Torpedo 36

Fellow Woody Boaters John and Sharon Lisicich, owners of Western Fairliner Torpedo (Hull #32) “No Ka ‘OI” enjoying their freshly restored wooden classic.


Yesterday, in Part 1 of “The Seventeen Year Itch” we introduced you to John & Sharon Lisicich and followed them on their journey to locate a very rare 1950 17′ Western Fairliner Torpedo. Approximately 36 Fairliner Torpedo’s were produced by Western Boat Building Corporation from mid 1946 to August 1951, including a few special orders – more on that later. “No Ka ‘OI” (Hull #32) was located and purchased from wooden boat restorer Bruce Bronson at Bronson Boat Works in Gig Harbor, Washington in March 1998. (In case you missed Part 1 yesterday, you can Click Here) And don’t forget that you can click on any of the images to enlarge them. – Texx

Today in Part 2 of this remarkable story, we get a glimpse into how this 60 year-old Torpedo went from this… (what John describes as “a planter box with no sides, hanging in Bruces’s rafters”)

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To this, a beautifully restored 1950 Western Fairliner Torpedo.

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The official re-launch of John & Sharon’s 1950 Western Fairliner Torpedo, under the watchful eye of restorer Bruce Bronson – July 22, 2013

Our Fairliner Torpedo Story! (Part 2)
By John and Sharon Lisicich
Owners of Fairliner Torpedo Hull # 32
No Ka ‘OI

Like all classic boat owners, the best day is launch day. It’s that day when you realize there is only one “first time”, and all your dreams come true! That day was July 22, 2013 and it still plays daily in my mind.

Torpedo 1

First time back in the water after many years of living in the rafters at Bruce Bronson’s shop in Gig Harbor, WA. You can just imagine what’s going through John’s mind as he floats her off the trailer for the first time.

Sharon and Bruce both told me I was grinning from ear to ear. Bruce drove the boat first and when it was finally my turn, to say I was excited would be an understatement. No Ka’Oi jumped up on a plane and took right off. The modern 4 cylinder engine was the perfect engine choice with tons of power. I had some reservations about the engine as originally, it was going to be a Mercruiser 350 V-8, then a small block, and am now so glad we chose the 4 cylinder.

Bruce is now doing some fine tuning and adding a little more weight as it wanders and is not easy to steer at low speed. This will be my only classic boat and am so glad to have chosen it. Where ever it goes it turns heads. With so few around, it always gathers a crowd. – John Lisicich

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The Torpedo almost looks happy resting at dock, waiting to do what she was designed to do more than 60 years ago.

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The Western Boat Building Corporation and Fairliner Torpedo model is legendary in the Pacific Northwest. – Texx

From Volume II of The Real Runabouts series by the late, great Bob Speltz, he writes;

FAIRLINER – BUILT WITH CUSTOM-CARE FOR PEAK PERFORMANCE
WESTERN BOAT BUILDING COMPANY

Soon after the end of World War II, Western Boat Building Company in Tacoma, Washington, hired a noted designer, Dair Long, to draw up plans for a totally new and stylish 17′ inboard speedboat. The Fairliner Torpedo was the result. That sleek little gem was styled after the old Hacker and Dee Wite Torpedos we reviewed in Volume I…

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An original factory photo of an early Western Fairliner Torpedo from the late 1940’s. (Photo property of Western Boat Building Co/Petrich Family Trust)

Perhaps, had it not been for a serious fire that occurred in the mid-1960’s, Western Boat Building Company may have gone on to build other Torpedos. I’m that fire, the firm lost all jigs, plans, etc.

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Another Western Fairliner factory photo from the late 1940’s featuring the unique Torpedo stern design. – (Photo property of Western Boat Building Co/Petrich Family Trust)

In the book, Bob Speltz also refers to a “one-of-a-kind” Torpedo that was custom built at the Fairliner factory in Tacoma in April of 1950 for its original owner Mr. Lunde, who ordered it with several custom options. This boat was to be built with only a single cockpit, offering seating for two people, which allowed for a long, racy-looking rear deck. A bigger, six-cylinder Chris-Craft racing engine with triple carburetors was installed at the plant. The extra horse-power pushed the boat at speeds over 40 MPH. When Bob wrote about the boat, it was owned by Gean Arenz from Wisconsin.

In his closing remarks, Bob notes: “I think you will agree with the author, the 17′ Fairliner Torpedo by Western Boat Building Company of Tacoma, Washington was quite a boat! At this time I would guess less than half a dozen of these masterpieces still exist. If you know of one or have one yourself, restore it, enjoy it and let others see and enjoy it with you. It is really sad that there will never be boats built like this again.” – Bob Speltz, The Real Runabouts II

Great advice from Bob Speltz – and John and Sharon Lisicich have followed Bob’s advice to the letter. – Texx
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A brief history and a few more period factory photos from Allen Petrich Jr.

