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Today in Jane’s World, I bring you the story of our home-made raft straight from the summer of 1966. It’s classic Old Mission in the 1960s. Johnson kids in the water, home-made raft, summer fun…

The photo above was taken by my mom, Mary Johnson, in front of our house in Old Mission (it’s actually a slide, transferred to my computer by way of a Jumbl slide scanner that my brother Ward got me as I work through the family archives).

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The house is still in the family. It’s the first long driveway on the right after you turn left on Mission Road and head towards the Old Mission General Store. You can see my dad’s greenhouse from the road.

I can report that it was an awesome place to be a farm kid. I never ever take it for granted.

Now let’s analyze what’s going on in the photo.

Dean, Ward and Carol Johnson on a home-made raft in Old Mission, 1966
Dean, Ward and Carol Johnson with a home-made raft in Old Mission, 1966 | Mary Johnson Photo

As mentioned, the raft is in the water in front of our house in Old Mission (East Bay, about a half-mile south of Haserot Beach). My brother Dean is on top of the raft, attempting to keep it from flipping over by using some sort of pole. In 1966, Dean would have been 16.

My sister, Carol, in her checked madras shorts, is manning the rope while also attempting to keep Dean from flipping over. Carol would have been 13 years old in 1966. And my brother, Ward, is heading towards the raft, likely to save the day. He would have been ten.

As you can see, the raft is home-made. Here’s where I say, “Why, back in my day, we didn’t buy stuff, we had to make it out of whatever was handy!” In this case, the wooden part was probably some sort of pallet from the farm. And the barrels…

Well, the barrels would never fly in this day and age. They’re barrels from the farm – probably originally from Kroupa’s or Gleason & Co. or Peninsula Fruit Exchange – that originally held some sort of chemical used to spray the cherry orchards. I can’t get a good look at the label, but I’m sure it was something lethal.

Here’s a better look at the raft in this photo. Ward is in the raft as my dad, Walter Johnson, pushes it towards shore. Note the 1960s crew cut. Love it, Dad.

Johnson Kids' Raft in Old Mission, 1966
Ward Johnson (in raft), with Walter Johnson (in water); home-made raft in Old Mission, 1966 | Mary Johnson Photo

Also note the water level in the bay. You can tell it’s low because the shoreline is populated with reeds, which, by the way, created the perfect ecosystem for my brothers to spear carp. And you can see a lush overgrowth of reeds way out in the water.

I would have been six years old in 1966, so I’m guessing Mom kept me out of the raft until they had a better handle on how it would work.

I do remember that for the remainder of its life, we mainly used the raft in its flipped-over state. It was not seaworthy with the wood pallet on top. I’m guessing it was constructed without a lot of guidance from my dad, who had a degree in mechanical engineering from Northwestern University and surely would have mapped out the logistics on paper before construction began.

But the good thing about the flipped-over version is that the barrels served as a great place for us to sit as we pushed the raft around the shoreline with the pole. Thankfully, we stuck pretty close to shore with it. We had a couple of those ancient orange life preservers, but the only time I recall using them is when Dad took us out fishing in our little rowboat. And even then, only the youngest kids wore them.

That raft sure was a lot of fun. Somewhere, there’s a photo of me sitting in the raft feeding chunks of Wonder bread to about a thousand seagulls swirling around me.

Ah, the good old days. There was no better place to be a kid than Old Mission in the 1960s.

Also read…

Jane’s World: Cleaning Your Mom’s House Out


A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper.

Because Old Mission Gazette is a "Reader Supported Newspaper" -- meaning it exists because of your financial support -- I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks our way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the OMP. In a time when local news is becoming a thing of the past, supporting an independent community newspaper is more important now than ever.

To keep the Gazette going, click here to make a donation. Thank you so much for your support. -jb

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