House boat moved to dry ground
The last house boat floating on Big Lake has been moved to dry ground but will still serve as a gathering place for Lonnie Wright and his fishing friends. The house boat is now on solid ground located on a lot across the road from the dock it has called home for over 20 years.
"It was the last floating house boat on Big Lake," Wright said.
Wright moved the 35-year old house boat to Big Lake from St. Francis over 20 years ago, and occasionally he would float it from place to place. He had the boat built in Black Rock and moved to the St. Francis River where he kept it four or five years before bringing it closer to home. It is now located on Mallard Lake Road just on the other side of the road.
"When I was younger we would take it along the river, find a good spot and replace the Styrofoam floats underneath to keep it afloat," he said. "Jim Mills (one of his fishing friends) and I have got too old to climb trees or work in water, so I decided it was time to take the boat to land."
The boat took nine large Styrofoam blocks to keep it afloat. The blocks were getting water logged and it was time to get it off the water. This was a good year to move the boat as the water was higher than usual. When the water was up Wright, Mills and Bill and Jessie Clark pulled the boat onto the shore, put it on telephone poles and skidded it to its new location.
"It's here and here is where it is going to stay," Wright said.
He replaced a screened-in back porch and added a front porch after it was moved.
Wright was born and raised at New Hope growing up at the old Wright Hunting Lodge between Rice Landing and Timms Landing at Big Lake. There were three boys and four girls who grew up with Big Lake as their playground.
His father, Kid Wright, was a trapper, game warden, farmer, deputy sheriff, and city marshal.
Wright has good memories of Big Lake.
"We would move the boats up and down the river," Wright said. "There were several house boats here serving as permanent homes for families. I remember Clem Lomax had a two-story house boat one time. His family was in style."
The house boat Wright enjoys today is not his first. He had one torn up in a storm and another ended up piled on an island when the water went down.
"We had to pour water on gumbo and take poles and slide the boat back into the water to get it off the island," Wright said.
Wright, 83, said he enjoys fishing even more today than he ever has. He can be found at the house boat almost every day.
He served in the Navy during World War II, spent seven years in Illinois and Michigan, worked as a long shoreman in New York, but never found any place he liked better than Manila and Big Lake.
"While we were away we would come home every holiday so I could run a trot line," he said. "My wife used to say Big Lake is going to put us in the poor house."
"I used to love sitting on the porch of the boat catching crappie," he said.
Wright said fishing is as good now as it ever was in the area.
"We used to have a lot of commercial fishing in the area but there is not much of that any more," he said. "I catch about as many fish as I ever have. I like fishing better every day. I have more time now."
He and his friends have always enjoyed the boat, where they prepared a lot of fish dinners. In the winter time people will come by and give him duck or goose and he and his friends cook it on the boat and have a feast.
"We have had some very good times on this boat," Wright said. "We even had one older gentleman accept the Lord right here. We were having a meal and most everyone was a Christian. The man said he would like to be a Christian. We all just stopped eating, prayed with him and he accepted the Lord. You might say we have had a few revivals right here."
A lot of preachers have been guests on his boat.
"I have an open door policy," he said. "We have made some wonderful friendships out here."
The 12'x28' foot houseboat is equipped with a kitchen, bunk beds, and a dining area. He even has a television.
Wright said he has had snakes on the porch but never found one inside the boat.
Wright loves to catch fish and share it with his friends. He is looking forward to many more good times at the house boat even though its floating days are over.