In The Limelight

Kimball & Ozburn Adventure

Janesville’s Own Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn

 

Story and Interviews by Teresa Nguyen

December, 2020

Todd Kimball and Chris Ozburn on the Bobs & Sons raft

My dad’s example was that if you have a dream, it really can come true. It may take a lot of work, patience and time but, boy, to see that come to fruition is a striking thing to watch! ~ Chris Ozburn

Author’s note: I owe big thanks to Catherine (Ozburn) Barton. She and her husband, Jeff, ignited this quest to share this amazing story, she invited me to view hundreds of organized photos and articles, provided extra details and helped arrange the interviews. It has truly been my honor to research and write this piece for these two families. I hope you enjoy the story as much as I have!

A Unique and Lasting Friendship 

The two, old Janesville friends sat side-by-side at a patio table on a warm, autumn day in Wisconsin. As they turned the pages, they smiled and pointed at the photos, sharing memories of an amazing adventure achieved 40 years ago with their sons. It was a daring expedition; unlike anything the average person would have the courage to accomplish. Yet, they did it. And, boy, they did it with style! 

This is not only the story of that special journey, but one of a rare and enduring friendship. It is a friendship between families, between two community pillars and their enthusiastic, teenaged sons. It is a story of this special bond spanning nearly six decades, filled with memories to last a lifetime.  

These community-minded men, both called Bob, (we will refer to Bob Ozburn as Robert) are now up there in age, a little slower in mobility and in memory. Each has seen and done wonderful things over the years, inspiring many along the way. 

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Robert Ozburn and Bob Kimball reminisce over photo albums
 Photo by Jeff Barton
One can easily tell their hearts are filled with pride for their beautiful families and our community can be filled with gratitude for their wonderful contributions and accomplishments. 
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Bob Kimball

President and Founder of Bob Kimball Properties

Former President and Founder of Bob Kimball Incorporated
Former President of Wisconsin Builders Association
Former President of Rock County Historical Society Board of Directors
Former President of Janesville Noon Rotary
Donated Kimball Education Center
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Veteran

In 1958, Bob Kimball Incorporated began with the purchase an old, farm pickup truck for $500, some 2 x 4’s and a few hand tools. Bob hired a couple of guys and went to work. One of the earliest buildings they constructed was an apartment complex, Todd Terrace. Then they built another, Robin Terrace Apartments. Both were named after Bob's children. Bob’s wife, Nancy, took care of the rentals. 

The company grew over the years and Bob continued to build some of our great Janesville businesses, such as the buildings of Lab Safety Supply (now Grainger), the Holiday Inn Express, and Robert Ozburn’s place of business at 1309 Plainfield Ave, which is now occupied by SSI.
"Captain" Bob Kimball 
Bob also bought and refurbished several well-known downtown buildings.
In one of his many acts of kindness, Bob generously donated a downtown building to the Rock River Charter School. They renamed it the Kimball Education Center. Recognizing the value of education, Bob attends the graduation every year. In that same vein, Bob relocated the Frances Willard Schoolhouse to the Rock County Historical Society campus.

Robert Ozburn

Former President and Founder of Ozburn-Janesville Corporation (which grew into Janesville Group, Ltd.)
Former President of Ignatius Press (San Francisco)
Former member of the Board of Directors of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe (La Crosse)
Former President of St. Mary’s Parish Council, Janesville
Former member of the Serra Club, Janesville 

 
After Robert’s marriage to Barbara, he wanted to settle down with his young family, shifting from traveling in sales with Rayovac, to taking a job in Janesville with Parker Pen. Robert had managed a product line at Parker Pen. Later, he bought that product line from Parker Pen and started his own business, Ozburn-Janesville Corporation, selling promotional products.
"Navigator" Robert Ozburn 

Robert grew the company, both organically and via a number of acquisitions, into what became Janesville Group, Ltd., a group of five companies and three subsidiaries, manufacturing and selling a wide range of printed, screened, etched, and engraved promotional products to companies and schools/universities throughout the Americas.

