Barge rebuilt into luxury houseboat |
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At the Hope Marina on the northeast shore of Lake Pend Oreille, there are fast boats, slow boats, big boats, small boats, aluminum boats and wooden boats. Then there’s the Gullywhumper. It is unlike any other boat on the entire lake.
“We don’t know why it was built,” said Rick Auletta. “It was a barge.”
Rick Auletta is the owner of the Hope Marina and four years ago a man named Larry Meltzer came to him with a crazy idea; buy a rusting old barge and turn it into a spectacular houseboat.
“He’s from Topanga Canyon, California,” said Rick.
During the summer, Meltzer has a home at the lake’s Bottle Bay and wanted something unique for the water.
“I told him back then what it was going to cost. I wrote a letter saying what it was going to cost and that if I was going to do it, I never wanted to hear him complain about the cost,” said Auletta recalling the negotiations.
The estimated price tag for the renovation was nearly seven figures. Auletta’s daughter thought her dad’s stipulation of ‘no complaining’ would cost the marina the job. But Meltzer knew there probably wasn’t anyone else on Lake Pend Oreille who could handle the job and he wanted his house boat, so he agreed.
“It’s been four years and we’ll have it done by the end of 2013,” said Auletta.
The project was a complete renovation.
“It had a paddle wheel on the back so we cut that off and extended the back deck,” said Auletta.
The two story structure was then stripped down to the bare bones and crews began turning a barge into a luxury home.
“For me it’s been a little of a love-hate relationship,” said Auletta leaning on the granite counter top of the boat’s kitchen.
Auletta has boats in his blood. Growing up in New York he began working on boats and ships at a young age, gaining experience and knowledge. His work led him around the country from New York, to Florida, to California, to Idaho where he decided to settle on shores of Lake Pend Oreille, 20 years ago.
There have been times over the last four years that have been frustrating.
“Nothing is square, there’s nothing straight on a boat,” said Auletta.
Everything had to be custom built to fit in the size and shape of the boat. Carpenters were brought in to steam and bend the wood for the rounded corners of the cabin. The cabinets had to be specially made and Auletta had to figure out how to install a wood-burning fireplace on the boat.
“I have to give the owner some credit because some of his ideas that seemed a little far out there actually worked,” said Auletta.
The cabin features real hardwood floods, a fireplace, two bathrooms with custom tile and antique fixtures throughout. The captain’s chair is an antique barber’s chair. The deck is furnished with authentic wicker furniture from the 1940’s.
“Three bedrooms, two full baths, it’s a full house,” said Matt Jablon.
Jablon has spent countless hours working on the boat, doing all the work that’s covered by the finished wood work.
“Getting control cables through a boat like that, you are constantly crawling through the bilge,” said Jablon.
Four years into the project, the boat’s name is now on signs hanging from both sides of the second floor railing, “The Gullywhumper”.
“It comes from the Davy Crocket story, when he’s racing down the river,” said Auletta.
Since childhood, Meltzer has loved the Davy Crockett story. The original Gullywhumper is a rickety old boat on the Mississippi River. In the movie, the Gullywhumper sinks but that won’t be the case with the Gullywhumper on Lake Pend Oreille.
“It has 16 water tight bulkheads,” said Auletta.
“It reminds you of riding a big Seattle ferry,” said Jablon.
Making sure there is nothing wrong with those 16 bulkheads provided the last great challenge to the renovation.
“There’s no crane on the lake that will lift it out of the water,” said Auletta.
For more than 40 years, the Gullywhumper has been sitting in the water. While everything from the water line up has been rebuilt, the only way to inspect the bottom is to get it out of the water.
Auletta and Jablon came up with an idea to let the lake itself do the dry-docking.
“We had these beams cut over in Montana and then lashed them to the bottom of the boat while it was floating and then we waited,” said Auletta.
The Gullywhumper was tied up on the boat launch behind the Hope Marina building. As the lake began to drop to its winter time level, the bottom of the boat appeared.
“It worked,” said Auletta. “It sat right own on the beams and now we just have to wait until the water drops enough to get all the way under there.”
Auletta and Jablon were happily surprised when they took their initial look at the steel hull. They say it appears to be in great shape. When the lake level drops enough, the bottom of the boat will be surveyed, any needed repairs will be made and then it will be painted.
Over the last four years Auletta says anywhere from 4 people to 12 have been working on the Gullywhumper. While the project rescued an aging barge, it also helped keep people afloat during the great recession.
“It helped get us through four tough years,” said Auletta.
There is a pride that comes with a job well done and you’ll see that if you ever catch the Gullywhumper out on the waters of Lake Pend Oreille.
“In the summer when all the furniture is out and tiki torches are lit, it’s a sight,” said Jablon.