“Cabin Fever,” We’ve Found A Cure!

Watching the Putt Putt Tugboat....it's good therapy! The boat will get a real work-out this summer on the farm pond.

Have you had the urge to go outside even in the rain, snow or dark? It could be that you have cabin fever. As early as 1918 this term was used to diagnose someone who was restless, frustrated with everyday objects, forgetful, who slept a lot and was “dying” to get outside.

Therapy for cabin fever is as simple as getting out and interacting with nature. For my husband and I, we have never been shut-up in a ship for a long period of time, isolated in an Alaskan winter or trapped in a cabin in a blizzard. In fact, people wonder how we can keep on-the-go, like we do. Last Saturday we went to an event called “Cabin Fever Model Engineering Show.” For the first time, we came upon a unique and amazing, technical wonder, a Putt Putt boat.

The “Cabin Fever Show” we attended is an event where men display the wonders of their handiwork. Featured were beautifully constructed steam engines, trains, boats, steam powered construction equipment, and an array of tools, and every gadget imaginable that would interest such men. It’s a great event for anyone suffering from cabin fever in the middle of January.

How it is that we had never seen a Putt Putt boat before, is beyond my imagination for my husband has tinkered with every technical wonder there is, or so I thought. Tucked among the hundreds of displays at “Cabin Fever” was a very, personable man whose display table had rows and rows of little tin boats. We stood watching one of these little boats running around and around in a galvanized, wash tub of water. Beside me stood two boys, about twelve years old, who had out their wallets and with big smiles on their faces exclaimed how they come each year to the event to buy Putt Putt Boats and the necessary paraphernalia to operate them.

Was this something new on the market? No! A Frenchman, Thomas Piot, filed a patent for a “pop pop” boat in 1891. A similar boat remained popular for many years, especially in the 1940’s and 1950’s, but then declined in popularity along with other tin toys as plastic toys took over much of the market. However, these boats are still being produced today and are shipped here from India.

The amazing thing about the Putt Putt Boat  is its simple construction, many families have fun building them at home, out of aluminum pie tins and plastic straws. Yet, they are self-propelled by an internal engine, a simple heat engine. This consists of a small boiler, connected to an exhaust tube. When heat is applied to the boiler, expanding steam pushes water in the exhaust tube, propelling the boat forward. They are sometimes known as candle boats and before fuel cells were produced for them, mom’s candles were cut into pieces to provide fuel to run the boats.

I just know that many of you are thinking, ” where have you been all your life, Shirl?” In fact, many of you may make Putt Putt boats as a family project. Full instructions can be found on the internet. For many decades tin steam-powered boats have brought excitement to everyone who has had a chance to own them.  I’m thinking that Putt Putt Boats may even cure the claustrophobic reaction to the malady, cabin fever. How? Bent over the wash tub in which the boat is going round and round and you begin to feel as if you are outdoors near a pond or lake. Have cabin fever? try this remedy!  ( In case you are wondering, we could not resist the appeal of the little boats, and we are now the proud owners of our very own Putt Putt Boat!)

16 thoughts on ““Cabin Fever,” We’ve Found A Cure!

  1. Ahhhh…. Thanks for bringing back, sweet memories. We had a steam engine that we enjoyed for years, until we ran out of the “white fuel cell bricks” needed to run the engine.


  2. Hi Nana,
    I really miss Cabin Fever!!! I am always amazed at the creations that the talented individuals at the event can produce. The venerable Putt-Putt boat, however, is a testament that complexity is not necessarily the key to get atttention!!! (at least not mine?) They demonstrate true beauty in simplicity. River got one (from India) for Christmas last year and we have had a lot of fun playing with it- I have no idea how we failed to show it to you while you were here??? A few years back, I made a few out of an orange juice carton, some straws and a Coke can. There is a science teacher on Youtube giving a step-by-step guide on building one this way. I highly reccomend anyone with children to build one of these (then buy one on Ebay for $6.00).

    Pop, before you set sail on the farm pond, maybe you could add some micro r/c gear just to steer that cute little tug!!! ( I think that an actuator setup from BSDmicrorc would do fine?!!!)

    Love & Miss you guys,


    p.s.- Tiffy said that the two of you look so cute in the photo!!!!!


    • Thanks Jon for your comment. We thought of you at the event, in fact we got one of those remarkable boats for you. Now you’ll have two. Since you know what you’re talking about, you should have written the post. 🙂 God bless you, Jon.


  3. I am curious about how a putt putt boat works and what it does? Does it wind up or is it powered by a small motor? It sounds like there were lots of interesting things to see at the “Cabin Fever Show”. It is always intriguing to see other people’s creations. It sounds like a fun event! You always seem to find “different” things to do!


    • Hi Colleen: It’s powered by burning cooking oi1. A tiny wick is supplied or a slice of a candle can be used. You light it, it heats the water, which is run through a tiny channel on the bottom of the boat. This builds steam and it propels the boat. It’s rather remarkable. You can find all the information you need on the internet. I am amazed at how interested you are in nearly everything. Thanks for your comments.


  4. Very interesting article about “Cabin Fever” and how to get rid of it. Enough information to explain “Cabin Fever” and an interesting solution for a cure. Don’t remember ever seeing a Putt Putt Boat either, but sounds like it would be fun to make and perhaps the act of making the boat would be enough to cure that “Cabin Fever”.


  5. Kind of guessed by the picture you had one. But before I read the story the first thing that came to mind was . . . what has Burl built now? No, I have never heard of them, but will check the internet. Thanks for a good story.


    • Hi Emerson: When I wrote this post I said to Burl, “Emerson will know about these boats.” I was sure your family would have built them as one of your projects. Didn’t you always have some crafty project underway? It’s not too late, yet. 🙂


  6. Shirley,
    You might not want to encourage Emerson too much about getting one. We don’t have room enough to store it for several years before he gets around to building it, . . . that is, if he ever does do it. lol

    I sure wouldn’t want to interfere with the project he’s taken on lately of drying dishes so the drain is empty. I love that man!!


    • Hi Rosina: His latest project is the best. Maybe the next one will take him to the dish pan. I wonder if we should tell him the boats can be purchased already built? They are sold on the internet for $6.00. I won’t be the one to tell him. I love the way you and Emerson respond and encourage me with my blog. Hope you are both well. Take care and God bless.




    • I look forward to hearing from you each week. I hope you are doing well and enjoying a bit cooler weather. Still looking for you on face book. Keep up your organ playing. God bless, will talk some day.


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