Boating Laws and Skipper Cary’s Need for Speed

Francis “Skipper” Cary of Waupaca driving his “Roaring 40” hydroplane on Rainbow Lake in the 1940s (Courtesy of the Waupaca Historical Society)

On July 3, 1949, Chain o’ Lakes patrolman Art Krueger pulled over and arrested Francis “Skipper” Cary for recklessly driving his Chris-Craft speedboat and exceeding the speed limit of 15mph. Krueger had arrested Cary for the exact same charges barely a month prior on June 12, but Cary denied the charges for both incidents. 

Local authorities increasingly became concerned with regulating boat traffic in the late 1920s and 1930s as boat liveries and individuals began driving small boats called runabouts. Unlike previous gasoline-powered boats, runabouts were aerodynamically designed to quickly skim over the water and thrill passengers. The most common runabouts used on the Chain were those made by Chris-Craft Boats of Michigan. 

To help combat reckless speedboat driving, the Chain o’ Lakes Motor Boat Club successfully lobbied the Wisconsin State Legislature in 1941 to establish a speed limit of 15mph for motorboats on the Chain. In May of 1949, the Waupaca County Board hired the lakes’ first water patrolman, Art Krueger, to enforce this speed limit and regulate boat traffic. Krueger arrested Skipper Cary for the first time only two weeks after beginning his first summer of patrolling. 

Photograph of Art Krueger in his patrol boat on Round Lake in the 1950s or 1960s
(Courtesy of the Town of Farmington, via Ron Arthur)

Skipper Cary was known as a lover of “going fast” on the Chain o’ Lakes, so it is not surprising that he was one of the first boaters to be arrested. Although he primarily ran the Cary Manufacturing Company in Waupaca with his father, Cary gave passengers “thrill rides” on Edmunds’ Dock’s first Christ-Craft speedboat during summers in the 1930s. He also constructed a hydroplane (shown at the beginning of the blog post) named the Roaring 40 because it could reach speeds over 40mph.

In late July of 1949, Skipper Cary went to trial to answer for his two arrests for the same charges of speeding and reckless driving in a speedboat. Police Justice George Whalen of Waupaca County deemed Cary innocent for the June 12 charges because “the conflicting stories of witnesses failed to prove his guilt”. Whalen later cleared Cary for the July 3 charges because “the state failed to show evidence where property, persons or life of persons were endangered in any way.”

Skipper Cary’s arrests and other boating incidents in the summer of 1949 led local authorities and other interested parties to establish the first comprehensive boating regulations for the Chain o’ Lakes in August of that year. Among other stipulations, these regulations only allowed boaters to waterski and hit the 15mph speed limit in Columbia, Long, Rainbow, Round, and Sunset Lakes. Boaters could only drive at 6mph in all other lakes, making these rules the earliest iteration of the “no wake” regulations in effect today.

The 1949 boating regulations also defined several examples of reckless boat driving, including boats driving too close to smaller boats and swimmers and endangering their lives, zig-zagging in the presence of smaller boats, and cutting across the wakes of larger boats.

Despite being cleared of his speedboat charges, Skipper Cary decided to find a new outlet for his need for speed: racing “micro midget” cars. Cary and other Waupaca residents formed the Waupaca Micro Midget Racing Club and constructed a track to race their own small cars in July of 1950. Drawing inspiration from his old hydroplane, Cary built a micro midget car named the “Roaring 40 Special” and won several trophies in racing events around the country. 

Clipping from the Post-Crescent of Appleton, January 7, 1955.

Learn more about the Waupaca Chain o’ Lakes’ history of tourism by reading The Waupaca Chain o’ Lakes by Zachary Bishop that is available now! See the Publications page for more information.

2 thoughts on “Boating Laws and Skipper Cary’s Need for Speed”

  1. I was born in 1950 and my family had a place on Dake lake. I don’t recall Cary, but I do remember Art Krueger well. My parents used to water ski on Dake lake and someone would always call and report them. Art would come to check it out, but of course they would always be done skiing by then.

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