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The Forsyth Boat Club, also known as the River Rats, was organized in 1961.

Meetings were held the third Wednesday of each month at the Elk Cafe banquet room (currently the Speedway Diner).

The club also sponsored a yearly dance which was held at the Century Club, a nightclub  and restaurant which stood on Highway 10 near the east end of Forsyth.




Memories of the

My dad was one of the founding members of the Boat Club, and for two summers, he wrote a "River Rats" column in the Forsyth Independent.

At first, he didn't reveal his identity - just the initials R.R.B. Finally people began to figure out that the initials stood for River Rat Blakesley, so that was the byline he used from then on.

All of the "River Rats" columns are presented here for your reading pleasure. Besides being entertaining (especially if you knew the people involved!) they give a good picture of what boating on the Yellowstone was like in the 1960s.

One of the original columns is pictured at the left, so you can get an idea how they looked as printed in the newspaper.

Other news articles about the boat club appeared in the paper from time to time, and some of those are included here too.  The article below, "Suspenders Wanted," is one of my favorites and was written by editor Don McCausland. It was part of his weekly column "Noosy Notes and Haphazard Happenings."  The "star" of the article, Don Herndon, was another founding member of the boat club. Don's wife, Georgie, was a typesetter at the Independent.

by Don McCausland, from the Forsyth Independent, 1961)

Last Sunday Don Herndon exposed some heretofore unsunburned skin to the broiling rays of Old Sol.

He took a spill while water skiing, and unknown to him, his swim trunks were forced down to a point where, had they remained so, he would have ended up with a well-tanned constitution.

He made the shocking discovery when he started to climb into the boat after finishing his ride. He is reported to have remarked that it was a “good thing I noticed that before I got back to shore.”

What he didn’t realize or know at that time was that he had already made a number of passes up and down the river on the skis in what must have appeared as a scanty scanty sunsuit.

Well, Don, it’s nothing that a good stout pair of suspenders won’t prevent happening in the future.

Don & Georgie Herndon


(from the Forsyth Independent, 1961)

The first meeting of the Forsyth Boat Club July 24 saw the election of Adolph Tallent as commodore, Pete Schiffer, vice commodore; Paul Schiffer, chairman of the membership committee; Mrs. Adolph Tallent, secretary-treasurer; Don Herndon, chairman of the program and attendance committee. At the present time there are 13 members.

The president viewed accomplishments of the group as follows: “There is a boat dock in the water which is used by both swimmers and sun bathers as well as boaters. There is a cement slab for launching boats without getting stuck. This has been useful for tourists who have been observed washing their cars while they take a swim.

“Speaking for the club as a group, I would like to take this opportunity to thank H. K. Fillner for his donated legal services in forming this organization. I also thank Don Herndon for the use of his shop and equipment and the material which he donated. Anyone in the surrounding area who would like to join the club can do so by attending the meetings or contacting the treasurer. Our next project will be to level off a larger area for campers and picnickers and the installation of two restrooms.”

The president also remarked that “some people have not been very cooperative, and we would appreciate it if those persons using the area would please use the trash cans, as somebody has to clean up the mess and nobody likes this job. Also, broken glass is dangerous, especially in the river.”

1961-62 River Rats articles

The monthly meeting of the “River Rats” more commonly known as the Forsyth Boat Club was held last Wednesday at the Elk Cafe with 15 members present.

Discussion was held on a proposed trip on Tongue River Reservoir the weekend of July 7 and 8. It is hoped that all members will be able to make this overnite trip. From what I’ve found out the lake is full and fishing good. A barbecue will be held at approximately 9 o’clock Saturday night, after all boaters are at the lake. Tom Pettigrew has agreed to take care of preparing the beef.

The mighty Yellowstone is still too high for good boating and skiing but by next weekend and by the Fourth the grounds should have dried up and the river dropped somewhat.

At this point the members of the club would like to give a vote of thanks to Gladys Schiffer and her 4-H Club for the wonderful job of cleaning up the cans and glass that some mis-guided person or persons threw over the area at the river. Also for cutting the weeds that were getting so high you could hardly see. I think they might have cut an asparagus shoot I had my eye on but maybe it will come up next year. Anyway it is better without the weeds.

