MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Steamboats, like the Minnehaha that strolls along Lake Minnetonka, first departed on the beautiful lake back in 1906. They were an extension of the street car system here in the Twin Cities.
Fourteen years later, six of the wood boats, the Minnehaha among them, were filled with concrete and sent on their final journey to the bottom of Lake Minnetonka.
In the early 80s, just by chance, a team of divers stumbled upon the Minnehaha at the bottom of Lake Minnetonka.
Thousands of volunteer hours later, the boat is back gliding passengers through the water out in Excelsior.
“It’s more like a floating street car,” one of the boats many volunteers said.
Fully refurbished and restored, the only operating steam engine boat in Minnesota still travels with a few original parts. Those parts include the seat frames, spotlight and the steering wheel.
Every Saturday a group of about a dozen or so volunteers their time to make sure this boat stays afloat during the summer months.
“There’s no instruction manual, you figure it out as you go,” the boat’s director of operations, Jeff Schott, said. “It is a puzzle and if you need parts you have to have them made.”
Dave Peterson is responsible for the boiler inspection every year.
When asked what keeps the boat afloat he said the team.
“I would say the teamwork, we all have the talent to get the job done,” Peterson said.
Former aerospace engineer, John Palmer, uses his problem solving skills to refurbish the bamboo rattan seat covers.
“These seats are all just like the street car seats,” Palmer said. “We have to soak the cane before we can bend it properly. The difficulty is you have a wooden frame and cane, when you bend it breaks.”
In addition to being the director of operations, Schott is also a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Minnesota.
He uses his area of expertise to keep this historic structure moving along at about 8 knots.
“It’s just the history of it. It’s still on the lake that it was and it’s a steam engine,” Schott said.
Schott hopes that the Minnehaha will continue to glide along the lake for many years to come and others will follow in his footsteps for lending a hand.
“I rode on the boat a long time ago, saw the steam engine and thought, ‘Wow, I have to volunteer,'” Schott said. “Where else can you play with a steam engine on a boat?”
You can ride the steamboat museum all summer long.
The Minnehaha, and the others like it, were all named after Twin City Rapid Transit trolley stops: Como, Harriet, Hopkins, Stillwater, White Bear, and of course Minnehaha.