For years, he worked at home in the basement until he joined his office with the manufacturing arm of the companies in a new building on Plainfield. Over the decades, Janesville Group employed hundreds of people in Janesville. Throughout Robert’s working years, he was highly ambitious, a super smart guy and one who truly cared about his community.

Both Bob and Robert and their wives believe in giving back. Over the years, these two men have been beautifully generous in their philanthropy, continuing to make a difference in our Janesville area. The idea that helping others realize their dreams and goals has a positive, ripple effect in our community, is part of the fiber of their character. It is who they are.
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A notice Robert put in The Gazette

A Chance Meeting

It was the early 1960’s when Robert started working at Parker Pen in Janesville. He and Barbara were searching for a new place to live and, for two weeks, the young family stayed at the beautiful Monterey Hotel in the Parker Penthouse.

 

They searched and searched for an apartment. They searched and searched for a house. Robert spent a lot of evenings working at Parker Pen. Finally, they found a place! 

 

Robert put a notice in the ‘want ads’ for an apartment to stay in until they could move into their house. 

A 1960s drawing of the Monterey Hotel
That led them to the Robin Terrace Apartments, on Milwaukee Street, near Garfield, which was owned by Bob Kimball. As fate would have it, Robert and Bob struck up an instant and long-lasting friendship.

A Spring Break Raft Trip 

We can’t begin the story about their two-family adventure until we go farther back in time, to 1955, when Robert was a senior at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. When most of their friends took a spring break trip to Florida, Robert and three of his college friends took an ambitious trip, spending a weekend floating on a homemade raft down the Mississippi! They began in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, ending in Rock Island, Illinois. 
 
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They built their own 10 X 18-foot raft, which cost them about $20 worth of supplies (a decent sum back in 1955). They took with them some canned goods and basic foods, took turns watching for barges and snags and were kindly given gifts of food along the way.
 
When they finally reached their Illinois destination, the four boys were wined and dined at the Rock Island Boat Club! What an exciting trip for these young college students, who experienced extreme kindness along the route. The excursion gave them memories to last for years to come.
Those same great memories came up in conversations between Robert and Bob Kimball. Over time, the two Bobs discussed it often, “What if we did this again…just us and the boys?”

Another Adventure!

2020 marks the 40th anniversary of an incredible, Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn-like rafting adventure. Bob and Robert took their two sons, Todd Kimball and Christopher Ozburn, on a journey nearly the entire length of the Mississippi.

Robert (3rd from left) and his classmates on his first raft trip in 1955
The north to south, cross-country, 1,500 mile trip started in 1980 at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin and ended in 1985 in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana. 
The Bobs and sons, sometimes with other friends, took a couple of trips every year. Each trip lasted about a week long. Sometimes the boys couldn’t go due to work or college, but they were on the raft at least once a year. The foursome traveled a total of eight trips in five years down the Mississippi. 

The get-away was a fun chance for two, busy businessmen to truly disconnect and relax. Neither of them ever called the office to check in, nor did they check in with their wives, Nancy and Barbara. There were no cell phones then…just the guys under the blue sky, the breeze and a strong, steady current. There’s something therapeutic about an old fashioned, back-to-basics experience. It was a time of bonding between father and son for both Bobs, an opportunity for all to simply have fun together. 

With every trip, the wives would see them off. Mrs. Ozburn would send fresh flowers, which would often last several days in a vase on the raft. The other children would draw cute pictures or make special cards for the guys. The wives would sometimes travel to meet the crew for Bob’s birthday celebration, during their autumn trips. The thoughtful, patient support of Barbara, Nancy and the children is also a beautiful piece of this friendship.

 

Though both Bobs pretty much guided the raft as co-captains, and considered each other as such, Robert always called Bob Kimball, “Captain”. 

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l-R: Chris and Robert Ozburn, Bob and Todd Kimball
Robert always wore his pith helmet and the yellow corduroys that Bob hated. And Bob always wore his cowboy boots that Robert hated. The teasing was as much a natural part of their friendship as anything.

