Now in his 38th year of running Phoenicia’s Town Tinker, renting out giant inner tubes for rides down the Esopus Creek, Harry Jameson has put his operation on the market. When asked why, he had a simple answer: “When I’m not running this business, I’ll have a lot more time to go tubing.”
When Jameson started the Town Tinker in 1980, all he provided was the tubes. Customers paid their money and then wondered how they were going to get back to Phoenicia. “If I had two people, I’d have them hang out in the shade,” said Jameson. “When two more would come along, I’d introduce them, and now there would be two cars, so they could drive one to the end of the route and drive the other one back. There are people who made lifelong friends that way.”
As the business grew, he began providing transportation by way of repurposed school buses, later offering required life jackets and optional helmets. Now the price tag of $1.695 million includes the barn on Bridge Street; the parking lot; a picnic area with changing booths and running water; a retail trailer for selling T-shirts, souvenirs, and sodas; three buses; one truck modified to carry 50 tubes at a time; plus life jackets, helmets, wetsuits, and approximately 1500 tubes with wooden seats attached, 1000 of which are ready to roll at any given time.
Jameson, who tubed the creek every summer while growing up in Chichester, loves the way tubing brings people close to nature. Perched on a tube, he’s seen a bear swim from shore to shore, watched deer, blue herons, and mink, and observed an eagle catching and devouring a fish. One year, he had a camp group of 100 kids who returned from their ride to discover six boys were missing. For two hours, Jameson and his staff scoured the banks but found no sign of the boys or their tubes. Finally he climbed over a berm and found them sitting in a large gully. When he demanded to know what they were doing, they said, “Shhh!” and pointed. They had sat there for two hours watching a beaver chew on a tree.
Another kid was riding down a placid section of the creek when he saw a trout jumping. The 24-inch rainbow landed in his lap. The boy had been fishing with his father, so he grabbed the biggest fish he’d ever caught and brought it home.
“This is not an amusement park,” said Jameson. “Of course, the adrenaline rush is part of it, but we’re also exposing people to nature.” Getting to spend time on the creek was one of his motivations for going into the tubing business, after a detour into the tech world. At Onteora High School, he found an affinity for drafting and took all the classes available, thinking he might become a draftsman. A field trip to IBM cured him of that ambition when he saw rows of men with thick glasses leaning over their work under fluorescent lights, looking as if they never saw the sun. “I decided I’d be a forest ranger,” recalled Jameson.
During four years in the Navy, he operated and maintained flight simulators, which later led to a suit-and-tie job as a field engineer. Weary of life on the road, he returned to Phoenicia, bringing along a 1954 Jaguar XK-140 roadster he had bought in Texas. He needed a space to work on the car, so he bought the barn on Bridge Street, where the Jaguar still sits, an elegant, dusty shell.
The barn became his base of operations when he had the idea to give the public the same thrill he’d experienced as a boy, riding the rapids. Since then, he has built up a thriving business, providing summer jobs for local teens. Last year, having bought out his competitor, Jameson cornered the local tubing market and was able to raise his prices slightly. A standard package — tube, life jacket, and transportation — now costs $30 per day. With the steady increase of summer visitors to Phoenicia, he expects continued business growth. In his search for a buyer, he said, “I’m looking for someone who’s ready to make an investment.”