Book excerpt: Chapter 3, Engeman Sows Nicknames – from Four Years at Four, by John Escher: – Rowing stories, reports and interviews
Bill just wanted to keep his Staempfli in Providence and row it on the Seekonk.
Since nicknames in the crew are important since Homer and Vergil, I used to call Bill “Fedallah” after the sweetest rower in all of Herman Melville, the ringer with the dark crew of the whaling boat that Captain Ahab only brought from the black catch of the Pequod on special occasions.
But I was a student of American Literature, so what can you expect. I was also president of advertising for the Brown Rowing Association.
Consider this: The Seekonk is closer to New Bedford and Nantucket than is Charles River. And certainly the salt or even the brackish mixture of Connecticut, Thames (rhymes with James Rathschmidt) and Seekonk is closer to these two places from Moby Dick than the Charles, which once turned into a pond of ‘pure water.
The appearance of Jim Fullerton wearing chunky shoes on the porcupine wharf changed the fate of us all. Here is a man very used to working with boys and young people, and he immediately put us at ease.
All three boats were launched successfully. I was 4 in the third boat, 4 being the most indescribable seat in an eight-oar hull (I’ll explain that later).
Coach Fullerton got into our one and only powerboat, which was on loan. Wisely, he chose a special person to take care of the handle of the outboard motor, John Tasker, whom Bill Engeman would quickly rename John Taskforce, our lovely manager for the next four years.
On the water, Jim Fullerton gave a look at the three boats. The next day he decided to race a full Henley mile and five-sixteenths time trial at any rate Bill Engeman at the racing seat in the first boat could offer. But he needed another tall person for the middle and looked at me. So I became 4 in the first boat.
Also somewhere in the middle, not yet drawn to the toughest 7, was a stocky man named Marshall Bassick whom Engeman renamed Marshmallow Basketball. Again, the new name given by Engeman stuck. Engeman must have had fun even though the interest had already reduced to two boats.
Marsh folds the oar
Marshmallow Basketball 7
Looking back, Jim Fullerton’s idea of ââhaving a time trial so early was the decision of a coach worthy of Pat Summitt or Geno Auriemma and the only thing that would have worked.
On the other hand, a time trial on day three was crazy as it can be. Crew coaches need to think about safety. When I was coaching at the University of West Virginia and Skidmore College, two places where the water was often melted ice, Charlie Butt advised me to always carry a bunch of large trash bags up front. from my motor boat.
If anyone fell in, I immediately had to bag that person and tie the loose strings around their neck to retain enough body heat to keep the person alive.
It was necessary to prepare for the disaster. And water was flying through the air in all directions. Five people in our boat had only rowed three days. But everyone was near a person who knew what he was doing.
Throughout the course we flew at 34 strokes per minute.
Surprisingly, no one caught a crab and was thrown by the handle of an oar against their stomach six feet to the side of the boat.
And Bill Engeman managed to maintain the 34 despite the five novices.
I’m sure I bounced back a lot. But then it was over and I was more than alive after experiencing a sleigh ride in Nantucket. Talk about being addicted. I was harpooned.
And it turned out that Jim Fullerton was not shy about looking for fierce competition.
We had no way of transporting shells, but MIT said they would lend us some. And those MIT shells were light and fast with the small wheels under the well-lubricated sliding seats. I don’t remember such a bounty happening anywhere else, although we ourselves have already loaned Amherst College our best boat after the bow of their own boat, while they were being transported, hit a telephone pole at Philadelphia and broke up.
It was late fall near the end of the fall season. All crews traveled a mile and three-quarters with MIT north on the Charles.
I remember standing by the river next to Coach Fullerton and watching the universities approach with a strong tailwind behind them. MIT was made up of engineers with big T’s on their backs rowing in perfect unison with a half-mile lead. But they were doing something different and special – what? They rolled onto their thighs almost as if they were rowing on the square – to use the eight blades as sails between strokes. Coach Fullerton and I were both very impressed.
Then it was our turn. We paddled well and stayed with MIT’s first freshmen the entire mile and three-quarters, but lost by a bridge.
Back in Providence, we finally made a run with the university. They were rowing with the fast shell, the Stein, but we beat them by two lengths.
The next day, neither of them showed up for training. The Stein was ours.
Engeman, Bassick, Burns – Seekonk River – 1960