The Sound Of Wood On Water

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Published on: Feb. 2, 2010

Last revision: Nov. 10, 2010

log. Oddly, the term "johnboat" didn't come into use in the Ozarks until the early 1930s though it was well enough known elsewhere that by 1919 it appears in a federal government publication on the musselshell button industry as the term for the boat type.

What Missouri can claim is the advent of float fishing from johnboats. Before the early part of the century, johnboats were primarily used for transportation in roadless areas. The railroads built in the Ozarks during the lumber boom at the turn of the 20th century opened the area to a new form of recreational tourism and the humble "flat bottom boat" and "redhorse runner" became the storied johnboat of Ozark lore. In the sense that Missouri builders adapted and perfected an old style to meet the needs of the floaters and guides on our rivers, the johnboat is uniquely ours.

Three distinct variations show up in the old photographs. The classic White River style is defined by the boats built by Charlie Barnes for promoter Jim Owen and the well-known Owen boat line. These were built around iron braces made from old wagon tires and other scrap. This method created an open boat in which anglers sat in chairs.

The Current River style used a series of sawn oak frames to hold the shape of the boat. Seats were simple removable boards that rested between the frames.

The Piney River style, developed by Fred Dablemont and fine tuned by his son Farrel, is built around temporary forming braces or molds like a lot of small boat types that are built today. After seat crossbraces are added to hold the shape of the boat, the molds are removed and the two center seats are installed.

The lone survivor of the heyday of the Missouri johnboat is a battered White River boat that is on display at the School of the Ozarks. The National Park Service revived the nearly lost art of building Current River type boats in the 1970s with the help of local craftsmen. They also preserved several boats used by the Eminence-based Bales guide service in the 1950s and 1960s. The Piney River style survives in the form of a little book by Farrel Dablemont's son, Larry, who provides step-by-step instructions for building a johnboat.

I used Dablemont's The Authentic American Johnboat along with a basic knowledge of modern boat building techniques and a

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