The Traditional Wooden Boat Festival
Beaver Park
Lafayette, Louisiana

18 September 1999

Article from the Lafayette Daily Advertiser:

Putt - Putts
Vintage boat exhibit celebrates the Cajun way during Festivals Acadiens

They once chugged up and down the waterways of south Louisiana, hauling logs or loads of moss for stuffing mattresses. Their top speed is said to approach 9 miles an hour. Since the turn of the century, the wooden boats known as "putt-putts" for the sound they made, were part of the commerce of the bayous and the swamps, but in the latter half of the 20th century, they began to fade from sight.

But there are those who are trying to preserve that bit of local history. Some build full-scale, working replicas of the boats. A privileged few, like Shane Doucet,  own the real thing.

The Catahoula resident owns a 21 foot cypress boat built in the 1940s. His father used the boat for fishing and for hauling logs and moss.

The boat is powered by a single cylinder, 4 horsepower Nadler engine patented in 1902.  "It was still in the boat," Doucet said.  "I restored it."

Doucet's boat, along with about 25 other wooden boats, will take part in the Traditional Wooden Boat Festival September 18, an event sponsored by the Bayou Vermilion District, a municipal agency that, among other things, runs Vermilionville. Bayou Vermilion District executive director Jo Dunham said there will be at least one wooden bateau, the next generation of motorized working boats and a few cypress pirogues, but most of the boats at the event will be putt-putts.

There are fewer than 20 fully operational putt-putts in the state, but that's more than there were a decade and a half ago.

"In 1985, there was one boat left in Louisiana that was running," said putt-putt owner Tony Latiolais.  "It belonged to an old man down toward Morgan City."

That same year, Latiolais, and his brother, second generation boat builders, were invited to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., to build a putt-putt.  The Smithsonian's cameras documented every step of the process as the brothers built the long, narrow flat-bottomed boat, which measures about 3 feet on the bottom.  And Latiolais got to keep the boat.  He now has three.

"I built one last year and I've got one that had been sunk for 40 years.  My friends dug it up and I'm in the process of restoring it right now."

Latiolais isn't alone in his efforts.  "The boats have made a comeback," he said.  "Now, there are 18 or 19 in Louisiana."

Building and restoring them is not an easy task, Latiolais said.  Even the wood is hard to get.

"We have to find a (cypress) log that's sunk in the basin," he said, "bring it to the mill, have it cut, dry it for two years and then, it's ready to use to build."

Getting parts for the engines is another challenge.  "You can't buy parts for the engine," Latiolais said.  "We have to machine that.  We have to make the shaft, the rudder - all custom-fit."

The boat owners get together in an informal club of sorts.

"We swap stories, and the knowledge we've gained working on the engines," Latiolais said.

For some, the whole process is a labor of love.  "It was my daddy's boat," Doucet said, "and I just wanted to restore it for him."

And the nostalgia is not lost on longtime residents of the area.  "I see a few tears that come down with the old people when they see it run or when you let them drive it."

Click on the picture to see full size.

Jamie Hurry with J. B.'s 1922 Caille rowboat motor from Portland Indiana Antique Engine Show

Robert Mayeaux in his boat.

Bernie Capone in J.B.'s boat powered by a 4 HP Lockwood Ash engine. J.B built this 21' 6" cypress boat in 1993.

Robert Mayeaux and his boat.

Tony Latiolais giving rides on his boat powered by a 2 HP Nadler engine.

J.B. got this engine just a few weeks earlier while at a huge antique engine show.

Another view of J.B.'s new engine.

Bernie Capone in J.B.'s boat.

J. B. Castagnos and Phil Aucoin in Phil's boat powered by an 8 HP Lockwood Ash engine. This is an original boat that was sunk for 32 years. Phil raised it and restored it.

J. B. Castagnos on the bayou.

Back boat: Dick Gibbens in his boat powered by a 1916 Lockwood Ash 6 HP engine.
Front boat: J.B. Castagnos and Phil Aucoin.

Ernest Felterman in his boat powered by an 8 HP Lockwood Ash engine. 

Ernest raised and restored this original boat from the late 1920's.

Rides in Ernest's boat.

Ernest in his boat.

Robert Mayeaux in his boat.

J.B. driving Phil's boat.

Jamie Hurry driving J.B.'s boat.

J.B. driving Phil's boat.

Another shot of Phil's boat.

Near: Dick Gibbens boat.
Far: Phil's boat.

Tony Latiolais giving boat rides.

Tony dropping people off.

Dick Gibbens in his boat giving a ride to Earl Brewer. Dick built his boat  in 1991 from lumber from sinker cypress. It is unpainted and coated with linseed oil only.

Tony Latiolais Giving us a ride.

J. B. Castagnos giving a ride to a spectator in Phil's boat.

They are passing us!