Remember the Mailboat?
Her name was ‘Donna Mae’ and a lot of people new her number. She was sleek and unique. All heads would turn when she showed up. But Donna Mae belonged to only one man, Ben Knebel.
Beginning in 1930, Ben and ‘Donna Mae‘, a 16 foot Larson with a 5 hsp. motor, spent more than ten years together delivering the US mail. In time, the ‘Donna Mae‘, (allegedly named for a sweetheart unapproved of by the rest of the family) earned her retirement and Ben changed boats twice, eventually moving to a 22’ Chris Craft Sportsman built in the late 1940’s. The Chris Craft served him until he retired and became known simply as ‘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.
Three years ago the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway Association submitted a grant request to the FHWA-National Scenic Byways Program to “bring 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. This grant request represented a recommendation from the Byway’s Interpretive Plan, one of the Association‘s major planning documents.
In early March, 2006, the Byway Association was notified that the grant request for $50,700 had been approved. Of that amount, the federal government will fund $40,560. The remaining $10,140, known as the local match, must come from other sources.
A task group is now being formed to work with the Byway on this project. Local resident, Ron Schultz, co- owner of Ben Knebel’s restored mailboat will provide information for the task group. Another early task group member is Steve Brann, nephew of Ben Knebel. Steve is moving back to Ideal Township this summer.
Your help is needed. Hand in hand with you, the Byway Association can bring this treasured piece of history to life for all to enjoy.
Please send your mailboat project donation and/or your offer to join the task group to:
PBSBA Mailboat, PO Box 401, Pequot Lakes, or call the PBSBA chair at 218-543-4714.