The Boat Builder From White River

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Published on: Jun. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 21, 2010

to Galena.

Barnes' guests traveled in comfort in the flat-bottomed boats. "You didn't have to worry about them tipping over," David Barnes says. "The pictures show people standing up fishing and they had no trouble at all. The boats only had two seats ... they used folding director's chairs for the other seats." David Barnes does remember a story from his childhood about cowboy-movie star Gene Autry falling out of one of the boats. Other entertainers who were clients included Forrest Tucker, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Gene Autry sidekick Smiley Burnett.

Of the hundreds of people who Charlie Barnes took down the Ozark rivers, one suspects that some were not fun to be with, but Bill Barnes says that his dad knew how to handle them. "He was not a man of many words," Bill says. "If he had complaints you didn't know it ... very likely he said nothing."

Charlie Barnes furnished everything necessary for camping on a float trip. He not only built his own boats, he made all of the other necessary equipment, including tents, for taking people on a one- or two-week trip.

"Grandpa built a big box they took on floats, and they filled it with ice to keep food and drinks cold," David Barnes says. "He made camp stoves that you could set over a camp fire, and a griddle that had legs. They slept on cots. Grandpa said if it was cold, they would take a lantern and turn it down real low, and put it underneath the cot and put covers over it ... he said you could keep as warm as could be."

The White and James river valleys were "awfully pretty country in those days," David Barnes says. It's not hard to visualize the long green boats drifting on the White River on hot, cloudless days, turkey buzzards turning circles on updrafts as fishermen cast wooden plugs from their director's chairs for smallmouth bass. The fish were scrappy and fun to catch; the fish were also good to eat, if Charlie Barnes, who had a reputation as a good gravel bar chef, had anything to do with them. "He was a great cook," Bill says. If the floaters got tired of eating fish, the guides shot a squirrel or bought a couple of chickens from a farm along the river.

Barnes' agility with wit and frying pan was illustrated in a newspaper story by Branson outfitter

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