Austin Adventures

If you like attention, swimming in Austin by the dam is perfect. This is the place where the water is smooth, the restaurants are filled with people who are always amazed ... as you swim up they stare down verifying that "you do have wheels", cameras flash ... There's a big fish that squirts water as well as dinner cruises and a paddlewheeler. And of course, its the perfect place to give rides to the curious. But this is also the place where the Austin Duck Adventures tour enters for the water portion of their tour.

Naturally, who could resist demonstrating a water wheelie or two as the next "duck" tour is briefed for their entry into the water. I've swum with the ducks for several swim-ins. Once in the water, sometimes a driver explains all about the "little" Amphicar that's cruising beside his "bigger" vehicle. The passengers are curious ... who is faster ... surely not that little toy. One thing leads to another and soon the driver has his passengers all pepped up for a race. The duck controls go full forward ... amphi keeps up ... the tourists chant "go go go" ... we shout over the roar of that big Stalwart engine asking "are we ready to race yet?" ... the duck replies "I'm goin' for it" ... just a little more "peddle to the metal" and the amphi pulls ahead. Not amazingly fast, but no doubt about who is the winner. The remodeled Austin Ducks do about 5 MPH in the water whereas the original shorter Stalwart was spec'd at 6 knots. In one race "for pink slips", the driver explained as he didn't have the title on him, would I accept a couple priceless "quackers" instead? So, now as the tourists quack away on their noise makers, we can quack right back at them. Everybody has a wonderful time with many more unique memories to take home.
The "Austin Duck" was originally a British Alvis Stalwart. It is similar to the DUKW built by General Motors for the United States Army, but different in many aspects. Early models used a gasoline powered Rolls Royce straight 8 while in the 80's the military promoted a conversion to diesel.
Although the Stalwart's were 6x6, the "Austin Ducks" are refurbished to only 4 wheel drive ... no power to one of the rear axles. The twin internal Dowry water jet drives are located high on each side by the trailing rear axle. Weighing in at about 23,000 pounds, they are definitely larger than an Amphicar!

Then there's the time one stalled out on the ramp, coasted backwards into water, and drifted. ... and drifted as the engine didn't want to catch. By the time the engine started again, he had drifted into a predicament. I'm not quite sure how he managed it, but he couldn't go forward in the mud, nor back up as a jet was plugged. The driver was embarassed and the passengers were wondering if they were going to have to swim to shore. So, lets have a little fun...
"Hey there, need a tow?" I offer as I hold up my tow strap.

Well open mouth and insert foot. He took me up on it!

Now what am I gonna do? Well okay, why not. At least it'll pass some time until one of the other tour boats can come to the rescue.... Gee, I know I can't budge him forward through all that soft mud. Good thing I don't draft anywhere near as much as he does... Maybe I can nudge him backward into deeper water.... How heavy is he anyway?... What can I hook onto in the Amphi?... Got to find something that won't pull off! Many thoughts go through my head.

The driver hooks one end to the back of his vehicle, and I loop the other end through the seat belts and out over the engine lid ... the strap pulls tight ... the seat belts are holding ... a little more gas ... we're kicking up a lot of water now ... but wait ... we're moving ... the passengers are clapping and cheering. The little Amphi that could ... Between the head lights and the curve of the bumper, you'd almost swear Amphi had a big grin. So now he's out in open water, but with a plugged jet he can't effectively navigate anywhere. So now the driver asks to be pulled over to the dock. Swing around to the front and attach the strap again.

Steering is quite a challenge with that big sea anchor behind you...

As if that wasn't enough excitement, a while later Lisa brings to my attention another duck across the lake that hasn't moved in a while... and there appears to be quite a trail of brown water behind it. Yup, he's managed to chew himself in about 100 feet into a "muck" bar, and he hasn't moved much in 20 minutes. So we head out to the other side of the lake again and pose that infamous question ... "Did you call for a tow truck?" This time the outcome was a little different. I couldn't budge him, lake rescue couldn't budge him, and neither could the park police boat. Another duck comes and I pass over my tow strap to combine together with theirs, but he can't get close enough in the shallow water without running aground himself. The passengers get ferried across the lake in several trips. I guess that's why it's called the "Austin Duck Adventures".

Click here for a follow up story on the 2004 sinking of an Austin Duck.

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