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The time of their lives

Three boys in a rowboat - what can one say?

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It's just a snapshot, a spur-of-the-moment photograph from 1949 taken by a Long Island, N.Y., fisherman as he set out for the day. Millions like it lie forgotten in closets, drawers and shoeboxes, attics, basements and storage bins.

This one, however, is a survivor, preserved by the boys' family, an artifact that hints at a vanished way of boating and perhaps a simpler past that, for some, still seems as if it were only yesterday.

The lad in the middle is 10-year-old Bill Lieblein, shown with his younger brother, Peter, to the left, and his older cousin, Herman. Clad only in swimsuits, the three are ready to earn some pocket money at the family boatyard, Port of Egypt Marine, on Long Island's North Fork.

They sit aboard one of the 60-odd boats - mostly rowboats - in the yard's rental fleet. Their boat, however, is powered by a 4.5-hp Evinrude Zephyr, and that makes it special. For a 10-cent tip, Bill and his crew would use the powerboat to tow a customer with an engineless rowboat to and from the Southold Bay fishing grounds. It was good business - and it was fun.

Growing up at the boatyard was a special experience, says Lieblein, now CEO of the 150-slip marina. He recalls helping his father get the boats ready in the morning, setting out the necessary gear and putting engines on the few that used them. He guided arriving anglers to parking spots, unloaded their gear - and offered a tow. There was bait to prepare, so washing and packing squid was another chore. But the worst was bailing the 60-odd boats after a rain - at a nickel a boat.

It was a lot of work for a young boy, and it often required long hours. But Lieblein wouldn't change a moment of it. "Being on the water especially ... it was a way of life that will never be seen again," he says. "It was awesome."

This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue.