NORTH MANKATO — Believe it or not, a homemade boat weighing 33 tons was once launched unto the Minnesota River at North Mankato and floated all the way to New Orleans. Not without trouble along the way, though.
Charlie Poliquin began building in April 1958. His boat was 70 feet long, big enough for him to bring a Jeep aboard at one point upriver.
The kitchen was described by an auctioneer as a woman’s dream, with a four-burner stove and curtains at the windows. It could have served as a river cottage.
The late Free Press Editor Ken Berg once wrote in his column that Poliquin’s boat trip was a seemingly never-ending saga. Poliquin had never led a settled life. He came to Blue Earth County in 1935 as a farmhand, graduated from Rapidan High School in 1939, served in the Army during World War II, drove a taxi in Chicago for awhile, operated a tree-trimming/dirt-moving business in North Mankato for seven years, then farmed near Madelia.
He sold the farm to build his boat.
About 2,000 people showed up to see the boat launched on July 11, 1958. The See Scout was christened with a free bottle of wine from Spinner’s Bar.
Unfortunately, Poliquin had chosen a very dry year for his exploit and the river was far below the bank. It took five hours of effort to set the boat afloat, with the crowd helping to move it the last few feet. Repairs were needed immediately after damage occurred during the launch.
Two days later, the boat ran aground on the Mankato side of the river. There it stayed until the following spring.
March 30, 1959, the See Scout finally set out. Poliquin navigated two blocks before the boat was stuck on a sand bar. A hand winch and steel cables were used to inch the boat along its way. Forty-five days later, the boat was halfway between Mankato and St. Peter.
Reality then set in for Poliquin. He was arrested for failing to pay child support. He’d hoped that his wife, who was expecting a baby, and their young daughter would join him on the trip. Instead she filed for divorce.
Further complicating his situation, he was charged with trespassing for driving his Jeep across a farmer’s cornfield to get to and from the river.
It seemed the only way Poliquin could get clear of sand bars and arrest warrants was to sell the boat. He wanted to auction it for a minimum of $3,500. The highest bid came in at $1,700. He decided to proceed with the trip.
Poliquin began to lighten the load by throwing off what did not seem absolutely necessary. That included 6 tons of black top.
As the See Scout moved along, the river became more navigable. Poliquin passed Ottawa by June 1. On June 4, he sailed from Le Sueur to Belle Plaine in just 12 hours that had included a three-hour stop for repairs and lunch.
Poliquin had a policy of no newsmen on board while traveling; however, in time a radio telephone was installed onboard at the request of The Free Press. Reporters, often on foot, tried to follow the boat. One enterprising reporter — the late Lowell Schreyer — signed on for a time as a crewman.
By June 9, the boat had arrived at the Highway 65/Lyndale Bridge. Poliquin gave an opportunity for people to visit the boat there — for a fee. He denied reports that he took in $1,000 a day and his visitors totaled between 3,000 to 5,000.
The Coast Guard needed to inspect the boat before it entered the Mississippi River. Poliquin had been informed while still in Mankato that he would need extra equipment. Ultimately proper lights, horn, bell, fire extinguishers and life preservers were added.
The Coast Guard also limited the number of people who could be on the boat at one time to six visitors.
On July 16, Poliquin made a side excursion to the Mississippi River Flats below the University of Minnesota. Then he set off down the Mississippi, no longer stopping for visitors.
He passed Winona on Aug. 10, Cape Girardeau Sept. 16 and arrived in New Orleans Oct. 5. By then, the boat was moving at 5 to 12 mph and running 15 miles on a dollar’s worth of fuel.
At the beginning of the trip, Poliquin had planned to sail on to South America, but by October he’d decided his boat was not seaworthy.
Poliquin hoped to sell it. He returned to Minnesota to fight the divorce. He said perhaps someday that he would build a See Scout II.
See Scout I sank at New Orleans Feb. 4, 1960.
Poliquin died in 1994 in Washington state.
Berg had termed Poliquin’s voyage as one of the funniest stories in his newspaper’s history. Journalists described the trip as “an odyssey full of oddities” and “a journey to be jeered at.”
However, a writer for the Hastings Gazette commended Poliquin for “what sets him a bit apart, perhaps, is the bulldog determination to deliver on plans which are the stuff that typical dreams are made of.”
For more information about historical topics, visit the website: BlueEarthCountyHistory.com.