And that's how the whole thing got started. Mary owns a boat and knows about these things, so Tom had no choice but to get into a long, drawn-out argument. The object of this controversy was the Schwendlemeyer Schwimmerwagen, that curiosity of the nautical world.
The Schwendlemeyer Schwimmerwagen, to differentiate it from other Schwimmerwagens, contains a substantial amount of aftermarket engineering. Tom started with a basic 196? bug, and after removing the body, discovered that it would no longer float. His quest in life then became the discovery of the minimal amount of additional material necessary to make the vehicle overall lighter than water.
Mary's analysis was that the Schwendlemeyer Schwimmerwagen suffered from a lack of freeboard rather than a surplus. This statement was based on the vehicle's long and colorful history of sinking. There was the disasterous test drive in the Parma swimming pool (the problem became how to raise the Schwendlemeyer Schwimmerwagen without bringing heavy equipment across the petunias. Eventually the petunias lost), and there was last year's Volkswagen party when Tom sank the car and 5 passengers in the neighbor's pond out at the Volkswagen Museum. The Schwimmerwagen did not sink on the attempt to cross Lake Erie because of the benefits of seven 55 gallon drums welded on for flotation. However, the drums made driving the car on the road a nightmare.
So now Tom and Mary were involved in a caustic argument about freeboard (that amount of other boats that shows above the waterline). Since Mary lives next to the Cuyahoga River just downstream of Akron, and since the next weekend was to be Riverfest in the Flats of Cleveland, the inevitable conclusion of the argument was a trip down the river.
Starting early on Saturday morning, Tom drove the Schwendlemeyer Schwimmerwagen down to the trailer park which is smack in the heart of the Cuyahoga National Park. The original plan was to launch from the bicycle path in the National Park, but when Tom passed the Ranger Headquarters building, the impenetrable cloud of oil smoke following the Schwimmerwagen caught someone's attention.
Two Rangers from the National Park followed Tom to the trailer park and demanded to see his license, registration, and any other papers he might be carrying. This effectively put the kee-bosh on the bicycle path concept and a fast war council yielded the alternative of driving the Schwendlemeyer Schwimmerwagen through Mr Szalay's corn field to the banks of the Cuyahoga. One of the Rangers followed as far as the turnoff into the cornfield.
Where the Cuyahoga River cuts through that corn field there is a bank about 10 feet high. Tom, of course, could see nothing except corn stalks, so when he finally found the river, it was a surprise for everyone. Mary managed to stay inside the vehicle, but the rest of us were tossed like salad into the river. The river at this point is just south of the Akron sewage facility, so swimming is definitely frowned upon, and once back in the Schwimmerwagen, we began to refer to it as the Stankerwagen.
The Schwimmerwagen landed upright in the river,and took on no water at all, so Tom took the high ground in the freeboard controversy. When we passed Ira Road, Tom waved to his friend the Ranger, who was stopped on the bridge, talking on the radio.
Now the way it works is this: the National Park owns all the land (with the exception of such parcels as the trailer park) right down to the banks of the Cuyahoga, but the river is under the jurisdiction of the State of Ohio.
Here's how I know: when the National Park was starting in 1975, they engendered a lot of bad feeling among the locals by eminent-domaining most of the land owners in the valley. What goodwill might have been left was destroyed by the high-handed way the Rangers treated the residents who remained. For instance, Leonard Schmidt had been a potato farmer in the valley for fifty years when the park took all of his fields. Leonard was allowed to live out his days in his house, but one day a Park Ranger saw Leonard's dog, a potato farmer dog, kill a groundhog in one of those fields. Following the dog home, the Ranger wrote out a $25 ticket for killing a Park groundhog and handed it to Leonard.
"Twenty five dollars for a groundhog," Leonard said. "How much for a Ranger?"
Leonard had to pay the ticket, but the story made the national press and among his correspondence Leonard received a $25 check from a US Congressman who also thought it was a raw deal.
And so, every year the local boys make a point of duck hunting on the river surrounded by the National Park. The federales at first tried to arrest them, but had their wrists slapped by higher authorities. And this is how I know that the Park Rangers have no jurisdiction over the river itself. But this fact did not deter them from trying to interfere with the foray of the Schwendlemeyer Schwimmerwagen.