Martin Petrich, Sr. with several others founded Western Boat in Tacoma in 1917. Initially the profits were not there and the others left and Martin stayed. They built a variety of wooden craft, cannery tenders and freight and passenger vessels but really specialized in purse seine fishing boats for salmon, sardine and tuna.

They later built, also, what Northwesterners tend to call “Tuna Clippers” but are also called “bait boats”, large fishing vessels that could go into the open ocean waters for tuna. They did not build war boats in the First World War, but did in World War II, minesweepers, freight and passenger and tugs for the US Army and Navy. They won one of the first two “Navy Es” for “efficiency” on the Pacific Coast.

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Factory photo of a Western Fairliner 17′ Torpedo in the jig – These photos are by Kenneth Ollar, a noted marine photographer in the Pacific Northwest, commissioned by Western Boat. Fairliner was a division of Western Boat started by Allen Petrich, Sr. a son of Martin Petrich, Sr., specifically for building pleasure craft, including the Torpedo.

Allen was Martin’s second son and was the one who appeared to pick up the management aspects of shipyard work. He also was a racer and set several world speed record for smaller boats. Martin placed Allen in charge of day-to-day yard management work during the War but continued to make overall decisions. At the end of the War, Martin asked Allen to take over day to day management of the overall operation.

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Kenneth Ollar photo commissioned by Western Boat.

Allen wanted to do pleasure boats but his father was opposed and wanted to limit operations to commercial vessels. Allen persevered and Martin relented. At that time Allen made the overall decision to commence major pleasure boat operations with four models, a 26′ Express Cruiser, a 26′ sedan cruiser, an 18′ utility runabout and the 17′ Torpedo.

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Kenneth Ollar photo commissioned by Western Boat.

Western Fairliner 17′ Torpedo production was from mid-1946 to August 1951. There is some dispute in terms of exact production numbers, as there were some special orders, but around 36 total were built.

One of the original shipyard workers who worked on the Torpedo line built a 21′ version of the Torpedo starting in late 1970s and did sell it but did not try to continue production. It was a one off. The dispute about production was because there was a massive fire that burned, as a total loss, the shipyard in which they were built. Some production was lost in the fire but at least one was saved as well as the charred remains of a tuna purse seine boat, which was transferred to the old plant and finished.

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Kenneth Ollar photo commissioned by Western Boat.

Some of the pleasure boats were ready for delivery and were burned. It was a complete loss, otherwise, and the financial damage was severe. New Fairliners were envisaged but built only much later in the late 1950s with test prototypes. It was in the 1960s they became the largest pleasure boat manufacturer on the West Coast. But they built only cruisers, no runabouts. The boats were rated faster than the competition for the power and better handling as most of the industry followed the deep V principle, which was less efficient but provides a smoother ride. Most of the industry has completely gone to the deep V concept and few designers understand the principles used in the Fairliners. – Allen Petrich Jr.
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Now back to John’s story…

I have many people to thank for this exciting journey of faith, patience, perseverance, and determination. First is to God who makes all things possible. Then to my awesome and wonderful wife and best friend, Sharon, who tolerates all my crazy wants. Sharon also is the person who always found the money for the boat, when we didn’t have any extra. She is truly the most awesome and wonderful wife and best friend!

Then to the following:

Bruce Bronson, who is truly a craftsman and artist in every sense of the word.

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Wooden boat restorer Bruce Bronson from Bronson Boat Works working on the new bottom.

The Hawaiian word “mana’ best describes what Bruce has put into the boat. The closest word in English to describe mana would be “spirit”. There is a part of him in every plank, every screw, and every inch of this boat.

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He has gone out of his way to make sure that this boat is truly the best and has a beautiful steering wheel, gauges beyond belief, and every piece of chrome and original parts have been painstakingly restored to perfection. Only a true artist could do this.

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Watching the boat go together over the years was a real journey and taught me patience, more than anything. Seeing how Bruce would steam the planks and even break a few along the way and have to start over again. What was very cool is that Curt Erickson even had the original gas cap. While that does not seem like much, it is a huge deal as the smaller cap was only used on a few Fairliners.

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HUGE THANKS to Curt Erickson for planting the seed and starting me on this unforgettable journey. He has and continues to be a huge resource for us. He is truly amazing!

