By Eugene Buchanan
Play kayaks may be getting shorter and rounder, but they got nothing on what Mullen, Neb.’s Glidden Canoe Rentalputs its customers in. Located on the Middle Loup River, it shoves customers off in … water tanks for cattle.
Owner Mitch Glidden got the idea for the livestock tanks about 12 years ago when a friend took one down on a whim and said it was great. “He ran me down with him the next day, and I bought three of them that afternoon,” he says.
Glidden now has 30 of the $400 tanks, in nine-foot, eight-foot and slightly smaller diameters, each with custom-built benches inside. On a good weekend, he says, with cows watching curiously form shore, he’ll put more than 200 people in the water on them, easily dwarfing the business he does in canoes and rec kayaks (his rental fleet also includes 42 Old Town canoes and 40 rec kayaks). “Almost anyone can hop in a tank, from age 2 to 92,” says Glidden, who also rents canoe (but not tanks) for trips down the trickier Dismal River nearby. “They’re great for family reunions and other gatherings.”
He adds that they’re also good for bringing new blood into the sport. “You get ‘em in a tank at age 2 and by age 6 they’re ready to kayak,” he says.
He also hosts a Polar Bear Tank Race the first Saturday of every March, consisting of both racing and float teams. This year, the first four finishers placed within a minute of each other.
Rental customers use them for either a two- or six-hour stretch on the Middle Loup River, which although tranquil, has plenty of twists and turns. To shuttle them, he uses a customized 16-foot stock trailer that he sawed the top off of, letting him roll the tanks underneath like Russian Matryoshka dolls. The smallest ones fit inside the eight-footers, which nestle inside the nine-footers. “I can get about 10 on a trailer at a time,” he says.
About the only thing they lack is hull speed and handling. “You’d be surprised how well they paddle,” he says, “but they’re a little different than a canoe. They don’t react right now—you have to start your paddling a little before you normally do.”
And, of course, they’re a bit hard to steer. “They’re kind of like bumper cars,” he says. “You do a little banging off trees and things.”