Float Your Boat: White Bear Lake Inventor Created the Precursor to the Pontoon

Walter Tuchfarber, a Bald Eagle resident in the early 1950s, invented the “Cruz-Raft,” the precursor to the pontoon boat. “Tuch” was inspired by Canadian loggers who used engines to push big booms of floating timbers tied together; he brought that concept home to Bald Eagle and created the first Cruz-Raft, where more than just a few people could enjoy being on the water together.

Tuchfarber named his vessel the U.S.S. Gertrude, and painted her in a lovely blue and yellow color scheme. Neighbors and friends gathered for the launch of the initial prototype—many of them betting against its success. Much to Tuchfarber’s delight, the craft performed as planned. Soon, more and more could be seen on Bald Eagle Lake; eventually, a Fourth of July parade of family boats became an annual tradition.

Tuchfarber took the idea one step further and created a “Build-It-Yourself Cruz-Raft” kit, which was advertised in Popular Mechanics. At $99.50 per kit, the beginnings of your very own Cruz-Raft cost less than a rowboat or sailboat would have then. With the new style of boat, even children in wheelchairs could enjoy the lake. Tuchfarber served as president of the Bald Eagle Sportsmen’s Association and partnered with Gillette Children’s Hospital to bring kids out on the water to participate in an annual fishing contest on Bald Eagle Lake.

For more information on the history of the Cruz-Raft and Walter Tuchfarber, visit Historical Society website, or call 651.407.5327.

Sara Markoe Hanson is the executive director of the White Bear Lake Area Historical Society. She is one of a handful of community representatives sharing history thoughts monthly on this page.