When we got to the town of Peninsula, there were a number of Rangers parked on the bank by the Peninsula Nite Club. One of them, wearing a black Smokey Bear hat and evidently in charge, was using a bull horn to yell at us. Because of the dam at that point in the river, there is a large estuary with high banks, and the sound of the bullhorn echoed around us, completely incomprehensible. The bullhorn, of course, caught the attention of passersby and locals, and before long a crowd had gathered to watch Schwimmerwagen vs Peninsula dam.
Mary had told Tom about the dams in the river, and he had consequently welded a skid plate on the bottom of the Schwimmerwagen for the purpose of traversing them. The actual drop at the Peninsula Dam is only about a foot, although it sure looks higher when you're going over it, so Tom circled around a number of times, picked his approach, and then attacked the dam at full speed. Even the black-hat Ranger waited to see what would happen.
There was a loud THUNK the Schwimmerwagen paused, the bow went under water and the river poured in, and then we were past the dam. The crowd cheered, Black Hat started yammering on the bullhorn, and Mario dropped his pants in a traditional salute to those on the shore. In retrospect, this may have been a mistake since it seems to have given the Park Rangers an attitude.
Bailing the vehicle with milk jugs culled from the superstructure, Mary pressed her point about the lack of freeboard on the Schwimmerwagen. As we floated along, we occasionally waved to hikers on the towpath trail or spied Ranger vehicles speeding north on nearby roads, but overall the trip had become very peaceful. There were pools populated by geese and all manner of wild birds. At one point we surprised a buck and three doe on the bank.
When we got down to Boston Road, we found the bridge loaded with Park Rangers and local police. The local police seemed to be there only in an observational capacity (some openly laughing at the antics of those zany Rangers). The Rangers, Black Hat in charge, had brought a long boat hook and were evidently intent upon snagging the Schwimmerwagen and ending the voyage.
Tom took this in stride, and since the Schwendlemeyer Schwimmerwagen is a powered vehicle, it was not difficult to evade the Ranger boathook. Mary, always fastidiously clean, would no longer sit next to any of the rest of us, and she took up a position in the bow, fending off the hook whenever it came near.Eventually, as the Schwimmerwagen milled around in the vicinity of the bridge, the cloud of oil smoke became so thick that the Park Rangers could not see us, and we slipped on downstream. Ceremoniously, Mario saluted them again.
It had become obvious to the most incapacitated of us (that would be Kevin, who started drinking the celebration schnapps even before the launch) that the Park Rangers had developed a burr under the saddle and had no intention of letting us finish our voyage in peace. We lured Mary back into the Schwimmerwagen and held another war council to decide what to do.
The next bridge we would encounter was in the town of Jaite, another of those towns that the National Park Service had bought and evicted all the residents so they could use the houses for their own mysterious activities. We all felt that a major ambush would be prepared for us in Jaite, but we were mistaken. Instead, there was one lone Park Ranger on the bridge, and he waved back to use when we passed and then pointed north. Either Black Hat had given up, or they were preparing an even bigger party up ahead.
And so, although not unanimously, we decided to abandon the voyage in the name of prudence. When we passed the area where old Vaughn Road used to run along the river, Tom drove the Schwimmerwagen out of the river and we made our way to the highway. Taking the long way back, we stopped at the Rt 82 high level bridge where we had planned to bypass the dam below, which is considerably higher than the one in Peninsula. Our decision to end the trip was vindicated. The Park Rangers had launched two outboard boats in the pool above the dam, and the sides of the river were filled with Park Ranger and local police cars. As we were leaving, a helicopter arrived.
We drove down to downtown Brecksville, a safe trip since all of the police force appeared to be down at the river, and stopped in the fancy-shmancy Old Stagehouse Inn, where, smelling like Akron sewage, we ordered some schnapps and dinner, and Mario called all of the local television stations with a story about a mass drowning in the Cuyahoga under the 82 bridge ("if you hurry you may still be able to film it").
So we never did make it up to Riverfest, but we had a grand adventure and Tom eventually agreed with Mary about freeboard, so we made Tom pay for the dinner and drinks and deemed the event an overall success.
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