In September of 1980, with the Mississippi navigation maps in Robert’s hands, Bob at the helm and the teenaged boys ready with paddles, the four brave souls took off on the first leg of their exciting adventure!

The following interviews with Todd Kimball and Chris Ozburn tell the story of this amazing voyage, spanning five years and eight trips down the Mississippi River. They share the tales of diverse river scenery, interesting people and fascinating sites along the way.
The crew also endured some crazy challenges and a few scary episodes! 
A birthday celebration with the wives for Bob on the raft at Dubuque
Nancy Kimball (standing) and Barbara Ozburn seated (right) on the bench
But the entire experience positively changed the travelers’ outlook and renewed their appreciation for the daily comforts we take for granted. For the teens, it matured them in a unique way, giving them a totally fresh perspective on life.
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Todd Kimball.jpg
 
Todd Kimball
Manager of Bob Kimball Properties, Inc.
Decorating Committee/Volunteer for Downtown Janesville, Inc. 
Former member of the Board of Directors of the Rock County Historical Society
Former member of the Janesville Alcohol Licensing Advisory Committee

 
The Idea of Another Trip

Todd: We started talking about it probably 10 years before we actually did it! Robert wanted to recreate the trip he had done, except to go all the way to New Orleans. I thought it sounded like a great idea.

I was just 15 and Chris was 16 at the time. 

Chris: I grew up knowing about my dad’s first trip. There’s a photo of him from the paper back in the 50’s, when he did that trip with his college buddies. Ever since I was a kid, it had been hanging in the hallway. It was interesting and all but then, one day, I stopped to read it thinking, “Hmm…this is cool.”
For years there was banter back and forth between the Bobs about doing a raft trip again. I’m not sure what the tipping point was to make it a reality. But, when it was actually proposed, it was pretty exciting. How could we NOT want to do this?
Christopher Ozburn
Partner at Streusand, Landon, Ozburn & Lemmon, LLP - Austin, TX
My parents worked a lot and they weren’t super ‘outdoors people’, so it was really thrilling for me. I was always intrigued by the natural world, but had mostly read about outdoor adventures, prior to this trip.
Boys Only 

Todd: My sister, Robin, had always wanted to go on the trip, but it was never brought up. She had done a lot of camping, had been a camp leader up at Camp Manito-Wish and loved it. Chris had his own sisters, too, but it just wasn’t a consideration then. 

Chris: Catherine says she would have loved to have gone on a trip if we could have pulled a second raft with a portable bathroom on it! 

My kids and I have talked about doing this from time to time, and it never even came up that girls wouldn’t be included. I have one daughter and two sons. When we discussed it, it was assumed that, of course, it would be everyone! It’s a different era now, though, than it was back then.
Todd: The two families had been friends for quite a long time. Since Chris was a year older, I knew him at high school, but we only hung out here and there before this raft trip. 

Chris: My parents knew Bob and Nancy for ages and we grew up knowing the kids. The Kimballs had a pool and, occasionally, we were invited over to swim in their pool. So, of course, they were the coolest kids we knew!
1980 Trip 1 raft.jpg
 
Preparing the Raft

Todd: We all started building the raft, which was a really a big undertaking! My dad got everything ready to go. We had a list of the needs and who would bring what. Robert brought all the etched “Bobs and Sons” logo glassware for us to use. 

Chris: The plates on the Bobs and Sons raft may have been plastic, but you can bet the glassware was etched crystal!  My dad owned his glass etching company at the time.

We built the raft in Ken Bienash’s back yard over in Prairie du Chien, right there on the riverbank. It was constructed of steel barrels, telephone poles, 4x4s and plywood.
Todd: My dad’s in construction, so this raft was good and heavy compared to what the college kids had on Robert’s first adventure. 
l-R: Chris, Bob and Todd working on building the raft
This one had 8 oil barrels underneath. There were four telephone poles on top of that, then 4x4s and plywood on top of that. 
When we returned to start the first trip, the water was pretty high and the raft was already floating, so luckily Ken had tied it up, just in case. 

