But does it fly?

WALT on dry land.

If you should ever happen to glimpse a strangely shaped vehicle tooling down the Marquette bypass, exceeding the speed limit, or should you happen to spot the same craft alligator-crawling alongside the lower harbor breakwater, please don’t call the state police or the Coast Guard—its only Pete Frazier testing WALT.

WALT is a product of Pete’s ingenuity and the shop in the Lake Superior Yacht Yard.

For decades the yard was best known as the home of the legendary 52-foot sailboat Yankee Girl, which traveled far and wide around the Great Lakes. Locally, she served as the school ship for Marquette’s Sea Scouts, Troop 303 BSA. Pete was a member of this troop, and “learned the ropes” aboard the yacht.   

In 1969, he was a member of the crew that raced the second Yankee Girl in the first trans-Superior Yacht Race—and finished last.

In 1997 Pete and his wife, Peggy, returned from Florida with their new boat, the MY Pelican.

Pete Frazier takes his experimental watercraft WALT out for a cruise.

Perhaps best recognized nowadays for leading the Fourth of July boat parades, she, too, has had an active career, the most interesting of which was making the “Great Loop.” Pete describes it:

“That is a trip from the Great Lakes down to Florida by way of Chicago, the Illinois River, Mississippi River, Ohio River, the Tom Bigbee Canal, to Alabama, to Florida, through and around Florida, up the Inter Coastal Water Way, through New York, the Erie Canal, the Oswego Canal, through the Lakes or the Trent Severn Canal through Canada, up Georgian Bay, into the St Mary’s River, and on to Marquette.”

Not as grand, but just as interesting was a shorter trip.

“This was to escort a man trying to swim across Lake Superior from Grand Marais, Minnesota, to Houghton,” Frazier said. “Pelican was too fast so I modified an apparatus to put an outboard on the swim platform to go slower. However, the man did not complete the swim due to distance, current and cold.”

This brings up a salient point: Pete, like his forbearers, is an engineer. He has a bachelor’s of science degree from the Milwaukee School of Engineering in mechanical engineering technology. Formerly, he was president of FRACO. A two-term member of the Harbor Committee, and a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary for over 35 years, his interests are reflected around the yard, the operation of which is multi-functional and multi-seasonal.

Frazier at the helm. Frazier is a staple of the Lake Superior Yacht Yard, helping load and unload boats, tinkering with machinery and transforming the yacht house each summer into the Lake Superior Theatre.

Pete has tasked himself to perpetually modify and upgrade the equipment and the process of launching and hauling out the expensive, heavy, yet fragile craft that winter there. Walking around the yard, he proudly points out a tweak here, or a twist there, in the plant and the equipment.

“I put the concrete in the boathouse, designed and built the rolling devices to move the boats east and west, and purchased the travel lift over at the marina,” Frazier said.

Presque Isle Marina’s Jim Hetrick knows Pete from Rotary. He nods, “He’s a do-it-yourself kind of guy— and a perfectionist.”

At the yacht yard, boats are launched and hauled out over a marine railway—a very short line. This is a length of track, angling down a cut in the concrete, out into the lake. A “car,” a variable length frame of two axles and four railroad wheels rests atop it. Four rollers (picture robust roller skates, with miniature steerable train wheels) are placed across the car on two parallel sets of small rails, these mini-tracks being perpendicular to the marine railway itself. The car is held at the end of a sturdy cable, which stretches back into the boathouse. It runs under the floor of the Lake Superior Theatre to a winch beneath the stage. An operator sits in a chair behind the winch, working a clutch handle on one side and a brake handle on the other.

Each craft rests upon its own personal cradle. Since boats are of variable sizes, shapes and weights, so are the cradles. Some of these are boater-made, some Pete made, some a bit of both.

Pete, standing next to an empty cradle, frowning down on it, “I told him he’s going to have to reinforce that. I don’t want it falling over.” He is referring to the cradle’s 14-ton boat. This is not a casual concern. Within the confines of the yard, once cradled, the boats rest only four or five feet apart. If a cradle fails the results could be apocalyptic: a domino effect. It just doesn’t bear thinking about.

