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Pete and Joe begin ice-out vigil

Wolf River ambassadors see plenty in 63 years

By John Faucher

They have been vandalized, kidnapped, held for ransom and even lost in action at times over the past 63 years.

Pete and Joe are two iconic dummies placed out on the ice of the Wolf River by the New London Fish and Game Club each year, to monitor the annual ice breakup of the river.

Once safely onto the ice below the Pearl Street Bridge, New London Utilities electric crews attach a string from Pete and Joe’s boat to a clock located on the river wall that stops when the boat floats free with the ice.

Ice out records have been kept in New London for the past 165 years.

New London Press Editor Charles F. Carr began keeping the first ice-out records in New London in 1851. Harry E. Allen then recorded the dates until 1952, when New London Fish and Game Club member Orvile Jossie stepped in as record keeper. In 1986 Fish and Game Club member Dale Sternhagen took over the record books and has maintained them since.

The earliest ice out date recorded in New London was Feb. 26, 1998. The latest ice-out date was April 21, 1856.

Pete and Joe history
A search through the Press-Star archives found an article written by the late “Uncle George Kubisiak” that ran on the front page of the Feb. 15, 1979 issue of the Press-Star.

According to the article, the first Pete and Joe dummies were fashioned in Kubisiak’s basement by himself, Ed Knapstein and “Chief” Charles Kellogg in 1953. The home belonged to Kubisiak’s parents and was located on Beacon Avenue.

New London Fish and Game Club used to hold an annual ice out contest and gave away a boat to the winner with the closest guess.

“We don’t hold the contest anymore,” said club member Dale Sternhagen. “However, we still put Pete and Joe out for record keeping purposes. Many local businesses and taverns hold their own contests based on when Pete and Joe go out. It’s a lot of fun, and seeing them usually means spring is not too far away.”

On Monday, Feb. 29, Stenhagen and club members Tim DeShaney and Barry Halsey arrived below the Pearl Street Bridge with Pete and Joe in tow in the bed of a pickup truck.

The three carried the boat down the steps of the sea wall along the north side of the river. Sternhagen then handed the two dummies Pete and Joe over the wall to DeShaney and Halsey.

“They’ve been redone a few times,” said Sternhagen. “The New London high school art class redid them most recently.”

After securing the two dummies in the boat and carefully placing it on the ice, Sternhagen, DeShaney and Halsey attached the clock string to the boat. They joked about possible ice-out dates.

“I think it’ll go out sometime the week of St. Pat’s,” said Sternhagen.

Halsey said, “When would Mike Coyle have guessed if he were still alive?”

DeShaney said, “I’ll pick March 17.”

“If Coyle were still alive, I wouldn’t put it past him to be up there trying to bust them loose on St. Patrick’s Day,” said Sternhagen with a laugh. “We’ll have to wait and see.”

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