Duties on the Raft

Todd: We naturally fell into our roles. My dad was in charge of building and logistics. Robert kept the daily journal and was our map reader, navigating down the Mississippi. 

Chris and I were the crew, setting up the tents, getting dinners ready, going on errands to get gas, etc.
The river is a lot bigger than it looks on a map! There aren’t town signs, just mile markers along the river and you need to locate yourself with those markers. That’s how you know where the locks and dams are, where the shallow waters are and such. 

Chris: Dad was the navigator and I think it was very satisfying for him to be able to flip the page on the map. There were about 10 miles on each page. He enjoyed keeping the logs, which was perfect for him, being such an organizer.

Dad called himself the “Chief, Cook and Bottlewasher”. Robert was more the “idea man” and Bob was more the “execution man”. Dad was a wonderful Enthusiast in Chief, but without a lot of practical skills.
 
Bob had fantastic, practical, mechanical skills. We wouldn’t have made it five feet downriver without Bob Kimball! 
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Robert took charge of navigating, map reading and daily logs
Todd is good with mechanical things, too. I didn’t have any particular outdoor skills, but learned a lot from watching and doing. I cooked eggs and things like that. I was the crew member designated to jump, swim or crawl ashore with the “painter” (the rope to tie the raft to a tree or a rock), when the shore was especially unpleasant. The most memorable of these landed me hip-deep in sticky, gray-green mud, which Bob dubbed “loon sh*t”. 

Danger at the Lock & Dam!

Todd: My dad had borrowed a 1960’s motor, but the current was fast. On that first leg, when the Prairie du Chien lock and dam was coming up, we tried getting the engine started. Well, that wasn’t working, so we were paddling hard to avoid going over! 
 
1982 Trip 3 on the way to Quincy Illinoi

All along the dam there are gates to control the flow. They keep them about a foot off the high water, which allowed for a fast current. The water was really flowing through there. Between the lock and the dam, there’s a 10-foot-wide piece of concrete dividing the dam and the lock. 


Chris: The current was pretty strong and the Evinrude motor particularly uncooperative. We were being swept toward the dam, motor parts strewn all over the deck as Bob worked on it, the sons paddling furiously, to little avail. It was pretty troubling at the time. 

As always, Captain Bob came through, fixing the problem and re-assembling the motor just in time to putt-putt over to the lock!

 

Todd: When we got to the lock, we hit that chunk of concrete sideways. We almost went over the dam on that first day!

Captain Bob getting them through another lock in Illinois
For the next trip, we got a bigger engine, a brand-new Honda. And though that was okay, it still wasn’t quite enough power. So, on the following, third trip, we got a second Honda and used the two engines. We normally floated all day downriver and would just use the motors to get us in and out of the locks, which was pretty important.

Nights on the River

Todd: On one trip, we tried to travel at night and hit a big channel marker (a “nun”), which lifted the raft up and got us hung up on it. We were stuck as a barge was coming up the river toward us, looking for the marker we were sitting on! Those barges don’t let off the throttle, so if they get too close, you’re going under. They weigh too much, like a big train, and it takes them a few miles to just stop.
Chris: When the current is strong, the marker gets pushed under the water and then zigzags as it comes up. We were stuck on that marker as the giant barge approached so, in a desperate attempt to escape the predicament, we all stood on one corner, bouncing up and down to set it free. It finally did release itself at the last minute! We decided there would be no more night floating after that!

Todd: We tried to set up for overnight camping on the back side of an island. The wake from the barges would really wash up toward the shore. In the fall there were more barges, with all the agricultural products being transported. They’re so heavy and have to keep a constant speed to maintain control.