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Western Fairliner Torpedo expert and friend Curt Erikson at the helm of “Miss Sydney” on Lake Chelan, WA 2011 – Photo Texx

Choosing the name was fun and really a no brainier for us as we spend most winter months in Hawaii so, we chose the Hawaiian name “No Ka ‘Oi” which means none better or simply the best. We believe our Torpedo is simply the best!

Jim Giesy; for his enthusiasm for the boat and his diligence to helping to keep things moving along, then to want it as a key boat displayed at the museum event last May-June.

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“No Ka ‘Oi” on display at the Foss Waterway Seaport in Tacoma, Washington.

Gary Ebert for his amazing job on all the lettering and his special touch on the gauges. The special attention he took to make our lettering a one of a kind style. When given the opportunity to use his best judgment, he excellent. He was an artist of his craft; undoubtedly the finest sign artist and graphics guy on the planet. I truly thank him for making our boat so beautiful. It was also the last boat he did as he was “promoted to Glory” a few months later.

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The high quality lettering work by the late Gary Ebert.

Jack Rossi; for all his hard work assisting Bruce with lots of tedious tasks like plugging all the planks and providing that “extra” hand when needed.
Bruce; for his excellent work on the upholstery.

Tim McVicker; for his help in cleaning up the engine and trailer and always willing to bounce around ideas.

Mark Schoens; for keeping us informed of the progress when we were out of town.

Brian Canfied; for his friendship and enthusiasm for this project over the years, and his work on copying and printing the photographs.

Most people ask about boat’s name, No Ka ‘Oi. No Ka ‘Oi is Hawaiian for “none better or simply the best.” And, that is what our Fairliner Torpedo is to us. Bruce has done an amazing job to bring back to life a true Tacoma classic and part of Tacoma history.

There is no need to go into all the history of the Petrich family as that is well documented by others. However, I do feel as though this boat is not only a testament to the Petrich family and Western Boat, but also an honor to Croatian history and to my Dad, who always wanted to ride in it.

In the final analysis I truly thank everyone who has helped to make this dream a reality. The journey has hit a couple of speed bumps and also has brought some “opportunities”. Most of all we have met some GREAT people and made some good friends.

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Our granddaughter Lauren (one of three grandchildren) riding in the Fairliner was the highlight of her summer vacation. That is what she said to her class. We are blessed to have Lauren and her family in our life. – John & Sharon.

The ultimate Glory goes to God for it was He who brought it all together. I remain His humble servant and am honored to be the designated caretaker of this slice of boating history. Only God could put these pieces together. Even though my father was not able to ride in the boat, his photograph and his spirit will be with us on every ride.

We look forward to many fun years using and sharing our Fairliner Torpedo. The best is yet to come! Thank you for taking time to read this story of No Ka ‘Oi.

John and Sharon Lisicich
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Special thanks to John & Sharon for sharing your heartwarming story with us. Your dedication and commitment to excellence on the Fairliner Torpedo is wonderful.

Also thanks to Allen Petrich Jr for sharing some history and factory photos from the Western Boat Corporation / Western Fairliner family archives.

Happy Holidays Everyone! – Texx
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24 Responses to “The Seventeen Year Itch – Our Fairliner Torpedo Story (Part 2)”
  1. Texx

    By the way, did anyone notice where we got the inspiration for “The Seventeen Year Itch” story poster this week?

  2. Greg Lewandowski

    A great boat and wonderful story. Another example of what the WoodyBoater lifestyle is all about. Thanks Texx and John.

  3. Troy in ANE

    John and Sharon: (as well as Texx and Matt)
    Thanks for putting together such an informative story about a wonderful boat that I knew nothing about.

    John I often hear people today talking about the power of “The Universe” and wonder why they don’t see that the power really comes from the one who created that universe. It is nice to read your comments giving the credit to God who created it all than gave it all for us. That is very appropriate, appreciated, and timely being just two days before Christmas.

    God Bless
    Troy

  4. William Hammond

    Thanks for these two days of Torpedo stories. I first heard about these boats back in 2013 and read all I could find out about them. I really appreciate this wonderful history of this boat and the company. Hopefully someone will have more pictures. I’d love to eventually see one in person. Oh, and if anyone’s got one of the cruisers I’d love to see that!! Thanks again for such a great story!!

    • Allen Petrich

      There is supposed to be a complete 26′ Express cruiser on a Lake in Montana. There is a sedan or two on Puget Sound but people try to turn them into Express’ with an open cockpit and flying bridge. With twin Chrysler Crowns they were about as fast as a Torpedo. Those cruisers were about the best made of any stock cruiser and handled better. The man who prepped the Fairliner, Harco 40 and Elco (considered by East Coasters the best) said the Dair Long designed Fairliner and Harco 40 were better built and better handling. There is said to be one or two Harco 40s on the Sound. With the right engine combination they are 40 knot boats. All Fairliners were designed so you could be going at maximum speed and turn the wheel as fast as you could in either direction and the boat would neither flip nor spin. If the bottom is right, the Torpedo will turn right around on itself 180 degrees at max speed. Those who loved to do it called it: Swapping Ends.

