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Meeting A Wild Goose - A Captain's Story

I happened to meet a fellow the other day who asked what I did with my time. I told him that I had the privilege of being a licensed boat captain for the Antique Boat Museum; that I averaged 300 hours on the River each summer transporting passengers in a variety of beautiful wooden Museum boats.

     "That sounds like fun," he said. " You're a lucky man!"

Yes, I thought, I am a lucky man, but the work is so much more than simply fun.


On one hand, being a captain on the St. Lawrence is challenging and demanding. The inherent responsibilities involved with carrying passengers on a body of water where the vagaries of wind, weather, and current often produce less than desirable boating conditions call for a high degree of vigilance and competency.

Yet, on the other hand, one of the great joys of the position is the interaction with passengers and the special experiences, often merry and humorous, sometimes poignant and emotional, that you become a witness to.


There seems to be no typical passenger; their ages, backgrounds and nationalities are as varied as the reasons why they book rides aboard a Museum vessel. They can be newcomers to the River and your job as captain may be to help introduce them to the geographical, geological, historical, or social  aspects of what they are seeing around them during a boat trip. Frequently, your passengers are celebrating; the occasion may be a birthday or an anniversary, it might be the surprise proposal of marriage; you may be transporting the bride and groom to a reception after a ceremony. Sometimes it is the celebration by a family for a departed loved-one. Happy or sad, it is difficult not to be touched by these occasions and in a way, emotionally enriched by them.


I had an interesting and unique experience a few years ago that I still think about often. I had just returned to the Museum yacht house after a scheduled ride and was washing the boat when John MacLean, then Museum Director, appeared and asked if I'd "like to go pick up a boat" from an island near Clayton. Not being one to turn down a boat ride I quickly agreed to go.

Fifteen minutes later we were approaching the dock at what I realized was Wild Goose Island, off the head of Grindstone. There were a half dozen other boats tied up, and a group of 25 adults on the dock, but it was summer and such gatherings are common; I didn't give it much thought. Once we landed and became part of the larger group on the dock  I noticed the venerable and iconic Hutchinson launch,Wild Goose, tied to the outside slip; it then occurred to me that it was the boat we were there "to pickup"; the Goose was coming back to the Museum for good!

Much has been written about this 40 foot mahogany classic. Built in Alexandria Bay in 1915 for Frederick Lovejoy as Onondaga III. She was sold to Cleveland Dodge of Grindstone and Wild Goose Island in 1928 and renamed Wild Goose. For over eighty years, the Goose was an important member of the family, serving several generations of the Dodge family as a water taxi, to and from the island; as a floating venue where several wedding ceremonies were performed. The boat transported family and friends on countless sight-seeing cruises and even served as an ambulance a few times, as well.

Now, the boat was being donated to the Antique Boat Museum, and members of the family had gathered on the island dock to remember and to say farewell.

Each family member in turn shared their memories of growing up with the boat. There were funny stories shared along with some sad ones; there were big smiles, and teary eyes. The family was saying good-bye to a loved one.

John gave me a nod to say that it was time for us to board and depart. As the engine was started, flutes of champagne were passed to the family and Wild Goose was given a final toast as we cast off. I did the best I could to not show the tears that rolled down my cheek as we pulled slowly away.

From my position in the stern, I happened to look back as we moved away from the island. The dock had become a flutter of white, as if fifty gull wings were all waving in unison. Each of the family had been given a white handkerchief to wave the boat good-bye with!

It wasn't until recently that I learned that the ritual that I had observed was a family tradition begun by Pauline Morgan Dodge, many, many years ago to see loved ones away from the island.

Over the last few years, Wild Goose has had quite a lot of attention by Museum Boat Conservator Mike Corrigan and a dedicated group of volunteers who have put some 3500 hours into a rebuild of the boat's bottom. Currently, Wild Goose is getting several coats of varnish in preparation for her re-launch on June 30, 2012, at the Museum's River Reunion.

Wild Goose was familiar to me as a boy growing up on the River, and I hope that we will become good friends in the near future.

By David Dodge, Coordinator of In-Water Fleet, Antique Boat Museum, Clayton.

David Dodge is a retired middle school Science teacher who is fulfilling a lifelong dream of being a River Captain. Like all Antique Boat Museum captains, he holds a USCG Master Mariner credential. This is David’s third article for TI Life.  See  46 Years and Counting…  August 2012, and Rideboat, March 2010.  David wrote this article for the Antique Boat Museum’s June, 2012 membership newsletter. 