We also want to take this opportunity to thank the Rosebud-Treasure Wildlife Assn. for their donation of $25. Believe me, fellows, it will be put to good use. Thanks again.

Anyone wanting to venture to Hebgen Lake for some good fishing and water skiing get in touch with “Never Start” Clark (pictured at right). The family have just returned from there and report a good time.

Remember July 7-8, the weekend of the trip to Tongue River. Let’s see everyone there for a weekend of fun.

Boating news this week will center mostly on our trip to Tongue River Reservoir.

According to reports this reporter has had, all members are planning to make the excursion. I’ve been informed that at least one member, Cartwrights, will leave Friday night so when the rest of us working people get there everything should be in readiness. At least we can blame them if they haven’t picked out a good camping spot.

I don’t know if it has been discussed or not but I think it would be a good idea if they would mark the turnoff with a placard or red flag and also some distinguishing marks along the trail. Coming in at night like some of us will be doing could be very confusing. Maybe Marilyn would set on the road and wave a lantern.

This "beach-like" area at Tongue River Reservoir was only used for one summer in 1961 by the Forsyth boaters before beavers cut all the trees down. This area is farther "upstream" on the lake than the current developed camping areas.

One of the most important things to take is a big, big can of mosquito lotion. If they’re anything like they are around here you should take two cans.

Make sure your trailer lights are working properly since there will be some night driving. There’s nothing more disgusting than to turn your lights on and find you have a burned out bulb or a broken wire. A safety chain is a must too, so be sure to check it before you leave. It it rains a tarp would come in handy. Ice might be a problem if its a hot day but there is one family going into Sheridan Sunday morn and be able to bring back a few cakes.

There’s just two days till Saturday so let’s get busy and we’ll see you all at the lake.

It was dust and more dust, rough roads and more rough roads, noisy kids, flat tires, aching muscles from water skiing, indigestion from too much beer and beans and sunburned backs for young and old, but we made it over and back from Tongue River reservoir with everybody getting home okay.

We arrived at the camping spot Herndons and Cartwrights had picked out at 9:30 Saturday evening after following the well marked trail of red flags and beer cans. Then the wild confusion of getting tents up, sleeping bags out, boats in the water and kids fed began.

The boat club furnished steaks and hamburgers for everyone with Tom Pettigrew doing the cooking, serving and pouring of coffee.

The next morning everyone got up early, everyone but me, that is, if you can consider 6:30 a.m. late. Some went fishing, others boating and skiing with the rest of the day spent in the same manner.

A few interesting happenings should be mentioned here. We understand that Don Herndon is trying to go skiing the hard way these days. Georgie had the boat in position, Don was all ready with tow rope in hand, life belt on and ready to yell “Hit it,” when he discovered that he had forgotten his skis in all the excitement of going for a ride. We would have liked to see what would have happened if Georgie had actually taken off with poor old Don hanging on for dear life, without his skis.

Earline Pettigrew was having trouble getting her kids to the bathroom. This one poor little fellow really had to go so Earline grabbed a daughter by mistake and took off for the bushes. I don’t know if the little guy ever made it or not but he sure was dancing around for awhile.

Pete Schiffer was doing a fine job of staying on top of his plywood saucer, that is, every 20 feet
or so he was doing good.

I’m sure everyone will agree that they had a good time and that we should try to make the trip again
in the near future. An extra day would help though, so let’s plan on Labor Day.

Members of the Boat Club were well separated this past Sunday.

Herndons, Pettigrews and Cartwrights went down the river to Miles City with the Miles City Boat Club. Art Kamhoot ventured out to Cole’s and reports he managed not to fall once skiing. Your reporter and the Clark’s spent the afternoon at their old berth on Pier 9 at the bridge.

The muddy Yellowstone took its toll of propellers Sunday, with practically everyone getting theirs bent. On the trip to Miles, one person completely lost his. They reached Miles about 6 o’clock with a stop made at Schiffer’s where they picnicked and skied. Schiffers were there skiing.

