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A Brief History of the DN Ice Boat

by Don Daller (the original DN 46)

The March 1996 edition of Runner Tracks took me back to 1937. (Please tell Richard Saltonstall it wasn’t 1939!)

I have not seen anything like a history of the DN published in Runner Tracks, or a library book published of DN history. Several books have been published about the big Rear Steerers racing the trains along the Hudson River a hundred years ago, and I read them over to experience the thrills of sailing on ice. Now I will try to compose a short history of the DN as I remember it.

In 1934, I had my first iceboat ride in a homemade Rear Steerer in Minneapolis. I almost froze to death because I was not dressed for it, but the "bug bit me." In the fall of 1937, the Detroit News published an article in the Sports Section asking for volunteers to attend a workshop for several nights. Each volunteer was to build an iceboat called a DN-60, a one-person boat with 60 square feet of sail. About 50 men and teen-aged boys signed up and agreed to attend and use the Detroit News carpentry shop above the garage to cut wood, bend iron, glue sections of fir, build jigs and fixtures, help each other and listen to Archie Arroll, the teacher, etc. The cost would be about $50 (a lot of money in those depression days since we were working for about $0.50 an hour only three days a week.) In a few months, we would be iceboating four days a week.....HOORAY!!!

The $50 would include all the wood, sail, foundry-poured castings for runner chocks, steering posts, etc. 1934 Ford steering rods could be salvaged at auto junk yards. We learned a lot from Archie, Art Jarrett and Joe Lodge, as sponsors and helpers. They carefully purchased supplies and helped guide us in building the fleet of 1937 DN’s.

The boats were ready to sail by the time the winter ice had formed, and we all took off for Lake St. Clair by tying the boats to the top of the cars. (Oodles of Fun!) Races were held each weekend at the foot of Crocker Boulevard. But, our first winter found most every boat incapacitated -- hull sideboards cracked, guy wires snapped, masts broken, runners split, runner planks split, etc. Basically, there was a mess of broken lumber. Arroll, Jarrett and Lodge went back to the drawing boards to re-design and strengthen each part in order to start another class the following year. Needless to say, we all went back for more!! 

The new boats were much sturdier and survived the punishment we gave them. In fact, my boat which is 58 years old still sails on an inland lake every winter. Some features have been adjusted due to age, turn overs, spills, falling masts, etc. But it sails! And gives rides to kids! Since my boat is stored under a porch and exposed to weather damage, it is not in excellent shape. A large crack developed in the runner plank, but Tom Hamill of White Lake, Michigan, skillfully repaired it.

Archie Arroll assigned numbers to each of the first 50 boats and I got #46. I guess I didn’t have much money that week to buy numbers and DN letters, and pay a sailmaker to sew them on my sail. So I cut out the numbers in plywood, painted them black and tacked them onto the hull sides, where they are now. Now I see that the IDNIYRA, which did not know I had #46, has given my number to Ken Devisser of Matawa, Michigan. I can truly say that Mike Griffith, DN US 859, would have a fit if he saw another boat fly by with his boat number, as he states in his article about Viewpoints on page 12 of the March 1996 Runner Tracks regarding retiring boat numbers.

Thrills of iceboating days: first ride...first ride on your own boat....first rides of your three sons....first ride for your wife alone....seeing some iceboat videos on TV unexpectedly. I have cut out pictures from newspapers and magazines for 59 years and have ten albums of pictures and articles which give me more thrills every time I read them. At 85, my feet and hands get too cold to be out long. Guess my circulation is slowing down.

Hope this is interesting to you if you have gotten this far. See you on the ice someday.