Amphicars are a popular hobby in the region
A line of eight cars that pulled up to the Bass Lake Rehabilitation District's annual picnic turned more than a few heads on Aug. 15.
That's because the vehicles didn't use the road that others had arrived on. These cars came to the party via the lake.
Members of the St. Croix Valley Amphicar Club were honored guests at the summer gathering.
The club members, who own vintage amphicars that operate on both land and water, get together once a month in the summer for an area "swim-in."
The Bass Lake adventure began at Meister's Place bar in Boardman the morning of Aug. 15. The cars and their owners gathered so they could arrive at the lake together and make a grand entrance.
After splashing down at the northern public landing, the cars switched over to propeller power and motored toward the party.
Bass Lake homeowners walked down to the beach to watch the cars roll in. Several boaters out enjoying the lake were caught off guard by the procession of amphicars, providing the shocked reaction that the car owners love to see.
The St. Croix Valley Amphicar Club first organized about five years ago.
According to club President David Meister, the region touts the largest number of amphicar owners of anyplace else in the world. There are 22 amphicar owners and about 27 cars in the St. Croix Valley.
"We try to get together once a month for a swim-in and once a month for a meeting," he said. "We go to different towns -- Stillwater or Hudson, wherever there's a boat landing."
Members come from a 50-mile radius of Stillwater, he said.
The cars were originally manufactured in Germany from 1961-68.
"They made about 3,500 of them and shipped out 2,500 of them to the United States," Meister said.
Production of the amphicars was stopped after the company became concerned about proposals to ban the use of cars in the water.
"He just went to the factory and shut the lights off," Meister said.
They run on a four-cylinder Triumph engine and are simple to maintain, Meister claimed. Parts are usually easy to find, but they can be pricey.
"You just have to keep them greased and maintained like anything else," Meister said. "They're a lot of fun. The best toy I ever bought."
As a car, the amphicar can reach close to 70 miles per hour. As a boat, they can hit seven miles an hour.
Meister said he became interested in amphicars after riding in one.
"Right after that I decided I needed to have one," he said.
In 1986 he found a car dealer who had about eight in stock, so he had his choice of amphicars at a price of about $7,500. He wishes he would have been able to buy the entire lot.
Today, restored amphicars can run a hobbyist between $30,000 and $60,000.
"The last two years they've been going really high," Meister said.
Not only does Meister belong to the local club, he's also a member of the International Amphicar Owner's Club, which hosts an annual swim-in in Ohio. The most recent convention attracted about 45 cars, Meister said.
The amphicars get a fair amount of attention even outside the actual owners themselves.
"I've been on 'Good Morning America,' I've been on 'Good Company.' I've been in a Pepsi commercial," Meister said. "My brother was in the movie 'The Cure' with his car."
The vehicles received plenty of attention at Bass Lake. Homeowners took a close look at the line of amphicars along the beach. Quite a few pictures were taken too.