Friday, July 12, 2013

raft race

It's that time of year again in Fort Wayne, Indiana:  The Three Rivers Festival and, more importantly, the raft race.  Back when I lived here, it was the state's second largest outdoor spectator event of the year, beat out only by the Indy 500; I remember hearing that then, and it was confirmed by the newspaper article I just read (  I gather it has been fifteen years since they last had one; no one can tell me why they stopped holding it, though from the article I'm guessing it might have been the cost of insurance.  The important thing is that it's back!  

Now, I never worked on building a raft, though I did ride down the river one year on someone else's.  I remember swearing I would never get in that muddy river water. Of course, by the end, I was swimming around the raft with plenty of others just for fun.

One of the main reasons the raft race is particularly memorable for me is that my brother-in-law and his friends started building rafts in high school. Quite a number of them won prizes, not just for speed, but later on for creativity.  My favorite (was it their final raft?) was the one shaped like a dragon, with a head that could be lowered to go under bridges and then raised up afterwards. It had red headlights for eyes and breathed smoke (flour that could be puffed out of its mouth with some sort of bellows).

Pat's 1992 dragon raft, head lowered to go under the bridge
(screen capture from newspaper article online - too bad we don't have the original photo ourselves!)

This year my nephews are participating, too, along with their friends - on two rafts of their own.  A little competition, anyone?   My primary question for that group: how on earth, guys, do you think you are going to get a raft that large down to the river?

With all that experience behind them listed on their entry forms, it's no wonder the newspaper sent a reporter out to the house. The troops, spouses, and a few members of the next generation gathered in the dining room before and after the tour of rafts in progress in the back yard, and there was more laughter than I've heard in a while.  This evening, when I brought my laptop to the hospital, showed Mom the article and asked if she remembered the dragon, she gave a big smile and nodded.

There will be more laughter next weekend.

Three Rivers Festival raft races keep friends together -

Two excerpts from the article:

Building would sometimes take a month. With more than one engineer in the group, the process took a bit more time.
Delaney told his friends every year, “50 bucks and a weekend.” Neither element ever seemed to hold out.
Rob “Bert” Poinsatte was the parts guy. He would come across headlights for some of their old rafts.
“When you go down the river, you're bonded for life,” he said.
“Yeah, you share the same diseases,” Slusser added.
Eventually, the friends stopped racing in the early '90s. Family and work were growing responsibilities. They already had achieved much success, over the years winning at least six awards.
In the race's 15-year absence, some friends moved away. Two died. Trophies were relegated to basements and attics. But memories of the raft race surface every so often.
“You get us together and we all still tell many stories about the building parties and the trips to the lumber yard,” Delaney said. “We probably had as much fun putting together the raft as we did on the day of the race.”
Monday evening, the guys gathered at Delaney's home to start this year's boat building in earnest. Rain foiled their construction plans, but photo albums on the dining room table kept the race the focus of the night.
They still talk about their 68-foot-long dragon raft from 1992. The green beast's mouth would open and shut, spewing smoke (flour). Its tall neck would lower to sneak beneath bridges. They took first place for Most Creatively Outrageous.
A few years later, the dragon's head from the raft made it atop a trailer attached to the Slussers' wedding limo. When they went on their honeymoon, the head sat on their front lawn awaiting their return.
* * * 
Two of Pat Delaney's sons are entering the race with their own rafts this year. They have the youth, but not the experience, he reminds his 22-year-old son, Corey, who sits ahead the table.
Pat Delaney has offered bits of advice, but he's holding back on most of the secrets.
There's a healthy rivalry between father and son.
“We're well prepared for piracy,” Corey said.
Liz won't miss her husband taking to the river.
"It's one of those times I wish I was a helicopter pilot to watch you guys…"
"Drown?" suggested Corey.
As of Monday, the son's' two crafts were both half-way built while the SS Hope She Makes It! resembled a small lumber yard.
Pat has segments of an old raft buried in the garage if things get desperate. But he's sticking to his crew's motto.
"We have two weeks. We'll be fine."

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