Building an Adirondack Guideboat-Back from the North country

Every February my wife, Fran and I head to the Adirondacks for a two to three week stay.  Our neighbors here in Delaware think we are just a bit crazy since most people are headed in the opposite direction this time of year.  But Fran has a quilting workshop where she and her quilting buddies are reunited once a year.  I like to go to get a real taste of winter.  I can always count on deep snow this time of year and at least one good snowstorm.  During this trip I also plan to visit the Adirondack Museum’s Collection Storage and Study Center and a local hardwood dealer.  These two excursions will be covered in separate posts.

Little did we know when we arrived in Long Lake in early February that this February was to be one of the coldest on record for the northeast United States.  In fact it was within a degree of setting the record for the coldest February ever.

Sign announcing arrival in Long Lake

Sign announcing arrival in Long Lake

Last year Long Lake started a tradition know as Ice Fest.  Local businesses and organizations hire an ice sculptor to portray various town themes in ice.  Below is an ice sculpted float plane that was commissioned by Helm’s Aero Service.  This Long Lake float plane sightseeing business was started by Tom Helm’s father, who served in WWII as a crew member on B-17’s flying missions over Europe.  The business is now in its 60th year!  Long Lake natives tell me that, for them,the first sign that spring has finally arrived is the sound of Tom’s plane making its first flight after a very long winter.

Float plane ice sculpture

Float plane ice sculpture

As you can see from the first photo, the logo for Long Lake is the black bear.  Hoss’s Country Corner, a general store, commissioned the artist to carve an ice bear, complete with a fish in its mouth.

Bear ice sculpture

Bear ice sculpture

The town’s close association with guideboats and guideboat builders prompted the Long Lake Historical Society to propose a guideboat theme.  Wallace Emerson (1874-1953) learned to build guideboats from his uncle George Stanton.  George had earlier gone to Old Forge, NY to teach Dwight Grant how to build them.  Wallace opened his own shop in 1905 and apparently built some extra wide guideboats for fishing and hauling.  My neighbor, Tom Bissell, a 5th generation Long Laker, recalls that his father, Talbot remembers Wallace towing a fleet of guideboats up the lake every spring to the Sagamore Hotel.  Sadly the Sagamore is no longer in existence.

Ice sculpture of Wallace Emerson carrying a guidebot.

Ice sculpture of Wallace Emerson carrying a guideboat.

The weather in Long Lake this February was brutally cold. On many nights the temperature dipped to -20 F (-29 C).  On some days the temperature never reached 0 F (-18 C).  On some days the temperature would start out above zero and them slowly descend below zero.  Add to that the wind chills were often far below zero.

The following are some photos taken around town.

Sign at Long Lake church

Sign at Long Lake church

A picnic bench at the summer ice cream stand.

Picnic bench covered with snow.

Picnic bench covered with snow.

The snow seems to take on a plastic nature.

Snow on a clothes pole takes on a weird shape.

Snow on a clothes pole takes on a weird shape.

We have about 2 1/2 feet of snow on level ground, much more on plowed drifts.

Deep snow!

Deep snow!

When the time comes to pack up and go home the thermometer reads -20F when we awake at 6:30 am.

Thermometer reads minus 20.

Thermometer reads minus 20.


This causes all kinds of unexpected havoc.  To winterize the camp, I have to turn off the main water valve that is outside near the lake.  Once that is done I must open the two outside spigots so that no water is left in them.  The hot water spigot opens easily but not the cold one.  I turn the water back on and deluge the obstinate valve with hot water.  No luck.  It won’t open.  We decide to train a hair dryer on it from the inside the hopes that this will thaw it out.  After about an hour it finally opens.

In the meantime we need to drain the hot water heater tank.  A short hose leads from the hot water tank to a small hole in the foundation.  Usually the water from the heater drains into this hole with no problem.  We soon realize that the ground under this hole is frozen solid and the water from the tank is spilling out onto the floor.  Since having 60 gallons of water flow out onto the basement floor is not an option, we start a bucket brigade to haul the hot water away out into the yard.  After a two hour delay we are finally ready to say goodbye and think about what a lovely sight will greet us upon our return in June.

I just got the latest on the February temperatures for the New York State’s northeast cities that lie near the Adirondack Park.  It is not surprising that all experienced record low temperatures for the month of February.  The average temperatures for these cities for February are:

Buffalo 10.9 F ( -11.7 C)

Syracuse 9.0 F (-12.8 C)

Ithaca 10.2 F (-12.1 C)

Binghamton 12.2 F (-11 C)

On a normal year Buffalo would have an average temperature for February of 26.3 F (-3.2 C).  Syracuse and Ithaca each had 14 days of zero Fahrenheit ( -17.8 C) or below temperatures in February.

The Hudson River, which begins in the Adirondack Park, is frozen solid above New York City with ice up to 1 1/2 feet thick.  The US Coast Guard is keeping the shipping lanes open up to Albany by regular patrols of ice breaking ships.

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2 Responses to Building an Adirondack Guideboat-Back from the North country

  1. James Emerson says:

    Growing up in Long Lake in the 50’s and 60’s, I remember going outside on -40 degree mornings to complete stillness – and getting back in by the fire after a few minutes to thaw out. Great to see the photo of the ice sculpture of my grandfather, Wallace Emerson. Unfortunately, he died when I was very young, but I heard many great things about him.

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