Thousand Islands Marvel: Floyd Carter’s Motor Ice Boat

 


Author’s note:  A version of this story was originally published in the January 2011 issue of Thousand Islands Life magazine to mark the 100th anniversary of Carter’s invention.


 

        “The familiar sound of a put-put from the vicinity of Washington Island caused people to look at one another on Saturday.  It was the real noise so familiar to everybody on the water front and as it came nearer and more distinct the docks were well peopled.  An ice boat without a sail is a real novelty here, but such it proved to be.”

So opened a brief article in the Jefferson County Journal about the events of Saturday, January 21st, 1911, on a dock overlooking the St. Lawrence River in the Thousand Islands region of Jefferson County, New York, describing a new invention by local man, Floyd L. Carter, that was to be the subject of much attention—and imitation.[1]

wlw-floydcartersmotoriceboat_e5c2-carter_floyd_young-8x6

Floyd L. Carter as a young man, about 1890.

Floyd Carter was born in 1877 near Clayton, a son of Byron Carter and Clarissa Britton.  In 1896 Floyd married Ada[2], only daughter of Michael J. Diepolder, the keeper of Rock Island Lighthouse.[3]  By 1900, the couple was living at 1711 Spring St. in Thousand Island Park.[4]  It was here that Floyd began to hone his skills as a mechanic and a boatbuilder.

The Thousand Islands region lies at the confluence of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River and consists of 1,864 islands scattered between the U.S. and Canadian mainlands. Until the Thousand Islands International Bridge opened in 1938, boats were the only form of transportation for inhabitants of the islands or for those wishing to cross the international border.  In winter, when the river froze over, locals would use “ice boats”—homemade wooden platforms to which they attached sleigh runners, a cloth sail, and a rudder for steering—and wait for a steady wind to push them across the ice. Not only was it slow going, but it was also dangerous since the boats could be difficult to control and were at the mercy of the elements.

wlw-floydcartersmotoriceboat_e5c2-iceboat_1894-1895-8x6

An early example of the kind of sail-powered iceboat in use at the time of Carter’s invention, published in Jonathan Haddock’s 1895 book A Souvenir of the Thousand Islands (Watertown, N.Y.), 257.

The first mention of Floyd Carter in connection with an iceboat was in 1904, when he was working as an oarsman carrying passengers for hire between the islands and the mainland.  The December 29th edition of the Watertown Daily Times records: “Bill Tidd visited his parents here Christmas and on his return to Clayton engaged F. L. Carter with his ice boat to take him to Fisher’s Landing.” That trip ended abruptly when the iceboat, clocking 40 miles per hour, hit a weak spot in the ice, sending its passengers skidding across the icy river and damaging the iceboat severely.[5]

Over the next few years, Floyd earned a reputation as one of the finest boatbuilders on the river.  In 1906, he assisted Clinton Snell at Lafargeville in the construction of a naptha launch, 25 feet long with an eight foot beam.[6]  He built more than 20 racing boats, including some of the Sliver model.  In 1909 he introduced the Gazelle, cited as the smallest but fastest racer of its type on the river, which was purchased by Charles Freeman of New York City.  By the end of the year Floyd had plans to move to Dallas, Texas, to go into the automobile business.[7]  Fortunately for the onlookers at the docks in the winter of 1911, he stayed put….

The iceboat that Floyd Carter unveiled in January 1911 was 8 feet long and 7 feet wide.  Instead of having a mast and sail attached for wind-driven propulsion, like those used in the vicinity up to that time, his innovation was to incorporate an airplane propeller for locomotion.  Carter used a six horsepower Panard engine to drive the propeller, which had a span of more than 6 feet.  Two large runners provided support in the back, while a shaft attached to a single steering sleigh in the front provided directional control.  On its first trip across the ice the boat topped 50 miles per hour.[8]

wlw-floydcartersmotoriceboat_e5c2-carter-floyd-iceboat-master-8x6

Floyd L. Carter’s motor ice boat as depicted on a postcard.  The brand “Panard” is visible on the engine.  Calumet Island is visible over Carter’s left shoulder, suggesting the picture was taken at one of the docks on Riverside Drive in Clayton.  The man seated is unidentified.

