The Big Red Steel Boat was a dream that turned into a nightmare. One day in the summer of 1940, a big black car pulled into the yard at the Lynch household. There were nine of us sitting on the porch shelling lima beans.
A small man got out and introduced himself to mom and dad as a Mr. Ballard from Washington DC. They talked about the hot summer and the war in Europe. Finally he got around to why he was at the Lynch Farm. He wanted to lease their creek farm on Gum Point Road.
He was asked why he wanted the farm? What was he going to grow next year because right now the whole farm was planted in rutgers tomatoes?
He looked at mom and dad and then at all of us sitting there staring at him. He hesitated a bit more and then told us it was a secret.
We all leaned forward in anticipation. There’s nothing like telling a secret to nine people in a family. I hardly knew what a secret was at seven years of age.
Dad shook his head and told the man it would be impossible to keep anything a secret on Gum Point Road. It was a county road and people were constantly coming to the landing and launching their rowboats to go crabbing.
A word about landings. A landing dates back to colonial times and provides access to water for people to put their boat in the water free of charge. Sometimes the landing is on the owners deed at a certain spot. At other times a landing is mentioned but doesn’t say where it is located. Sometimes it is just word of mouth and not mentioned on the deed at all.
What Mr. Ballard wanted in particular was the landing at the end of Gum Point Road. Some called it Gum Point Landing. Others called it Turville Creek landing. It was a nice open area on the water. That’s what he wanted.
Mr. Ballard finally said he wanted to build a boat for the navy. It was a secret design developed by his company and his engineers. He was sure war was approaching and the navy would buy his design. He hesitated a few seconds. He asked what would they take per month rent.
My mother, having more of a business mind than dad, gave him a figure that was about double what the rent should be. Mr. Ballard accepted without blinking an eye. In a few weeks, Bill Scott, my parents lawyer from Berlin, had the lease papers ready to sign.
They all signed the lease. Mr. Ballard let my parents till the land. All he wanted was the waterfront and the three buildings. There was a small house on the water, an unfinished duck hatchery and an old telescope house.
Carpenters came. They built the ways or runways for the boat to slide down when it was ready to launch. (Then they built a two story building to build the boat in. // Not sure about this// If they did, it blew down during a storm.)
Welders came and began welding sheets of quarter inch steel together in the general shape of a PT boat or torpedo boat. Sometimes also called a mosquito boat. Mr. Ballard’s PT boat was shallow draft. It didn’t have a V shaped bottom. His had a very mild trimaran bottom. He later said, to operate in shallow water.
There was no pretense of keeping anything secret. People were constantly driving down Gum Point Road and looking. Some even taking pictures.
I have seen pictures of the boat with some of us children standing beside the hull. I cannot find any trace of them.
The boat got bigger and bigger. As it grew, it was painted red to hinder rust. It ended up at about eighty feet long, twenty feet wide and a good ten feet high. It had a single cabin near the bow. It was still all empty space below the deck.
Mr. Ballard brought in a dredge to deepen the water at the launch site. He had the carpenters build a two story house boat or as we called it, a double-decker floating shanty.
Then sometime in 1944, workers began to be laid off. In a month’s time, everyone was gone. Even the overseer who lived in the creek house. The big red steel boat was deserted.
We would climb inside and look around. But there was nothing there but steel.
At the end of the month no lease check arrived. At the end of the second month, no check in the mail.
Mom and dad consulted their lawyer and went over the fine print of the lease agreement. Attorney Scott pointed out that if Mr. Ballard missed payment for three consecutive months, everything on the farm reverted back to the owners. Mom and dad.
In the meantime, well dressed people in suits showed up asking questions. Who was Mr. Ballard? Who was the overseer? What type of ship was being built? Did we know of any others in charge of the ship besides Mr. Ballard?
We were country folks and knew nothing.
The third month brought no money. Everything belonged to mom and dad.
Someone came and took the dredge. Mom was fit to be tied. The dredge was valuable. Attorney Scott told them only material on the land was theirs. If it was in the water, tough. They couldn’t claim it.
There really wasn’t anything of value except the houseboat. The big red steel boat was worthless sitting on the ways.
Later that year we heard that some people went to jail. But not Mr. Ballard. His company sold too much stock in the big red steel boat. If they were supposed to sell a hundred thousand dollars worth of stock, they sold two hundred thousand.
The big red steel boat sat there until 1952. Mon and dad were tired of looking at it. A scrap dealer from Salisbury bought it. Welders came, cut it in pieces and hauled it away.
All this time Gum Point Landing had not been used by the general public. Now people returned and launched their rowboats and small outboard motor boats.
In the early 1950’s mom and dad got the bright idea of selling water front lots. The trouble was, the county road followed the contour of the creek. In most places, the road was only twenty-five feet from the water.
So dad talked with the county commissioners. He would give them land across the field to straighten out Gum Point Road. This new road would be as much as a hundred and fifty feet in places from the water’s edge.
Every body was happy.
Dad and Marvin razed the old county road, cleaned the area and built a road across Calamus Gut. Mom and dad gave that to the county also.
They called in Mr. Pitts, the surveyor. He laid out a dozen lots. Mom and dad began selling waterfront lots. Everything was going fine. They sold a few lots on the water and everyone was happy.
The new lot owners went to get their deeds. Worcester County would not give them a deed to the land they had just bought from mom and dad.
The Worcester County Commissioners had not relinquished the county’s ownership of the old road. Mom was a little angry.
A lawyer for Worcester County came out to the farm and explained everything. The gist of it was, the county commissioners wanted a deed to the landing. Then they would give up all rights to the old county road.
Mom was really fit to be tied. She showed him the door. All land owners and especially farmers hate landings. It’s their land, they pay taxes on it and everyone else uses it.
Now days it is worse. There are lots of boats to be launched. The boats are loud and the boat owners are louder.
But the County Commissioners won. Mom and dad had to give up the landing so that the buyers to get a clear deed to their lots.
At today’s prices, that landing lot would be worth a hundred thousand dollars or more. 1370 1/28/15