Local man builds, sails his own boats
Driving by Turner's Pond it is common to see people fishing, but not so common to see a man fishing from a sailboat. It is even less common if the man made the boat himself, sails and all.
Chief Red Elk, who declines to give what he calls his "borrowed name," was sailing on the pond Friday, April 13 in the second sailboat he made.
His first sailboat was from a kit to which he later added sails. The second was all his.
"That's the boat I designed," the chief said. "It's just cute as can be. There's air boxes in here so you really don't have to worry about drowning."
The chief has made seven boats in his 65 years. The first was in 1986 at the request of his eldest daughter, Nicole.
"This is our canoe," he said. "We put this together when my oldest daughter was in first grade. I said 'Nicole what do you want to do for a project?' cause I like to make my children think.
"And she said, 'I want a boat.'"
At the time, the chief was building radio-controlled airplanes and had also built a model boat using one of the airplane engines. He assumed Nicole meant a model, but he was mistaken.
"I said 'how long, baby?' She walked to the wall and started walking back," he said. "She said 'That long, I want something I can fish out of.'"
Eventually, he made another boat with his younger daughter, Kelly otherwise known as "Kelly Bear." That boat is still used by his grandson.
The chief's pride in his children is evident in every word he speaks about them, and he hopes to have "done right by them."
"I've given a lot of time to my kids," he said. "I didn't have a good father, and I wanted to give my children a father."
He has given a lot of time to various technical skills as well as the military, and clearly takes great pride in what he accomplishes with them, as well.
Four years in the Navy during Viet Nam gave the chief a lot of experience on the water. Experience and training with drafting, electronics, welding and numerous other things added up to a set of useful skills for making things.
The chief's sprawling property is home to piles of items that some might consider useless. The chief feels differently.
"I'm a tinkerer," he said. "When somebody comes in here I say this isn't junk, this is storage. This is parts.
"Pretty much everything is just invented stuff I do."
Along with boats, he maintains a 32-year-old bicycle which looks as new as the day it was made. He also built a small wooden trailer camper including a small air conditioner.
Camper and boats were all made of wood, canvas laminated to wood, sheetrock tape and glue. Sails were made from poly tarp and double-sided duct tape.
He said that someone willing to put in the work could make a version of his first sailboat for around $100.
The chief can be found as Chief Redelk on the Duckworks Magazine discussion group (groups.yahoo.com/group/dwforum/) answering amateur boat building questions and posting his repair and building methods and wisdom for all to use.
"You never say you can't do something," he said. "You say I've tried it that way and I can't do it that way. I'm going to find another way."