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A boat of opportunities


photo by Ryan Bergeron
Mitch Rhen of Badger stands atop the airboat he recently purchased as part of his and wife’s Carol’s hotel, the Fireside Inn and Suites in Devils Lake, N.D., planning to use it to shuttle people to ice fishing houses.

photo by Ryan Bergeron
Dakota Peterson from Badger sits in the cab of the airboat Mitch Rhen recently purchased. Peterson has helped Mitch and Carol Rhen out with their ice fishing operation at their hotel, the Fireside Inn and Suites in Devils Lake, N.D., assisting with repairs, transportation, and maintenance.

Have you have been on a boat that could travel on both ice and open water?

If not, one will potentially soon have that opportunity to take a trip on such a boat by visiting the Fireside Inn and Suites in Devils Lake, N.D., owned by Badger residents Mitch and Carol Rhen. They bought an airboat that, as of April 15, sat lifted up in one of their rural Badger shops. They bought it mainly as a way to expand their hotel’s fishing opportunities.

Mitch talked about this boat’s background, including its age and some of its history, what type of boat it is and the work he has done on it since purchasing it, the purpose and plans for it, and other random information about it.

Going back, this boat was built by an Alaskan oil company in 1995. Mitch wasn’t sure what the oil company exactly did with it, but does know it was used in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.

When Mitch picked up the boat, it was being used by a tour company to take people up the Copper River out of Cordova, Alaska, to look at the glaciers. Part of this tour was by land, but a road had washed out, so the individual running this tour could no longer give the tour, not able to reach the glaciers. As a result, this individual put the boat up for sale.

After the Rhens began the process of buying the boat last May, it was shipped from Cordova to Seattle. From there, it was shipped to the Kansas City area to have a cabin added to it, as before it was an open boat. Midwest Rescue Airboats built the cabin, having, according to Mitch, built airboats around the country for the Coast Guard and search and rescue. As of April 15, they had had the boat inside one of their sheds at their rural Badger home for about a month.

Due to the cabin being separate from the motor, they also bought new sensors for the motor and then attached that wiring to the cab— for things such as oil pressure, heat, RPM.

As for other work since buying it, they put new alternators in, worked on the engines, the carburetors, spark plugs, oil filters, among other maintenance work. Max Utter has spent quite a few hours doing mechanical work on the boat. They also took the paint off the boat and polished its outside aluminum surface and added the walkways between the cabin and the outside.

This airboat is powered by two 454 engines— each powering a large prop that drives the boat forward. The boat is 30 feet long, 14 feet wide, and 4 feet deep.

The Rhens decided to make this purchase— about $28,000 with the triple axle trailer—for a couple reasons. One included expanding its capabilites at the hotel it owns, the Fireside Inn and Suites in Devils Lake, N.D.
“(We’re looking) to try and build occupancy, to have more people stay,” Mitch said. “It’s kind of the goal of most businesses: have more people.”

As Mitch explained, the actual Devils Lake has gone from being nearly dry at one time to now having 50 feet and 200,000 to 250,000 acres of water in it, mentioning how much has happened since the 1970s.

“As that has happened, there’s been a real demand, the fishing industry has grown dramatically,” Mitch said.

This past year, the hotel— about one mile from the lake— started an ice fishing operation. Dakota Peterson of Badger, who was working on the boat on April 15, has been helping the Rhens with this operation, doing transportation and maintenance work. He and another individual, Chris Cleveland, ran this ice fishing operation.

As for this airboat, it will help them better accommodate this operation. The hotel supplies packages that include room, meals, transportation out to the ice houses, a day of ice fishing and then transportation back to the hotel. They will take this airboat on Pelican Lake— a part of Devils Lake.

Presently, the hotel uses vehicles with Mattracks on them to carry four to five people to ice houses. This airboat can shuttle about 20 people to ice houses.

“In order to shuttle people out to the ice houses this’ll… give a method for doing that,” Mitch said, “or was a method we could use for doing that.”

Since it is able to travel across different conditions— snow, ice, water— this boat will allow them to fish during different times of the year that most people can’t.

“This allows you to get to those areas that are just starting to break up in the spring, and get to areas in the fall when the ice is too thin to go out with most vehicles,” Mitch said. “… It does expand the season. If you’ve got everything set up, it expands the length of time that you can fish”

To see the complete story, read the April 27 issue of The Tribune in print or online.

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