The Iowa Great Lakes have spawned many industries over the years: fishing, boat liveries, fishing gear, bait, docks, boat hoists, scuba diving, roller skating, dancing, music and boat building.
Boat building was a going industry here in the Lakes Area for many years. The Hafer launches were very popular, and the boat livery business had many rowboats. In 1940 there were more than 30 boat liveries on our lakes. John Hafer’s boat factory supplied most, but there were several other boat builders, and a few of the boat liveries produced their own. Hafer rowboats are distinguished by the champagne glass designed on the back of the rowboat. There is a Hafer rowboat on display at the Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum.
John Hafer has quite a history and although he was not a boat builder when he arrived at Spirit Lake, he was asked to construct one, and he did. We have no idea where he obtained the plans or lumber but do know that was his introduction to boat construction. John was challenged and met it, showing the character of the man. The following are some articles about John Hafer.
He and his family were said to have strolled into Spirit Lake in 1902. He began in carpentry work, where he quickly excelled.
"It was not long after that someone wanted a boat and there was no one who might be depended upon to get the proper curves but John Hafer," archives of the Spirit Lake Beacon said. "So this new carpenter was hired and he made the boat. That was the beginning. He has been busy winter and summer ever since building boats. He solicits no business. More come to him than he can care for."
Hafer was known to paint the water line on each boat he constructed — a display of his nautical know-how. The archives also told of a boat race Hafer's handiwork lost to an boat made by outside buildings. The next year, Hafer entered a new boat in the race to beat the previous year's champion.
"It was the wildest scene ever seen on Okoboji," the newspaper said. "Hafer’s launch shot through the water like the boat of a veritable Flying Dutchman. It threw a wave 10 feet into the air and made the onlookers hold their breath. Hafer had tied his companion on the stern of his boat that he might not fall off and that his weight would hold the nose of his launch well out of the water."
By 1950, Hafer had six men in his employ and produced about 10 launches and 50 rowboats each year, according to the archives, selling craft to customers as far away as Idaho. The sailboat "Golden Rule," which carried tourists around the lakes in those days was his handiwork.
Hafer died in early October of 1957 at the age of 94. He had called Spirit Lake his home for 61 years and served 28 years on the Spirit Lake Board of Education and was named the Kiwanis Club's "Citizen of the Year" in 1954, according to the Beacon archives.
The athletic field near Spirit Lake High School was named in Hafer's honor, and a motorized launch he built is on display at the Maritime Museum in Arnolds Park.