Delta Daredevils!

By admin  |  July 11, 2012  | 

By Hank Burdine

By the late 1950s, Greenville’s Baby Boomers were coming of age as teenagers and they were not going to let the water recreation craze slip them by. In Greenville, Doctors George Archer, John Suares, Tommy Barnes, and Jimmy Newton, along with Jack Henderson, L.D. Robertson, and others, all had ski boats and their sons and daughters were chomping at the bit to get out on Lake Ferguson and strap on water skis. Roy Fulton and his chief mechanic Shot Johnson were winning Mississippi River boat races up and down the river. The Fulton Company and Thompson’s Battery and Electric were in full stride outfitting ski boats for the water hungry crowd. P.B. Griffin had opened up The Marina on the lakefront and the Greenville Yacht Club was right across the way. Every weekend the lake was teeming with ski boats and rafts and teenagers zipping around on double skis, slaloms, foot skis and trick skis. Nobody really knew what they were doing, they were just doing it and having fun. But that was soon to change when several of the boys and girls got together and formed the Greenville Ski Club.


In the early 1960s, Dee Robertson, Sandy Loyd, Clark Henderson, Becky Wasson, John Archer and Erle Newton, among others, decided to form a club and learn how to really ski. Soon, Dee Robertson and Sandy Loyd were instructing the younger guys and gals on the proper techniques in trick skiing, slalom racing, barefoot skiing and kite flying. McMillian Welding, right across the levee from The Marina, agreed to help finance and build a ski jump. Mr. Peter Watzek, who had sold his lumber business in Crossett, Arkansas, and moved to Upper Lake Ferguson, became the club’s mentor and benefactor, instructing and helping fill barrels with concrete in order to anchor the jump. His guidance and efforts in moving the jump back and forth to the waterfront with his big boat Corsair were of great benefit. Mr. Watzek could be seen all weekend long out in his Boston Whaler, helping out and running errands and providing any assistance necessary.

In front of the Watzek, Sullivan and Robertson homes on Upper Lake Ferguson, and anchored stationary in the lake, was an overturned wooden barge that floated about one foot above the water providing a perfect ski dock and staging area. (Although the many nails protruding out of the bottom of the barge caused many a ripped cut-off blue jean and swim suit, not to mention stitches at Gamble Brothers Clinic and untold tetanus shots!). A water line was run out to the ski jump to provide water to the top of the jump, cooling the wax that had been applied to the plywood surface and allowing the lightly ruddered skis to slip unimpeded over the jump. A regulation slalom course had been built beyond the ski jump that allowed slalom skiers to practice for competition.

Soon Mr. Watzek realized the danger in a ski jump that did not have sloped and slanted wings on its side to deflect a jumper trying to cut and get all the speed he could before hitting the jump at an angle if he were to miscalculate and miss the lower edge. He moved the jump back to the waterfront and had safe wings attached to deflect an out of control skier that might hit the side of the jump. While the jump was parked in the lake in front of the Yacht Club, waiting to be worked on, a young Howard Brent sped by in his daddy Jesse Brent’s raceboat. Erle “Tanglewood” Williams was skiing behind and motioned for Howard to go by the jump and that he wanted to go over it in front of the girls that were out sitting on the Yacht Club. Not realizing the danger of no cascading cold water on the jump, but having seen ski club members jumping long distances off it, Tanglewood headed for the jump. When his skis, with deep rudders, hit the hot and soggy wax on the base of the jump, they dug in, flipping him head over heels into the plywood and dislocating his right shoulder. Howard Brent says, “He was dog paddling with only one arm and about to drown when I got back to him and the first thing he said was, “Damn, Howard, you trying to kill yo’ pod’nuh!”

Soon, a good number of kids were all involved with the club and monthly meetings were held. Annual ski shows were planned for the Fourth of July festivities on the Greenville waterfront before the nightly fireworks display. Events were lined up and special acts were planned. Dee and Sandy had gone to Louisiana and bought a ski kite, receiving brief instructions before leaving. Dee recalled recently from his home in Washington state where he is a retiring pediatrician, “When we arrived back on the lake and Sandy was strapping in for his first ride, John Keating came by and asked what in the world that thing was. Dee explained what the kite was and how it worked and the cost. John’s reply: “Well, Dee, a fool and his money are soon parted.”

But the kite was a highlight of the show, along with a five-person pyramid consisting of Nolan Branton, Lamar Satchfield and Sandy Loyd on the bottom with Becky Wasson and Gloria Ventura on top. Ski tricks such as skiing backwards, flips and spin arounds and slalom runs awed the crowd with the ski jumping exhibitions drawing gasps from the spectators. Barefoot skiing acts drew looks of amazement from the crowd. I even attempted and came with inches of grabbing a 150-foot rope trailing behind local acclaimed airplane trick pilot Joe Call in his J-3 Cub. Had I grabbed the rope, as we had practiced before, I would have let go from the twin-engined river racing catamaran boat run by Shot Johnson and skied off behind the airplane at 60 mph.

Not one to be left at home during a ski show was local lake resident and cropduster Blythe Huntley. Blythe had acquired a prized and cherished red and white vintage WWII P-51 D MUSTANG fighter with a 12 cylinder Rolls Royce engine. At the end of each show, Blythe would come screaming in a deafening roar down Lake Ferguson 50 feet off the water at 400 mph, banking and rolling as he streaked out of sight.

Ski shows were not all the Greenville Ski Club was involved in. State and regional competitions were attended with many awards brought home. John Archer won consecutive 1st places in trick skiing in the Mississippi State Skiing Championships from 1967 through 1969 and a bronze medal in the Southeast Regionals in Florida. Dee Robertson was state trick skiing champion for several years before John came along and was State Champion in slalom and Overall Champion several times. Erle Newton was State Overall Champion in men and boys divisions along with being the State Champion jumper in 1964 from a 6-foot-high jump with a total distance of 127 feet. Erle was also a state champion trick skier.

Today the lake is filled with wakeboards and loud music and colorful plastic tubes. Gone are the days of 40 mph barefooting, skiing on boat paddles and wooden Coca-Cola crates and dodging coiled up water moccasins while attempting a helicopter or a 360-degree off the jump. But hey, it’s out on the lake and it’s all still fun.


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