalls in a large storage shed and it’s a great place to build a shantyboat…..which will look more like a plow horse than a thoroughbred.
Our work during the last two weeks focused on priming and painting the interior of the boat and adding some bolts for hoisting the boat onto the trailer when removing it from the water and for securing it to the trailer when traveling. Work is progressing well and I will return to Kentucky for another two weeks in October. At that time we hope to start construction of the actual shanty that sits on top of the hull. As always, I am filming as much as possible for use in the upcoming documentary on this great adventure my wife Dianne is making.
Beyond October we will need an indoor location to work. Failure to secure that location would mean the boat gets winterized and parked until Spring. Our goal remains to launch next summer but if we do not find an indoor workspace for the winter that may be delayed. The coronavirus has not helped either with our schedule but we are keeping safe and plowing ahead.
And finally….biggest news of all!….while I was in Kentucky Art had the title of Kentucky Colonel bestowed on him by Governor Andy Beshear. For you Yankees (and others) who don’t know the importance of this…..the title of Kentucky Colonel is the highest honor that can be bestowed on a Kentuckian. It is given in recognition of contribution to “Kentucky society, remarkable deeds, and outstanding service to a community, state, or the nation.” Art qualified in every way through his volunteer work in the Louisville community in addition to multiple trips (at least eight by my count) to Mississippi to help communities rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. Congratulations, Art!
Unfortunately it’s on the “road”….and not the “river”. Due to Covid-19, Art and I have not yet been able to resume work on the shantyboat this year. Art has begun gathering materials and working on the design for the motor well construction, the next step in the process. But to date, my family and Art have banned me from entering the state of Kentucky due to the virus. How convenient. I suspect my family has been looking for this opportunity for a while.
In the meantime, I decided to hit the road in Zorba (that’s my VW bus for anyone who is new to the blog….or who just hasn’t been paying attention) and give my wife Dianne a break from my presence. I wouldn’t say she insisted, but she did think it was a good idea. Zorba and I hit for the road for five days traveling though Western Massachusetts then up into the Adirondacks in Upstate New York. Our return route brought us back home through Vermont. Got in some great hiking and practiced my social distancing in three states. My only close encounter with danger was when I encountered a fellow hiker in Western Mass who–maskless–shared a rant on how the government is trying to control us through the coronavirus. When the conversation veered into how the government is controlling us through our cell phones I gently backed away and excused myself. Everyone knows that’s its Facebook that controls us, not the government! Come on, man.
Anyone who has followed this blog for a while knows that one of my favorite activities on any road trip is collecting VW mechanics. This trip I discovered Joe at Joe’s Service Center in Shuylerville, NY. Zorba actually had a flawless trip but when I spied the assortment of VW vehicles on his lot I had to stop by. Joe has been working on VWs since 1973 and has passed the curse onto his son Justin who works at the garage with him.
Joe’s current pet project is restoring a 1963 Splittie (split windshield) VW bus that he recently purchased. Joe said it was being used as a drug runner in California (of course it was), needs a little love, and he expects to bring it back to life in a year or two. I checked it out and it needs more than a little love…but I’m sure Joe has it to give. Whether he has the time and money or not…thats the questiion.
Checkout the outdoor bench used as a front seat. Classic.
If you are looking to own your very own classic vehicle, Joe is selling the sporty 1975 red convertible for a mere $12,000
Joe of Joe’s Service Center, Shuylerville, NY
Finally I want to give a nod to one other individual I had the pleasure of social distancing from during my journey. I was spending the night east of Wallingford, Vermont in the parking area off Route 140 at the junction with the Appalachian Trail. Pipes (great name) came though having started his hike at the southern terminus of the AT on Springer Mountain on March 3rd. He expects to arrive at the northern terminus, Mount Katahdin in Maine, on August 3rd. Pipes chose one of the more difficult ways to quarantine during the pandemic, but as I told him, and as I say to anyone who hikes the AT end to end, “You are the man.” Congrats to Pipes. Only one more state, but several more mountains, to go.
Love the corona beard, Pipes.
As you may notice in the photo above, I purchased a front end bra (yes, that’s what they call it) for Zorba. it’s a little embarrassing for him but it does protect him from bugs and rocks that fly into his face. Given the wonderful job the students at Whittier Tech Vocational School did this past winter giving him a fresh paint job, I felt he deserved the extra protection.