There was a good number at Hysham boating at Cole’s Sunday, but as at every other place the water was cold, muddy and swift.

The monthly meeting of the “River Rats” was held July 18 at the Elk Cafe with 12 members present. The meeting was spent discussing changing the direction of travel of all boats also how the devil we were going to get all that sand off the boat ramp. The mighty Yellowstone deposited about 12” of silt in the slot that the cars back down.

Art Kamhoot gave us a color slide show on the World’s Fair at Seattle. He had some interesting shots of a water ski show which went to prove that our club has a lot to learn in the way of water skiing. He also had some beautiful shots of Flathead Lake.

A work party was held Friday evening at the river with a large group turning out. Yours truly managed to slip out of too much work. Time was spent anchoring the dock at its permanent place, removing the sand from the ramp and also painting of the one outhouse that hadn’t been painted. “Rock” Cartwright says that he’s available to anyone who wants their outhouse painted now that he has experience in that line. A word of caution though, he’s awful extravagant with the paint.

The Yellowstone is finally on its way down now and should be clearing shortly. A person will have to be careful for awhile and feel the river out for the changing sand bars.

I wasn’t present at the river last Sunday but I imagine the day went like this — Schiffers would be the first boat in, with Pete still practicing on the round disc—Cartwrights would be there early too and I bet Rock got stuck at least once. Don Herndon was probably trying to perfect his ski-less ski act.

Virgil Boardman and Jim Clark

The white boat is Bruce Blakesley's homebuilt 14' boat

The tan boat is Jim Clark's Larson Lapliner.

Jim Clark no doubt spent the afternoon getting his Merc started —Kamhoot would be trying out the new single ski that I hope he scratches up so I can buy it at a reduced price — Tom Pettigrew
would be there with his big “75” pulling the arms off some poor unsuspecting skier like Harry
Borer.—The rest of the ones I’ve forgotten were probably there too tearing around skiing and swimming with Commodore Tallent keeping a watchful eye out for improving the club.

With this I close for this week and point my boat for the big lakes of Western Montana, where I can blow the silt out of my engine and get some wide open boating.

It was a quiet Sunday at Pier 9 with only three boats present. I imagine the muddy water scared most people away. A person would think the river would clear up one of these days but the way it appears now it will be Christmas before we have some resemblance of the clear water we should have.

I must tell you about a swell place to boat, ski and fish for those who want to spend about 7 hours driving, and a wonderful drive it is up the Gallatin River from Bozeman to Hebgen Lake. There you will find ample campgrounds, plenty of cabin camps, docking areas, everything you would want. Joe Lewis and his wife Katie have a swell place on the lake with cabins, docks, grocery store, gas, fishing tackle and everything one would need.

Hebgen Lake

Fishing is good with even yours truly catching a few. Mike Clark caught his limit in about 4 hours one day and Bobby Hecht caught a dandy from the shore but had troubles with it shrinking. It’s too bad the lake isn’t a little closer so a person could frequent the place more often.

I don’t believe there ever has been a list of members published, so we’ll list them this week. The following families: Pete Schiffer, Paul Schiffer, Don Herndon, Adolph Tallent, Allen Wakefield, Bob Martinek, Cecil Kalness, Jim Clark (pictured with Ellen at right), Malcolm Cartwright, Tom Pettigrew, Art Kamhoot, Morris Cole, Harry Borer, Roger Clauson, Art Gregory, Rich Howard, Al Cole, Bruce Blakesley, plus about 1500 kids of the above named families.

Pier 9 was busy Sunday with plenty of boats and skiers present. The afternoon looked at first like
it might be rather nasty but as the day went on it proved to be one of the nicest Sundays we've had.

I believe that finally the Yellowstone is going to drop down to its normal level and we hope it will
stay that way. It has signs of clearing also.

A word now about the fine job of skiing being done by the younger set of “River Rats”. Mike Clark looks like a professional on the double skis this summer and is doing an equally good job on the single. By next year he will no doubt outshine his dad, of course Jim is getting up in years so you can’t expect too much from an “Old Man.”


