Al Conary of Orland spent a lot of time pondering, plotting and planning before committing himself to building what he figured would be the ultimate ice-fishing shack.
“I built it last summer but [the shack was] just a thought that’s been rattling around in my mind for 20 years, probably,” Conary said. “I just finally got around to [saying], ‘Well, I’m gonna do it.’”
The shack, which Conary co-owns with Robin Foskett, is a perfect blend of Maine ingenuity, thrift and functionality: The front is a 1996 Chevrolet Cavalier. Bolted to the rear is a snowmobile trailer. And on top of that trailer is a shack that serves as both the driving compartment and fishing shelter.
Conary completed his work in six months and hit the ice to rave reviews this winter. Its launch fortuitously coincided with the unveiling of the Bangor Daily News’ “Original Ice Shack Contest,” which was sponsored by Old Town Trading Post. And after our panel of judges looked at photos and essays of more than 50 other contenders, Conary and Foskett have been declared the grand-prize winners and recipients of a $1,000 Old Town Trading Post gift certificate.
Erica Rumill, an 18-year-old from the Mount Desert Island town of Bernard, took second place and a $600 OTTP gift certificate with her self described “girly tent,” a stunning pink-on-black ensemble that has turned heads on Long and Jordan ponds. Taking third prize and a $400 gift certificate was Scott Worden of Jackson, who created a shack that he designed to reflect his love of the ocean: It looks just like a lobster boat.
Among other noteworthy entries that caught the eyes of judges: Bill Walker of Brewer’s recycling masterpiece, which was built of plastic pickup bed-liners and was topped by an aluminum truck cap; a replica pack-basket shack built by Old Town basket maker Wane Loring; and a chest-freezer-turned-ice-shack submitted by Joel Sweet of Jay. Sweet spent little money on the materials he used, but the project did have unanticipated costs.
“My father sawed his index finger bad” while helping build the shack, Sweet wrote. “The operation [cost] $9,175.67 and his finger still won’t bend.”
Conary, the grand-prize winner, said he has always done work on his own vehicles, and by trade he is a carpenter. Combining those skills on an ice shack made sense, but he did face a problem: There’s no instructional manual that describes building a Chevy Shack.
“I did a lot of head-scratching,” Conary admitted. “I ran all the controls — the steering, the brakes, the shifter, the gas, the throttle — inside the shack. Of course, it had to have all the electronics, the instrument cluster and all that, because it controls the computer. So I had to mount all that in there. It was time-consuming to figure all that out.”
When he finally figured it out and took his Chevy to the lake, it didn’t take long for a crowd to gather.
”People just start grinning,” Conary said. “We’ve got a couple of biologists that run around the lake down here on weekends, and the first time they saw it, one guy came walking over to it and all of a sudden he just lit up and his eyes got big.”
Second-prize winner Rumill built her shack as her senior exhibition project at Mount Desert Island High School. She grew up ice fishing, her dad has always owned shacks, and Rumill said she wanted one of her own. Working with mentor Derek Wescott, she built a flashy shanty that’s outfitted with pink milk crates and pink curtains.
“I thought I’d make it really girly because I’m a girly kind of person,” Rumill said. “My favorite color’s pink and I just thought I would make it pink and black.”
And while the shack is more attractive than most, it is also well designed for fishing. The skis, for instance, are extra-wide, designed to make the shack easy to move from place to place.
“My mentor tried those skis on his ice tent and he said they really pulled through the snow,” Rumill said. “When I took it out on the pond I realized it’s really easy towing. It just skids like nothing.”
Third-place finisher Worden said he and his wife, Renee, brainstormed his boat shack to reflect his passion for the ocean. He spent a year building it out of whatever materials he could get his hands on.
“It’s all recycled material,” Worden said. “I really didn’t buy anything.”
The shack relies on 12-volt power to run lights, a CB radio and a two-way radio. All the wood on the back of the shack came from an actual boat. And while the outside window frames are actually toilet seats that look like portholes, there’s an actual porthole located elsewhere on the shack.
“My father-in-law gave me the porthole. He’s from Massachusetts and he does a lot of boating around Martha’s Vineyard, and he told me that the porthole was actually out of the [boat featured in the movie] ‘Jaws.’ I don’t know how true that is, because he’s a storyteller, but that’s what he told me.”
Worden said people who see his boat always want to know the same thing. And he always has a stock answer ready for them.
“It’s funny because everyone says, ‘Does that thing float?’ and I always say, ‘Only on hard water,’” Worden said with a laugh.