The Oldest Boats on the Lake, Part 2: The Larry Don

In 1948, the excursion boat Larry Don made its debut on the Lake of the Ozarks. It is the oldest commercial boat on the lake, although at this time the boat's future is uncertain.

Larry Don's hull was fabricated in St. Louis from sections of World War 2 landing craft. The hull was then trucked to the lake in four sections, where it was welded together.

Larry Don was named after Lawrence Fry, Jr., and Don Fry, the son and brother, respectively, of Lawrence Fry, the original owner and operator of the vessel. (Don Fry was killed in World War 2.) The boat later was sold to Tex and Mae Bemis, who operated it during the 50s and 60s. The superstructure of Larry Don has also been altered over the years, as the following photographs illustrate.

In this first photo, taken in 1948, Larry Don features life boats hanging from davits on either side. While reassuring to the passengers, the lifeboats probably could not have been launched fast enough to be of any benefit in an emergency. Personally, I would have opted for the life ring.

The lifeboats are gone (though the davits remain) in this photo taken in the early 50s. Larry Don now sports a new paint job as she leaves the Casino Pier on another excursion. Makes you want to get aboard, doesn't it?

This photo, taken in 1957, shows Larry Don in her now-familiar red and white paint scheme. Notice the enlarged pilothouse, the lengthened upper deck, and the awnings on the sides of the lower deck. Those awnings could be pulled down like garage doors to keep rain off the main deck.

And, finally, a comtemporary view of Larry Don , or rather the Captain Larry Don, as she now is known. She's got a new hurricane deck up top for a spectacular, unimpeded view of the lake and shoreline. Together with other modifications, this enlarged version seems to dwarf her original configuration.

For a nostalgic look at some advertisements featuring Larry Don , click on 1950s Casino Pier Ads.

These great photos come from the collection of Brad Atkinson, Fenton, Missouri. Special thanks to Melissa Will, granddaughter of Lawrence Fry.

Text © 2004, 2011 by Michael Gillespie. All rights reserved.