OZARKIAN, DRIFT BOAT, 20' X 4', 200
I do a "retro" design every
now and then, an old design redone with modern techniques.
Max Wawrzyniak sent me a wonderful copy of the article
"Ozark John Boat" by Townsend Godsby, printed
in the "Sports Afield Boatbuilding Annual" in
1956. I live on the edge of the Ozark Mountains right
now and have seen have seen some of the beautiful streams
mentioned in the article. These are small shallow rivers,
clear and beautiful, that slide and riffle over clean
gravel beds at about a walking pace. In the summer it
gets really hot around here and it is still a happy way
to kill time to float those rivers in aluminum canoes.
In popular spots you could swear you could walk across
the river by stepping from canoe to canoe, your ears treated
to the sounds of birds, rippling water, and laughter,
all to the beat of canoes crashing into each other. The
Ozark jon boat predates the aluminum canoe by quite a
bit, Godsey's article quoting a builder that had been
floating the river as a fishing guide in his jon boats
since 1900 and even then the design was well established.
The traditional Ozark boat is in some
ways better than the aluminum canoe. For one thing it
carries a huge load, being 20' long, 4' wide, and having
a dead flat bottom. It is a drifting barge. Godsey gives
the basic use: load with fishing guide and "sport"
and gear to float 125 miles from Galena to Branson, Missouri,
(first home of the mythical Jed Clampett), in five days.
No motor, just a paddle for the guide to steer with. At
Branson it all got shipped back to Galena (just 24 miles
away by land) by rail for the next trip. In the old photos
the amount of gear carried is enormous. The boats have
seats in the ends but the photos show the people sitting
very comfortably in canvas director's chairs.
Construction in 1956 was what one could
expect. You start with something you might not find at
your lumberyard today - five "clean" pine boards
1" x 14" x 20' long. Three boards make the bottom
with tongue and groove joints and one board makes each
side, so these boats aren't too big on freeboard. I've
shown wooden frames where the original boats had metal
frames made from old iron wagon tires! The list of materials
also included 15' of "Cow chain", whatever that
is. I should add that I think a similar boat, but with
pointy ends, was used in a similar way in Michigan that
dragged a length of heavy chain from its stern, keeping
the boat pointed reliably downstream.
Well, my Ozarkian uses standard simple
plywood "instant" construction needing five
sheets of 3/8" plywood. "They ain't nothin'
to makin' a John boat," said Charlie the old guide.
"Any hillbilly kin do it."
Kyle Kosovich in Springfield, MO, built the prototype. He knew the history of the boats and is using his just as the old ones were used, (which is pretty unusual). Don't even ask me about putting power on such a long light hull. You are on your own there. Remember these were never used at high speeds or in big open water. They are slow stream drifters. Here is Kyle's boat in the very waters the original boats floated:
He sent another with a modern normal boat in the background to give the Ozarkian some scale:
And here is Kyle on his first voyage:
Kyle added: "It was a dream to run the river with. We floated on the Bryant Creek and caught smallmouth, and ran limb lines with the trolling motor for catfish. The trolling motor pushed it easily. This boat is great. I repeatedly over corrected it while fishing, all it takes is a little tip of the paddle to keep it straight. It is a lot easier than a canoe to steer."