Ben Knebel's Historic Mailboat Route
Donna Mae could brighten your day!
She was somethin'! "Sleek and unique," the story goes– and she put smiles on the faces of a lot of folks up here in the old days.
Donna Mae was the mailboat that delivered letters and packages to all the little Mom & Pop resorts around the Whitefish Chain. She was a beauty alright, but old Ben Knebel was her only beau.
Paul L. Bunyan
Byway Interpretive Program -Ben and the Mailboat
Ben Knebel delivered mail for 39 years without missing a day. Many people still remember waiting for the mailboat to come to their dock. And many also remember Ben’s friendly, “Is that right,” a response that was as much his signature as the familiar Mailboat.
So many people in this area have memories of the Mailboat, Ben Knebel, and the feeling of those times gone by when all mail was snail mail. And some snail mail was more special than others because it was delivered at the dock.
During the summers of 2007 and 2008, the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway Association “brought back to life” the historic character of Ben Knebel, the mailboat route and the stories of the people of those times through the use of props and costumes, interpreters, and of course, an actual watercraft posing as the mailboat.
Re-enactors presented Ben Knebel and the intertwining of his life with local history and happenings as brought to life by the talented area performers The By-The-Way Players, directed by Daren Blanck. Through stories, songs and anecdotes, folks were taken back to a simpler time when days passed at a slower pace - a summer day in 1947, as the mail boat arrived at the dock. The cast included Daren Blanck as Ben Knebel; Mike Sommerness as Alf, a traveling musician; Jocelyn Payonk as Flora, a teenager; Ralph DeWitt as George, a resort owner; Kimberly Kairies as Inga, a cook; Sylvie Gilman as Marge, a neighbor; Danae Anderson as Rose, a telephone operator; Chuck Nielsen as Slim, Ben's friend. The Byway Association offers up a Bunyan-sized Thank You to the following for their time and support!
- The Federal Highway Administration who funded the project in part.
- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Handshake program for its funding.
- Donors and members of the PBSBA, especially the businesses and individuals who comprise the "Group of 54" (one for each mile of the Byway).
- Mike Morgan's family who purchased and donated use of the boat featured in storytelling peformances. The 16' Larson was made by Larson Boat Works in Little Falls, MN and is identical to the one Ben first used to deliver the mail.
- An early task group member and Byway Board member, Steve Brann, nephew of Ben Knebel, along with other members of Ben's family who provided a wealth of information, photographs and fond memories of this remarkable man.
- The dozens of individuals who willingly shared their stories about Ben Knebel and their lives and adventures in the Byway area. The stories presented would not have been possible without their generosity of time and spirit.
The Byway Association enjoyed bringing this treasured piece of history to life for all to enjoy. If community interest and financial support demand future performances, the By-The-Way Players have indicated they would like to bring Ben back to the stage once again.