Our article this issue comes from another long time reader and local expert, Len
Taliaferro. This is a continuation of his previous story published here in March
At the conclusion of my 1997 article about catching a 15-pound blue
channel catfish while serving with Uncle Sam at Fort Hood, Texas, I made
reference to the construction of a makeshift canoe of scrap canvas and
scrap wood. This is a continuation of that story. - Len
Our article this issue comes from another long time reader and local expert, Len Taliaferro. This is a continuation of his previous story published here in March of 1997.
At the conclusion of my 1997 article about catching a 15-pound blue channel catfish while serving with Uncle Sam at Fort Hood, Texas, I made reference to the construction of a makeshift canoe of scrap canvas and scrap wood. This is a continuation of that story. - Len
When the order went out from the Company Commander that there would be no more fishing at the ammo dump, several of us took that to mean during regular duty hours. Since we pulled guard duty after regular hours and on weekends, the guard detail worked a two-hours on duty, four-hours off duty routine. That meant we had two hours of boredom surrounded by four hours of nothing to do.
There were 12 of us on duty during a given weekend, four of whom were walking their post and the remaining eight who were killing time. Since we had given up our normal off-duty weekend in the heroic service of our country, we were inclined to find something to do to occupy our off-duty time. Several of us agreed that the no-fishing order did not apply to weekends when we were off duty from guarding the ammo dump. So, the fishing resumed.
I had decided that our little creek had a lot more to offer than the one pool from which I had caught my 15-pound catfish and I began to mentally start trying to figure out a way to build a boat. Several years before, I had served as the head canoeing instructor at a boys camp in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and part of my responsibility was maintaining five Old Town wood and canvas canoes that were part the 20 canoe fleet the camp had.
I had attended Red Cross Aquatic School at the camp where I had been trained on teaching swimming, lifesaving and boating, including canoeing. The Red Cross canoeing manual had detailed instructions on the maintenance of wood and canvas canoes. So, my mental thoughts progressed along the lines of a canoe rather than a boat.
During the week, a group of grunts had been assigned a project of putting a wood floor in the large tent which housed sleeping quarters for the guards when they were off duty. Therefore, there were plenty of tools available for construction. I commandeered a hammer, a hand saw and some nails and without telling anyone, I went to work.
I found a ten-foot long 1 x 1 and a bunch of scrap tongue and groove 1 x 2s that were being used for the floor. I cut enough 1 x 2s 24 inches long which would serve as the floor to the boat. Obviously, since I was doing everything by hand, it was slow going but I made reasonable progress over the weekend. When it was time to head back into post following our weekend duty, I covered my work under a pile of scrap canvas that had been pulled off of the stacks of ammo because it had been damaged.
All the ammunition has been stacked by type in wooden boxes which were then covered with canvas tarpaulins. Inevitably, some of the tarps would be damaged during handling of the ammo or by the high winds that often swept that part of Texas. When they were damaged, the tarps would be replaced with new ones and the scrap piled up for other uses or eventually for trashing.
The following Tuesday, I after a day off, I resumed my routine at the ammo dump, except that instead of taking a portable radio and a book off to the scrub woods, I headed for the guard tent where the flooring project was under way.
I uncovered my boat project and resumed working, hammering and sawing industriously since I was motivated by the thought of being able to paddle into that canyon and perhaps find another 15 pound fish. On Thursday, I had a close call when the first sergeant and the company warrant officer drove up in a jeep to observe the flooring project. I overheard the warrant officer comment to the first sergeant about how hard I was working and I grinned to myself. "If they only knew," I thought as I kept on hammering and sawing.
Eventually, I built a canoe-shaped floor, pointed at both ends and used 1 x 1s for the stem, stern and ribs.I tied them all together at the gunwales with 1 x 2s which were flexible enough to make the bend amidships and tie in at the stem and stern. I used 1 x 2s for thwarts which helped hold the sides out and provide the canoe shape. When it was finished, the frame, held together by nails provided significantly sturdier than I expected, though it was quite heavy, much heavier than I had expected. I wondered how it was going to handle the water.
With the frame completed, I set the canoe on a large piece of scrap canvas and folded and tucked and nailed until the frame was completely covered with one solid piece of canvas. When I stepped back away from it, I was quite proud of what I had accomplished. It looked surprisingly like a real canoe and was solidly built. I could hardly wait to try it.
