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Dave Beck column: Auntie Q, a beloved family boat

The Auntie Q returned home after nearly 36 years. Above, a photo of the Auntie Q in the late '70s. Below, the Auntie Q today. Photo courtesy of Dave Beck

The holiday season is about family, being together, reminiscing, and enjoying what was and what will be. There is no better time to share with you the story about a boat and how important it was and is to the Wiskerchen family of River Falls, Wis. Hearing it from a family member is much better than second-hand from me. Below is the story about the beloved family boat as told by John Wiskerchen.

Our boat

The story began sometime around 1975 when our father got an itch to own a boat. He'd searched ads for some time and researched what he was looking for. One Saturday in early summer he asked me to go for a ride and we ended up somewhere in Minnesota looking at what turned out to be the biggest project of his lifetime. It was a 1958 Thompson 18-foot Offshore boat equipped with a 1958 Johnson fat-50 V-4 outboard motor. I recall my father paying $300 for it and we towed it home with him wearing an ear-to-ear smile for the entire trip. My mother MaryLynn, on the other hand, did not share his joy and when he backed it into the driveway she cried because the boat was in such poor shape, and probably because it was a lot of money to them back then. Our dad wasted no time in tearing into the boat that day while us kids climbed about it as if it was a new playground for me and my sisters Sarah, Betsy and Katie. While we enjoyed the new old boat, our mom looked on in a state of apprehension.

For the next year, Dad spent every evening and weekend refinishing and restoring that old boat. He took what some might consider to be scrap, and turned it into a state of fully-restored beauty. The hours of sanding and refinishing seemed endless, but our father was on a mission. When finished, he came up with the boat's new name and carefully placed the letters on the hull. Her new name was the "Auntie Q."

One day in the fall of 1976 he declared the boat ready for a test and we headed to Hudson and dropped it into the St. Croix River for its new baptism. I recall the sense of amazement at what Dad had accomplished as we drove up and down the river, taking on big waves and putting the boat through its paces. From that point on, our weekends revolved around the Auntie Q. We were either on the river fishing, taking a leisurely cruise, watching the Fourth of July fireworks, or on our favorite adventure which was a trip down to Lake Pepin.

As years passed, we all got older and family priorities started to change. Garage space ran short and as I graduated from high school our dad and mom put the Auntie Q up for sale around 1981. With a small ad in the River Falls Journal, they sold it for $600 and that was the end of our boat, or so we thought.

We had often wondered out loud what may have happened to the Auntie Q. Our last intel told us it was somewhere in northern Wisconsin with no other information. After one of our reminiscing sessions and a half-joking challenge, Sarah decided she was going to find the Auntie Q. She did some digging and found out that Wilfred and Leona Andrle originally purchased the boat from my dad. After Wilfred died, Leona then sold it to Gary and Kathy Reed, the owners of Sunnyside Marine in Balsam Lake. Sarah emailed them and quickly received a reply saying "yes" they had the boat and it had been sitting in storage for 30 years, being used only occasionally as it was pulled down the main street of Balsam Lake for the annual Fourth of July parade. Interestingly enough they had been considering putting the Auntie Q up for sale but for some reason kept putting it off.

One day late in July we took a secret trip up to Balsam Lake to meet the Reeds and to see the Auntie Q one more time. There she sat in the driveway looking exactly as we'd remembered almost 36 years ago. It even sat on the same trailer —even the same trailer tires! As we relayed our memories to the Reeds they seemed very happy to know the old girl would be going back to her old home. I wish I could say they gave us the boat, but that was far from the case. We paid a fair price but were grateful for the opportunity to see the boat, let alone bring it home with us.

That evening we positioned Mom and Dad on the deck for a "surprise." To see their faces when that old boat backed its way into the driveway was priceless. They were speechless as they circled and embraced their old boat, being flooded with the good memories it revived.

From there on, it's been a matter of removing 30 years of dust and trying to revive the old 50-hp motor. Old electrical wires were replaced, the external magneto on the motor was rebuilt and in late September, the V-4 sprang to life once again. Plans to get the boat back on the river however, were hindered with high water levels and cold weather.

Our family has now grown, both in size and numbers, with all of us anxious to go for a ride in our new, old boat. The Auntie Q now runs and is water-ready, waiting for a warm spring day when we can once again reunite for another ride down the river.