The Boat Builder From White River

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Published on: Jun. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 21, 2010

auto mechanics in the garage. "At one time," Bill says, "the cars were shipped stripped down, and we had to assemble them. Model A's came along and dad took me to Kansas City with him to drive one home. After that, I went for the new ones on my own." Bill remembers fishing with his dad quite a bit in those days. "Sometimes we'd close the garage for the afternoon and make a half day float back down to Galena. I had the nickname of Dick ... my name is really Bill ...he'd say `Dick, don't you think we ought to take the afternoon off and go floating?' Other times we would wait until the end of the day and we would go out camping and trotlining at night."

While an auto dealer, Charlie Barnes was also in the float trip business, and he continued to build boats for his own use. "He was busy from the first of June through October," Bill says. "He not only took people himself, but he had a list of guides who would take floats. Fishermen came from Kansas City, Springfield, St. Louis, Joplin, Wichita, Tulsa and even Chicago." Bill remembers moving a car for some people from Canada - the steering wheel was on the wrong side of the car.

The National Geographic article notes, "With Charlie Barnes 39 years a White River guide if you cast all day and never got a strike, that broke his heart." A Kansas City Star article, in later years, said, "The 78 year-old Barnes had a special hankering ... since the age of eight he has probably spent more time than anyone else on the White and James rivers with float fishing his main purpose. As for the johnboat he's no doubt the world's number one authority; all he did was introduce it to the Ozarks some 58 years ago."

Bill says his father's float trip business extended all the way to Arkansas. "It was about a week on the James and White rivers from Galena to Branson, and a two-week float trip to Cotter, Arkansas," Bill says. "In the early days they would get quite a number of boats accumulated, and they had a deal with the Missouri Pacific Railroad to put them on flat cars and bring them back home." Trucks and trailers were later used to haul the johnboats, the clients and all the equipment back

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