U grad student, teammates win milk carton boat race

Amy Olson

To University graduate Chuck Ley, nothing could be finer than boating on a Minnesota lake on a sunny, hot July day — unless you throw in a $500 prize.
Ley, from Richfield, Minn., and his teammates from the Hosokawa Bepex Company in Minneapolis did just that.
Ley and his team members from Bepex won first place for creativity Sunday in the Minneapolis Aquatennial’s milk carton boat race on Lake Nokomis.
The team’s boat, “The Bum Steer,” was made from more than 2,000 half-gallon paper milk cartons.
“After a while, some of the milk cartons didn’t smell too good,” Carol Ley said. “Some of them were pretty ripe.”
Ley said his team chose the name because they wanted to link it to the “bovine theme” of the milk carton races and because they weren’t sure what direction the boat would go with eight people paddling.
The contest had speed and creativity categories with different levels for boats made from 1,000 and 2,000 milk cartons.
Ley, who graduated from the Carlson School of Management, works for Bepex as a test engineer to inspect the industrial equipment the company makes for the food and chemical industries. He organized the boat-building team as an after-work activity.
The team began designing the Steer in April and started building it in May. Ley said the boat took up most of his garage, forcing him to park his car in the driveway.
Erik Nelson, one of Ley’s teammates and co-workers from Bepex, said the team worked on the boat Wednesday nights. Kirk Nelson, Erik’s brother who works for a different company, said the team even built a model using Lego toys to visualize how the boat would look once it was put together.
The Bum Steer quickly became a family project as well. Ley recruited his mother and father, who live next door to him, to help work on the boat on weekends.
While the boat crossed the finish line, the race was not without its share of mishaps. Toward the end of the race, Erik said, the front right part of the boat began to take on water, and most of the team members had wet shoes and shorts at the end.
But getting wet didn’t put a damper on the day’s fun.
“It’s like being in a bath tub,” Ley said, noting the warm water, adding it felt good in the hot weather.
This is the second year Ley has organized a team for the race. Last year’s entry, “Ship of Fools,” won first place for the speed race.
Ley and his teammates saved the Steer’s large, black paddle wheels with “Goodyear Aqua-Tread” painted in white. Ley said he will probably organize another team next year, but hopes they will build the boat at someone else’s house.
Winning the race made up for some of the odor and all the work put into building the Bum Steer.
“He’ll be floating the rest of the day,” said Dick Ley.
Kirk Nelson said all the team members had a good time in the competition.
“It was nice to see our efforts rewarded,” Nelson said. “It was a lot of fun.”