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Minnesota museum showcases a half helicopter, half boat

Invented by the man who gave us the Oscar-Mayer Wienermobile, the Heli-Bout is one of the first exhibits guests notice as they enter the museum.

A half helicopter half boat.
The Heli-Bout was donated to the museum in 2015 by a private donor.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press
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ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — It's a helicopter, it's a boat, no, it's the Heli-Bout.

And also, a great conversation starter for the museum says Legacy of the Lakes Museum Communications and Programs Director, Kaci Johnson.

"It's unique! You look at, and you're just filled with questions," said Johnson. "It is also one of the most photographed pieces we have at the museum."

With an abundance of lakes in Douglas County, it is no surprise that the county seat — Alexandria — has a museum dedicated to the history of lakes and all that comes with them, the Legacy of the Lakes Museum.

While there are many unique and intriguing boats, one that always catches the eye of museum guests is the Heli-Bout. A half helicopter, half boat never meant to fly.

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HeliBoat 2400.jpg
The floating apparatus' steering column swivels between two seats allowing both occupants to take turns behind the wheel.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

"It is really just designed for looks and to showcase the new motor," said Johnson. "It will probably float if you put it in the water, and it may wobble a bit."

The floating craft's design features a red-to-white contrasting paint job over the rounded body and a bubbled windshield that curves half over the cockpit where a driver and a passenger seat parallel.

The steering column between the riders can swivel from one person to the other, allowing both passengers to take a turn behind the "wheel." Above them is a non-functioning helicopter propeller housed with an awning that arcs over the occupants. Behind the seats are small cubby areas big enough for a day bag even though they are not likely to travel anywhere in the vessel.

Meant to inspire outboard motor builders of what could be accomplished in the future, the Heli-Bout was designed by industrial engineer Brooks Stevens, the man that graced us with the Oscar-Mayer Wienermobile.

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The boat was commissioned to showcase the Starflight 75 HP, a new motor from Outboard Motor Company and Evinrude Motors.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

Commissioned by the Outboard Motor Company and Evinrude Motors commission, the Heli-Bout launched in New York at the 51st National Motor Boat Show to introduce the world to the Starflight 75 HP boat motor in 1961.

The mingled floating apparatus was dubbed "Bess" as in Bess Evinrude, the wife of Evinrude Motors founder, Ole Evinrude.

According to a flyer at the museum, in 1905, Bess and Ole were on a romantic picnic on an island in Okauchee Lake in Wisconsin. When Bess developed a craving for ice cream, Ole, being the gentleman he was, rowed alone to the mainland to acquire the creamy dessert. However, upon his return, the ice cream had melted. This event led to Ole's inspiration for his first boat motor design, which debuted in 1907.

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The Heli-Bout is one of the first pieces guests see when they enter the Legacy of the Lakes Museum. Program Director Kaci Johnson says it is a great conversation piece.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

In 2015, a private collector who owns the Heli-Bout, loaned the piece to the museum, where it will stay on display as long as the collector allows.

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"We absolutely love it. It's the first thing people see when they come in. It is always a conversation starter. People either say it looks like something from the Jetsons or something James Bond might be driving," said Johnson. "You can tell just by looking at it what period it's from — it has that '60s aesthetic."

Related Topics: BOATINGALEXANDRIA
Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
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