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Knife River to display historical boat photos

The fishing tug Crusader II will be one of many commercial fishing tugs and gas boats highlighted during a presentation on the commercial fishing industry in Knife River. (New-Chronicle photo by Jamey Malcomb)

For more than a century, Knife River has been a name synonymous with boats and the fishing industry that once flourished on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

For many years, local residents have collected and restored old fishing boats from the first half of the 20th century. In late 2016, residents pooled their resources to return the Crusader II, a 1939 fishing tug, to Knife River to be restored and maintained by the Knife River Recreation Council (KRRC).

Primarily used to catch herring in Lake Superior, the Crusader II was built in Larsmont by Rueben and Helmer Hill. It was even christened in Knife River by Crown Prince Olav of Norway during a visit to the North Shore, according the the Lake County Historical Society.

There will be a community program at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 25, at the Knife River Recreation Center featuring photos of "family gas boats and fishing tugs," as well as commentary from attendees who have memories or personal experiences with commercial fishing boats.

"We're tying to organize and get a bunch of Knife River fishing boat owners and former owners together and talk about the boats they owned, where the boats were made and what happened to them," organizer Bill Berg said. "We're going to show pictures of these boats and hopefully get some remembrances from people sitting in the audience."

The Crusader II is a commercial fishing tug, meaning there is an enclosed cabin on the boat's deck and it's under 35 feet long. The boat sat on the shores of Agate Bay in Two Harbors for more than a quarter-century before returning to Knife River. When the Historical Society had problems securing grants for the vessel's maintenance, the KRRC stepped in and agreed to restore and maintain it at the Knife River Marina.

The gas boats evolved out of the Mackinaw boats that once dominated commercial fishing on the Upper Great Lakes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The 18- to 24-foot boats were fast, with a large cargo capacity and a flat bottom that allowed them to be hauled onto the the shoreline.

As gasoline motors came to prominence following World War I, many Mackinaw boats had engines added, and they became fishing families' "gas boats."

"They fished on these boats and they had sails because it was the 1800s and early 1900s," Knife River resident Paul von Goertz said. "Pretty soon gas engines started appearing in the 1920s and it was still Mackinaw, but you couldn't call it a Mackinaw because it had an engine, so it became a gas boat. It's a term some that some of us here in town want to keep alive because of cultural and historical reasons."

Families tend to hang on the old commercial fishing boats, according to von Goertz, because lives and livelihoods depended on the boats. Von Goertz restores boats as a hobby at his home and tried for years to buy one of the old gas boats to restore, but found it difficult because have been owned by the same family for generations and those families are reluctant to part with a piece of their history.

"I think women might be interested in the family aspect of it, (these boats) were almost an adopted member of the family," von Goertz said. "They would wait for the dads and husbands to come back amid heavy blows. These guys took a lot of pride in their boats for seaworthiness and effectiveness and in terms of catching fish."

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb started as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle in August 2015. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and previously worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. He is the beat writer for the Lake County Board of Commissioners, Silver Bay City Council and high school sports in Lake County. 

(218) 834-2141
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