|Al and Magic City at Billings|
Day 2 (1/8/13)
At 9 o’clock Sunday July 27th 1952 Al Urness set out from the east bridge on Harding road, Billings Montana to start his adventure up the Yellowstone and down the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. In the kayak named “Magic City” he plans on floating to the Gulf of Mexico and then sail on to Miami, Florida. He made his 8 ft craft out of salvaged aluminum with a width of 20 inches and a weight of just 40 to 90 pounds (depending on the article). It is equipped with two air tanks as flotation devises one mounted fore and one aft. Urness is depending on the kayak to also serve as a life preserver and has mounted ropes on the sides to hold on to in the event of capsizing. Again, depending on the article, he was either a good swimmer or couldn't swim at all. Apparently, he was able to try the buoyancy of his kayak on his trial run when he ran into a car body and a tree that forced him underwater but was saved by the built-in air tanks. Unfortunately, this wasn't the last time he was going to need the flotation devises. In the Billings Gazette from August 1 1952 he reported that he dumped the small craft 20 times on the rough Yellowstone River. The last one almost cost him his life.
Urness wrote that Monday night about two miles below Pompey’s Pillar he and his craft were washed under a fallen tree. A rope around his waist and fastened to his paddle worked up around his neck, but he escaped with a "bad rope burn on my right forearm." Unable to hold the boat as he had done previously, Urness spent 24 hours about 15 inches above the whirlpool." Members of the Charles Althoff family heard his cries, investigated and Urness was rescued by Charles Althoff, who arrived in a motorboat "a feat of very good piloting, I assure you." Urness said he was too bruised, sore and tired to swim, the material in his pants wouldn't hold air to serve as a life preserver and the fork of the tree in which he was crouched had started splitting when help arrived. Althoff was helped by John Chappell, Jr., and a Mr. Grice, (winners in the June Laurel-Billings motorboat race), and Gene Crenshaw, all of Pompey’s Pillar, in fishing the upside-down kayak from the river a half mile below. All that was missing was a razor given Urness after he lost his first one in a spill just two miles from Billings.
After this event Al decided to follow the advice of some locals, who told him the river only got worse until Glendive, Montana, and shipped the boat on ahead to Glendive. Urness said that the “Magic City” was incredibly stable but wasn't built to sideswipe trees and boulders. From there he made his way slowly, about 15 to 20 miles a day, down the Yellowstone River. As he drifted he would draw sketches and make notes on the landscape which would later be used to make oil paintings. When he needed food or supplies he would stop and barter with his paint brush. He only carried a bedroll, a change of clothing and enough food to get him to the next stop. Eventually in September he made it to Intake, where the Yellowstone meets the Missouri, and decided to hole up for the winter. He spent the winter painting and doing repairs to “Magic City” which included some outriggers.