Waiting for Pete and Joe
Wolf River dummies reveal ice-out
By John Faucher
When will the ice leave the Wolf River?
There’s a science behind the answer to that age old question.
Thanks to the New London Fish and Game Club, two iconic dummies named “Pete and Joe” help officially record annual ice-out times in the city.
Ice-out records on the Wolf River at New London began with former newspaper publisher Charles F. Carr in 1851.
In those days, passage of steamboats to the city marked the end of a long winter and the arrival of much awaited supplies brought by boat to the city.
Harry Allen, a local barber, continued to keep the records until 1952, when he passed the torch to New London Fish and Game Club member Orville Jossie.
Around that time, the local tradition took on a new science of not only recording a date, but also a time.
The club secured a boat and fashioned up two manikins they named Pete and Joe. They put them out on the ice in the boat just below the Pearl Street Bridge.
A string attached to the boat connects with an electronic clock.
When the boat containing the two dummies shifts and groans with the ice’s movement downstream, the string tightens and the clock stops, signaling the official time of ice-out.
The club decided to have some fun with this new found science and it began selling guesses in an official ice-out contest.
The person with the closest guess won a boat.
By 1957 the contest helped the club reach all-time membership sales with 1,011 memberships sold and 1,008 ice-out guesses purchased alone by March 19.
The club and its ice-out contest helped New London gain state and national notoriety at various times through the next 65 years.
The club no longer sells guesses for an ice-out contest but it continues the tradition of placing Pete and Joe out on the ice.
The club also waits until later in the winter for placing the boat and manikins on the river so they don’t interfere with snowmobile traffic.
Current New London Fish and Game Club President Tim DeShaney said Pete and Joe received a makeover this winter including a new paint job, new hats, reflectors and lights for their boat.
“There are a lot of stories that go along with these two through the years,” DeShaney said Wednesday, March 3 as members put the newly fixed up Pete and Joe onto the ice with little fanfare.
Old newspaper accounts tell stories of Pete and Joe’s kidnapping, injuries and even a contentious labor dispute in 1981, between Pete and Joe and the club over working conditions.
The club put the boat out on the ice empty that year, until the dispute was resolved 10 days later.
A year later, in a Feb. 25, 1982 front page Press Star article, Club Director Jim Sullivan explained injuries to Pete and Joe that occurred just two days after the club placed them out on the ice.
Joe had been removed from the river with his head severed and several gaping holes in his fiberglass body.
“We had to leave Pete alone on the river,” Sullivan said, “even though he has one leg broken. We’ll take care of Joe first and then we’ll repair Pete’s leg.”
Sullivan told the reporter that one year somebody stole Pete. They later recovered him on County Trunk W near Readfield.
DeShaney said sometimes the damages Pete and Joe receive simply come with the nature of the job of sitting out in the elements, being in a boat floating down the river.
The club retrieves Pete and Joe’s boat as soon as they are informed they are floating free.
Sometimes Pete and Joe float out at night and stray a bit farther from town than normal.
“One year, I guess they almost made it to Fremont,” said DeShaney.
“Most times they don’t make it past the boat landing before someone sees them and gives them a tow to shore,” he said.
“This time of year, all eyes seem to be on Pete and Joe,” said DeShaney.
If he had to take an educated guess, he predicts they’ll go out March 23 at 2:30 p.m.
Ginger Arendt, long time volunteer and Secretary of the Wolf River Preservation Association said she picks March 11, at 3 p.m.
“That rain might just be enough to push that ice up and along,” she said.
Jim Zinda of Stevens Point chose his ice-out time as March 12, 11:22 a.m.
“All I know is it can’t be gone soon enough,” he said.