I had started to do some preliminary research on these boats as soon as my interest had been kindled. The boat was shipped on May 28, 1948 and the original owner was J. Dee Gardner of J. Dee Gardner Hotels Systems, Salt Lake. I do not have the hull card yet and only know this because of correspondence to him from the Chief Engineer of Scripps, responding to a carburetor failure after only two months use in the summer of ‘48, and providing an original engine manual, which we have.
We have determined that the boat was one of only 4, (out 208 total built) post war 25’ Sportsman’s equipped with the Scripps 208, and at this early date we are aware of no other survivors. The engine is the original, and we started and ran it on the shop floor before loading it and the boat. It runs great. It is such a low hour engine that it still has the original plug wires after over 61 years. The color of these wires has been a surprise to some, but they are original and as brittle as uncooked spaghetti!. The ancillaries appear original and untouched. The interior of the boat, under the sedan top, is in fantastic shape. The leather upholstery is completely original and we are very hopeful that it can be preserved. It is of a substantially different color than most people have previously thought. The headliner is free of flaws, but clearly could stand cleaning. The wiring is completely untouched and will be the subject of much documentation. The bottom and deck seams are remarkably tight and no replacement of planking on either topsides or bottom is contemplated. The original canvas sedan cover will need to be replaced, simply due to age-related deterioration. The sedan top itself is in near perfect condition. This was a huge relief, as they can be horribly complex to repair- just ask Dave Jerome! Other than some short planks on both sides due to low speed impact damage, incorrectly replaced transom planking and the sanding marks on the sides, the boat appears as a mildly used survivor.It is a big boat, and I already have a rare sedan. I have nowhere to put it. I have two other boats already under restoration at this moment. Why did I buy it? Because it is pretty damn rare that a person has the opportunity to actually participate in a barn-find, to have the chance to save something, to make the right choices in how it is conserved and/or restored. It is a most deserving boat, and as a budding collector and lover of these craft, I simply could not let it go by without acting. Anyone can restore any boat to as new or better with new wood and other updated content, as I have been forced to do with our Gar Wood. But who knows how many more barn-finds there will be like this? How do I know if I ever will have the chance to really work with such a well preserved boat again? It is far rarer that a person can refresh a boat such as this, to actually have the choice of retaining the patina of gentle age and dignified imperfection, than it is for him to start fresh on a boat and replace everything. This was simply an opportunity I could not pass up. Frankly, I find it much more exciting and unique than I do the process of complete and total restoration that is wending its way to completion on the Gar. There are fun, interesting choices on this one – there are not so many on a boat that is thoroughly decayed. You simply have to do everything over again in those cases.The boat is in Portland, where Mike Mayer of Lake Oswego Boat Co, ACBS Director and member of the ACBS Judging Committee, will undertake the restoration. He already knows he will have much input and guidance from me on this. Mike is also a preservationist, and is very excited to work on this compelling project. My wife and I have discussed our restoration objectives with this boat, and Barn Wood will not be restored with a primary view to competing in judged shows. While that may be possible or even probable, success in that environment is not a guiding tenet behind the process we undertaking. She is a survivor, and that is what we wish to portray her as, and we will endeavor to do so as authentically and as possible.
A detailed photographic study, structural assessment of the boat and inventory of hardware, etc. is now underway. Last weekend Karen and I returned, for the third weekend in a row, and assisted in the loading of the boat for Portland. We loaded that massive engine into our trailer and took it to Jim McNeilly in Seattle for a thorough inspection and service. Over the next while, Mike and myself will devise what we hope will be a “best practice” protocol for the conservation of as many original features, finishes and content items on this boat as we can. We suspect it may be the subject of some visits and research from well known authorities in our hobby. No decisions will be taken lightly, and we will do the best we can to make the best choices possible. We hope to have her completed by the middle of 2010. We also invite comments and insights from anyone interested enough to share these with us. We will submit bits of information and photograph’s to Matt along the way, so that progress can be followed by those so inclined.
The highpoint of this experience for me came after the boat was purchased, after we had all left, the boat was in Portland, the engine in Seattle and all involved were home safe after more winter driving through BC, Alberta, Montana and Washington than I care to contemplate. I called the vendor of the boat and we chatted. He said he probably could have advertised the boat widely or been more aggressive in selling her. He had followed this boat, known of her for decades, knew at least two of her prior owners and was her de facto steward through all the years she was locked away But, he stated, he now viewed his job as being complete. When the time had come to secure her future, he was there. He told me he felt his only job with this boat, after all these decades, was to make sure that she got to the right owner so she could be properly restored, cared for and displayed. And now that this process was complete, He was confident He had successfully fulfilled this responsibility. Coming from a man who has been in this business for 30 years and who obviously cares greatly for these old boats, this was a tremendous honor and compliment to my wife Karen and I, and we felt just fabulous about having this opportunity before us. We have only been wooden boat owners for just over two years, but we are learning and are trying to do the best we can.
Barn Wood will be taken back to Flathead Lake and the Big Sky Chapter show next summer, and our aim is to complete our commitment to the boat, the vendor, and ourselves and to make us all proud by displaying this great barn find on her home water, by then at least 36 years since she last plied that lake. There will be a great cocktail cruise that day, I’ll tell you
Stay tuned for pictures next August!