While visiting Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced: pond-o-ray) in the northern Idaho Panhandle, I came across a very unique-looking houseboat. I had never seen one quite like this, so I decided to take a closer look. Turns out the owners and their story of how they became houseboaters, is just as unique as their boat.
For years, Larry and Janet Meltzer spent time camping all over “God’s creation.” They would take 3,000 to 4,000 mile long trips when their kids, Jamie and Jason, were younger. They would drive to Northern California, Oregon and Washington looking for a place they could buy land and a summer home.
After 13 years of searching, they decided to look at Northern Idaho, specifically Hope, Idaho. When they discovered Lake Pend Oreille they fell in love. They knew this was the place they wanted to be and two years later they owned a house on the lake, fulfilling their dream.
Referred to by the family as the happiest place on earth, Lake Pend Oreille has 110 miles of shoreline and is 1400 feet deep.
“Lake Pend Oreille is a magical place,” says Janet. “That’s why we drive 22 hours to get here from California every June and stay until Labor Day. Whenever our daughter, Jamie, comes to visit she updates her Facebook status to say, ‘I’m going to the happiest place on earth.’”
Over the years the family loved having their house, but their hillside view caused them to lose the sun around 5 pm each night, even though the sun was out until three hours later. Since they own 400 feet of waterfront on the lake, the couple thought it would be nice to have a big lake platform to lie on and enjoy the sun with family and friends. They wanted something big, but at the time the word “houseboat” didn’t ever come to mind.
Introduction Of A Houseboat
Larry talked with Charlie Kramer, owner of Kramer’s Marina and a local contractor about his idea. Kramer came back with a solution of just buying a run down houseboat that was located at Bayview Marina. The owner had purchased the boat with plans of making it a wedding bed and breakfast, but never got around to completing it. The boat weighed about 90 tons and had 16 steel watertight compartments underneath the boat, plus a 200 gallon black waste tank as well as a 150 gallon fresh water tank. In other words, it was a perfect lake platform that just happened to have a house attached to it.
Larry called the owner after doing some research to see what the boat was worth and then made an initial offer of $20,000, to which the owner quickly turned down.
“I knew everything has a price,” says Larry, “Six months later we came to a deal of $40,000 in cash and four classic bikes, valued at $10,000.”
We Bought A Boat
The houseboat was originally built by John Deemers in 1985 on Lake Pend Oreille. This was the last boat he built and he wanted it to be a floating casino or hotel/restaurant. The 86- by 24-foot houseboat started out as a barge. It’s a steel double hull flat bottom boat and is made out of all-natural materials of steel, stone and wood.
Deemers sold the boat to a man who left a “treasure” to be found by latter owners, which is now in the hands of Larry and Janet.
“It’s his journal that is filled with crazy and interesting stories, which is now kept on the boat in a binder as part of the boat’s history,” says Larry.
Behind The Name
A unique boat needs a unique name, so the couple decided on The Gullywhumper. When Larry was a kid there was a show on the Disney channel called David Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier. In a two-part episode Crockett comes to the Mississippi River to meet up with Mike Fink, who is king of the river, to have a boat race. In the end Fink’s boat wins and his boat was named The Gullywhumper.
“The name has become a verb,” says their son, Jason. “We now say that we’re getting our whump on.”
The Eight Year Remodel
When Larry first saw the boat it was in terrible shape.
“Words can’t even begin to describe it,” says Larry. “To call it a mess would be a compliment. There were bird’s nests inside, tons of water damage, and the boat was filled with garbage and mold.”
When he first went to check out the boat, he couldn’t even get to the top levels because there were no stairs. He ended up stacking piles of garbage in order to climb to the very top. There was rainwater coming in from the top deck all the way down to the hull. At the bow there were two inches of rotten plank.
“When you would walk onboard you could put your foot right through it,” recalls Larry.
Knowing he needed some serious help, the new owner turned to Rick Aulletta, owner of Hope Marine Services, for a helping hand. Together they spent the next eight years seeing the vision through to its completion.
They started the remodeling process at the bow by adding quarter-inch plates. Originally there was a wooden plank that the owner used to get on the boat, but they added a metal one that now extends to 12 feet. He then got a proper-sized, 180-pound anchor and generator.
The floors were originally wood, but they added metal and hardwood ash floors. And because underneath is where all the batteries and water tanks are stored, they made hatches so everything is still accessible.
In the galley they put in granite counter tops and wood ceilings. Aulletta did all the curvatures of the wood, and also made sure it was sea worthy. The rope on the ceiling was something they kept from the original boat, but they painted it gold to fit in with the décor.
Change Of Plans
Below deck they changed the original small stateroom into a head. Now all the rooms have frosted glass doors and the bathroom doors are labeled with “Head” at the top. Matt, their family friend, works for Malibu Tiling and as a birthday present for Larry, he custom-designed The Gullywhumper out of tiles and painted it for the below deck shower.
They had custom-made curtain rods produced and hired Rodney Medcott, who works for North Country Creations, to do all the custom railing metalwork and welding. Before the renovation, the dining table area was the head, but they took out a beam to make it just one big open room.