Frazier is pictured in uniform. He served as part of the Army’s Warrant Officer Flight Program, flying helicopters in Vietnam and Germany.

A forklift is used to move empty cradles over next to the marine railway for haul out. There, a pivoting crane hoists the cradle up and then lowers it atop the car, where it is secured with chains. Finally, four tall ladder-like frames are fitted to the corners of the car. A coil of rope dangles from the top of each frame.

Well, you get it. This is all just the preparatory work of a delicate and involved process, supervised by Pete.

Presque Isle’s Dave and Ellen Bett stored their sailboat at the yard for 15 years.

“Pete is so supportive of the boating community,” Ellen said. “The yard is a sort of do-it-yourself family boat yard. Everybody helps each other out. People who don’t even have boats there anymore come down and help launch and haul out.”

Once safely ashore, many boaters, like Rob and Stephen Yule, spend time working on their craft. Stephen was enthusiastic about the setup.

“It’s great. You get to work on your boat here, something you can’t do a lot of places,” he said. “And Pete lets you borrow tools from the shop.”

Frazier pilots a helicopter dubbed the “Orange Pumpkin.”

Pete has other interests besides the yacht yard. For instance, he has been a pilot for over 50 years. He started flying with his father, a participant in the first commercial trans-polar flight, when he was 5. He got his pilot’s license while a cadet at Shattuck. After graduating from the John D. Pearce School in Marquette, he attended Sault Tech and was a member of ROTC. Subsequently he joined the Army’s new Warrant Officer Flight Program, and from 1965-66 was flying helicopters in Vietnam, and later in Germany. While he seldom mentions the Vietnam tour, research has uncovered two facts: He flew for the 5th Special Forces Group out of Nha Trang, inserting and extracting small recon teams…somewhere. And while piloting a Huey gunship for the First Cavalry Division (Air Mobile), he won the Distinguished Flying Cross. In the mid-’70s, for work (Pete says) he purchased a Sikorsky helicopter. Several times during the course of projects, the yard was utilized as a helipad.

The Fraziers migrate south for the winter. While he is up here during the boating season, Pete is constantly on the go and…oh, yes, WALT. WALT was conceived about 1970; it currently sits in a barn. Whether it is an ongoing project, well, that is another thing…but we’ll let Pete explain:

“The project was named “WALT,” water and land transport. I had always wanted to explore having an amphibian, so when I was flying in Europe, I had quite a bit of time to think and dream about this project. I made a cardboard model of my ideas and then had to wait until I finished my Army tour,” Pete said. “I started the project by building a wooden hull of my design, which I built in the shop.”

He began with a water jet and an old Chev 350 car engine, which he put in a boat.

“I launched the boat for trials in the Hot Pond at the island, as that was the only open water at the time,” Pete said. “The runs were great, probably 50 miles per hour.”

The next step was loading the boat with about 300 pounds of concrete block to simulate the finished product. That went well, so Pete put the boat aside and started to build the truck portion of the unit.

“This was a special frame to accommodate the wheels that would retract, have a cab, have an engine behind the cab, and a power takeoff to run the water jet,” Pete said. “I built the frame in the shop and all the rest of the parts I needed. When I got this all together, I drove this truck around a bit to see how it would go, and it worked. I actually drove on the bypass at 70 miles per hour.”

Next was building a mold to cast a hull in. Pete did that in the shop, made with wood and tempered Masonite. He also made a hood mold and a few other parts, utilizing a Wisconsin company to lay up the fiberglass.

“I returned with all these parts and then set the truck in the hull,” Pete said. “Then I mounted the jet in the hull. The next step was to launch the unit, to see what would happen. As it turned out the center of gravity was wrong, so I moved the truck back a bit, and that worked.

“The few trial runs I made were pretty good with speed measured on the breakwater at some 30 miles per hour and not opened up,” he continued. “These runs were made without holes for the wheels, so that was the next step. The holes were cut, the wheel wells glued in, and I put on her own wheels.

“I drove WALT into the old Cinder Pond one time and the drove back up the ramp, a big success. Hope to finish the job, maybe someday.”

So, no; I guess it doesn’t, everything but— fly, that is.      

Pete Frazier remains a long time fixture around both of Marquette’s harbors.


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