Oshkosh - Inside, the coffee is on and the wood stove is burning.
Outside, there is cold and ice.
This is where Jeff Jacobs lives: a 42-year-old, 35-foot houseboat with a dead engine stuck in the ice on the Fox River until spring.
It wasn't meant to be this way.
Beset by financial problems after brain surgery at the Mayo Clinic, losing his business caring for the elderly and developmentally disabled, getting divorced, losing his house in foreclosure and having his tow boat repossessed, the unemployed 54-year-old subsists on disability payments.
Despite the setbacks, he considers himself fortunate.
"It is difficult to feel sorry for yourself because I'm living in a boat. I'm better off than so many others. I could be under a bridge or in a cardboard box," said the self-described river rat.
When he first arrived at the park dock after towing the boat on the river from Omro, a man who was living in his small car greeted him, saying, "God, I wish I had one of these, and he kept talking and said, 'At least you can stretch out.' "
Jacobs, who has lived on the boat for about a year, purchased it 15 years ago at an auction by Rawhide Boys Ranch and had it tied up at his home on an island in the Fox River near Omro. It became his home after the foreclosure.
Some days he has a steady stream of strangers dropping by with donations of food and clothes that he in turn donates to people who are needier. A local store gave him a cell phone to use, although he does have VHF radio in the boat in case of an emergency.
"People are afraid I'm going to freeze to death or starve to death. . . . I've always had food and I'm not starving to death. I'm just keeping my boat, that's what I'm doing."
The sole source of heat for Jacobs and his three mice-hunting cats comes from a circa-1896 stove he stokes with firewood stacked on the dock. There is a small bed in back.
Electricity from a small generator powers the lights, small television and DVD player. Nature provides the refrigerator.
He reads and plays the guitar. His waterfront view allows him to watch eagles, ducks and gulls taking advantage of a small patch of open water.
His boat has a portable toilet, and he uses the washrooms at nearby businesses to clean up. He prefers Menards because there is a large heating vent in the restroom.
Because docking a boat at the park for more than 48 hours violates a city ordinance, the Police Department and Jacobs reached an agreement that he can stay until spring.
He has been offered help fixing the engine and the use of a trailer and a truck to tow the steel-hulled boat to the Mississippi River in the spring.
"This is my boat, and it is all I have left and I'm hanging onto it. I want to go down to above New Orleans . . . I'll just go there and see what happens," he said.
Click to view image: 'd532a514f811-mjsiceboat1ofhoffmanjpgiceboat.jpg'
Tags: houseboat, unemployed, brain surgery, health care
Location: Oshkosh, Wisconsin, United States (load item map)
Marked as: approved
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