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Working Boat Lifts for 3 Months

July 9, 2015

When your son breaks a finger and needs help to keep working, what can you do?

While in Big Bend National Park, wending our way slowly, as we do, towards a visit with Mike and Kate in California, they called with bad news. In one of those odd half-falls, the middle finger on his right hand was broken in two places, requiring surgical pins, a huge metal splint, and leaving him unable to continue his one-man boat lift contracting business alone. What's a parent to do?

An electronic Get Well card just wouldn’t cut it,  so we dropped our usual ambling pace and 3 days later were here in the Sacramento River Delta, a recreational boating area where thousands of boat lifts are installed..… mostly by our son, Michael.  Reincarnating my delivery days in D.C., I rode along and became his right hand - literally - six days a week for a little over 3 months.  It has been great. I’ve muscled up a bit, tanned (well, farmers' tan), and best of all I've enjoyed so much quality time with him - such a rare thing for a parent!

The World of Manpower, Equipment, and Know-How

Mike is part of the service army - millions strong - that starts out at dawn in trucks or vans with specialized overhead racks and storage boxes and power tools and replacement parts on board to attack a new day of building/installing/replacing and repairing our world.

It’s all about can-do and git-er-done; overcoming problems by applying experience, persistence and the right amount of brute force. Working on HydroHoist boat lifts requires all of that.

If you’ve ever had a boat you know that the majority of wear and tear and decay comes from just sitting in the water. By parking on these boat lifts, owners keep their boats like new, so they are very popular here.

Each day is the same but with enough variety to keep you engaged.  Because the lifts go into varying width dock slips and have to lift varying sized boats, the assembly is always a custom process. The private homes or marinas where they are installed are always different too.  Since the dawn temperature of 70 degrees fahrenheit is often 100 or more by noon, moving efficiently is tied directly to self preservation. 

Occasional shipments of new HydroHoist lifts and parts have to be unloaded. They come from Oklahoma on long tractor trailers, loaded in a jig-saw puzzle of flotation tanks and heavy steel beams and arms. These welded, galvanized parts eventually assemble to become sort of vertically pivoting custom boat cradle balanced over two or more of these tanks in the water. Straining the combination of an old forklift and hands-on muscle power, we unload them piece by piece into a somewhat centralized staging yard.

Between loading the right parts for the next job onto a small trailer at ‘the yard’, assembling it in a marina parking lot near a boat launch ramp, launching it like a boat to be towed to the customer’s dock, then driving there to attach it and make it work, there is this great satisfaction and camaraderie that builds daily from doing this kind of work.  You have a shared sense of mastering the power tools and the heavy materials in a ballet of domination over the day…

When you are working that hard, time tends to telescope in on you. The mind’s eye loses breadth and perseverates on the work at hand, the sun, pushing fluids, then the tired and sore recovery, a shower, staring at the TV, a meal goes by, then bed…..  and dawn brings a new turn of the wheel.  There’s just not much left. For 3 months my intention to update our homepage map came to nothing.

We were still in Texas as far as any of our readers could tell.  And I intended to catch up all the time.  That’s what hard physical work does.  But the soreness drops away as you get going each day, the problem in front of you takes your full attention, and the Delta breeze makes it bearable. 

All the while, I could look over and there was Mike on the other end of the steel beam or the truck seat, and I knew that this was really special and I was so lucky to be able to do it.

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I love when a plan is hatched. 



Go, grandpa go!

Congratulations. Better you than I.


You are good parents to do this. Besides it keeps you strong. Keep up the good work.



Bob & Jimmy

You are amazing is there anything you can't do?


Reminds me of the four years spent with son Kent doing a complete restoration on our '69 Corvette.

Father-Son projects are priceless.


Whew! Lucky Michael!


How lucky can a guy get?

Stan F

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