Jul 23, 2011

Thoughts of Lake George...

Lake George
During the 1940's, my family rented a place at Lake George for the entire month of August.  The cabin was on Basin Bay and was named "The Birches."  It was owned by a family in Albany from whom my parents rented it.  I recall what a big deal it was to get ready to go on our annual vacation.  You'd think we were driving to the West Coast!

Both gasoline and tires were rationed during the war years.  My father would be careful to save up enough gasoline ration coupons to be able to put gas in our 1940 Chevrolet for the trips up to Lake George and back.  He would join us every weekend after spending the first week.  So the car made a total of 4 or 5 round trips.  The distance from our house in Schenectady to the cabin was about 60 miles, so the total driving involved each August could amount to as much as 600 miles, a distance that might involve lots of gasoline ration coupons.  Gasoline was a commodity that was rationed according to "differential coupon rationing."  The amount allowed to various individuals was based on need.  My dad was a dentist and therefore had a so-called "B" ration sticker which authorized him to buy eight gallons of gasoline per week.

The Birches, Basin Bay, Lake George, New York, as seen from the lake

My sister and brother and I always looked forward to going to Lake George.  I can still recall the strong scent of the balsam firs that surrounded the cabin.  The place was populated by dozens of chipmunks that were tame enough to eat out of our hands.  The decor of the cabin, a two-story structure with a couple of upstairs bedrooms, was early hand-me-down.  My parents always had a house full of guests.  We kids slept on swings and hammocks on the screened in porch.  At night, even in August, the temperature would drop to the 60's.  We had a dock and a lapstrake fishing boat with a 16-horsepower outboard.  We swam and fished and explored for a whole month.  I can't imagine a more wonderful place for kids to experience a summer vacation.

El Lagarto, piloted by George Reis
The other day, I was reading an article on the H.A.M.B. about the styling of early competition speedboats.  It reminded me of a memory from Lake George that I hadn't thought about for many years.  A gentleman named George Reis had a prominent home on the lake.  His claim to fame was that he was a veteran boat racer whose career dated back to 1916 when he took third-place in the Gold Cup.  My interest in Mr. Reis was because he owned an incredible boat named "El Lagarto," -- the lizard.

El Lagarto's
 remarkable career began inauspiciously with an eleventh-place performance in the 1922 Gold Cup at Detroit as Miss Mary II.  Designed and built by John Hacker as a V-bottom displacement-type of boat, she measured 25 feet 10 inches in length with a 5-foot 6-inch beam and originally used a 150-horsepower Peerless engine.   Reis purchased El Lagarto from original owner Ed Grimm in about 1925.  He named the craft after his brother's estate in Palm Springs, California, which was named "El Lagarto" because of an abundance of lizards in that vicinity.  George installed a rebuilt 621 cubic inch Packard engine and used her as a pleasure craft on Lake George for several years.  These huge Packard six-cylinder engines produced around 260 horsepower.  In 1935, Reis piloted El Lagarto to a record 72.727 miles per hour in a one-mile trial on Lake George.  That stands as the fastest straightaway speed ever attained by a restricted Gold Cup class boat.  He occasionally entered her in free-for-all races against such local contenders as Jolly Roger, Falcon, and Hawkeye.

On Sunday mornings, we would hear the roar of El Lagarto's engine as it approached from the north.  We kids would run to a favorite vantage point to observe the spectacle.  Down the lake she would roar at speeds of seventy miles per hour -- unheard of in the gasoline-rationed society with a national highway speed limit of 35 miles per hour!*  We'd see her vanish to the south, soon to return on her homeward leg, still throwing up a rooster's tail 30 feet into the air.  What a spectacle!  And it repeated nearly every weekend.

After Margo passed away, my good friends Forrest and Sue Frueh from Norman, Oklahoma, invited me to join them for a few days at Lake George.  Sue's family had had a place on the lake when she was a little girl.  It was a perfect getaway.  The smell of balsams flooded my mind with memories.  One day we drove up to Basin Bay and The Birches is still there, looking unchanged since the 1940's.  And I thought I heard the echoes of a long-remembered racing boat.

* On 1 December, 1942, 
Gas rationing and a 35 mph speed limit on all roads that had been in effect along the East Coast for 7 months was extended nationally to conserve gasoline and rubber.  That speed limit remained in effect until 15 August, 1945, when it was raised to 50 miles per hour.

Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments: