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Enjoying a ride at the lake on board the iconic “Dippy” – Disappearing Propeller Boat

Today, for a change of pace, we decided it would be nice to take a break from Hot Topics such as High Restoration Costs, 3,000 HP Unlimited Hydroplanes, and preparing for the trip to Lake Dora – and take a quiet, peaceful putt across Lake Cyberspace in a vintage “Dippy” thanks to fellow Woody Boaters Julie & Chris Bullen. This story is so relaxing, that I fell asleep preparing it this morning. – Texx

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The Disappearing Propeller Boat
By Julie & Chris Bullen

“The Greatest Little Motor Boat Afloat” is a great way to see the sights.

The disappearing propeller was invented in 1915. W.J. Johnson started the company in 1916 and put the device in row boats. This allowed the boat to be beached easily and help the boat bounce over the logs that were everywhere at the time. By the early 20’s the Dispro co. was building 350 to 400 boats a year powered by a 3hp dispro motor. Affectionately known as the “Dippy” the boat was made with oak ribs with cypress or cedar lapstrake planking.

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Vintage Disappearing Propeller Boat Advertisement

Going slow gives you a whole different look at the lake. We are always going fast. Going to work, going to groceries, going to the lake – cars get us there quick. Most of us on the water are going 30 to 40 mph. Glass boats don’t go slow. Even most wood boats go comfortably at 15 to 20mph. For some, us included, you need to be in the Dispro for a while to settle in and adjust to the slower speed of travel.

When you get into a Dispro and start her up you’re off, going full speed at 6 mph. Just like a race boat, once you start the engine you’re on your way! Ok that’s the only thing about them that’s like a race boat.

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The Dispro takes you back every time you get into one. It’s magic. Well, when it’s running, but that’s another story. Let not ruin the magic. The soft “putt-putt” of the motor and the smooth ride lets you sit back and enjoy the cruise. Bring a few friends and you have a mobile front porch: a place to chat, gaze at the scenery and enjoy the water and smell of varnish.

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You could say a slow boat makes your lake bigger. If you have a small lake the slow boat takes longer to get around. The Dispro club is strong with over 60 boats coming out to the annual meeting in September each year. In fact they have trouble finding a location to beach or dock 60 boats.

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A classic “Dippy” gathering in Canada

They are active all year long with their UMMTs (Unorganized Minnie Misery Tours). The light weight boat and small trailer allows you the haul the Dispro with any vehicle to explore lakes around the globe. The device makes for mostly a worry free experience in unknown waters.

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Going slow gives you time to take photos of those great, memorable days on the water. So we hope you enjoy them and forget about that white stuff outside today.

Julie & Chris Bullen
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Thanks Julie & Chris for sharing your story with us today, believe me – it helps beat those “winter doldrums” for another day. We look forward to visiting with Julie & Chris in Tavares next month during the Sunnyland Wooden Boat Festival, where we hope it’s a bit warmer.

Also – Chris mentioned that the Woody Boater Picnic & Poker Run planned for July 5th is a hit! The event, which leads up to the big Toronto Chapter ACBS Boat Show in Gravenhurst, Ontario is now offically sold out, with a total of 21 classic boats and 53 people now registered. However, they have conducted a “cockpit count” and according to Chris, there is still some room on some of the boats if you are looking to hitch a ride.

For us, this is fantastic news considering it’s just February 26th and we are looking forward to this great event and covering it with our cameras blazing.

To learn more about this amazing 98 year-old invention, here’s a diagram and a short video courtesy of the Dispro Owners Association, which also has a great website (Click Here) with everything you ever wanted to know about Disappearing Propeller Boats.

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Dispro Diagram Courtesy Dispro Owners Association website

Just like these little 3HP vintage engines, the “Dispro” video takes a few seconds to get started and warm up, so please be patient – it’s worth the wait… – Texx

Story Update: Fellow Woody Boater Ian shared a link to another impressive Dispro video in the comment section today, so we added the video below. This is a very informative video which includes some great commentary from noted Canadian restorer Peter Breen, describing the Dispro boats and detailed engine operation, as well as some commentary from owner Bill Joslyn in Lake Dora, Florida. Thanks for sharing this with us Ian! – Texx

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37 Responses to “The Greatest Little Motor Boat Afloat”
  1. Rick

    What a great little boat. Now if we can just sandwich a small block in it in time for the Poker Run.

