Burnt Rollways Boat Hoist Connects 2 Large Lake Chains

Posted: September 10, 2013  |  By: Meg Jones [Journal Sentinel]

Eagle River — Frank Greb's right index finger is powerful.

All it takes is a flick of his digit and Greb moves pontoon boats, runabouts, Jet Skis, super fast water ski boats and classy wooden Chris Crafts, lifting them high in the air and setting them gently into cool iced-tea-colored water.

The 80-year-old retired Bucyrus Erie construction engineer from South Milwaukee admits his job is really simple. The Burnt Rollways Boat Hoist operators who move boats between the Eagle River Chain of Lakes and the Three Lakes Chain — a difference in elevation of about 8 feet — have been performing this service for more than a century.

The boat hoist uses an electric gantry system that runs on a 165-foot-long trestleway — the only such device moving boats in Wisconsin waterways and most likely the United States. Normally locks and dams are used to traverse different elevations.

Standing in the small operator's cab trailing electrical cables, Greb inserts the key and gets to work, pushing a small black lever.

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