Red Devils bobsled team, Charlie Keough center top Charlie Keough as the 1989 Winter Carnival King
Born: October 30, 1915
Died: June 4, 1999
Married: Doris Allison Meury in 1948
Children: Three daughters: Lynn, Mary Lou and Amy
In his eighty-three years Charles "Charlie" Keough was known for many different reasons. In his lifetime he served as an Army Air Force major and as mayor of Saranac Lake, but he also loved speed and raced both bobsleds and hydroplanes. He was intrigued by machines and excelled both as mechanic and boat restorer.
In his youth, he first gained attention as a competitor in a ten mile sled-dog race from Saranac Lake to Lake Placid. He won the race in one hour, thirty-nine minutes and thirty seconds little more than a half hour after the first adult competitor crossed the finish line. This exploit was not only reported in the local paper, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, but it also was reported by the New York Times on February 12, 1928. The Times made much of his youth, only twelve years of age, and his determination despite his extreme weariness. As he grew from a boy to a young man he made the transition from sled-dog racing to bobsled and, in 1940, Charlie Keough became one of the founding members of the Saranac Lake Bobsled Club1 The Times continued to follow Charlie Keough reporting in February 1941, "Charles Keough, daring Saranac Lake youth, won his first major bobsledding title today by driving his crew to victory in the National A.A.U. junior four-man event on the Mount Van Hoevenberg run." 2 He also experimented with ski jumping from the twenty meter ski jump at the Turtle Pond Club using waxed wooden barrel components. In his teenage years he was a running guard for the Saranac Lake High School football team and also skated for the hockey team.
In his early adult years he tended the locks on the Saranac River before he was hired as a mechanic by Frank Baker, the owner of the Frank M. Baker Boat and Motor Business, a local marina. This allowed Charlie to earn his living doing something he loved rather than following in the footsteps of his father and brother, both undertakers. Working at the marina enabled Keough to pursue his love of speed. In the winter off-season, he learned to drive a bobsled and lead the Saranac Lake Red Devils Bobsled Team in both the two and four-man sleds. In addition Keough, along with Hector Woods, owned and operated the Sky View Ski area at Donnelly's. The ski slope used a lift of Keough's own design: a tree served as the deadhead while a rope ran off the rear wheels of Ford Truck through a pole and pulley system. The entire lift was powered by the V-8 engine of the Ford Truck.
A small hydroplane, c. 1950, at the Lake Flower Runabout Roundup.
In summertime, hydroplane racing fulfilled his need for speed. Charlie purchased a hydroplane hull, slender, and all of ten feet long with only half a foot of freeboard. He equipped this fragile craft with a small Johnson engine and competed in a race from Albany to New York City. His rig, the Sea Horse, finished third overall and first in its category. The finish is all the more impressive considering that only four of the original 127 entrants completed the race. Racers had to dodge floating obstacles such as railroad ties, dead animals and utility poles in the northern reach of the river and then encountered five foot waves just north of the finish line, with rain and snow in New York City. Keogh rode it out on a machine at a speed of forty miles and hour on a hull, without a seat, riding just above the waves.
World War II interrupted Charlie Keogh's pursuit of speed in bobsleds and hydroplanes. Despite suffering from vertigo, he served in the U.S. Army Air Force readying B-17 crews for battle in the European theater. His brief career in the military included a sojourn in Guam as a combat maintenance officer. He earned a bronze star for his leadership of B-29 Superfortress crews, ensuring that his crews maintained aircraft presence over key enemy areas.
Eagle Nest at the Adirondack Museum
On his return to Saranac Lake in 1946, speed, the 1948 Olympics and the bobsled beckoned. Although he designed and constructed a swifter four-man bobsled, adult responsibilities intervened. He met and married Doris Allison Meury and eventually bought Frank Baker's marina in 1947. Starting a family and running a marina left him with little opportunity to train. His career as competitive bobsledder and hydroplane racer ended but he continued his love of machines by tinkering and fine tuning engines in his boatshop at the marina. His work was well-known and appreciated by the wealthy residents of the St. Regis Lakes. Keough frequently worked with the well-respected guideboat builder Willard Hanmer. Keough worked on engines while Hanmer repaired hulls. Only after Hanmer's death in 1962, did Keough's attention shift from fine-tuning engines to wooden boat restoration.