We took turns keeping an eye on things. But, generally, people who live on the river are pretty trustworthy. Chris and I would prefer to set up on shore, get a bon fire going, and our dads would stay in a tent on the raft overnight.
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Sundown on the Mississippi in Missouri
1984 Trip 7 tents.jpg
There were some nice beaches along the way, especially in the southern sections of the river. Only one night we had a little trouble. Some kids were walking along the railroad tracks near the bank and throwing rocks down on us. They could see us, but we couldn’t see them. That was the worst of it.

Chris: The channels are pretty straight along the northern part of the river. Below that, it gets super twisty and there are a lot of nice sandbars, which was perfect for tying up at night.

Evolution of the Raft

Todd:  On that first trip, we didn’t have any lockers, so the waves from the barges would wash over the raft and get everything wet. After that, Bob made two, custom built lockers to store things like the lifejackets, food and equipment. One of the lockers was insulated and used as the cooler. We needed to keep a lot of ice.  
 
The “Bobs and Sons” sign could hang between the two lockers, so we used that as our dinner table. 
Tied up and tents ready for the night
Lockers/benches were added to the raft
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Todd, Robert and Bob having breakfast
We’d make steaks or brats and eggs for breakfast. We also had a nice supply of liquor on board for the dads.

We were on the raft for about an entire week each time. If we stopped and went into town, we would just go in to get gas or ice. My dad had a Chevy El Camino, which we brought down there. He would trust someone local with the keys and paid them to deliver it 50 - 100 miles downriver, to the next community. We never had any problems with the car or the arrangements. Sometimes we’d go out for dinner in the towns.
Chris: We learned a few things from trial and error. The very ingenious underwater sail was an engineering feat and a total failure. Also, there was a lot of paddling by the sons on the first trip. But, interestingly, on the second trip with the Bobs and their friends, there was no paddling and they made about the same speed! We quit paddling so much after that.
Seeing the Sights

Todd: We would stop in towns here and there, walking around to see any attractions that were nearby. We tied up in St. Louis, right at the arch and went up to the top, taking a photo of our raft from up there. In Memphis, TN, we stopped at a place called Mud Island, which has a walkable map of the Mississippi that one can follow. That was pretty cool.

Chris: As we floated into St. Louis, there was a lot of debris from the recent flood. The river was high and fast. We tied up on the riverfront and went up in the arch. Apparently, helicopter news crews were out looking for things to film and captured us. Our raft and the crew were featured on the local TV news. 

Sometimes there were people with pleasure boats that would tie up and have a drink with us.
 
1983 Trip 4 st louis.jpg
So later, on that same day downriver, we saw ourselves on the evening news on someone’s boat, which had a TV!
It was also a real highlight to stop at Mark Twain’s home town and all, especially since we were on our own rafting adventure.
Stuck in the Backwaters! 

Todd: My friend, Al Castro, came along on a few trips. Chris sometimes had school or work obligations, so couldn’t make it. On one of those trips, Al got bit by a spider right below the eye. He couldn’t see and it got all swollen. My dad took a flashlight, looked at it and said, “Damn, that’s bad.” Then Dad went back to bed! We had a first aid kit, but there wasn’t much we could do about it. We had Benadryl and some other medicines but, thankfully, we didn’t have any serious injuries on this adventure. But we did get stuck for a few days...
 
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Robert's log the day they became stuck in backwaters May of 1984
The current was swift and strong
It was the sixth trip. Chris couldn’t make this one because of his job at the bank. Al Castro came along and, on the second to last day of the trip, we veered into backwaters into a chute and couldn’t get out!

The river there, just south of Memphis, Tennessee, was flooded over its banks and going over toward the levees. The mile markers were also under water, so we didn’t know where we were exactly on the river. We thought we were going around an island, but it was just backwaters. We were stuck in the flooded woods for 3 days. 

We should have had a ship to shore radio to communicate with the barge traffic and the lockmaster. It would have been safer with a radio. But, prior to this adventure, the Bobs were set on doing it old school, with no radio.
1984 Trip 6 the window view of the river
That first day stuck, no one knew we were missing. We had chartered a small plane to come down to pick us up the next day, but then, we didn’t show up for the trip home. Our moms began to worry and contacted the authorities. 

