Photo courtesy of Dana Smith | Dana Smith and wife, Mary (left), sit in his Chris Craft named “Just Perfect,” which is a wooden boat built in 1939. With them is Pam Hassenfelt (right).
by JOE GAMM
STOKESDALE - The Kanawha River is a recreational paradise that meanders through West Virginia. But, in the early 1940s, when Dana Smith was a boy growing up alongside or swimming in it, the river was nearly virulent.
"The river was really swift," Smith remembers. "Back then, it was full of raw sewage. We had to get a typhoid shot every year we went in the river."
When he was 6, all his siblings had boats, canoes or kayaks, he said.
"I'm an old hillbilly. My dad had five children," Smith added. "He made us swim across the river before he'd give us a boat."
Of course, Dad rowed across the river alongside them in a rowboat to be sure they were safe.
That river was where Smith grew to love wooden boats.
Now 75, the Greensboro man has had wooden boats ever since. And the Chris Craft he keeps at Carolina Marina at Belews Lake is his pride and joy.
"That lake up there is just beautiful," Smith said. "I started boating in that lake with a 13-foot wooden boat and a 25-horsepower Johnson (engine)."
He bought that first "woody" when he was 15. And he began hauling it to Philpott Lake near Martinsville when it opened a few years later.
After graduating from high school in 1960, Smith moved to Durham to play football for Duke University.
"I played at it," he explained. "Most of the time, I sat on the bench."
But the opportunity brought him to the state.
He never went back to Charleston.
Smith began working at a wholesale electrical supply store. He loved that, and ended up buying the business.
That was in 1967.
And he was thrilled to find Belews much closer to his North Carolina home, so he didn't have to schlepp the boat to Virginia.
He retired a few years ago and now spends time enjoying his boat, a little Chris Craft named, "Just Perfect." He's had the boat for three boating seasons.
Wooden boats provide a smooth ride, Smith said. He's had Chris Crafts and Lyman brand boats. "Just Perfect" was built in 1939 (just two years before Smith was born) and would have used a six-cylinder flathead engine to drive the prop, he said. That would have made the boat capable of going about 6 to 12 miles per hour.
Somewhere down the line, a former owner installed a Chevrolet 283 eight-cylinder engine in the boat. That made it faster.
"I get a lot of thumbs-up," Smith said about his trips out on the lake. "A lot of these guys will come by in these bass boats. They'll goose it and look alongside and I'm still right there with them.