WHEELING - After 36 years living by the sweat of his brow as a boilermaker, the somewhat more leisurely life of a riverboat captain is starting to appeal to Earl Yost.
After spending parts of the last six years building his sternwheeler Morning Glory from the water up, the retired New Martinsville resident found himself the new kid on the block as he brought the boat to its first Wheeling Heritage Port Sternwheel Festival, moored alongside the veterans whose advice he soaked up like a sponge as he embarked on the endeavor.
It wasn't the biggest or the flashiest boat at the festival, but the Morning Glory is Yost's pride and joy. It also has been some of the best medicine he's ever taken.
Photo by Ian Hicks
Festival-goers check out the boats moored at the waterfront Saturday, the final day of the 11th annual Wheeling Heritage Port Sternwheel Festival.
Building the boat, Yost said, helped keep the temptation to return to work at bay as he recovered from numerous knee and back surgeries. It was something he could do at his own pace - if he felt like working on it all day, great; if only for 15 minutes, that was OK, too.
"It was never really about the boat. It was about something to do. ... It's been nothing but therapeutic," Yost said as he relaxed on the boat's bow, taking in the pleasant sound of a nearby fiddle player as the 11th annual Sternwheel Festival wrapped up Saturday beneath a warm, sunny sky - a welcome change following two days of chilly, damp and overcast weather.
Yost said his wife, Connie, wanted nothing to do with the boat at first, but she has warmed to it quite nicely.
Particularly, he suspects, after she figured out it was the perfect way to tear him away from the TV set and spend a relaxing, "unplugged" evening just catching up with one another.
"You know how women like to talk," Yost said with a sly grin. "It's pretty sneaky, but I think I've got her figured out."
His decision to christen the boat "Morning Glory" likely didn't hurt, either. The name was inspired by the way he greets Connie upon waking each day: "Good morning, Glory!"
For someone with no experience at boat building, Yost's years of metalworking proved invaluable. Even more so, however, was the time he spent interacting with other boat owners at the Sternwheel Festival over the years, some of them octogenarians who have been around sternwheelers for as long as they can remember.
"The biggest thing was asking the right people the right questions," Yost said.
He first tested the boat on the water nearly a year ago, a mile-long jaunt upriver that took about an hour and a half.
"I didn't know if it was going to flop over. ... It was a scary experience," Yost said.
Fortunately for him, it didn't, though there was some trial and error along the way. The initial test runs resulted in sundry mechanical problems - a blown bearing, twisted wheel shaft, a shifting sprocket - but Yost said it's been "pretty good sailing" since then.
Yost said the the trip north to Wheeling from New Martinsville took about six hours. The boat generally cruises at about 5 mph. If he really wants to push things, it may top out at the breakneck speed of 8 mph.
But Yost is getting used to the pace. In fact, sometime in the next couple of years he'd love to take the Morning Glory all the way to Pensacola, Fla., somewhere he's always wanted to visit. At about 1,500 miles, he figures the journey would take a month or two each way.
But the way he sees it, he's retired - so why not?