Jeff Jardine

Air boat no match for Tuolumne River hyacinth

Hughson-area resident Ken West built this air boat three years ago and normally can glide along on the Tuolumne River. Recently, though, he got stuck in a mass of water hyacinth.
Hughson-area resident Ken West built this air boat three years ago and normally can glide along on the Tuolumne River. Recently, though, he got stuck in a mass of water hyacinth.

From the emails, voice mails and other reliable sources:

GROUNDED OR WEEDED? Friday morning, I visited with Mike and Susie Keckler at their home along the hyacinth-clogged Tuolumne River near Hughson for my Sunday column on the effects of the drought.

That night, they came home to find the neighbor’s homemade air boat stuck in the thick weeds in the river directly behind their home.

Ken West built the boat himself three years ago and uses it to glide up and down the river. If you’ve ever seen old “Flipper” reruns (or, like me, remember the original episodes), his boat will look familiar: nearly flat-bottomed and propelled by a large fan.

They are designed to travel through the vegetation of Florida’s everglades.

“Mine probably needs more power,” West said.

Friday, he took a ride upstream and had no problem breezing over the river’s deeper north bank where it passes by the Kecklers’ property west of the Geer Road Bridge at Fox Grove. But on the return trip, he stayed closer to the south bank and found the hyacinth so thick and deep that the boat could go no farther.

“I put the oar down and it felt like it was about 21/2 feet thick (deep),” West said.

He called his son, Doug, who lives nearby, for help.

“We were about 25 feet from the bank and we were able to get a rope up there and tie (it down),” West said.

Not that the boat was going anywhere. It was stuck. They came back to extricate it over the weekend.

MUSIC TO THEIR EARS – Last week, I wrote about Earl Smith Jr. of Modesto. A clarinet player in the Army’s 37th Infantry Division band, he was “ordered” by Gen. Douglas MacArthur to play with the Manila Symphony Orchestra in a series of concerts that began May 9, 1945, in the bombed-out shell of the Santa Cruz Church in Manila.

The orchestra last week re-enacted that concert – though in a modern concert hall, not the rebuilt church – and Smith sent a video and memorabilia to organizers to contribute to the event.

Smith moved to Modesto in 1958, where he oversaw music programs in elementary and junior high schools.

Thursday, I received a call from longtime MoBand director George Gardner, who was one of Smith’s students.

“And he hired me for my first job,” Gardner said. “1971 at Roosevelt Junior High. He basically got me started.”

Smith is now 96 years old and still going strong.

“He’s the only one of my music teachers I ever heard in school who is still alive,” Gardner said. “John Gottschalk, all of the college band directors, the junior high instructors – all gone. He was my first teacher and the only one still living.”

On Monday, Smith received an invitation to participate in Atwater High School’s annual patriotic concert April 22. The event in the school’s gym ($5 donation at the door) will benefit Honor Flight, an organization that sends World War II veterans to visit their memorial on the Capitol Mall in Washington, D.C.

Atwater band director Norm Caulkins wrote to say he would love to have Smith conduct a few numbers if he is so inclined.

Last year, the concert proceeds went to the Wounded Warrior Project.

FUNGI FEST – Ever hunted for mushrooms? I remember going out with my dad on these expeditions when I was young, traipsing all over the hills looking for them.

No weapon required other than a sharp pocketknife. The U.S. Forest Service allows you to pick up to 5 pounds of the fungi at no charge, and charges $4 per pound for you mushroom hoarders, who can pick up to 75 pounds a year. They must be cut from the stem and sliced in half lengthwise and tagged, like deer, filling the permit’s “Product Quantity Removal Record” before taking them home.

Contact ranger stations in Sonora at (209) 532-3671, Calaveras County at (209) 795-1381, Groveland at (209) 962-7825, Mi-Wuk Village at (209) 586-3234 or Summit in Pinecrest at (209)965-3434.

AUTHOR! AUTHOR! Daniel Arnold of Sonora penned – OK, typed – “Snowblind: Stories of Alpine Obsession,” a collection of stories about men and women who live for the thrill of climbing the most dangerous and jagged peaks. Published by Berkeley’s Counterpoint Press, it’s available in paperback on Amazon ($12.54) and as a Kindle book ($8.91).

And Silver Lamb, a longtime music educator in the Sylvan Union School District, has released her second book. “Grace Ruby” is a novel about a woman tormented by inner secrets that show up in her writings. Amazon carries the book for $13.50 in paperback.

Bee columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at or (209) 578-2383. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJardine57.

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