Janette Blazick of Tuftonboro sits aboard the Carrie Jean, 28-foot long steamboat which was built in California and is powered by Steeple Compound engine.
MOULTONBOROUGH — The annual Lee's Mills Steamboat Meet is both the largest and oldest in the country. Now in its 44th year, it began last weekend and runs through this weekend and there will be 50 or more steamboats participating.
It didn't start out as much back in 1972 when enthusiast David Thompson decided to hold a steamboat meet on Lake Winnipesaukee. Only four boats showed up.
But, over the years the meet has continued to grow in popularity and continues to attract a loyal following of steam boaters, many of whom return year after year.
Typical of those steam enthusiasts is Allen Blazick of Tuftonboro, who has been showing up ever since 1995 with the Carrie Jean, 28-foot long steamboat which was built in California around 1900 and is powered by a Steeple Compound engine.
Blazick bought the restored steamboat in SantaCruz, California, in 1993, not far from his summer home, and brought it to New Hampshire. He says that both the boat and the engine are unique, in that only 10 of the boats were made and only three of the engines of the same style that power the boat were ever made.
He said the steam which is produced goes into a high pressure cylinder, which is on the same connecting rod as a low pressure cylinder, and, after powering the drive shaft, the steam goes into a condenser beneath the keel where it is cooled and turned back into water. The water then goes back to the boiler, where it is reheated and repeats the process.
Blazick says he has always had a fascination with steam powered vehicles and it was inevitable that he and his wife, Janette, would end up with a steamboat. “When we were married her family had an 1899 steam-powered Locomobile and I had a 1909 Stanley Steamer, the same kind that Natalie Wood drove in The Great Race movie,” he says.
He says that noted car collector Jay Leno also has a 1909 Stanley Steamer in his collection. Blazick has an extensive collection of Stanley Steamers that he keeps at his home in Melvin Village. The collection was viewed by the public 10 years ago when he opened his garage during the 2006 Brass and Gas Tour, a national event featuring early 20th century classic cars.
Also at the meet are John and Nancy Echlin of Savannah, Georgia, who own a summer home in Holderness and were at the meet with their steamboat Liv-Slo.
“We just love it here. There are just so many friendly people,” said Nancy Echlin. She said that they raised their children in Connecticut and moved to Georgia when they retired in 1993 but return every summer to the Lakes Region and will keep their boat in the water until the end of September, when they head south again.
Another long-time visitor at the steamboat meet is Charles Roth of Glen Gardner, New Jersey, who has been showing up for about 20 years and whose latest boat, the Rachel Z, which he built himself six years ago, was back at the show again this year.
A former product design engineer, Roth said two years ago that he started out building model steamboats before going on to something bigger. The Rachel Z is his fourth boat and he says that when he first brought it to the meet it had a boiler and a steam engine, but no plumbing.
''There was plenty of help around and we got it up and running within a few days,'' says Roth.
The meet will run through Sunday and will feature a big parade of steamboats on the lake Sunday morning at 10 a.m.
Spectators are welcome and can get a chance to talk with the boat owners and maybe even get a ride. Visitors are asked to park their cars well off the road in order to allow access for the steamboats, which are trailered in, as well as for emergency vehicles.
Lee's Mills can be reached from either Rte. 25 or Rte. 109 by following signs to the Loon Center, which is a short distance away from the public docks at Lee's Mills.
The 44th annual Lee's Mills Steamboat Meet is both the largest and oldest in the country. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)