The Eagle Nest, Charlie Keough's most impressive boat restoration, resides at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. The boat belonged to Harold K. Hochschild, the museum's founder. After serving as the Hochschild's family launch, the formerly elegant boat toiled as towing rig for lumberman and was left behind decaying in the forest with a tree sprouting in its hull. While some regarded the decrepit 1905 gas launch, manufactered by Lozier Boatworks of Plattsburgh, as a hunk of junk, Keough was intrigued and rose to the challenge. He recovered a Lozier engine submerged in one of the St. Regis Lakes and returned it to working order. He used original drawings, obtained from the boat's naval architect's widow, in his restoration work. He gleaned fittings, refashioned the deck and re-installed a number of hull boards. The success of this restoration lead to two others, Camp Katia and Skeeter, also on display at the museum in Blue Mountain Lake. Work on the 1906 speedboat "Skeeter" necessitated the removal of the craft from a small pond at the museum to Keough's workshop in Saranac Lake. For this undertaking Keough designed and constructed a custom cradle so the boat could travel by flat bed trailer. The engine, one of the first manufactured in the United States and weighing almost 2,000 pounds, made the trip to the "Little City" in the bed of Charlie's pickup truck.3
In addition to restoring boats Charlie Keough was also noted for his involvement in the village's annual winter carnival. Beginning in 1954, he supervised the construction of the ice palace that serves as a focal point for the celebration. One of his important contributions was a custom made ice block maker. This insured that the rectangular pieces of ice were of equal size. His device cut blocks of ice then the blocks were lifted by conveyor belt to an eight foot ramp with a wooden chute. The blocks, weighing four-hundred pounds, would travel down the chute to the ice palace and a crane would assemble the ice into walls and turrets. In 1956, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise described the previous year's ice palace as “...a tremendous asset and we know the 1956 version will be a sparkling shining highlight....” The article “Cold and Rugged” praised Keough specifically and emphasized the dangerous work in extreme conditions of frigid air and sharp wind as well as the investment of time and long-term planning involved in creating the temporary castle. 4
Engine of the Skeeter, a Charlie Keough restoration, at the Adirondack Museum
With a reputation as a gentleman and as someone who could get a job done right, Charlie Keough was elected mayor of Saranac Lake in 1975. With George Stearns and Howard Riley, Keough ran on an independent party ticket called the "Integrity Party." During his tenure as mayor, he was noted for his fairness. During the period of urban renewal that saw the construction of Riverside Park and the DEC public boat launch, he voted to demolish and remove the deteriorating buildings hugging the shores of Lake Flower, including his own marina. In addition to the riverside park project, Bill McLaughlin recalled, “he was seriously thinking of resurrecting and re-establishing brick streets for the Village of Saranac Lake. The brick as we all know is just a few inches down....Charlie even wanted to go so far as to bar certain parts of Main Street to automotive traffic and would have made a pedestrian type of mall with tables and chairs. It would reflect continental atmosphere if I can recall Charlie's projections correctly.” 5 He was a popular and well-liked mayor who put the well-being of village residents at the forefront. In 1979 after he supported a sensible but then unpopular idea, fluoridation of drinking water, he was voted out of office.
In 1981 Charlie Keough became only the seventh individual to be named Citizen of the Year. The award was presented by the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce; its recipient exemplifies one who strives to make the village a better place to live. At the time he received the award he served as a member of the North Elba Town Board and Commodore of the Saranac Lake Boat and Waterways Club. 6
Source: Packard, George R. "Travels with Charlie". Adirondack Life. June 2000. Volume XXXI, Number 3.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, August 11, 1976
The recent "street talk" that the Mayor looked tired and probably would resign has all but been squelched, and it appears now that Charlie Keough is regaining the physical form that made him a perennial threat in the Poughkeepsie to New York outboard motorboat marathon and other demanding tests of the human frame and mind.
Charlie, of course, is (going through some major upheavals in both his personal conditioning and the relocating of his marina and boat business. Recent hospitalization had left him somewhat weakened in spirit. Still it was only a year ago that he washout there on Lake Flower in a canoe-tilting match that left the spectators breathless, and the keynote to his success has always been action.
So people have grown to expect action from the mayor, and his administration has been speckled with highlights which taken singly seem unobtrusive but collectively will constitute a tidy package of historical notes in the transfiguration of Saranac Lake.
As a nautical historian he has no peer, and in dismantling his old showrooms and workshop he has found on occasion something in the nature of a mildewed picture of faded news item that needs airing.
Questions directed at the Mayor are answered with a minimum of head-scratching and a degree of accuracy that is frightening when you compare your own senility and rate of decay with that of Charlie who fairly beams with renewed vigor whenever discussing the golden years of the community.
It is probably that retention of historian highlights which makes him so eager to bring the village back to what it was. He is pretty, tenacious about doing the job, and happily for all of us, not much for pigeonholing problems which arise at the board meetings.
Taxpayers may get slightly miffed at various approaches to problems confronting the board, but they never get vitriolic, and he rules the roost with somewhat of an iron hand.
We had sounded out Charlie on several occasions about the demise of the famous inboard races on Lower Lake and wondered at the possibility of resurrection. Boats currently are having their day in the sun in nearly every shape and in every manner of locomotion.
St. Bernard's Cemetery
You can't imagine the excitement and thrill of the inboard races on Lower Lake when John A. Galloway's hydroplane, Sally Waters, was first unveiled in 1927.
Charlie Keough retains mental files on boats that raced in the local inboard regatta from the beginning of time itself, but it looks now as if the environmentalists have won the battle to keep marine motors and petroleum pollution extremely well contained.
Charlie is usually torn between his love of boat racing and his even greater love of the Adirondacks. His restored classic inboards at the Blue Mountain Lake Museum attest to both in a blend of harmonious and compatible artistry.
Harry Duso also found early day water sports a challenge and entered his Class B Bobolink in every race available. Harry never ran out of the money.
The Enterprise has searched its files assiduously for pictures of Sally Waters, C.J. Swain's Hoodoo, D.C. Arnold's Tinker Bell, Mrs. C.M. Hyde's Muguet, or John A. Galloway's other perennial winner, Miss Chevy, without success.
- 1McLauglin, Bill and Riley, Howard. “BOBSLED BRIEFS” Adirondack Daily Enterprise, February 3, 1961.
- 2“U.S. BOBSLED TITLE CAPTURED BY KEOUGH; He Drives Crew to Victory in Four-Man Junior Event,“ New York Times, N.Y., February 3, 1941
- 3“1906 Speedboat ‘In Drydock’ at Keough's” Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Saranac Lake, N.Y. Thursday, December 14, 1967
- 4“Cold and Rugged” Adirondack Daily Enterprise Saranac Lake, N.Y. February 3, 1956
- 5McLauglin, Bill. “Editorial ‘Pot’ Pourri” Adirondack Daily Enterprise. Saranac Lake, N.Y. March 27, 1984
- 6Conzola II, E.J. “Charlie Keough named 'citizen of the year'”, Adirondack Daily Enterprise. Saranac Lake, N.Y. June 8, 1981.