Karen Kamhoot puts on a nice performance also and has shown a lot of improvement these past few weeks. Give her another year and she will be good enough to ski with the Tommy Bartlett Show in Cypress Gardens, Florida.

Linda Cartwright has learned to ski this summer and with a little more practice she will be hard to compete with.

Hats off to the young Pettigrew kids, Peggy and Pete. Although Peggy never made it up when she tried it Sunday she’s a game girl and we look for her to be skiing well in a short time. Her brother Pete has made it up and was skiing all over the river like he’d had years of practice.

Another newcomer to skiing this year is Greg Cartwright and although he hasn’t managed to conquer the “boards” he should be given credit for trying.

To all the other kids that I’ve missed seeing ski or have forgotten about, keep up the good work and by all means keep the sport alive because you're the future “River Rats.”

Another week has passed and we draw closer to the end of another boating season. The summer passes so fast one hardly realizes there has been any summer at all.

Last Sundays boating was done on one of the hottest days I think we’ve had all year and we had a fair turnout with five boats in the water. Next week being a two day holiday should find a lot of boaters out; let’s hope it's a nice weekend for it.

Standing L-R: Mike Clark, Greg Cartwright, Malcolm "Rock" Cartwright, Sheila Blakesley, Marilyn Cartwright. In our boat: Brenda and Diane Blakesley.

The white boat belonged to the Cartwrights.

Reading in this week’s Time Magazine I ran across an article which might be of interest to some people. The article was called “Fun in the Sun”, and this is a word for word reprint.

“What is America’s favorite outdoor sport? The answer, from a report to the President and Congress just released by the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission: taking a drive in the car,
Second favorite sport: walking. Least popular of 24 activities surveyed: skiing.

Other items: The higher the income and the more education, the greater the extent of outdoor activity.
Professional people spend the most time in outdoor recreation; farm workers the least. Summer activity in the South is about a quarter less than in the rest of the U. S. -- understandably.

About 90% of all Americans engage in some kind of outdoor recreation in the course of the year.”

With “Old Man Winter” robbing us of our last weekend of boating looks like it’s getting close to the time when we’ll be putting the wraps on the boats for another year. There were numerous projects we had planned, like a sunshade on the bank for people to gather under, and another dock to be used by skiers, but somehow, probably because of the unusually high water all summer we just never got the jobs done. Of course there’s always next year. We’ll probably end up being the best “next year” club that there is.

The Herndons and Pettigrews were the only families that I know who took advantage of the long
weekend. They drove to Hebgen Lake on Saturday, returning Monday. Don reports a lot better weather there than we had here, and also said fishing was good, the proof I have yet to see.

With the cold weather coming we “River Rats” are going to have to start watching our thermometers.  A freeze up in your motor can be disastrous and the cost of repairs next summer when a person realizes his unit has frozen up can stand your hair on end.

Another part of your outfit to watch is the battery. A storage battery with a full charge, i.e., a specific gravity reading of 1.260, will not freeze even at an extreme temperature of say 60 degrees F. However a discharged battery with specific gravity, reading of 1.110 may be ruined by freezing at plus 16 degrees F. Play it safe and keep the battery fully charged and preferably stored in a cool dry place.

For anyone who doesn’t know— there are 7,175,000 boat owners in the U.S. this year. That's quite a bunch of River Rats I'd say. The average outlay for a boat, motor and trailer is approximately $2200, and for my money there is no less expensive nor more healthful and enjoyable way to use one's recreational time than afloat.

(After a particularly wet weekend, the following was the entire River Rats column for the week)

Solly, me no writie, weekend too wettee.

Well, the River Rats were able to squeak in another Sunday of boating, but no skiing, at least not at “Pier 9,” as the water was just a little on the cool side.

There will be another “River Rat” in the pack this fall. The new owner of a 14’ Lone Star with 40 horses, pushing her is Bill Storm. Welcome aboard Bill.

Anyone following the America’s Cup Races with the 12 meter sloop Gretel from Australia and the Weatherly from the States will find that both boats have won a race. The cup that goes to the winner has been held by the United States for over 100 years. The winner of best out of seven races takes home the trophy.