The boat has three staterooms, all with king-size beds, and each have cubbies with electrical outlets to put your phone, water and reading glasses on. All the carpet in the rooms is blue with anchors, which Janet picked out.
The second story is where the master stateroom and head is located. Larry designed and placed everything very carefully to make sure nothing touched or hit anything else. As every houseboat owner knows, one of the hardest things is to make sure you have enough room onboard for everything. Larry had to think about how everything was going to fit while he was building it, and he couldn’t have done it any better.
He made the master stateroom facing the water, knowing that he would always dock it in reverse coming in.
He wanted a fireplace and Aulletta suggested an electric one, but Larry insisted on a wood burning fireplace that now faces out to the water, complete with a chimney. In the bedroom they have a dresser that doubles as a headboard for the bed, in order to preserve space. Janet has her own little corner and Larry has his own too. The master stateroom has a huge tub, which required additional spacing below because of the extra weight when the bath is filled.
“I wrote the checks, and watched and monitored to make sure it would come together exactly how I envisioned,” says Larry who admits he didn’t do too much of the hands on work himself.
With all the renovations, the boat is now over 4,000 square feet and that includes the interior living space as well as exterior deck space. Ironically, the boat is twice the size of their home in Topanga, Calif.
There are true antiques all over the boat. As an avid eBay hunter, Larry has spent years working on his collection of cars and bikes. When working on The Gullywhumper he was able to use his eBay hobby to collect nautical antiques.
“Everyday there was something new coming from eBay,” recalls Janet. “I knew this was not going to be cheap,”
All the light fixtures are original nautical pieces and they have boat-shaped plug-in lamps and nightlights all around. Back in the 50’s when television just came out, there was a myth that if you watched TV in a dark room it would hurt your eyes and possibly cause you to go blind. In order to fight off potential blindness, companies mass produced little lights that come in all different shapes. Now Larry collects all the boats ones for his houseboat.
“It creates a very neat effect at night when all of them are on,” he says. “The navigation lights are blue like how they used to be in the old days. They are typically red or green but I found out they were legal.”
They have custom The Gullywhumper door mats and real Persian carpets. The steering wheel is from a 1930’s yacht that Larry can steer from, however he usually steers from upstairs.
The bamboo furniture on the decks of the boat gives it a 50’s feel, especially with the colors of turquoise, black and white. The colors are Larry’s signature colors; he uses them on everything from The Gullywhumper to his bikes and cars. He actually got the idea of the bamboo furniture from John Wayne. Wayne had his own personal yacht on Newport Beach, and Larry thought it was very cool so he implemented it on The Gullywhumper. With all the bamboo furniture and the tiki torches lit up at night, it looks amazing.
They have an old barber chair that Larry found in his travels. It is by Koker and the model is The President. He had to get it re upholstered to his signature colors of black and turquoise. He has accessible gates so people can jump off the top decks.
“You can usually find Larry asleep on the hammock,” Jason laughs.
They also made crow’s nest a little taller and wider and added an XM antenna on the top for music. He has a stargazing coach bed that is usually folded up but can be folded down to stargaze or lay in the sun. To get this bed on the boat they had to have it hoisted up with a crane.
In the stern the fantail has an awesome hydraulic powered swim ladder that North County Creations built that drops into the water and out with just a push of a button. There are two 225 horsepower Honda motors for the boat.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve done with it,” says Larry. I’m most proud of my nautical fixtures I picked up along the way. I can’t believe I have this. It’s mind-boggling. I just look around and admire everything about it.”
“Every piece of this boat comes right out of my dad’s brain,” adds Jason. “He envisioned the whole thing from the beginning. There really is no bad spot on this entire boat.”
Now appraised at $1.1 million, the boat has a capacity of 149 people, and the most they have had on the boat is 50 for birthdays and other celebrations. People have asked to have weddings on it, but they haven’t found a good insurance rate to make it into a business yet.
“I love being rocked to sleep at night, it’s a special experience,” says Larry. If I wake up it puts me right back to sleep. I just love being on the boat. I don’t care if the boat’s out on the lake or docked. It’s a slice of heaven.”
The boat does leave the dock some days, depending on who’s available to help dock it. The boat holds 220 gallons of fuel, which can easily last the Meltzer’s the entire summer if they don’t travel too far.
Larry and Janet recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. Larry is a partially retired therapist, while Janet is currently selling real estate on a part-time basis. Over the years she spent her time raising the kids, and doing volunteer work as well. The Meltzer’s enjoy houseboating with family and friends, their kids Jason and Jamie and Jamie’s husband Dirk and grandchildren Brody and Taylor.
Everyday is sublime on the boat, and that’s what they say everyday while they’re on the boat. A typical day on The Gullywhumper is jumping off the top decks, sleeping in the hammock, laughing, listening to music on all the decks, making great food and telling stories.
“We don’t need an activity, it’s about being together with family and enjoying each other’s company,” says Larry. “Everyday is better than before.”