Not to be outdone, other local builders soon introduced their own variations on Carter’s concept:

On January 31st, 1911, Fred Guernsey of Clayton presented his motor ice boat, identical to Carter’s with the exception that his engine was attached via sprocket chain to a spiked cogwheel at the rear of the boat which dug into the ice to move it forward.[9]

In December 1911, airplane builder Charles Hoffman introduced his “Areao-Ice-Hydro-plane”, an 11 foot contraption with 37 inch beam, consisting of runners attached to the bottom of a boat hull, powered by a five foot propeller rotating 1,900 times per minute and achieving top speeds of 60 miles per hour.  Hoffman’s invention could use the runners while on ice, and stay afloat via the hull when it struck water, making it ideal for the thawing season (if only Carter was driving this back in 1904!).[10]

windows-live-writer-floyd-carters-motor-iceboat_65cb-carter-floyd-stationary-8x6

Detail from Floyd Carter’s engine repair business letterhead. Courtesy of Dr. Maynard H. Mires.

In 1912, Theron Patterson and Benton Wilbur of Alexandria Bay extended the motorized ice travel concept to dry land.  Their idea was to affix two cutter runners to a horse sleigh, and mount a 16 horsepower engine in the back, connected to a six foot air wheel for propulsion.  This new “motor sleigh” was capable of reaching speeds on land of 30 miles per hour, could climb hills, and on one trip reportedly traveled by road to Chippewa Bay, then over the river to Dark Island.  Two years later, Patterson improved his design with a new torpedo shape powered by a lighter engine, achieving 40 miles per hour.[11]

In 1929, Julius M. Breitenbach’s sleek new Arctic Goose was in service, hitting record speeds of 131 miles per hour.[12]

In 1931, Morris Knight patented a variation on Hoffman’s design, for an iceboat capable of navigating both ice and open water.[13]

By 1953, an airplane-based iceboat was in use by Robert Lashomb to carry the mail from Clayton to Grindstone Island, shortening the trip to 15 minutes or less–still the practice today.[14]

Floyd Carter died in February 1935, but his skill in both mechanics and boatbuilding continued to inspire his family long after[15]:

His young brother-in-law, Larry Diepolder, whom Floyd helped rear at Thousand Islands Park, went into business as a “gas engineer” and boat pilot.[16]  In 1921, Larry moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, where he competed in water races using boats he built himself.  He opened “Die Polder Electric Motors” which is still in business today.[17]

Floyd’s son Austin S. Carter moved to Chelan, Washington, after World War II, where he engaged in the boatbuilding business on Lake Chelan.[18]  In 1950, he was granted a patent for his concept of a “foldable boat.”[19]

So the next time you are on a lake or a river and you hear the familiar “put-put” of an engine off in the distance, perhaps you’ll remember the story of Floyd Carter and his motor ice boat from more than 100 years ago.  And when you hear it, be sure to stop, linger a while, and look around…. for like those assembled on the dock that chilly day, you may just find yourself a witness to the next great invention!

[Note: The author, Mark Wentling, is the great-great-grandson of the article subject, Floyd Carter.]

 

SOURCES:

All images from author’s personal collection except where otherwise noted.

[1] “Jefferson County: The News of Its Many towns as Taken From Our Exchanges,” Cape Vincent (N.Y.) Eagle, 26 January 1911, pg. 1, col. 7; digital image, NYS Historic Newspapers (http://www.nyshistoricnewspapers.org : accessed 26 January 2011).

[2] Carter Bible Records, 1834-1974, family pages only from unknown Bible; digital images made by Mark A. Wentling, Randolph, Massachusetts, 2009.  The Bible originated with Byron Carter and his wife Clarissa Britton, parents of Floyd Carter, whose births are the earliest entries; comparison of ink and handwriting suggest most entries were created by Ada Diepolder, Floyd’s wife.  The Bible passed to her daughter Kathleen (Carter) Abbott Philow and was then lost when her estate was dispersed following her death in 1984.  The Bible turned up on the online auction website Ebay in 2009 and was purchased by Mark A. Wentling, great-great-grandson of Floyd and Ada, and it is now in possession of his grndmother, Barbara (Carter) O’Brien, Floyd and Ada’s granddaughter, as of 2017.

[3] 1880 U.S. census, Jefferson County, New York, population schedule, Town of Orleans, Lafargeville, enumeration district (E.D.) 135, pg. 18-B, dwelling number 162, family number 165, M. J. Diepolder; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 February 2017); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 839.

[4] 1900 U.S. census, Jefferson County, New York, population schedule, Town of Orleans, Thousand Island Park, enumeration district (E.D.) 26, pg. 2-B, dwelling 44, family 46, Floyd Carter; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 February 2017); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 1041.