  5. floyd r turbo

    Can’t imagine how much time and effort it took to get that hull fair with all those curves. Planking a boat with a soft sheer has got to be the most difficult boat to build. A part of me would have loved to have experienced that restoration. Another part says are you effing crazy? Amazing story, thanks for sharing.

    • Tuobanur

      Agree with Turbo, would have liked to have been around to learn something, that is some amazing work,,,,,,,and I thought my boat was tough

  6. John & Sharon Lisicich

    Aloha and a BIG THANK YOU to Texx, all the team at Woody Boater, and to everyone who replied to the two day story! I truly appreciate the excellent story that Woody Boater put together and everyone’s kind and thoughtful postings.
    The boat was such a dream come true and the journey was the best part of the trip. The boat is truly the cherry on the sundae.
    Like I said in the story, the Glory really goes to God as He was the one who made it happen. I would also suggest that if you have not read, or watched, and embraced “the Secret, please do. You really can place your order to the universe and it will always answer. It’s a very powerful tool that has worked well for me, all of my life.
    The funny thing is that right after we got the Violano Virtuoso that was mentioned in the story, I wanted a car called a Honda S-600, a very cool 1964 roadster. When I found it, it was 2 doors down from where we got the Violano. If I was really smart, I would have gone to the house in between and probably found a Fairliner, or something very cool.
    Thanks again to all, and all the best for a happy, healthy and wonderful 2015 filled with Blessings Galore!
    Mele Kalikimaka a me Ha’ole Makahiki Hou!
    Aloha ke Akua
    John and Sharon Lisicich

  7. Don Smith

    The Fairliner Torpedo was a great little boat. I worked at Wally’s Marine Service on Lake Oswego in Oregon which sold Fairliner and Century boats for 10 yrs in the summer. Fairliner also had a Tuna Tender model and a Beach Comber model. All were excellent boats. After I got out of school in 1958 I moved to Tacoma,WA to work for Western Boat. I wanted to work for Fairliner but had to settle for their shipyard. I knew Nick Sumich who is mentioned in the article and his brother John. I have made a model of the Torpedo from scratch mainly from memory.Although I did have access to a restored one for one day. The model is radio controlled and runs pretty good. I wish I could find more of real thing.

    • Texx

      Thanks for sharing your story with us Don. Lake Oswego must have looked different back then.

    • Allen Petrich

      Don, would love talking to you. RE comments, getting the planking to follow those compound curves was a real problem and the very good experienced shipwrights could never get it right, so my dad put two apprentices on the job. I knew Wally and Mabel very well. Wally was a good boat handler and knew his stuff. He cured the porpoising problem on one Torpedo. JoAnn is living in Florida as is her sister, the water ski champion. If you worked at Plant No. 1, did MA ever yell at you to move faster?! 🙂 Oh, when it came time for me to get a boat, Wally pushed my dad to get a Yates outboard. Wally was spot on. All those NW built plywood runabouts were not as sturdy, you could see the side flex. I consider the Yates really superb as an outboard runabout. Where do you live now?

      • Don Smith

        Allen, I did work in plant #1 but I worked upstairs with Jim. All MA said to me was is Jim in yet. I of course have may tails to tell. I would like to talk to you some time. Wally was a great boss and we all had a great time at “Wally’s Marine Service”.
        Don Smith

    • Chris Prier

      I would love to get plans for the fairliner torpedo and build one from scratch. Does anyone know where we might get plans

  8. John Lisicich

    Aloha Don! Happy Friday! Hope all is awesome! Your RC Torpedo is awesome! Now I want one! Thank you for your additions to the Fairliner story. Man, it would be GREAT to talk with you and compare some names. Since you read the GREAT story that Woody Boater put together you know a little about my family history. I would love to talk with you when you get some time. Feel free to email me and we can chat.
    All the best to you and your family for a GREAT weekend!
    Make every day the best day of your life, so far!
    John

    • Noel Castro

      Allen:
      You should of been here in CA. Clear Lake in 2015. We had not one, not two, but three Fairliners on the lake at the same time! I have some great photos of all three of us on the lake together if you are interested.
      Joel Castro

      • Joel Castro

        Here is a group shot of THREE Fairliners at Clear Lake CA.