It’s hard to believe that the White Bear Water Ski Company Preservation Project will celebrate it's four year anniversary this summer! It’s amazing when I think back at how much we’ve discovered and learned about the White Bear Water Ski Company’s history. Occasionally while doing research for the WBWSC Project, I will come across an old photo or home movie that is historically significant to other White Bear Lake area history. This was the case last week!
Late in 2015, I gained access to hundreds of wonderful color slides photographed in the 50's and 60's by my grandfather, Tom Weinhagen. While many of the slides chronicle personal family events like holidays and birthdays, there are only a handful that help with the telling of the story of the White Bear Water Ski Company. I was pleasantly surprised at the large amount of slides that give a glimpse of life in and around the Bald Eagle Lake community during that time. It makes sense though knowing how much closer the neighborhood was back then. "Everyone knew everyone and everyone looked out for everyone." is how I've heard it described by those who grew up during that time period.
As I was looking through these slides, one tray in particular caught my attention. It was labeled "Pontoon Breakfast on July 4th on BE (Bald Eagle Lake) 1955.” Mixed within this group of slides was this image of four gentlemen sitting on the railings of the pontoons enjoying the beautiful morning on the perfectly still lake. The slide itself was not labeled so I had no idea who the gentlemen were.
I decided to email the image to the first person that always comes to mind when it comes to the early days of pontoons on Bald Eagle Lake, Tom Tuchfarber. Tom is a long time Bald Eagle Lake resident and White Bear Water Ski Company Project fan and contributor. Tom's father, W.C. Tuchfarber or "Tuch" as he was better known, invented the world’s first motorized pontoon on Bald Eagle Lake back in 1951. It was called a "Cruz-raft” and he named her the “U.S.S. Gertrude.” Back in 2012, Tom wrote a great article for the White Bear Lake Area Historical Society chronicling the history of the Cruz-raft. Along with some technical info on how the craft was built, the article also featured a few black and white photographs of the U.S.S. Gertrude. You can read that article in it's entirety here.
A few days later, I received a reply from Tom. I was delighted to learn that he knew the four gentlemen sitting on the pontoon railings in that photo! They we’re, as he described, from left to right, "Gordon Nelson, Dr. Elmer Schroth, Carl Dokomo, and Tuch (W.C.) Tuchfarber, the creator of the first motorized pontoon boat in the world." All of the sudden it hit me that this slide featured Tuch sitting on the railing of THE U.S.S. Gertrude herself! Even though I had read Tom's article a couple years before, I had up until this point only seen black and white photographs of the U.S.S. Gertrude and completely forgot that he described it as being painted "a bright yellow color and...a navy blue deck." Once I realized this, I was careful to keep an eye out for a yellow pontoon as I poured over the collection of slides. It wasn't long before I came across the image you see below: a beautiful color photo of the U.S.S. Gertrude docked on Bald Eagle.
How cool is that! From what I understand, color photographs of this historic craft are quite rare so it’s neat to see it in it’s bright yellow glory. When I asked Tom about the red painted stripe along the deck of the pontoon, he mentioned how that was actually red reflective tape used for safety at night. As he recalls in his article, “…on a clear moon lit night, several Cruz-rafts could be seen cruising together as folks merrily were singing songs. It was a grand time, and it was an immense amount of fun for both children and adults.”
Another interesting connection I was reminded of while rediscovering Tom's 2012 article, is where it mentions the welder, Fred Minser, who helped construct the Cruz-raft's angled iron super structure. Fred Minser, or “Frick” as I know him as in old photographs from the 1930’s-40’s, was one of Tom Weinhagen's best friends when they were younger. Similar to the Cruz-raft story, Fred also played a role in the early days of the White Bear Water Ski Company. But THAT is a story for a different time! Dz
If you have enjoyed this little trip down memory lane and would like to hear more, please consider purchasing a t-shirt, wall canvas, or leaving a donation here. Every little bit helps keep this project going! Thank you for your interest and support of the White Bear Water Ski Company Preservation Project.