Props To The Gadfly
MAYVILLE – A former captain and his boat, or at least part of his boat, has been reunited after 23 years apart.
The Gadfly, a touring boat which used to grace the waters of Chautauqua Lake after launching from Chautauqua Institution until the mid-1980s, rarely spent a day on the lake where it wasn’t filled to capacity. Its captain, Charles Scofield, only missed one day of work during during his 24-year tenure as captain, and that was the day he had to bury his father.
Eventually, Scofield sold the boat, and it no longer cruised the waters of Chautauqua. The story could have ended there, but 23 years later after the boat left Chautauqua, Art Parsons of Branchport on Keuka Lake contacted Scofield, telling him that he has something he believes belongs to Scofield.
“I bought the boat with a partner with the intentions of restoring it and using it as a touring boat on Keuka Lake,” Parsons said. “Things happened and the boat didn’t get restored. We dissolved the partnership and the boat was dismantled.”
According to Parsons, when his partnership was dissolved, there was nowhere to store the boat, so it was disassembled. However, Parsons held on to the boat’s shaft and propeller.
“I’ve had the propeller and shaft in my cottage on Keuka for 15 years,” Parsons said. “But I never felt like I should have the propeller. The person who should have the propeller is the man who operated that boat for 24 years on Chautauqua Lake: Charles Scofield. So I began searching one morning, and I got in touch with the Chautauqua Institution. The historian there gave me Mr. Scofield’s name, and I searched for where he might be. I finally got his telephone number in Mayville, and was able to contact him.”
“We have a summer home on the lake in Mayville,” said Barbara Scofield, Charles’ wife. “He found our number there, and it was really something for him to go through all that trouble to find out where we were.”
Parsons invited the Scofields to his home in Branchport, with the intention of giving Charles the shaft and propeller to the boat he used to love.
“We stayed overnight Sunday, and we met with him on Monday,” Barbara Scofield said. “That boat was really my husband’s fourth child. He started piloting that boat in 1962. For 24 years, he captained that boat in the summer. He was a professor at SUNY Buffalo, but he operated that boat during the summer. When the boat’s hull needed work, he did it all himself, with the exception of when a few of his friends who were also professors would help out. … To hold that propeller in his hands again after so many years was a very special experience for him.”
According to Barbara Scofield, Charles began by operating the boat seven days a week over the summer. After 10 years of operation, Scofield only operated the boat for six days a week, but it rarely ever went out on the lake without a full-to-capacity crowd.
“He would start operating the boat at 8 a.m. and wouldn’t quit until midnight, and sometimes it still wasn’t enough to give everyone that wanted to ride the boat an opportunity,” Barbara Scofield said. “During each trip, he would talk to the passengers about the history of the lake, and the history of industry on the lake, such as the ice and fishing industry. We’re fairly certain that, for those 24 years, he spent more time on the lake than any other human being. He practically lived on the Gadfly.”
“When (I gave them the propeller), they were extremely appreciative,” Parsons said. “They had so many questions about the boat, and I filled them in as best I could, but they certainly let me know how much they appreciated the gesture.”
According to Barbara Scofield, Charles intends to clean and restore the propeller and the shaft, and hopes to have it hang on the wall of their Mayville cottage, which overlooks the lake the Gadfly once used to cruise.