Twenty years later and venturing into retirement in 2001, the image remained in his mind.
Copeland always had an interest in construction and mentioned the boat to a friend as a side thought. If he could build a house, Copeland said, a boat did not seem like such a large feat.
His friend mailed away for an instruction booklet, and a short time later Copeland was heading to Menards for building materials.
The project began in April 2002 with four sheets of plywood. Copeland completed the body part in a carport before moving outside when the weather got warmer.
More than 20 family members and friends pitched in.
Copeland's wife, Sid, remembers working at Meijer when her sons came in asking for face masks. The fiberglass-resin coating they had to spread over the boat was unbearable, she said.
Bob Copeland laughs at the memory.
"The fiberglassing I didn't like, but the woodwork, that was kind of fun," he said.
Seventeen months later, the Copelands were standing by the dock of their Ackerson Lake home preparing for a launch.
Sid Copeland remembers the day perfectly.
"He was so nervous the first time he put it in the water, there must have been 20 people down there," she said, glancing at the shoreline.
The boat floated just fine.
Today, the Copelands enjoy taking their tugboat on several Jackson-area lakes. Family members have visited from all over the country for a ride.
Bob jokingly refers to its 5 mph speed as "a fast walk."
"I don't think I could push any freighters with it; it's just a toy," he said.