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The time-traveler's tow boat

7/28/2014 | Words: Chuck Mahnken | Pictures: Tom and Lakin Cook

2-Cycle engines, Series 71, Juanita

Is it possible to sail forward while being transported backward? The laws of physics say no, but the vintage stern-wheeled river workboat Juanita says yes.

Built in 1954 by O.F Shearer & Sons from plans sketched on the back of a wall calendar, the Juanita and her Detroit Diesel 2-Cycle 6-cylinder Series 71 engine spent forty years of hard labor on West Virginia's Kanawha River pulling and pushing barges loaded with coal. Current owners Tom and Lakin Cook bought her in 1994, retired her from the daily waterborne grind, remodeled her bow-to-stern, and gave Juanita a new mission: To serve as a living reminder of the history of inland maritime commerce as it was more than a half-century ago.


To see the 80' long Juanita with her 12'-diameter oak paddle wheel propulsion system cruising the Kanawha today with Tom or his wife Lakin at the helm is to remember a time in post-WWII America of limitless possibilities. In '54, anything could happen, at least once. Joltin' Joe DiMaggio married Marilyn Monroe. RCA invented color television. The Indians swept the Yankees, for cryin' out loud.

Sadly, the marriage, RCA's dominance of the TV universe and the Yankees' humiliation at the hands of the Tribe weren't meant to last. But the Juanita has, as has her trusty Detroit Diesel 2-Cycle Series 71. Rebuilt by Tom in 2000, it's the only engine she's ever needed to turn that big wooden paddle wheel.

"The 6-71 engine has been very reliable and runs smoothly. It's also easy to work on, which is great since I'm a do-it-yourself kind of guy," says Tom. Like the Juanita herself, the captain's a throwback- in the best way.

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