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The Famous Reelfoot "Lake Boat"
Four Generations of Boat Builders

In Memory of Dale Calhoun

 The Reelfoot "Lake Boat", or "Stumpjumper" is the oldest tradition at Reelfoot. Four generations of Calhoun's have built these unique boats and they are a true collectors item. They are featured in numerous museums all over the country, including the Smithsonian Institute and are also still used on the lake to this day.

 Designed to help navigate the many stumps and trees still standing in Reelfoot Lake, these boats are unique in every way. The slim design and shallow draft of these boats were perfect for navigating the shallow waters of Reelfoot.

 W.W. "Bill" Calhoun, his grandfather Boone Calhoun, and his great grandfather Joseph Calhoun, have all carried on this tradition of boat building for almost a century.

 Even though the lake boat's origins are unclear, they were believed to have first been built around 150 years ago. It is thought that a man named Herman B. "Con" Young was the original lake boat builder, although it can't be officially documented. There have been many builders of stumpjumpers over the years, but the longest lasting and most recognized are the Calhouns.

 It all started for the Calhouns around 1910 in Hornbeak, just a few miles from Reelfoot, where Dale's great grandfather had a woodworking and blacksmith shop. He practiced part time boat making, but it wasn't until his son Boone took over, that it became a full time lake boat operation.

 Boone learned from a man named John Milligan who was an employee at the Calhoun shop. He had studied boat building under Con Young years earlier. From that point on, the Calhoun's have been the boat buildingest family in the Reelfoot area.

 The most unique feature of the boat is the bow facing oars. These ratcheted oars allow you to see where you're going while rowing, which was a necessity in the early years of Reelfoot. The design of the oars is another vague historical fact. It's not exactly clear when they were first used. But, the patent for these oars was created in 1884 by Fred Allen of Monmouth, Il.

 There was a man named Sanford from Hornbeak, Tn that, according to some unofficial records, might be the actual inventor. Whether he actually invented them or not, is a question that will probably never be answered. But, that's probably the best way, not knowing. It adds just a little bit more to the aura of these unique boats.

 Around the 1930's the first lake boat was equipped with an inboard motor and rudder system, made from a washing machine motor. Shortly after that, inboard motors were a regular item on Calhoun's lake boats.

 Many articles have been written about these boats and their historical importance. They are also on display at the State Park Museum, The Walnut Log Visitor Center, The Tennessee Aquarium  in Chattanooga, Dixie Gun Works in Union City and The Tennessee State Museum in Nashville.

 The Calhoun's now own the patent to the bow-facing oars and still builds lake boats to this day. Boats and bow-facing oars are shipped all over the world from his little shop in Tiptonville.  The shop has moved a couple of times over the years and currently resides on the Lake Highway across from the State Park Museum.

For A Few Photos of Mr. Calhoun's Work
Click Here


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