Boat Advice


Boat Advice
A Letter from:
by Jim Hauer

You might recall some correspondence we had and the write up I did for Duckworks on the two Jonsboats I built last winter.

I would like to ask for your help on a new project I have been working on.

Investigating Jon boat designs, I was fascinated with the different designs developed, particularly those used in Missouri and Arkansas Ozark Mountain rivers. I discovered that in the old days there were three principle designs or styles of Jons in use in that area; the White River, Current River and the Big Piney River styles. Early on, these boats were somewhat crudely built from rough local unplaned lumber. They were very heavy and difficult to transport over land. Many of these jonboats were built in the 1900's up to the '50's and were used by area resorts and individual fishing guides. An unusual characteristic of all three of the designs was that they were either paddled or poled, not rowed. I was astonished and couldn't imagine anyone being able to paddle any kind of "jonboat". Of course, I was thinking of a jonboat as a wide, flat-bottomed craft like the Jonsboats or the aluminum ones widely sold today.

One can still see White River jons in use for guiding fishermen on the White and Norfork Rivers tailwaters below Bull Shoals and Mountain Home, Arkansas. A few small local boat companies make an updated fiberglass version of the White River style. Probably the best of these are the ones made and sold by Supreme Boat Mfg. located in Flippin, AR. Their jonboats are 20' 6" in length, fairly narrow beam and low sides. They are usually powered by an outboard motor, often a jet, to run the river.

The Current River style has all but disappeared. I know of no boats in use or on display anywhere representing this design.

The Big Piney River style has survived in a limited way. Fred Dablemont of Houston, Missouri developed the original design on the banks of the Big Piney River in the early 1900’s. His son Farrell later popularized the design and built and sold the boats in wood. Norten, another of Fred's sons, used the boats for a lifetime as a fishing guide. Lowe Boat Mfg. of Lebanon approached Fred and Farrell in the '50's and obtained permission to use their dimensions and design to manufacture the boat in aluminum. They developed and sold their aluminum version through the '70's as Lowe's "Paddle Jon". The boat was available in both a 15ft. and 17ft. version. Lowe Boats discontinued the design after OMC Corporation bought them out. Lowe/OMC did make some small runs of the boat production for a few resorts in the '80's but did not even advertise the boat in its regular sales literature. Later, Generation Three Boat Company, founded by one of the former owners of Lowe, and also in Lebanon, made a small number of the same Paddle Jons. They were discontinued too after that company was bought out by Yamaha Motors and operates today as G3 Boat Manufacturing, still located in Lebanon.

Over the past year, I have corresponded with outdoor writer Larry Dablemont, Farrell's son and grandson of Fred. Farrell actually built an "Authentic American Jonboat" on-site at Silver Dollar City near Branson last year as part of the exposition's celebration of local crafts and arts. Three weeks ago, on vacation to Missouri I arranged to take a float and fishing trip in one of the original aluminum 18ft. Paddle Jons guided and paddled by Norten Dablemont. Norten last week celebrated his 80th birthday. What an enjoyable trip while Norten paddled the jon boat covering seven miles of the Ninangua River. I was amazed at the control of the boat Norten had using just a paddle from the stern. He could run rapids and even paddle upstream against the current. Norten demonstrated both to me. Of course, he has had lots of practice. He told me that he has been doing this since he was nine years old. Also, when you hang on a shoal it’s a simple matter to shift weight toward the bow to slide off. After the trip, Norten gave me an autographed copy of his book "Ridgerunner", an autobiography of his colorful life as an Ozark Mountain fishing guide and paratrooper survivor of the Battle of the Bulge in WWII.

Now I am trying to find a way to construct a replica Paddle Jon from plywood. I am thinking that probably I would build the 15 footer. I have been able to obtain some scarce literature about the aluminum version. At least I have a description, some dimensions and some photos to go by. However, I am not up to replicating the design features that boat has and transferring them to a buildable design and blueprint plan. I would hate to make a serious mistake. The design is not complicated but there are always subtleties of any design that can escape notice by one as inexperienced as I.

I hope that you will be able to suggest someone who might be willing to help design a replica of the Big Piney Paddle Jon to be built out of ply. I am attaching a couple of photos of the boat.

Following is a brief description by the Lowe Company: "Paddle Jon 15/17. The Paddle Jon, a close replica of the original Jon boat, features a raked bow and stern with shallow draft at the mid-ship. When you hang on a shoal, it's a simple matter of shifting weight toward the bow to slide off. The 15-foot model weighs only 93 pounds, the 17-foot only 110. Both are ideal for car-topping. A special marine aluminum alloy provides less weight and the same strength and resistance to puncture as though heavier gauge metal were used. A special raised transom allows outboard motor operation in very shallow water. Motor size ranges from a maximum of 5 horsepower on the 15-foot Paddle Jon to 10 horsepower on the longer boat. With the semi-rocker bottom, boat control and paddle responses are quick and sure. Its the kind of boat one person can handle with ease."

15-foot 17-foot
Length 15' 17'
Beam 46 1/2" 46 1/2"
Side depth 14" 14"
Seats 3" 4"
Weight 93lbs 110lbs
Hull gauge .051"
Max weight cap. 480lbs
Max. h.p. 5hp 10hp
Bottom keels 4 4
Bottom width 32" 32"
Transom width 33" 33"
Transom height 16" 16"

My note: (note that transom height includes the center mount motor board, which is higher than the full width transom, visible in the photos)

I am looking forward to your reply.


Jim Hauer