Despite the “fowl” weather on a recent Saturday, 52-year-old Tom Colt mixed every imaginable duck pun he could with the history of Pittsburgh to entertain and educate a full load of passengers on a Just Ducky Tour.
This is the Manchester resident‘s fifth year as a tour guide on the No. 2 DUKW six-wheel-drive amphibious truck that tours on land and river. During the school year he is a full-time college counselor at Shady Side Academy in Fox Chapel.
Just Ducky Tours narrator spices up history of city
Tom Cott, the narrator of Just Ducky Tours, adds a fun twist to the history of Pittsburgh during an hour-long tour on water and land. (Video by Ye Zhu, 07/03/14)
Five years ago he decided to look for summer employment. His wife, Megan, knew the co-owners of Just Ducky Tours, and he called to see if they needed someone to wash or maintain the boats. “They called me in and threw a script at me and I became a tour guide,” he said.
With a bachelor’s degree from Colby and master‘s from University of Vermont, the native New Englander arrived in Pittsburgh in 2008 to work at Shady Side, where he also coaches cross country and advises the school’s WorldQuest team.
Just Ducky tours run from April 1 through Nov. 30, and Mr. Colt works as a guide when he‘s available.
The DUKW on this day was driven by Andy Schmidt, known as Capt. Andy, as Mr. Colt narrated the hourlong tour. “The structure of the tour is not set up for questions and answers,” Mr. Colt told passengers, comprised of a Girl Scout troop, visitors from Indiana County, local residents and a young family from Texas (it received a ceremonial “Quack” for coming from the farthest distance). He then went on to talk 100 miles an hour to get in all the “facts and quacks” before the tour was over.
As the truck chugged across the Smithfield Street Bridge, Mr. Colt told passengers its history. The bridge was designed by Gustav Lindenthal and built between 1881-83. Mr. Lindenthal had guaranteed the bridge for 20 years. Capt. Andy tried to do the math as the truck headed toward Downtown.
Mr. Colt described the history of landmarks, buildings and streets in the Golden Triangle. Occasionally the narration stopped as passengers greeted people on the street with the required “Quack, quack, quack.”
“I’ve built up an immunity to the quacking,” he said, ‘“and I never get tired of it.“
Most visitors are interested in the history of the steel industry, he said. As the truck passed First Presbyterian Church and Trinity Cathedral on Sixth Avenue, he described how soot had blackened their exterior. Passengers were amazed to hear how one church had been successfully sand-blasted to restore its appearance but the other, constructed of sandstone, didn‘t fare so well.
Mr. Colt’s favorite site along the tour is PNC Park. “We get a lot of young people who haven‘t seen the success of teams in recent years. I like to feed them history. It’s good to tell them stories.”
“The highlight for passengers is when the truck goes in and out of the river. A lot of people get anxious,” he said. The truck drove down a sidewalk as Capt. Andy acted like he didn‘t understand what was happening. Mr. Colt told everyone to put their hands up and scream as the truck became a boat.
On the trip back through Downtown, Mr. Colt recited a list of colleges in Pittsburgh. He urged the young passengers. “Stay in school or you might end up driving a Just Ducky boat.”
Info: www.justduckytours.com or 412-402-3825.
Lorri Drumm: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-3771.