Tom Brennan

It’s surprising that there appear to be few houseboats in Southcentral Alaska. They would seem to be great for the Alaska lifestyle.

I mention that because my wife and I towed a houseboat to Alaska many years ago and used it for weekend and vacation outings for a long time.

It was a great rig that Marnie found when we were looking for a trailer that we could tow and live in during our move from Massachusetts to Anchorage. We figured we could take wonderful breaks by launching it in lakes when we stopped for the night.

We were both reporters for The Worcester Telegram when I applied for and got a job offer at The Anchorage Times. She landed a job as women’s editor at The Times and continued there until she joined my consulting firm. She was later hired away for a job in the telecommunications industry.

The houseboat we bought for the long trip was very unusual. It had a steel hull, a large cabin and a single axle fixed underneath with no springs. When I first saw it I thought it could never make the trip but her dad built bookmobiles and was an expert in automotive matters. He inspected it closely and declared that the houseboat on wheels could handle the 5,000 mile trip if we could.

At the time I was driving a Triumph TR4 sports car, which was much too small to pull the steel-hulled houseboat. I figured the big boat weighed something like a ton. So I traded the TR4 in on an International Travelall which had the horsepower needed for the job and was much roomier.

We set out on July 5, 1967 and headed south to Virginia for a visit with my folks before we headed west. The rig was kind of weird and a little hard to handle on the road but I got used to it after a few hours.

My first big mistake was when we neared Washington and I saw a sign with two arrows. One said Washington and the other said Beltway. I thought Beltway was a suburb of the capital so I took the other route.

Actually Beltway was the road around Washington. We wound up going through the center of the city and was amazed to find ourselves driving right down Pennsylvania Avenue past the White House. You couldn’t do that these days since the road past the White House is closed to traffic.

The trip from Newport News to Anchorage included stops along the way to put the boat in water and take some wonderful time off from driving. We arrived in Anchorage the last week in August, a bit shaken and dusty from the trip. 

The 1,400-mile Alaska Highway then included a thousand-mile section that was unpaved. And our houseboat had no springs so the boat and the Travelall towing it shook like mad the whole way. The first day (out of a week on the AlCan) we stopped for lunch and Marnie climbed into the houseboat to fix something.

When I tried to climb in, she leaned out and said: “You might not want to come in here.” Naturally I had to see so I climbed in. The houseboat had shaken so much that all of the drawers had shaken out and were lying on the floor with their contents spilled everywhere. The walls were covered with flour and a jar of honey had broken in a cabinet. The honey was oozing down a wall.

We could only go about 15 miles an hour because of the shaking, which made us very popular with the other drivers stuck behind us. A number of them showed me one of their fingers though most just stared in awe as they passed the weird houseboat on wheels.

When we got to Alaska and started work we spent weekends exploring Southcentral Alaska. We launched the boat in both Homer and Whittier but the big rig with wheels hanging under it and powered by an outboard motor was too slow to travel very far.

We eventually decided to keep the houseboat at Big Lake, which was the perfect place for it. We stayed in it often on summer weekends until our first son was born. When he became a toddler and was at risk of falling overboard we sold it to some friends and they kept it and used it for many years.

It seems to me that a modern houseboat with sufficient power to move in big waters would be perfect for the Alaska lifestyle, offering great access to fishing, hunting and enjoyable camping.

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