A Boy of Many Hats

Joshua Gleason, 14, at the helm of the M.S. Liberty, with his family in tow. Photo by Ellen Cornett
by David Diehl

Over the past half a year, those of us who have been fortunate enough to stay safe have been afforded a great deal of time. We were asked to stay home, stay isolated, and to stay healthy. During this time, we were given the opportunity to spend extra time with family, take care of ourselves, and generate creativity. When unique situations like this arise, we often find ourselves in the position of asking: “Have we used this time wisely?” “Despite the circumstances, are we satisfied with our own productivity?” “Did we, perhaps, build a boat?” Joshua Gleason built a boat. Oh yeah, and he’s only 14 years old.

Just a freshman at Naples Central School, Joshua is more than your average school student waiting for the bus and giving an apple to the teacher. In fact, his father Ben built a sheltered bus stop at the end of the family’s long winding driveway – and then Joshua reworked the stop and turned it into a shop. He now sells crafts (made by himself, his mother, and his younger brother) and eggs (from the 20 chickens on their property) out of the store to neighbors and customers driving by.

It’s hard to imagine juggling this schedule of ambitions and projects as an adult, but Joshua seems cool and collected wearing the hats of entrepreneur, manufacturer, and student. At home, he maintains the shop, a self-built “snack shack,” and greenhouse. He’s also a Boy Scout and has taken particular interest in the Robotics Club at his school. Both activities are a shock to no one. But March, of course, threw a significant wrench into the daily mix, and Joshua needed a new project. One he could do on his own. Fortunately, one drifted
his way.

“I started building the boat just as the quarantine began,” Joshua explains. “A few different things inspired me. When I was in the Adirondacks, one of my dad’s friends challenged me to make a boat, and I constructed this weird raft thing and it didn’t really float. I looked online, and there were a lot of cool little boats out there – so I thought that would be fun and interesting. I’ve always liked being on boats on Honeoye Lake. It’s a different feeling than anything else.”

The look of the boat is dynamic, sporting red and blue throughout the body and hood. It is also fully equipped, and thoroughly checked out by Joshua himself. “The boat has tons of features,” he says. “The outboard motor is a 1956 Johnson motor, it’s a 15 horse. I made a cable steering system that connects into the steering wheel. As you turn the steering wheel it pulls the boat left and right.” The boat also has a shifter system that uses two cables to pull both the throttle and the shifting. Joshua explains that “with boats, you have to shift and go forward and adjust your speed with the same lever. So it consists of a forward, reverse, and how fast you go.”

So far, Joshua guesses he’s had the boat at about 20 mph, noting that they will have to track the speed at some point.

“Everything on the boat is regulation and up to code,” he insists. “I researched everything online, figured out what side to put each light on. I learned everything so that I could take the boater’s safety course, which took about six hours.”

“He’s the only one in the family who has one now,” his father Ben explains.

From a young age, Joshua was interested in the way things were made, and would often gravitate toward the plumbing aisle at the hardware store. His parents remember him carrying around plumbing parts and tools.

“Whenever we would go to a public restroom, Joshua would end up looking underneath the sink,” says Ben. “He was curious as to how they plumbed sinks. He likes to improve on things. He sees an idea and he likes to improve on it.”

“He’s always been hands-on and very mechanical,” says Joshua’s mother Rachel. “There are things that Joshua does that I cannot wrap my brain around. He thinks that way – he sees things that way. I’m always amazed by that.”

Proud parents Ben and Rachel encouraged Joshua’s unique skill set and interests, first by helping him with the engineering, and now by getting him the parts he needs.

Now they can play the role of proud passengers on the M.S. Liberty, the name Joshua attached to his patriotic motorboat. M.S. stands for Motor Ship, and Liberty was chosen, in part, to the boat’s bell. The bell had a crack down the side of it, much like the Liberty Bell. Guess who fixed it? And now the bell can be heard well across Honeoye Lake.

The boat was originally launched on Memorial Day and attracted quite an ovation near the fireworks this Independence Day. Joshua and the M.S. Liberty have become local celebrities in the Finger Lakes. Next time you’re at Honeoye Lake, keep an eye out for the red and blue vessel and an ear out for the ‘Liberty Bell.’ Joshua will be proudly at the helm.

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