Houston to Dallas – By Trinity River in an Amphicar! (Part 3)

“Amphicar Chugs for Dallas on Rising River” Cleveland Grammer

October 6, 1966

It’s like bulldozing through a flooded supermarket.

That’s the impression the crew of the Houston to Dallas amphibious cruiser got Wednesday as they neared Dallas County, bucking a four-foot rise on the river.

On the 16th day of the Trinity River run, the little red Amphicar went plowing through debris ranging from floating tree trunks two feet thick to empty detergent and wine bottles.

The Amphicar pilot is George Butler, sales manager for Garden Motors of Dickinson, which is the state distributor for the West German amphibious sports car. He is trying to prove he can drive one of the cars up the 507 miles from Galveston Bay to Dallas.

Dallas County was about 20 river miles away when the Amphicar was moored underneath the State Highway 34 bridge to take on more fuel Wednesday.

The bridge had been a Tuesday goal but that was the day the river almost won in what appeared to be a calculated attempt to wear out the car and crew.

After camping on the 3,600-acre Sands Ranch in Henderson County, we had begun motoring upstream in low water. This led to a full day of climbing over submerged logs and rocks and shoals and crawling through mud.

A natural rock dam confronted us around a bend in northern Henderson County and it appeared then that the two-week effort to navigate the Trinity would end at that spot.

The water was boiling and tumbling over a solid rock formation that appeared impassable. Butler pulled the car up onto the sand bar to study the rapids and it became mired in a black sticky mud and soft sand.

It took about three hours of shoveling, wood track building, and pushing to get afloat, and the rapids still confronted us.

Butler chose a side with the smoothest appearing rocks and, with propellers churning and wheels spinning hit the rapids to inch forward, bump by bump, through the white water, until the nose finally dipped, and we were afloat in a deep channel.

Somehow the 43 horsepower, four-cylinder Triumph engine pulled it through and got it to another sand bar for inspection. That sand bar was also soft, and we got mired again. Shoveling, pushing, and backwashing with the propellers finally put the car afloat and we went on bumping over submerged logs in the low water.

After darkness navigation became too difficult and we dug the anchor into the mud of a low bank and bedded down for the night in the car.

Rains upstream had caused the river to rise more than three feet during the night and the spot where we were formerly nosed against the bank was the midst of a swirling current.

The anchor was under two feet of water. Despite increased currents and floating islands of debris, Butler expressed thanks for the water level rise. The high water carried the Amphicar over the submerged obstacles and, with a little dodging, he steered around the floating logs.

“Amphicar Completes Mission” Cleveland Grammer

Friday, October 7, 1966.

Donna did it. The little red amphibious car churned her way into Dallas County Thursday after 500 miles and 16 days of cruising up the Trinity River from Houston.

The navigation up the Trinity upstream by Amphicar was completed when the floating car was moored under the Malloy Road Bridge near Seagoville, in southeast Dallas County.

The tired, muddy, but happy crew consisted of George Butler, sales manager for Garden Motors of Dickinson, the state-wide distributor of Amphicars, and this reporter.

The last obstacles for the West German-made Amphicar were three river locks encountered Thursday.

The first two locks posed no problems, but the third, about a mile and a half below the Malloy Road Bridge, nearly sent the little car spinning back downstream.

The river had been on the rise for two days but started dropping Wednesday night. It had dropped at least four feet during our Thursday cruise.

There was 12 feet of water flowing over the first lock, but at the third lock the water was tumbling over the concrete spillway.

It formed rapids about three feet deep through which the Amphicar inched forward at full throttle with whirlpools threatening to broach it from several angles.

The twin propellers powered by the 43-horsepower engine kept the wheeled craft on course.

The rest was easy, except for wading out of the river in ankle deep mud below the bridge.

With his car proving mission completed, Butler plans to show off his Amphicar around Dallas before returning to Dickinson.

The car has come through the grueling river test better than the crew.

Two almost sleepiness nights in the car, moored to muddy riverbanks left both the driver and this reporter exhausted Thursday. Only the car was ready to go again Thursday night, and it has proven the Trinity River is navigable – at least by Amphicar.

“Fickle River Mars Journeys End” Cleveland Grammer

Friday, October 8, 1966.

Never trust a river.

Two men who drove 500 miles up the Trinity in an amphibious auto thought the perils of their journey had ended Thursday night.

They docked under the Malloy Bridge west of Seagoville, weary but satisfied. Their Trinity River navigation project had been successful. They picked out a nice comfy motel and went to sleep.

Then, the river went down.

Returning to their “auto” Friday morning, they found it hanging by a rope from a tree. The stern was in the water, the bow in the air.

When the pair left Anahuac, southeast of Houston, 16 days earlier, their intent had been to test the durability of the auto-boat.

Their adventure – through quicksand and whirlpools, over locks and sandbars, around logs and floating animal carcasses -proved an equal test of man’s durability.

“Before this, both of us were novices as navigators,” Cleveland Grammer, a Houston Post reporter, told the Dallas News in an interview Thursday night atop the dark bridge near Seagoville. Under the bridge was a vehicle that looked like a cross between a boat and a car. It was an Amphicar, a water-land buggy built in West Germany.

With Grammer was George Butler of Dickinson, Galveston County, Texas distributor and promoter of the unit.

“I guess we’re still novices,” Butler told The News Friday. ‘The car’s predicament is our fault, not the vehicles. We tied it too tight last night. The water dropped about 7 feet and the rope didn’t give”.

The engine had to be flushed before more travel could be considered.

It wasn’t all fun and games. Neither man had experienced many camp-outs and they spent too much time pitching and un-pitching a 5-man tent.

When they could, they spent nights in motels near the Trinity’s banks. They also had hoped to take the car out of the water out of the water at various points, but there no boat ramps.

Grammer called it “the river of no escape”.

“Sometimes we were able to travel where no boat could go. Sometimes we went where no car could go,” Butler said.

The car-boat has a 43-horsepower engine and twin water propellers.

When asked about the most harrowing personal experience, Grammer said it was near Palestine. They drove from the river onto land in what they thought was an isolated area. Suddenly they were converged upon by a crowd of junior high school students.

Grammer said he was bewhiskered and carrying hunting knives and supplies, but he insisted, “The kids scared me to death”.

Lack of speed on the Trinity trek was not blamed entirely on the river’s pitfalls. The two men began their journey with 300 pounds of supplies over the specified limit, Butler said.

Butler will leave Dallas Saturday after the Amphicars runability is confirmed. Southbound, he plans to use highways, not waterways.

Grammer made the return trip by air.


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