Someone had reported that they spotted a raft downstream. The Coast Guard actually went by us, and we could see them on the river channel from where we were, but we couldn’t communicate with them. We sat there for another two days!
No one really panicked, though. We could see the boats go by in the river channel and figured someone would spot us and help us out. It wasn’t that we were totally lost. We were more stuck than lost. We tied up the raft with ropes to the trees. The current was still trying to tip the raft up. The water was dropping around 10 inches a day. 
There were some poisonous snakes around that area. They kept trying to get out of the water and up onto our dry raft! 
We used our paddles to flip them the off the raft or to smack at them. We had to have a 24-hour “snake watch” when we were stranded there. 

Rescued by Billy & Peck

One of the men who found us was a caretaker on large, adjacent farm. They were out looking for people who were poaching. By then, they had heard news on the radio that we were missing and saw us. What a relief! My dad and Mr. Ozburn went with those guys back into town. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard finally came along, while the dads were gone.
 
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Robert's log the day they were rescued in May, 1984
The Coast Guard couldn’t pull us back to the river, as the raft was too heavy and they were low on fuel, so they left. It was about a 12-hour deal to get the raft out of there! When we first drifted in there, one of the nearby roads was covered with water up to the canopy of the trees! By the time the water had dropped, three days later, the rescue guys were able to pull us through that road with a jon boat. 

One of the men let me take his pickup truck a few miles down to the levee. The Coast Guard guys were there, who had run out of fuel and had broken their antennae trying to get us out. So, I took one of their guys to find a phone. We tried three houses before we could find a telephone…it really was the “back country” down there.

They eventually got some fuel and, after the ordeal, for some reason they just let us go back downstream on the river. They really shouldn’t have let us continue!
1984 Trip 6 the rescue.jpg
1984 Trip 6 journal 3.jpg
Mrs. Ozburn and my mom were worried about us. People thought that perhaps the raft tipped over.
 
When we all were finally reunited, the moms were saying, “That’s it. No more trips!” But we only had a little more to go, so we convinced them that we needed to take the next trip.

Robert kept written logs along the way, writing down the names and contacts of the people we met. We invited all of them, including our rescuers, to stay at the Grenoble House in New Orleans, when we had our gala celebration after the final trip. Some of them made it to the party. That was great.
A passage from Bob Kimball's story "The Rescue!" May, 1984
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The four make the Memphis headlines!
The Raft for Hollywood

Todd: A film company came to borrow the raft to use in a TV film starring Drew Barrymore as a female Huck Finn. The ABC Special movie, Con Sawyer and Hucklemary Finn, never got off the ground because the networks didn’t pick it up at the last minute. It would still be nice to have a copy of it.
 
Chris: After the Bobs agreed to let the production company use the raft for the movie, there were a few mishaps. The raft wasn’t well secured after the shooting, and floated downriver! Thankfully, it was found and rescued by some local people. The movie crew left early, so the Crawfish Gala, which the town had planned to celebrate them, was instead used to celebrate us! That worked out!

Comforts Missed

Todd: The biggest thing we appreciated when we were done with a trip was a hot shower. You can get a quick dunk in the river, but you would come out even dirtier than when you went in.

Chris: A shower was the best thing. You know, any kind of wilderness adventure is really cool when you’re out in it and things don’t bother you. But, after a long river trip, that was the thing that was the most welcome.
The_Adventures_of_Con_Sawyer_and_Hucklem
A TV Guide ad for the TV film that never aired
Southern Waters

Todd: The weather wasn’t bad during all the trips. On the very last leg, however, we were behind schedule because of the wind. 

Chris: I remember we had some rain, but the times when I went in the spring, it was never freezing cold. It was mostly great weather. Toward the end, though, it got really, really hot down in Louisiana.