    Reply
  2. Greg Lewandowski

    I love the little brass cup for priming the engine. Dispro is a real Canadian treasure!

    Reply
  3. floyd r turbo

    Great write up from the Bullens and gets me inspired to work on my OAG (only a Greavette). When Greavette took over production in 1936, the “Billy” Johnson and Lindsay models became the holy grail for Dippies and the Greavette’s were just “OAG’s”. Dippy club members are a great bunch of people and I’ll share a picture somewhat out of focus but under the circumstances maybe you’ll understand with the “chop” encountered. This is past Dippy club president Les Rue chauffeuring Ron Hill (one of the contributing authors to “The Greatest Motorboat Afloat – the story of the Disappearing Propeller Boat) motoring to the AGM (Annual General Meeting) held the same weekend as Toronto Clubs spring tour. Les (from the USA) always likes to be the first on the water to show his Canadian friends his commitment to Dippy’s (actually bragging rights at the meeting being from the “south”, if they can understand his accent).

    Reply
  4. floyd r turbo

    And this is what you’ll have to wear if you choose to “dippy” just after “ice out” in Muskoka (mid to late April) and you’ll still be cold but the smell of “dippy fumes” are, some say, like heaven. Others say it probably has caused brained damage which is why these are so popular.

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  5. Alex

    Neat story Texx. I’ve wondered about these boats since seeing one at Bay Harbor ACBS Internationals.

    By the way, what do you call a blonde in one of these? A ditzy in a dippy. Just came up with that actually…

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  6. Paul H.

    Karen has loved these since she first saw one, and they have a very active following, obviously. I know that current ACBS Pres. Dunc Hawkins has one, and they are a real sight to see putting along. I looked seriously at buying one about 3 years ao, a factory documented demo unit from 1926. Deal didn’t happen for whatever reason. I have been told that the early, original engines are incredibly cantankerous to actually use and the unlikelihood of finding a person to work on it in central BC became an obstacle. Maybe one day…..

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  7. Tom

    Dippy owners do not refer to MPH. They devised there own measurement of speed CPH ( Cocktails Per Hour). Maybe thats why they seem to have such a good time.

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  8. Tom Frye

    The expert on Dippys is Paul Doddington, who I believe is sitting in the bow of the boat pictured in the mast head (the one with the beard). Great story.

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  9. screwy L

    Paul Dodington is also known as the “Dippy Doctor”
    He can make any engine run!! (usually by grabbing the devise and making it cough)

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  10. Philip Andrew

    Love the video. I want to see the out takes with people swearing and cursing when they wont start. I know they are there.

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  11. mbashaw

    Finally, a chance to show mine off again!
    14 years worth of work, and I still need to visit the Dippy Doctor, as the engine won’t run more than 20 seconds…this summer it will.

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    • m-fine

      If it starts and runs 20 seconds you have to be pretty close. I would guess a few tweaks to the fuel metering and you will be running for minutes at a time. Some of the time. When no one is watching.

      Reply
  12. Guy

    Nice story, I love cruising and have had the big cruisers and runabouts, but my favorite wooden boat was 12′ and had oars for power. Oarspower if you will.

    Reply
    • Paul H.

      great addition to the story, thanks Ian. And we know how many Dippy’s are around the Lake Dora area, at least at the time this was shot, back when the show was still held in Mount Dora. Last held there in 2007 I think….

      Reply
    • Texx

      Ian – Thanks for sharing this informative video with us today, it’s great. So great, that we added it to the main story.

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  13. Texx

    Thanks Ian.

    Texx: Note to self – Try to mooch a ride in a Dippy while in Gravenhurst next July…

    Reply
  14. Paul H.

