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Row, Row Your Boat

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Even when the snow falls and it's cold enough to form ice collars on his oars, Edmund Tarbell likes to go for a Sunday row. "Only the wind keeps me at home," says Tarbell, who runs a real estate business in Portsmouth, N.H.

Tarbell is a member of the River Rowing Society, a fraternity of a dozen or so oarsmen (and women) who row each Sunday from November through May out of Spruce Creek, a tidal river in southern Maine that flows into Portsmouth Harbor.

"Rowing on Sunday also cuts down on the church time," says Tarbell, citing the pleasures of his Sunday row in the coastal waters in and around Portsmouth. He'd add that rowing isn't just good for you, it's also a way to forget some of the problems of life ashore and concentrate on the patterns of birds feeding, the rip of an ebbing tide, or the wind as it swings into the southwest.

Tarbell rows Julie, 12 feet of cedar on oak with a pleasingly shaped wineglass stern. "She's a tender little thing," says Tarbell affectionately. "She likes to leak a little." Julie was built in Camden, Maine, in 1910. Tarbell paid $100 for her 10 years ago.

Today, the price of new wood or fiberglass rowing boats can run as high as $3,000, although there are new and used boats available for much less. For the do-it-yourselfer, there are kits and designs of boats to build on your own.

Recommended for those interested in rowing boats (whether it's a shell with sliding seat, a dory, dinghy, et al.): The Small Boat Journal, published bimonthly by Small Boat Journal Inc., P.O. Box 400, Bennington, VT 05201, and WoodenBoat, published bimonthly by WoodenBoat Publications Inc., P.O. Box 78, Brooklin, ME 04616.

HIS LOT IN SLOTS

Getting laid off from his job as an electrician was the best thing that ever happened to Steve Gronowski. Unemployment gave him the opportunity to turn his hobby -- buying and restoring antique slot machines -- into a business. Today Gronowski, 39, runs Mechanical Antiques and Amusements Co. out of his Chicago home.

Gronowski bought his first slot machine in 1961. He paid $6 for the 1932 machine, which was designed to deliver a gum ball with each play, as well as occasional payouts of coins, so it qualified as a vending, not a gambling, machine.Today, the machine would bring around $2,500.

Gronowski has always been a tinkerer: "As a kid I was always taking apart my wagons and putting them back together." His fascination with slot machines is an extension of this love for mechanical things. "It's virtually an early computer," says Gronowski. "It has a memory, and it knows when to pay off and when not to."

Since 1974, he has acquired, reconditioned, and sold slot machines and other penny arcade games, including peep shows, fortune-tellers, strength machines, and claw diggers. "I found I could buy a machine, fix it up, sell it, and have enough money to buy two more," says Gronowski, who also leases and services restored machines and reproductions in about 130 Chicago restaurants and stores.

"Finding machines is the secret of the business," he says. "Selling them is easy. Prices for restored slot machines have tripled, even quadrupled, in the last four years. Today they generally cost between $1,200 and $3,000."

Last updated: Feb 1, 1982




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