Memories of Bob Steele
August 15, 2011
Last week the Indian Lake Marina community at Chaffey’s Locks mourned the passing of one of its members, Bob Steele. With his loving and supportive wife Mary and their son John, the Steeles have been a presence in the boating community on the Rideau since the early 1980’s.
Like many other successful couples from the Ottawa Valley, the Steeles acquired a place in Florida to which they retreated for the winter months. Visits to the Steeles became the route by which other Marina members found their way to Florida, and the social whirl continued – some would say intensified – during the winter months.
For Bob Steele liked his fun. For a large man Bob had amazing energy. Kids at the Marina couldn’t match his fondness for bounding around in an inflatable with a ten horsepower motor. Then the motor became a twenty-five and the rides grew even more thrilling. The rule on the dock was that if you got into the Zodiac with Bob, hang on, and make sure the gas tank didn’t fall on you.
When the dream of taking Good Times to Florida for the winter reached the planning stage, Bob decided she needed better engines for the trip, so he located two fine diesels. Then it was just a matter of getting someone to install them. This process turned out to be a lengthy one while Bob regaled us with tales of his mechanic’s latest evasions and missteps. After two years of frustration the engines ran well, the signal for Bob to put the boat into the shop at Ayling’s Boatworks in Merrickville for a winter rebuild.
The trip south went well for the Steeles, though rumour has it the weather drove them ashore from time to time. It was on one of these dry-land escapes that they found a winter residence which did not move.
At the Marina Bob had noticed some of us spending more and more time in our dinghies chasing splake and bass, so he put his 25 hp Johnson onto a 16’ aluminum hull and moored it next to Good Times.
Tony sold him a trolling motor. Bob set it up on a plywood platform, and then continued the decking throughout the boat, right over the seats. He ended up with a sturdy and efficient fishing machine. I soon noticed spots which usually yielded a fish were empty. Bob was learning the tactics of the tree fisherman and I had to raise my game to keep up.
He loved gadgets. After an expensive rod bounced out of his boat on a choppy ride across Indian Lake, its replacement was a kevlar experimental model without eyelets. The line went through the centre of the hollow rod. The level wind reel boasted a braking system guaranteed never to backlash. Bob was proud of that rod and it didn’t seem to hinder his fishing success.
Life at the Marina changed when I discovered a battered Yamaha G1 golf cart near Ottawa. The thing was a wreck, but it ran. I built a very fine box for it and discovered the sport of carting around the many trails and roads of the area. Before long more golf carts turned up. The hill to the washrooms is steep, Chaffey’s Locks is two miles by trail, and Scott Island is only a ferry ride away.
The Steeles were at the dealership in Edwards the day we took possession of an almost-new Ez-Go. Bob and Mary opted for a green Club Car, and were trying to figure out how to load it into the back of John’s tall 4WD pickup truck.
Next time I talked to Bob he was having trouble with the fuel pump on the Club Car. He kept plugging the thing with mud while driving off-road.
Next year I heard Bob had replaced the nine horsepower Kawasaki with a 29 hp Briggs and Stratton. Huge tires and a lift kit accompanied the modification, and Bob’s golf cart was gaining a fearsome reputation around the community.
The problem is that a golf cart, regardless of its augmented size and horsepower, only has cable brakes to its back wheels. The thing looked to me like a death trap, though I had to admit it sounded very much like a Harley Davidson when he fired it up at the store for a run up the ramp to his trailer.
Tony and I figured the thing would be the end of him, but Bob was a good driver and he had the sense not to lend the overpowered craft.
In later years Bob and Mary passed Good Times on to a younger family at the Marina and placed a trailer on a shaded site in the middle of the park above the water. Bob took to the golf cart as his outlet for the energy which had carried him through long days as a bus driver and stayed with him into retirement.
An air ambulance ride home from Florida last winter began the cycle which ended last week. Our thoughts go out to Mary and John and the other members of the Indian Lake community as they try to fill a large space in their lives.