27 Sep 2018
JON BOAT LIFE @Auction
Symbolizing the spirit of Freedom and Good Fun Jon Boat Life is lifestyle mark. It also offers eCommerce and consist a product line of Life Tackle Box, Sticker, Decal Sticker, T- shirt & Metal License Plate.Jon Boat Life is a multi-purpose grass roots community service organization that promotes a simple way of life while raising funds to grant wishes for terminally ill children through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. They also raise funds to protect wetlands through Ducks Unlimited. Jon Boat Life reserves rescue funds for natural disaster relief efforts. Jon Boats often serve on the front lines of flood relief aid by helping evacuate flood victims and transporting first responders in hard to reach flooded places.
The origin of the Jon boat, the slender craft with the gently raised bow, is lost in pioneer times. Boat builders somehow made the jump from native pirogues, heavy shells hollowed out of logs, to graceful 20-foot boats built with long, clear boards sawn from old growth pine trees.
The late Charlie Barnes of Galena, Missouri an ardent floater, river guide and Jon boat builder born in 1878, invented the Jon boat (may or may not) but certainly he defined its form on the White River. Barnes probably built over 500 of the boats in his lifetime. He guided large numbers of people from all over the United States on James and White river float trips. His clients included industrialists and movie stars. He lived in an era that ended forever in the 1950s, when the gates closed on Bull Shoals and Table Rock dams. Though Barnes is gone and his wooden Jon boats are only a memory, he lives on in the bright imagination of David Barnes of Lee’s Summit. David is Charlie’s grandson, and he is an avid collector of anything relating to his grandfather. He will quickly show visitors a scrapbook of magazine articles and photos and a model of one of his grandfather’s Jon boats that he built himself.
The clippings come from sources as varied as National Geographic, the Kansas City Star and Life Magazine. David Barnes’ best resource, though, is not in the yellowed columns of news clippings, but the living and breathing form of his 86-year-old uncle, Bill Barnes, one of Charlie Barnes’ sons.
Several of the clippings in David’s scrapbook suggest Charlie Barnes invented the jon boat in 1904. According to Bill, “The way he started on these Jon boats is that he lived on a farm near Galena, and it was only a short distance from the farm to the James River. They decided it was easier to catch fish out of a boat, so they built their first jon boat.”
David says the boat may have gotten its name many years later when a writer asked Charlie – who was hard of hearing – what kind of a boat he was looking at. Charlie thought he asked who the boat belonged to, and told him it was “John’s boat.” A clipping from a boat builder’s annual magazine says, “The famous sports writer and author Robert Page Lincoln, who frequently floated with Charlie, gave the craft the name john boat, a name it has carried ever since.”
Where other builders used wood supports in the interior of their jon boats, Charlie Barnes used iron. “The interior of the boat, to make supports, you had scrap iron,” Bill says. “Some of it was made from old buggy wheels. Dad would go to blacksmith shops and find things to get his iron. They come up the side of the boat so far, across the bottom and up the other side to support the gunwales.” All of Charlie’s boat work was done with hand tools, and Bill says his father was choosy about the lumber he would use to build boats. Charlie needed three 20-foot-long boards for the bottom of his boats and two 20-footers for the sides. “Those boats were so easy to handle on the water,” Bill said, “it was amazing.” One old timer said of the boats, “There’s nothing quite like `them.” The amount of “rake,” or upward curve on the front of the boats depended on what the boat would be used for. A fishing boat had more rake; a commissary boat, full of tents and less equipments. And even though black tar was melted and put on the tongue-and-groove seams on the bottom of the boat, the boats had to sit awhile in the water to seal. They sometimes leaked a bit, but Charlie Barnes put duckboards on the bottom of the boats so his clients feet wouldn’t get wet.