Todd: The river triples in width below Baton Rouge. There are no pleasure boats down there. Below that point, there were only large ocean-going tankers and you had to wait in line to go through the locks. As soon as they’d start moving, we had to batten down the deck so we wouldn’t lose our stuff in the deck wash. The lockers really helped!
Chris: Near Baton Rouge we had another close call, when an empty ocean-going Japanese freighter came careening around a bend, sending a tidal wave that washed pretty much everything overboard! 

The word was that, below Baton Rouge, you shouldn’t let yourself get splashed too much, because all the chemical plants along the river made the water like Nair (a chemical hair remover). It was so hot in Baton Rouge, though, that we got in and mostly held on to the back of the raft, floating along in the water…which probably explains why I have so little hair left!
One peaceful night, we all climbed up a sand bar and watched two paddlewheel steamers pass each other in the moonlight. It was pretty cool, just like in olden times.
Reaching New Orleans!

Todd: That was a huge excitement and an accomplishment for us all. By that time, we had lost one barrel and another had a hole in it. The raft was pretty much riding at water level when we came into New Orleans…nearly sinking by that point. 

We were fortunate to have received special permission to tie up in front of The Natchez, the famous steamboat, and the families were all on the upper deck waving at us. 
 
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The Natchez Steamboat in New Orleans
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Waving to family & friends as their nearly sinking raft reaches New Orleans!
It was really nice seeing everybody. The entire Ozburn family and others from Janesville, probably 30-40 people met us there. We had a black-tie party and the mayor of New Orleans attended. It was great. We had some delicious Cajun food and all.

Chris: Life on the raft was not a lot of hardship. It was pretty easy. We had time to read as we were floating along. But it still felt really cool to round the bend and see the paddle wheelers and, finally, New Orleans! We had finally accomplished this! 

The Captains were presented with keys to the City of New Orleans! Then we all stayed at the Grenoble House Hotel there in the French Quarter.
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The Bobs - All cleaned up & looking great!
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Both Robert and Bob received a key to the city of New Orleans
My hat goes off to the two Bobs for making this a reality and pulling it off. It takes a lot of energy, will and logistics to do it. And with each subsequent trip, as we got farther south, it took a little more planning to get us back to Janesville.

Another Trip?

Todd: I wouldn’t do it on a raft again…maybe a houseboat. I’m glad we did it, but it was one of those once-in-a-lifetime adventures.

For my dad’s 82nd, we did a short boat trip on a paddleboat, with about 40 people on board, from LeClaire Iowa up to Dubuque. 
1985%20Trip%208%20all%204%20guys_edited.
I’m glad we have so many photos of our big adventure back then. A few weeks ago, Catherine, who really is the ringleader, brought her dad over to the house. The two Bobs hadn’t seen each other in a while, and when my dad walked in, Robert said, “How ya’ doin’, Captain?” The guys had a great time looking at the old photos of the trip. 

Chris: The one disappointment I have is that I had hoped to find a way for the Bobs to get on one of those river barge tows down in New Orleans and take another ride down to the end.

Todd: If both of our dads were in better shape, I’d love to do a short trip. 
Father/Son Bonding

Todd: I think it made us closer. I had always worked for my dad, so we were kind of close that way. But this definitely made us closer, doing a trip like that.
Robert, Chris, Todd and Bob on the river bank at New Orleans
My dad had taken me on some pretty cool adventures before. We climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and went up to the north Arctic and some big fishing trips.
Chris worked with his dad, too. They rented a warehouse from us, so I would see them working together for Robert's company. But it was definitely a bonding trip for all of us.

Chris: For sure we bonded over this trip. Our relationship was pretty good already. My mom and dad were super loving parents. Like many men, my dad didn’t say a whole lot, you know. And I didn’t say a whole lot growing up.

