- Associated Press - Saturday, February 11, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - There must be some mistake. There’s no fabulous pontoon boat in Jeremy Little’s garage, only one that has been crunched in half by some kind of accident.

Then he presses a button, and the thing expands like a balloon to take shape, the Pioneer Press (https://bit.ly/2k3QgaO ) reported.

“Ta-dah!” said Little, a 33-year-old college student and inventor, as his Unique Pontoons boat expands to its full width.

Little and his now-deceased father invented it in their Oakdale home, in the Minnesota-style version of the American dream. He worked hard, saved enough money, and kept the dream alive after his father died in 2013.

Now, the boat made its debut at the Minneapolis Boat Show in January, and Little is taking orders on his website. The base price is $54,900.

“I wish my dad could have been here to see this,” said Little, gazing at the boat in his Oakdale garage. “He’d have been proud.”

As a kid, Little recalls shopping for pontoon boats with his dad.

“They were all 8 feet wide,” said Little. That conformed to dry-land trailer regulations, but “on the water, there are no regulations about width.”

Little said his father, Mark, came up with the idea of a folding boat.

“Twelve years ago, he pitched it to me,” recalled Little. They started with a 4-foot model, then a full-sized all-steel prototype.

They began to tinker with ideas - built-in trailer with retractable wheels, collapsible trailer hitch, folding deck. The boat is protected by several patents, he said.

His father died in 2013 of a lung disease.

“A week before, we were playing cribbage in our kitchen. He was on oxygen and couldn’t talk much,” said Little.

“He said, ‘You know, Jer, we have put our hearts into that thing. Don’t give up on it.”

But Little struggled. Money was short, so he worked 40 hours a week in a steel foundry, and 40 more in overtime.

Finally, he saved enough to get started. He lined up manufacturing sites and contracts and made an all-aluminum version of the boat. It won the grand prize at the Minnesota Inventors Congress Innovation Expo in 2015.

Today Little is a student at the University of St. Thomas, majoring in entrepreneurship. In fact, he already is a bit of an expert in that field. “Lots of the students come to me for advice,” he said.

He showed off his creation in his Oakdale home last week.

When fully unfolded, the boat is a monster - 24 feet by 11.5 feet. “You could have a square-dance here,” said Little, lounging on one of the benches.

The boat seats 16. It weighs 2,800 pounds - but it’s probably easier to get into the water than a canoe.

To launch it, the driver unlocks the trailer hitch and backs into the water. The trailer hitch floats off - no one has to touch it.

In the next minute, three things happen at once. The wheels are raised, the deck unfolds flat, and the trailer hitch retracts like a turtle pulling its head into a shell.

Little demonstrated it in his garage, grinning like a kid catching his first fish.

“My father used to say,” said Little, “that this is going to revolutionize the pontoon boat industry.”

___

Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, https://www.twincities.com

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