[5] “Thousand Islands Park: Four People Spilled From a Flying Ice Boat.”  Watertown Daily Times, 29 December 1904. pg. 4, col. 3-4; digital image, Old Fulton NY Postcards (http://www.fultonhistory.com : accessed 26 January 2011).

[6]  “Lafargeville” [local notes],  The Watertown (N.Y.) Herald,  3 February 1906. unpaged, col. 3; digital image, NYS Historic Newspapers (http://www.nyshistoricnewspapers.org : accessed 26 January 2011).

[7] “St. Lawrence Park” [local notes],  The Syracuse (N.Y.) Herald, 1 August 1909, pg. D-5, col. 3; digital image, Old Fulton NY Postcards (http://www.fultonhistory.com : accessed 26 January 2011);  “Thousand Island Park” [local notes],  The Syracuse (N.Y.) Herald, 29 August 1909, pg. D-5, col. 6; digital image, Old Fulton NY Postcards (http://www.fultonhistory.com : accessed 26 January 2011); and “Thousand Island Park” [local notes],  The Syracuse (N.Y.) Herald, 5 September 1909, pg. D-5, col. 3; digital image, Old Fulton NY Postcards (http://www.fultonhistory.com : accessed 26 January 2011).

[8] “Motor Driven Ice Boat.”  Jefferson County (N.Y.) Journal, [21-23?] January 1911, unpaged, col. 4; digital image, Old Fulton NY Postcards (http://www.fultonhistory.com : accessed 26 January 2011); “Power Driven Ice Boats on River,”  Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times, 4 February 1911, pg. [illegible], col. 4; digital image, Old Fulton NY Postcards (http://www.fultonhistory.com : accessed 26 January 2011); and “Motor Driven Ice Boat Like An Aeroplane.”  Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times, 1 March 1911. pg. 6, col. 2; digital image, Old Fulton NY Postcards (http://www.fultonhistory.com : accessed 26 January 2011).

[9] “Power Driven Ice Boats on River,” pg. [illegible], col. 4.

[10] “Remembering… Dec, 28 1911,” Thousand Islands (N.Y.) Sun, 5 September 1984, pg. 15; “Remembering… 22 Feb. 22, 1912: New Style of Motor Sleigh,” undated clipping, ca. late 1990s, Thousand Islands (N.Y.) Sun. Privately held by Mark A. Wentling, Randolph, Massachusetts, 2017.

[11] “Remembering… February 19, 1914: Patterson’s Motor Sleigh”undated clipping, ca. late 1990s, Thousand Islands (N.Y.) Sun. Privately held by Mark A. Wentling, Randolph, Massachusetts, 2017.

[12]  Arctic Goose [untitled clipping],  Thousand Islands (N.Y.) Sun, 5 January 1933; Rex Ennis, “Arctic Goose,”  Thousand Islands Lifeposted 12 February 2010 (http://www.thousandislandslife.com/BackIssues/Archive/tabid/393/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/423/ldquoArctic-Gooserdquo.aspx : accessed 30 January 2011).

[13] “Google Patents,” database with images, Google (http://www.google.com/patents/about?id=1bpSAAAAEBAJ&dq=morris+knight+ice+bvoat : accessed 28 January 2011), images, Morris C. Knight, ice and water boat, patent file no. 1,816,118 (1931); original file location not cited.

[14] Robert Lashomb [untitled clipping].  On the St. Lawrence (Carthage, N.Y.), 13 February 1953; ; digital image, NYS Historic Newspapers (http://www.nyshistoricnewspapers.org : accessed 26 January 2011).

[15] Carter Bible Records.

[16] “U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” database with images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 January 2011), card for Lawrence Engelbert Diepolder, card no. 21, Local Draft Board 3, Orleans District 5, Jefferson County, New York; citing NARA microfilm publication M1509, roll 1753743.

[17]  Mark A. Wentling, “Rock Island Lighthouse Keepers: Emma E. Diepolder, 1901,” Rock Island Lighthouse Historical & Memorial Association (http://rockislandlighthouse.org/row.html : accessed 30 January 2011).

[18] “Austin S. Carter,” obituary, Wenatchee (Washington) World, 27 January 1975, p. 23, col. 5.

[19] “Google Patents,” database with images, Google (http://www.google.com/patents/about?id=rQlUAAAAEBAJ&dq=austin+s.+carter+foldable+boat : accessed 28 January 2011), images, Austin S. Carter, foldable boat, patent file no. 2,533,220 (1950); original patent file location not cited.

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