Charlie bought a Model T Ford, a used one, about 1915. He later bought a new car in Kansas City and drove it back to Galena. He was so taken with the automobile that he became a Ford dealer. David Barnes has a photo of the Ford garage in Galena. Bill remembers, “That was his first garage that he rented on the west side of the square in Galena. Later we built our own building on the east side.” While an auto dealer, Charlie Barnes was also in the float trip business, and he continued to build boats for his own use. Fishermen came from Kansas City, Springfield, St. Louis, Joplin, Wichita, Tulsa and even Chicago.” Bill remembers moving a car for some people from Canada – the steering wheel was on the wrong side of the car. Bill said his father’s float trip business extended all the way to Arkansas. “It was about a week on the James and White rivers from Galena to Branson, and a two-week float trip to Cotter, Arkansas,” Bill says. “In the early days they would get quite a number of boats accumulated, and they had a deal with the Missouri Pacific Railroad to put them on flat cars and bring them back home.” Trucks and trailers were later used to haul the Jon boats, the clients and all the equipment back to Galena. Charlie Barnes furnished everything necessary for camping on a float trip. He not only built his own boats, he made all of the other necessary equipment, including tents, for taking people on a one or two week trip.The boats only had two seats and used folding director’s chairs for the other seats.”
The National Geographic article notes, “With Charlie Barnes 39 years a White River guide if you cast all day and never got a strike that broke his heart.” A Kansas City Star article, in later years, said, “The 78 year-old Barnes had a special hankering … since the age of eight he has probably spent more time than anyone else on the White and James rivers with float fishing his main purpose. As for the jon boat he’s no doubt the world’s number one authority; all he did was introduce it to the Ozarks some 58 years ago.”
Charlie Barnes built a big box they took on floats, and they filled it with ice to keep food and drinks cold,” David Barnes says. “He made camp stoves that you could set over a campfire, and a griddle that had legs. They slept on cots. If it was cold, they would take a lantern and turn it down real low, and put it underneath the cot and put covers over it to keep warm. The fish were scrappy and fun to catch; the fish were also good to eat. Charlie Barnes, who had a reputation as a good gravel bar chef, had anything to do with them. He was a great cook, if the floaters got tired of eating fish, the guides shot a squirrel or bought a couple of chickens from a farm along the river. Barnes’ agility with wit and frying pan was illustrated in a newspaper story by Branson outfitter Jim Owen. “Charlie Barnes, one of the best guides I ever had, was the commissary man and cook on this party.
In 1932, Charlie Barnes and his wife moved to Branson, and Charlie began building Jonboats for outfitter Jim Owen, a local celebrity and one-time mayor of Branson who could put up to 35 boats on the White River at one time. A carved plaque on display in the museum at the College of the Ozarks notes that Owen brought float tripping “to its highest degree of perfection.”
Charlie Barnes left his mark on the Ozarks. One of his Jon boats is on display, with a collection of fishing lures and tackle, at the museum at the College of the Ozarks in a building that includes exhibits of Rose O’Neill’s Kewpie dolls and memorabilia from the Ozark country music scene. David and his family were surprised to find a picture of Charlie cooking on a gravelbar fire, on a table top in a restaurant in the Bass Pro Shop’s store in Springfield, but it too, lacks his name. Though later aluminum and fiberglass, Charlie constructed his boats from wood. Photographer Townsend Godsey’s 1977 book “These Were the Last,” documented Charlie’s craft. The late Jim Owen, “King of the Ozark Float Trip,” credited his guides and Charlie’s boat making skill with the incredible success of the Owen Boat Line that operated before big dams made cold water lakes out of the White River’s free flowing bass stream.
By 1940, Charley and Maggie, and adult children David and Marie lived in Branson where the 62-year-old Charlie was a fishing guide in the lucrative business Owen touted throughout the Midwest. He died at age 85 in 1964 and Maggie a year later. Charlie’s passing signaled the end of an era of craftsmanship that had its roots in the boat makers in the Old World of ancient times. Descendants included son Theodore Barnes, Ted’s son, Robert and wife Joyce and the couple’s son Shannon.
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