Posted in: History, Sports
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Capt. Schuyler Hellings
Comment by: Capt. Schuyler Hellings ( )
Left at: 10:40 PM Sunday, July 15, 2012
I have riden with David several times. His knowledge of the river and handling of boats have been great river experiences,
Bill Beaulieu
Comment by: Bill Beaulieu ( )
Left at: 10:53 AM Monday, July 16, 2012
So touching was the part about waving good bye with the white hankerchiefs. I always warn visitors the hardest part of coming to the River is saying goodbye. I also love the idea of the Wild Goose being donated to the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton. I'm sure she will be well cared of and availible for a River experience for many more years to come. I would also love to see the photographer, Michael Ringer, of all people, include the Wild Goose in one of his magnificant river paintings. Thank you for the great story!
Bolling Haxall, Jr.
Comment by: Bolling Haxall, Jr. ( )
Left at: 5:53 PM Tuesday, July 17, 2012
As a grandson of Cleveland Dodge, I had many trips to Gan, Clayton and Kingston aboard the "Goose." I was happy to see the "Goose" chosen as the Museum's symbol and am happy to see her restored and given a good home. I hope that the "Goose" can provide many visitors with the excitement of sitting in those old wicker chairs as she hums on her way around the River.
Jamie McClelland
Comment by: Jamie McClelland
Left at: 3:37 PM Saturday, January 31, 2015
My father in law,Roger Davis just finished recounting a story of him and Les Cook working for Cleveland Dodge after WWII and into the 50's. He said Mr Dodge was a wonderful man to work for. Some Islanders could be very snobbish but Mr.Dodge was a gentleman and he showed great respect to his workers. He would never give you a direct order but say,'would you mind doing this...?' Roger and Les used to run the Goose to town for supplies or taking people and made several trips to TI park with the children where they would picnic and go on a merry-go-round. It was very interesting hearing these stories so I researched the boat and found this website. I will try and get to the museum this summer with my family to see the 'Wild Goose' thanks Jamie McClelland, Bath, Ontario
Nancy Longton Kennedy
Comment by: Nancy Longton Kennedy
Left at: 1:44 PM Monday, September 5, 2016
I am a cousin to Alice and Sally Dodge; their grandmother, Pauline Dodge was my great aunt "Polly". I was blessed to live in Clayton and spend summers at the "River" on Club, Papoose and Wild Goose. The years have flown but the memories are like yesterday with fond memories of flying across the water in wonderful boats like the Honk, the Gander and the Wild Goose!
Joseph B. Stahl
Comment by: Joseph B. Stahl
Left at: 4:15 AM Saturday, November 24, 2018
How wonderful to see this article. I was privileged to be a guest of the Dodges on Wild Goose Island in the summers of 1988 and '89 and to see and ride in the Wild Goose with Cle Dodge at the helm. I used to peer with envy at the Wild Goose in its boathouse, and I once told Cle, "If that boat is missing, I stole it." It had the most marvelous old-fashioned look of distinction—everything about it bespoke the superior civilization of an earlier age. Cle and Phyllis (I have her book about the Phelps-Dodge family) were still alive then, there were a few wicker chairs on the boat's stern with blankets on them for the elderly to cover their legs with on cold days, and I was told that Cle Dodge's father, Cleveland Dodge, Sr., had been one of Woodrow Wilson's chief financial backers and had loaned the Wild Goose to Wilson when he was President to take cruises on the Potomac on. One day, Cle drove the Wild Goose to take part in a boat show with other antique boats on the St. Lawrence River. Cle told me that he had agreed to put the Wild Goose in the show only on the condition that it would not be awarded first prize, because, he said, it had won first prize so many times that he wanted other boats to have a chance. On the way to the show I and others were sitting in the stern when Cle, who was flanked by his boatkeeper, an old fellow named Les who had worked for Cle's father as well, said that he was going to open up the boat's Chrysler engines full blast. He did, and that boat stood up on the water and took off like a bat out of Hell, kicking up such a wake that everyone in the stern got drenched! We didn't mind it a bit. I'm so glad to hear that the boat is in the Museum, where it will be taken good care of. If it's missing, I stole it. Joe Stahl