100 Years Ago: “The familiar sound of a put-put from the vicinity of Washington Island caused people to look at one another on Saturday. It was the real noise so familiar to everybody on the water front and as it came nearer and more distinct the docks were well peopled. An ice boat without a sail is a real novelty here, but such it proved to be.”
So opened a brief article in the Jefferson County Journal about the events of Saturday, January 21st, 1911, describing a new invention by local man, Floyd L. Carter, that was to be the subject of much attention for the rest of the season.
This article looks back at the “motor iceboat” invented by Carter 100 years ago this winter.
Floyd Carter was born in 1877 near Clayton, a son of Byron Carter and Clarissa Britton. In 1896 Floyd married Ada, only daughter of Michael J. Diepolder, the keeper of Rock Island Lighthouse. By 1900, the couple was living at 1711 Spring St. in Thousand Islands Park. It was here that Floyd began to hone his skills as a mechanic and a boatbuilder.
The first mention of Floyd in connection with an iceboat was in 1904, when he was working as an oarsman carrying passengers for hire between the islands and the mainland. The December 29th edition of the Watertown Daily Times records: “Bill Tidd visited his parents here Christmas and on his return to Clayton engaged F. L. Carter with his ice boat to take him to Fisher’s Landing.” That trip ended abruptly when the iceboat, clocking 40 miles per hour, hit a weak spot in the ice, sending its passengers skidding across the icy river and damaging the iceboat severely.
Over the next few years, Floyd earned a reputation as one of the finest boatbuilders on the river. In 1906, he assisted Clinton Snell at Lafargeville in the construction of a naptha launch, 25 feet long with an eight foot beam. He built more than 20 racing boats, including some of the Sliver model. In 1909 he introduced the Gazelle, cited as the smallest but fastest racer of its type on the river, which was purchased by Charles Freeman of New York City. By the end of the year Floyd had plans to move to Dallas, Texas, to go into the automobile business. Fortunately for the onlookers at the docks in the winter of 1911, he stayed put....
The iceboat that Floyd Carter unveiled in January 1911 was 18 feet long and 17 feet wide. Instead of having a mast and sail attached for wind-driven propulsion, like those used in the vicinity up to that time, his innovation was to incorporate an airplane propeller for locomotion. Carter used a six horsepower Panard engine to drive the propeller, which had a span of more than 6 feet. Two large runners provided support in the back, while a shaft attached to a single steering sleigh in the front provided directional control. On its first trip across the ice the boat topped 50 miles per hour.
Not to be outdone, other local builders soon introduced their own variations on Carter’s concept:
On January 31st, 1911, Fred Guernsey of Clayton presented his motor ice boat, identical to Carter’s with the exception that his engine was attached via sprocket chain to a spiked cogwheel at the rear of the boat which dug into the ice to move it forward.
In December 1911, airplane builder Charles Hoffman introduced his “Areao-Ice-Hydro-plane”, an 11 foot contraption with 37 inch beam, consisting of runners attached to the bottom of a boat hull, powered by a five foot propeller rotating 1,900 times per minute and achieving top speeds of 60 miles per hour. Hoffman’s invention could use the runners while on ice, and stay afloat via the hull when it struck water, making it ideal for the thawing season (if only Carter was driving this back in 1904!).
In 1912, Theron Patterson and Benton Wilbur of Alexandria Bay extended the motorized ice travel concept to dry land. Their idea was to affix two cutter runners to a horse sleigh, and mount a 16 horsepower engine in the back, connected to a six foot air wheel for propulsion. This new “motor sleigh” was capable of reaching speeds on land of 30 miles per hour, could climb hills, and on one trip reportedly traveled by road to Chippewa Bay, then over the river to Dark Island. Two years later, Patterson improved his design with a new torpedo shape powered by a lighter engine, achieving 40 miles per hour.
In 1929, Julius M. Breitenbach’s sleek new Arctic Goose was in service, hitting record speeds of 131 miles per hour.
In 1931, Morris Knight patented a variation on Hoffman’s design, for an iceboat capable of navigating both ice and open water.