    Texx & Matt – I have seen one or two at the Sunnyland show before, maybe you won’t have to wait all the way until July for that ride? Texx, maybe you could get a ride in one over to the Friday picnic, somewhat reminiscent of your ride back from there a couple of years back, perhaps?

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  15. DJ Indy

    Here I am with my Bearded Collie, Puck in our Dippy. Enjoy this great old Dippy Story:

    The Delayed Return of Sherman & Elizabeth

    During the 1930’s my grandparents, Fil and Jack, would arrive at their beloved Adventure Island in Georgian Bay, Ontario with son J. D. and the “Help” – Sherman and Elizabeth. Of course, the Canadians referred to the “Help” as liveried servants (no offense meant). Elizabeth’s primary job was Camp Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, and Sherman’ s job was to perform odd jobs around the cottage and boathouse and to take care of his wife, Elizabeth.
    Fil and Jack enjoyed all of other islanders they knew in the area and they were known to throw a party or two back in the day. As was the custom in those days, dinner parties were very capably served by Sherman. You see Sherman had had lots of experience as a waiter aboard the riverboat Delta Queen on the Mississippi River. My grandmother was so proud to see Sherman all “spit and polished” before every party she hosted. Unfortunately, most of the guests took great umbrage at Sherman’s appearance. To glance at Sherman he looked like a very capable waiter of the day: handsome Black man wearing a white, ironed shirt; black bowtie; white jacket; black, crisply pressed pants and his shoes…….
    Well, you see when serving drinks or hors d’oeuvres or meals aboard a Paddlewheel Riverboat, you can’t lose your footing when the river rolls the boat from side-to-side. There were no rubber-soled shoes for waiters in those days. So Sherman was taught to serve bare-footed which appalled my grandparents’ guests. Sherman would say, “Lord only knows when that island might Sway with Bay!”
    How does all of this have anything to do with a Disappearing Propeller boat? Well, a boat with a top speed of 6 mph or 10 kph that could keep running after hitting a shoal was the perfect boat for Sherman to captain. During the summer, every Sunday afternoon the “Help” in the immediate viciity would gather at an island for a picnic. These gatherings were known far and wide as the Sunday Colored Picnic, and it consisted of eating a lot of freshly caught fish, playing whist and consuming vast amounts of gin. My grandfather dreaded Sundays for a couple of reasons: first of all, Sherman would be out of sight in the Dippy; second and more importantly, my grandmother, whom he always accused of closing her eyes when she went through the kitchen, would be in charge of dinner.
    One particular Sunday, the picnic was a ways down Steamboat Channel. The strict instructions for Sherman and Elizabeth were to be home before sunset. Of course, sunset came and went and no Sherman and Elizabeth. Luckily, it was a very calm evening and the prevalent chirps of crickets were about the only thing breaking the silence. Occasionally false hope of their return came in the distant dull roar of an engine. My grandmother began worrying frantically and my grandfather hoped that they would have enough sense to stay put until morning.
    About 10:00 my grandmother said, “Jack we’d better go find them, I’m afraid they’ve drowned.”
    His quick retort was, “If they’re stupid enough to come back at night – let ‘em drown. I’m going to sleep.”
    Suddenly, Fil heard the familiar put-put-put of the Dippy as it approached the narrow channel between our island and the one to the north. She shook Jack and said, “I hear them, they’re in the channel. You better get dressed and help them dock.”
    As he got ready to go to the dock, the put-put-put of the Dippy went silent. A hush fell over the bay, followed by Elizabeth’s blaring voice over the still waters of the evening, “SHERMAN, YOOZE DUN RUN OUTTA WATER!!”. The Dippy was high and dry on the reef in the middle of the channel. My grandfather took our Higgins Sea Sled out to the Dippy and helped the “Help” get back to the dock accompanied by a stern talkin’ to.

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  16. Bob Johnson

    Just one question – is there anywhere in the world where you can buy the “Disappearing Propeller” portion of the hardware now or do you “have to figure it out for yourself”?

    Reply
  17. Texx

    Bob – Click on the Dispro Owners Association link (above highlighted in bold) in this story. They will be able to help you find what you are looking for. – Texx

    Reply

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