Did you know that just a short six years ago the largest outboard engine on the market was a Mercury Mark 55, 40 H.P. Johnson and Evinrude follow this up with a top of 30 H.P. What’s in store for '63—Who knows?

Boating at “Pier 9” was quiet Sunday with four boats running in a smooth, clear Yellowstone river. The water has taken a long time clearing but has finally made the grade, but almost too late.

Skiing was limited to two hearty fools who waited 'til sundown before making a couple of quick swings down the course. Why we didn’t do it while the sun was high I’ll never know. It wasn’t bad though, except for the bugs. Next week we’ll need “Bug Blinders.”

I saw Tuesday night one of the fastest and shortest boxing matches fought so I want to tell you about one of the fastest water skiers in the country today. His name is Butch Peterson, hails from California and has recorded a top speed of 106 miles per hour on the “Boards”. As fantastic as it sounds speed runs in excess of 90 mph. have been made since 1960.

If any of the local boys want to try this high speed skiing, all that is required is a motor of from 700-1000 horsepower; plus a skier that has skill, stamina, and few flabby muscles, also a balanced combination of special equipment and style.

Four hearty fools launched their boats this past Sunday with high winds and cold water in store for them all afternoon. It appears the boating season is fast coming to a close.

Last Thursday afternoon Commodore Tallent, Don Herndon and Tom Pettigrew extended the concrete boat ramp approximately 30 ft. for a vastly improved approach to the river. The extra concrete will be well above the high water mark that we are always confronted with during the June rise.

Also last Thursday Charles Palmer did a neat job of clearing brush and leveling dirt at “Pier 9”. It really improves the area. With these added improvements, and with more in the planning, Forsyth will have quite a boating marina.

Did you know that a hollow ball, available at any dime store, makes an excellent hitch cover. Cut a.
slot 2 inches long in the ball. Then cut away a small portion of the rubber on each side of the slot, just enough so you can force or wedge the cover down over the hitch-ball. Drop a small dab of grease inside the ball and you’ll never be bothered with a rusty hitch-ball and your trailer hitch won’t squeak when attached to the ball. Also, if you would accidently hit your leg on the hitch-ball it might cushion the blow—maybe.

Forsyth Boat Club Has No-host Party
(from the Forsyth Independent, sometime in 1962)

The Forsyth Boat Club met Saturday evening at the Jersey Lily in Ingomar for a no-host party. The violin and guitar furnished music for the evening of dancing.

Decorations featured a boat mural by Maxine Seward. The inscription read, “Welcome to the Boat Club,” and “USS Dry Land.”

Present were Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Blakesley, Mr. and Mrs. Don Herndon, Mr. and Mrs. Tom Pettigrew and their guests of Billings and Shelby, Mr. and Mrs. Malcolm Cartwright, Mr. and Mrs. Jim Clark, Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Tallent and Mr. and Mrs. Paul Schiffer.

Boating isn't always just fun and games...several people have lost their lives in the Mighty Yellowstone near Forsyth over the years, usually due to carelessness or lack of respect for the river. This article appeared in the Billings Gazette in the early 1960s.

SEARCHERS FAIL TO FIND BODIES (from The Billings Gazette)

FORSYTH (AP) — The bodies of two Minnesota men remained lost in the Yellowstone River in eastern Montana Sunday night. The lone survivor of a boating accident Saturday, Ted Koenen, 31, of St. Paul, watched from the river bank but was too upset by the experience to help with the search.

Lost in the river after their craft broke apart going over an irrigation diversion dam at the edge of Forsyth were Herb Peterson, 30, and Jerry Mabry, 32, both of St. Paul. Koenen was able to float away from the powerful undercurrent below the two-to three- foot dam after giving temporary aid to one of his companions.

The men were in Montana hunting for moss agates. They searched the Yellowstone successfully last year with the same river craft — three rubber rafts lashed together with boards and ropes and powered with an outboard motor.

Sheriff Andrew Schulenberg said eight boats with drags covered three miles of river below the dam. Another six boats went 14 miles downstream in another futile effort. Search efforts would continue every day for several days, Schulenberg said. Members of the Forsyth Boat Club volunteered services and equipment Sunday.


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