By 1953, an airplane-based iceboat was in use by Robert Lashomb to carry the mail from Clayton to Grindstone Island, shortening the trip to 15 minutes or less--still the practice today.
Floyd Carter died in February 1935, but his skill in both mechanics and boatbuilding continued to inspire his family long after.
His young brother-in-law, Larry Diepolder, whom Floyd helped rear at Thousand Islands Park, went into business as a “gas engineer” and boat pilot. in 1921, Larry moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, where he competed in races using boats he built himself. He opened “Die Polder Electric Motors” which is still in business today.
His son Austin S. Carter moved to Chelan, Washington after World War II, where he engaged in the boatbuilding business on Lake Chelan. In 1950, he was granted a patent for his concept of a “foldable boat.”
So the next time you are on the river and hear the familiar “put-put” of an engine off in the distance, perhaps you’ll remember the story of Floyd Carter and his motor ice boat of 100 years ago. And when you hear it, be sure to stop, linger a while, and look around.... for like those assembled on the dock that chilly day, you may just find yourself a witness to the next great invention on the St. Lawrence!
By Mark A. Wentling, www.rockislandlighthouse.org
Mark Wentling is a native of Sackets Harbor and attended Carthage schools. He has studied local and family history for nearly 25 years, and manages numerous projects to benefit other researchers, including the Rock Island Lighthouse Historical & Memorial Association, the Jefferson County NY Pioneer Portraits Project and Hounsfield History.net.
Mark Wentling, is the great-great-grandson of the article’s subject, Floyd Carter. In January 2009, Mark presented Rock Island Lighthouse: A Story of Discovery for Thousand Islands Life.
- Arctic Goose [untitled clipping]. Thousand Islands Sun, 5 January 1933.
- Carter, Austin S., 1950. Foldable Boat. U.S. Patent 2,533,220, filed December 9, 1947, and issued December 12, 1950. Online.
- Ennis, Rex. “Arctic Goose.” Thousand Islands Life magazine [online]. 12 February 2010.
- “Jefferson County: The News of Its Many towns as Taken From Our Exchanges.” Cape Vincent Eagle, 26 January 1911, pg. 1, col. 7.
Knight, Morris C., 1931. Ice and Water Boat. U.S. Patent 1,816,118, filed May 21, 1928, issued July 28, 1931. Online.
- Lafargeville [local notes]. The Watertown Herald. 3 February 1906. unpaged, col. 3.
- “Motor Driven Ice Boat.” Jefferson County Journal, [21-23?] January 1911, unpaged, col. 4.
- “Motor Driven Ice Boat Like An Aeroplane.” Watertown Daily Times, 1 March 1911. pg. 6, col. 2.
- “Power Driven Ice Boats on River.” Watertown Daily Times, 4 February 1911, pg. [illegible], col. 4.
- “Remembering..." Dec, 28 1911.” Thousand Islands Sun, 5 September 1984, pg. 15.
- "Remembering.." .22 Feb. 22, 1912: New Style of Motor Sleigh” [clipping].
"Remembering.." Thousand Islands Sun, undated; February 19, 1914: Patterson’s Motor Sleigh” [clipping].
- Robert Lashomb [untitled clipping]. On the St. Lawrence, 13 February 1953.
- St. Lawrence Park [local notes]. The Syracuse Herald, 1 August 1909, pg. D-5, col. 3.
- Thousand Island Park [local notes]. The Syracuse Herald, 29 August 1909, pg. D-5, col. 6.; The Syracuse Herald, 5 September 1909, pg. D-5, col. 3.
- “Thousand Islands Park: Four People Spilled From a Flying Ice Boat.” Watertown Daily Times, 29 December 1904. pg. 4, col. 3-4.
- Wentling, Mark A. “CARTER of Woburn, Massachusetts, and Jefferson Co., New York, and Chelan Co., Washington” [online].
- Wentling, Mark A. “Rock Island Lighthouse Keepers: Emma E. Diepolder, 1901” [online].