Air Boat Trip to The Gananoque Shooting Club

By: Manley L. Rusho

Volume 19, Issue 2, February 2024

Date: January 1966

From Clayton, NY, to Grindstone Island on the ice was about a 15 minute drive under good conditions. I was driving my 1965 VW Beetle and had my two oldest daughters with me; Sue (age 10) and Sheri (age 8). We passed Calumet Island driving at about 40 – 45 mph, and I noticed most of the other cars and tractors on the ice were headed to the Upper Town Landing on Grindstone, but we were going to our family farm at the Lower Town Landing. In no time, we had arrived at the farmhouse where my brother Milton lived with his family.

Hours of play were ahead for my girls with their cousins, and for Milton and me, too. Soon, Milton and I went down to the dock and took off in his airboat, headed for Gananoque, ON. Both of us were members of The Gananoque Shooting Club and today was their Clay Bird Shoot Out in front of the docks.

The airboat motor was a newer Lycoming airplane engine. Valve covers gleamed, with the big “L” stamped on the covers. It had a push-button starter, so with this airboat, you no longer had to stand on the back deck and pull the prop through to get the engine started. We moved quickly down Picton Island Channel, around Grindstone, but never entered any open water. Then we turned left across the State lands toward Fort Wallace Island. The land was empty, no campers, no hunters. We crossed east of Princess Charlotte's Island, where Milton slowed down, and I saw the shoal marker was almost laying down as we passed the east end of Prince Rupert Island. We passed by the bay on the east end; years later my fishing-loving granddaughter, Emily, would call this bay Pike Cove.

This photo is not the boat actually used in 1966, but one that belonged to Leon Rusho Sr's, Manley's father. [Photo courtesy of Alice Rusho Peron]

We were in open water now, going slowly, and so close to Prince Regent Island that I could have jumped onto “Prince Regent’s nose,” a great rock that looked like a giant nose as it disappeared into the River.

This section of the St. Lawrence River was called the Gananoque Narrows, the water was dark and looked almost black. I doubt if this section of the River ever froze because of the constant swift water. Ice covered the smooth granite rocks as we drove through the Narrows and ducks took flight upon hearing us approach. I noticed the Osprey nest was down and a few seagulls were perched on it. The Narrows were slow-going, a west wind was blowing at about 10 mph, occasionally kicking up water into the air, where it quickly froze. The boat was now covered with ice and breaking through the ice on the River and soon we were headed towards Squaw Island and past Jack Straw Lighthouse. There was enough snow on the ice to provide a cushion for our passage.

Milt was testing his new Lycoming motor and a new three-bladed prop; so far, it was a winning combination. Thinking back though, I missed the sound of the old five-cylinder Kinner airplane engine.

Within minutes, we had arrived and approached a large crowd of people at the Gananoque docks. We stopped at least 100 feet from the crowd, shut off the engine, and immediately, we were swamped with onlookers. We were there for the Clay Pigeon Shooting Competition and the crowd knew we were outsiders. But we weren’t exactly outsiders, since my father’s family, the Rusho’s, and my mother’s family, the Dano’s, have owned property on Grindstone Island for many years and many of our relatives moved to Canada. Between both of those families, we were related to half the citizens of Gananoque and many of them were buried in local plots.

The plan was to meet up with our Canadian friend, Walt Pullaw. After WWII, Walt went to work as a caretaker for a German family, who owned property on Niagara Island. Grindstone and the other nearby islands were so close to Canada, that it was common back then to go back and forth without checking in with the authorities. We often did our shopping in Canada; purchases were mostly machinery and clothing and my mother preferred Maple Leaf flour for her baking needs.

Over the years, Walt would join us for the opening day of duck hunting season on Grindstone and for other shooting events. He invited us to join the Gananoque Shooting Club and we became members. To attend these events, we often met Walt by driving to Chet Taylor’s on the other side of the island, blowing the car horn, and Walt would pick us up for the quick boat ride to Gananoque.

Back to the Shooting Club event; the crowd was there to watch the events of the day, BBQ and hotdogs were being sold, and there was hot coffee. We signed up to participate in the competition. I was eliminated in the early rounds since I was never an excellent marksman like my brother. I bought a hotdog and waited for Milton to continue in the shooting contest. It was brutally cold; a west wind blew and there was no shelter. I stayed close to the airboat to keep the kids off and talked to many of our Dano relatives from Rockport, who were in attendance.

The shooting competition was getting heated – the only people left were Milton and two other shooters, one from Gananoque and one from Kingston. By late afternoon, close to 4 pm, only Milt and the guy from Kingston were left. Soon after that, Milton was eliminated. The crowd was gone and most of the members headed for the Legion. Milton and I readied for the trip back to Grindstone.

Milt fired up the motor and small amounts of gas burned along the exhaust. A quick goodbye and we were off. We passed by Hay Island and cut through the dead marsh grass along the way. Next, we went through the boat channel between Sugar and Leek Islands, and moved very fast just east of Ghost Island. As we passed Axeman Island, we saw the house with the balcony where on an earlier summer trip, we saw a naked lady hanging up her bathing suit. No sight of her on this frigid day though! Straight on to Canoe Point – now we really sped along. We travelled across the large ice field just west of Fort Wallace Island and then around the NY State land across the east end of Grindstone. Finally, we stopped next to my VW on the ice near our dock.

I collected my brood and away to Alexandria Bay we went. Before we reached Clayton, Sheri was asleep in the backseat. Sue asked me “What did you do at the club meeting?” Now that was a great question!

By: Manley L. Rusho

Manley Rusho was born on Grindstone Island nine+ decades ago. Back in 2021, Manley started sharing his memories with TI Life. (Manley Rusho articles) This Editor and his many friends send our very best throughout the year. We know Manley has moved and is now in a residence where we are sure his fellow mates are enjoying his stories as much as we do. As always, we thank you sir, most sincerely, for sharing - "as the life and times on Grindstone Island are special and should never be forgotten."
Manley Rusho articles

Editor's note:  Do you have photographs of River iceboats? If so, please send them to  

Posted in: Volume 19, Issue 2, February 2024, History, People, Places

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