Two kids, a boat and a checkered flag

Triplicate Staff

Longtime Del Norte County resident Chuck Blackburn's column appears monthly.

My heart over the years keeps coming back to the Klamath River. My many memories of my experiences as a teenager and then as an adult have consistently jumped back out of my soul as a longtime resident of this community.

I started out my job as a dock boy in 1950 at the age of 14. And being under the guidance of Paul and Shorty Conner had quite an impact on me for my five years that I worked for them. My father Wes gave me a great foundation of morals, honesty and the value of working hard and continually learning. Paul and Shorty reinforced my dad's lessons.

For the months of July and August it was up at 6 a.m., go down to the

dock and assist salmon fishermen to prepare for their daily adventures

at the mouth of the Klamath, about a mile or so away. We really provided

a service to our customers, mixed gas for the outboard motors, bait and

tackle and of course rental boats for those who didn't have their own

boats - $1 a day until 1953 when they went to $1.50 a day and $5 a day

for a rental of a 5-horsepower motor.

We had the old tractor and trailer to haul 10-gallon containers down

to the dock from the old gas station pump at the camp. I had to carry

two of these about 150 feet from the road to the storage container on

the dock. My arms felt like they were going to pull out of their

sockets, but I got stronger in the weeks ahead.

When the fishermen returned in the late afternoon, stories abounded

about the catch of the day. Those same stories arose again around the

big campfire in the park each night. Most of these people were retired

on fixed incomes and Shorty's camp became their second homes in the


All was not work, though. Paul told me that I was old enough in 1954

that I could race in the annual 50-mile lap race around a course above

the old Klamath bridge down close to the cedar mill north of the town

site. We stripped down a 14-foot sled to cut down on weight and gave it

the name We-Tass. I was 18 years old then and I talked a friend, Tommy,

into being my copilot as we needed two in a boat. There was the Class A

race powered by 25-horsepower outboards and the Class B race powered by

10-horsepower motors. I had a Mercury Hurricane that was the hot motor

of its time. My Dad gave me his blessings and the small entry fee and

told me that wearing life jackets was mandatory. I also had my racing

helmet and sunglasses to complete the professional wardrobe.

We went to practice among some other racers the day before the

Saturday race and were working on sharp turns around one of the buoys

when we caught the wake of another boat and nearly flipped over. I was

thrown against the gunner and nearly went overboard. That shocked Tommy

and I a little. I wasn't quite as confident all of a sudden.

Saturday arrived, race day, and all boats were out warming up. The

starting and finish line was a dock just above the old Klamath bridge.

There were about 30 boats, evenly divided in Class A and B for the race.

It was a running start where the starter signaled with a horn to

prepare to approach the starting line on the run.

All of a sudden the green flag was waved and the horn blew and it was

race time. I had control of running the motor and Tommy was hanging

onto the middle seat as we shot past the starting dock in last place.

The roar of motors and the spray of rooster tails from the propellers

were encompassing the river. Each lap was about two miles total. Uncle

Paul Conner was entered in the Class A race with his 25-horsepower

Evinrude. I kept my eyes on Uncle Paul as he had a fast boat and he was a

half-lap ahead. Tommy and I settled in and I listened to the friendly,

powerful scream of my Mercury Hurricane.

I suddenly became aware that we were passing boats, not only Class B

but also some Class A. My confidence level was improving and we were

fast getting with it. We were gaining on Uncle Paul. I lost track of

laps and hoped my fuel would hold up. We passed several boats that quit

and were dead in the water. I cut low on a turn around a buoy and

overtook a Class B that was ahead of us. We-Tass was a great boat and

slid through the water with very little drag.

We passed the dock and a flag was raised - one lap to go. I never

eased up on the throttle and in no time we were back and passed the

checkered flag and all the folks that were cheering us on. We had no

idea where we placed.

We all gathered in the parking lot on the river and prepared for the

awards ceremony. The master of ceremonies announced the winners of the

Class A race and Uncle Paul and his partner took second. It now was time

for the Class B winners and the gentleman announced that the young team

of Chuck and Tommy was victorious. I looked up at Tommy and we hugged

and jumped up and down. We were given a trophy that I still have today

and each a crisp $50 bill. Uncle Paul came over and gave us a hug and my

Dad stood there with a big grin. I knew that he was mighty proud of his


The experience of two young guys who nearly flipped the day before in

practice, then started in last place because we were scared, to

persevering during a challenge to winning the race certainly added to

our maturity in 1954.

Chuck Blackburn can be reached at 954-7121.

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