But, at some time in the 70’s, we joined a Janesville bike club with wonderful people and went on some cool rides out in the country. They’d have an annual event called the Rock 64. It was a 64 mile/100 km ride, which we enjoyed together. And sometimes, like a father/son thing, there were times to talk and times to just be silent, which worked out fine.
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Hitting the headlines again!
Advice for Others

Todd: If anyone is thinking of doing this on a raft, I would recommend they rent a houseboat. We had a few close calls, but I also think we were super lucky. I would not recommend risking it like we did. A kayak would actually be safer than a raft, because you could get out of the current.

It’s a dangerous river, the “Mighty Mississippi”. Even the Rock River is dangerous. The current is what gets you. We underestimated the amount of force the current had. You need a healthy respect for the Mississippi. We really were basically naïve Wisconsinites!
Chris: I’d say, from my experience, trust it’ll work out. Sometimes there are a few bumps, but you can usually find a way to pull things back together again.
 
1985 Trip 8 in the delta.jpg
Trust that it’ll be okay, but be vigilant, too! We definitely had some close calls. One of the four of us must’ve lived a good life, because I believe we had someone watching over us!
Reflections 

Todd: It made us appreciate what we have, what we were blessed with, what Chris and I were both given. We went through a lot of poor towns; we saw a lot of poverty. A lot of these people had never even left their own towns. Here we were, traveling nearly the whole length of the Mississippi, from one end of the country to the other, on a homemade raft! We got to see and do a lot of things that a lot of people never have the chance to do. Chris and I were blessed to do this. 
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But, if Chris’ dad had never done that trip in college, we probably never would have done it, either. He did it when the water was low and calmer. He didn’t have to go through a lot of locks. They just paddled. Times were a little different back then, though, and there may have been less barge traffic.

A lot of people thought we were crazy for doing it, but we didn’t feel like we were in danger along the way, really. We met super friendly people on the route. One time we left the raft in the river and, somehow it got loose. But some guys at the marina saw it, took a boat out and retrieved it! That was really nice of them, otherwise we would have lost it. 

Chris: When we grew up, we were surrounded by the kindness of family and friends, but I hadn’t had a whole lot of contact with strangers, people with whom I had nothing in common. The kindness of strangers was a theme throughout, starting with Ken Bienash letting us assemble the raft in his yard up in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. It was just as the Creedence Clearwater Revival song lyrics go, “People on the river are happy to give”. At least that was our experience. People were so nice and helpful, even when they gained nothing from it! 
Still buddies - Todd & Chris
Barges let us skip to the head of the lock lines, people let us park the raft at their marinas and gave us a ride back upriver at the end of a trip. A guy living on the batture (between the water and the levee) welcomed us into his home. Everyone had a “Where you goin’?” and a “Good luck!” for us every day.  

Those examples of kindness and generosity along the river had a big effect on me. There was so much inspiration on this adventure. It wasn’t a part of the country I’d seen before. I was always intrigued by the southern United States. The South was kind of exotic to this Yankee from the north. How could you not feel appreciation toward these people who were so kind and good to us?
The Bobs

Chris: Bob Kimball has such a wonderful skill – he has never met a person who doesn’t become his friend. He’s the friendliest guy! He will make friends with anyone, and anyone will go out of their way to do something for him. I learned from Bob how to be a friendly person, one who can make friends with everyone. I saw him in action and just watching Bob Kimball’s example was great for me. 
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Robert Ozburn & Bob Kimball in 1985
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Bob Kimball & Robert Ozburn  in 2020 - Photo by Jeff  Barton
Todd: The dads are getting older now. My dad said to Mr. Ozburn, “I’m glad we did it when we did!” It’s been 40 years now. To maintain this beautiful friendship between the families, withstanding the test of time, is a rare and beautiful thing. Robert kept one of the “Bobs & Sons” signs from the raft and we have the other.
Chris: My dad’s example was that if you have a dream, it really can come true. It may take a lot of work, patience and time but, boy, to see that come to fruition is a striking thing to watch!
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A drawing by Marguerite Ozburn - 1982
 

Additional Photo Slideshow of the

Kimball/Ozburn Rafting Adventure