Iceboat Virtual Hall of Fame: John Buckstaff 1888-1960
John Buckstaff Archives
If iceboating had a hall of fame, Lake Winnebago sailor, John Buckstaff would undoubtedly be among the first to be nominated. Buckstaff’s Oshkosh roots go back to his grandfather, who was born in 1799 and came from New Brunswick, Canada, to Oshkosh in 1850 and started a sawmill.
An early mention of Buckstaff in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern newspaper was in 1903, when he was 14 years old and recognized as a skilled scow sailor. “His first experience was gained, when as a boy in knickerbockers, he constructed an iceboat and sailed it on the frozen surface of Lake Winnebago. Here he learned to be quick and certain with the tiller and to handle the sail and tack.”
Buckstaff was in Menominee, Michigan, when the Menominee, Marinette, Wisconsin, and Oshkosh ice yacht clubs formed Northwest Ice Yachting Association in 1913. The morning after a banquet at the Hotel Menominee, where 200 ice yachtsmen gathered for a feast, they organized the Northwest, which they patterned after the Inland Lake Yachting Association, a soft-water scow regatta still going strong today.
In addition to his Northwest victories, Buckstaff won two prestigious stern-steerer titles, the Stuart and Hearst Cups. In 1903, The Kalamazoo Ice Yacht Club in Michigan persuaded F.A. Stuart, maker of Stuart’s Dyspeptic pills, to donate a trophy for ice yachts carrying 850 square feet of sail or less. Later that year, a Kalamazoo club member wired newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, asking Hearst if he would donate a trophy, in his name, for the ice boat race. Hearst complied and deeded a gold-lined silver cup.
Buckstaff was a stern-steerer man and would point BLUE BILL, FLYING DUTCHMAN, DEBUTANTE III to victory on the ice at the Stuart, Hearst, and Northwest regattas. FLYING DUTCHMAN has remained on her home lake of Lake Winnebago with Dave Lallier. DEBUTANTE III is in Menominee with Mike Derusha.
DEBUTANTE III was a Hudson River-style stern-steerer built in the famed Poughkeepsie, New York iceboat shop of Jacob Buckhought. The “DEB” with 600 square feet of sail was considered the most lightweight iceboat in the world per square foot of sail carried. DEB was the first iceboat to use aluminum runners, a much superior material than the cast iron runners traditionally used. The Oshkosh Daily Northwestern reported that the “DEB” held a speed record of 119 miles per hour clocked on Gull Lake in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
John Buckstaff passed away on the morning of Sunday, January 10, 1960, the weekend when the iceboating community gathered on Lake Winnebago for the Northwest, the regatta he had helped to begin. In a movie-like ending, DEBUTANTE III, skippered by E.W. Stroshine, won the Class A championship trophy that same day.
Northwest Class A Stern Steerer
1923 BLUE BILL, J. D. Buckstaff
1926 BLUE BILL, J. D. Buckstaff
1939 BLUE BILL II, John Buckstaff, Owner; Tom Anger, Skipper
1932 (December) FLYING DUTCHMAN, OIYC, J. C. Van Dyke, J. D. Buckstaff (skippers)
1920 DEBUTANTE III, OIYC, J. D. Buckstaff
1939 DEBUTANTE III, OIYC, J. D. Buckstaff