The S.S. Minto, a C.P.R. paddle wheeler, traveled 214 kilometers up and down the Arrow Lakes from 1898 to 1954, connecting many little villages along the route carrying passengers, freight, livestock, and anything else needed by the folk living along this stretch of the Columbia River.
Its history is kept alive in the form of photographs, books, artifacts, and stories.
One man, Joe Crowell, preserved the Minto’s history in a unique way.
Crowell was a well-respected and loved Nakusp pioneer.
He was a man of many talents, carpenter, wheelwright, and mortician. When he retired, he spent many hours puttering in his basemen.
At some point he had possession of the Minto’s pilot wheel and decided it belonged in, what was then known, as the Minto Library.
It hangs there now, just to the right as you come through the door.
To enable hanging it he cut a chunk off the wheel hub.
This piece kicked around his basement until he realized it was a valuable piece of teak with great potential.
So he decided to craft a small replica of the Minto pilot wheel and give it to Kate Johnson a local newspaper reporter, historian, and friend.
Many people admired it and Crowell decided to make more.
These handcrafted, exact replicas ranged in size from five to 10 centimetres, and a few were even larger. As popularity for the Minto wheels spread, Crowell ran out of hub wood, but managed to get salvage wood off the Minto.
Many recipients did not realize that, when a young man, Crowell met with a carpentry accident that severed the middle fingers of his left hand.
This makes it even more remarkable that such artistic and skilled work was accomplished.
The wheels were sometimes given away or sold for $1, proceeds given to the Arrow Lakes Hospital Auxiliary, who Mr. Crowell held in high esteem, even writing poems lauding the ladies for their hard work and friendship.
He donated over $500.00 in proceeds to the Auxiliary and was made the first and only honorary male member of the Auxiliary on his 90th birthday.
Crowell’s wheels became so well known that he formed a club open to all people who were lucky enough to own a Minto wheel.
There was no application form, no annual dues, and no meetings.
The only criteria necessary for membership was to own a wheel.
Crowell became the self-appointed Supreme Commander of the Honorable Order of the Pilot Wheel Club.
He kept a record of the people who purchased wheels which can be seen in the Arrow Lakes Archives
In time these Minto wheels spread throughout the world and Joe began receiving cards and letters from people all over thanking him for his mementos.
In total over 500 wheels were made and distributed.
How many Pilot Wheel Club members still live in the area?
Are you a keeper of one of these unique little mementos reminding us of the days when the stern wheelers travelled on the Arrow Lakes?
If you are a member, or know of a member, please let us know at the archives and if possible how you came to acquire it.
Purchase, gift, inheritance, or perhaps a find at the Thrift Shop?
Maybe you are a charter member of the club.
It will be interesting how many of these little wheels are still in existence and where they are.
If you know of one please contact the Arrow Lakes Historical Society at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know.