The only problem was its weight. It was too heavy for me to carry down to the creek which made it apparent that I would have to help. At that point, I had only told a few close friends about the project because I didn't want any of the officers or NCOs to squelch it before it was done. I was scheduled from my next weekend guard duty in a couple of weeks do I decided to wait and see who would be on the assignment with me. I again covered the little boat with canvas and checked on it daily.
Finally the day arrived and the corporal of the guard turned out to be a friend of mine and he had charge of the 3/4-ton truck we used for road patrol along with a jeep.
We relieved the overnight guard patrol at 7 a.m. and I talked the corporal into bring the truck up and we loaded the boat into it. I stopped by the command tent which was unoccupied and picked up one of my friend Gutnik's fly rods and we headed for the creek. He helped me unload the boat. then I slipped the flyrod into the bottom and grabbed the paddle I had cut from a 1 x 3.
The corporal was a bit nervous because he wasn't real sure about the no-fishing order not applying on the weekend and he was especially uncomfortable about using the truck to take the boat to the creek. So, he took off as soon as we had unloaded.
I had a little over two hours before my first duty assignment and I was really looking forward to trying the boat out first and exploring the canyon second. I eased the canoe into the water and to my great surprise, it not only floated, but it float straight up. I had apparently gotten it perfectly balanced by accident. There were no leaks, even though I had nailed keel made of a 1 x 1 cut in half through the canvas.
I carefully got in and it held up beautifully. Kneeling, with my butt against the aft thwart, I took the rough cut paddle and started my adventure, heading for the canyon about 50 yards away. I had made, perhaps, three strokes with the paddle when I heard the brush rustling at the top of the bluff above the creek.
My first thought was that the corporal had turned around and decided to hassle me by throwing dirt clods at me from the top of the bank. I was stunned when the first sergeant and my section sergeant popped out from the brush.
I couldn't figure out why they were there. They were not on guard duty and no one ever came to the ammo dump unless they were on duty -- especially on a weekend.
"What are you doing?" the first sergeant yelled.
"Just paddling, sergeant," I yelled back.
"You're fishing aren't you?" the section sergeant asked.
"Oh no, sergeant," I replied, "I'm just trying out this canoe that I built."
"We like to fish as much as anyone," one of them said, "but, we've got orders not to fish here anymore. Get on out of there!"
So I reluctantly turned that sweet little craft around, dragged it up on the bank and prayed they wouldn't spot the flyrod in the bottom of the boat. A short time later, I snuck back down and retrieved Gutnik's flyrod and returned it to the command tent. I was so relieved not to get into real trouble that I didn't question what was happening at the time. The next day I went down to the creek and the canoe was gone. No one could tell me what happened to it.
It wasn't till years later that I ran into an old buddy who had been in the unit at the time and he related the real story to me as follows:
It seems that word had leaked out about my little "project" almost as soon as I started it. The day the first sergeant and the warrant officer drove up while I was working and commented on my diligence, they already knew what I was doing. Since the project kept me occupied and out of trouble and was harmless, they let me continue, periodically checking on my progress by uncovering it when they were on guard or had other reasons to be at the ammo dump when the rest of the troops were off duty.
They knew when I finished the boat and speculated that I would launch it when I pulled weekend guard so they were there waiting. The corporal of the guard was also in on it and had apparently checked with the section sergeant before agreeing to help me get the boat to the creek. That's why he was so nervous and left so quickly.
Thinking back now, the first sergeant and the section sergeant showed no curiosity about the boat at all -- like they already seen it and knew what it looked like. They walked up the hill with me and were fully aware that I would have to go on guard duty shortly and would not get a chance to get back to the boat until the next day. When I did return it was gone.
It seems, according to this guy, that the first sergeant and section sergeant took the boat down the creek themselves, fishing till nearly dark while I was walking my guard post. By the time I returned they had gone. They hid the boat and continued to use it periodically until the unit returned home the following August.
I, of course, was disappointed that I didn't get a chance to explore the rest of the creek but I was also pretty pleased with myself for having built a good enough boat that those guys resorted to subterfuge in order to use it. And, in the old army RHIP (rank had its privileges)