Last week, fellow Woody Boater Jeff Knudsen (Tin Can – Jeff) met 3 very special women in Holland, Michigan – The Kanera Sisters. All three sisters worked for Chris-Craft in the 1950’s at the Roamer Plant in Holland. Jeff sent me a text with the above photo right from the dinner table with the exciting news, so we asked Jeff to do a short story on the girls while they were all together in Holland. A few days later, Jeff met the girls and filed this story…
I asked Jeff how he met the Kanera Sisters, and here’s what he said…
Texx – One of my best friends, Jack Wilson is Marilyn’s son. My wife Laurie and I were invited to dinner to Jack’s house and his wife Liz. Unaware, the 3 sisters were also invited and I brought the Roamer add up and this story started to unvail and take over the evening. I started to text you when we were all still around the dinner table. The rest IS history. – Jeff
The Girls of Chris-Craft – By Jeff Knutsen
In 1953, Marion Kanera started with Chris-Craft in the cost department. Her responsibilities were to gather up the GSO (general ship order) and BSO (boat ship order) cards from the previous day and keep track of the man-hours and materials that went into each boat at the Holland Plant. When she started she was the only employee in that department. Her twin sister Marilyn later would follow her when the department grew. When Marilyn left her job at the Holland Evening Sentinel to go to Chris-Craft she instantly doubled her wages from $21 a week to $41 a week. In the 1950’s Chris-Craft was known to be the best employer in Holland Michigan for wages and working conditions.
Marion would stay on to see her cost department grow to six when Chris-Craft decided they needed a supervisor to head the department. As a sign of the times, Marion was asked to train a male hired off the street to head her department. She liked him but after so many years, she felt slighted for being passed up for the position. She would leave Chris-Craft because of this decision but would later return to the Roamer Division in their cost department.
Ruthie Kanera also joined Chris-Craft during this same time period and was the only female working in the production line. Most women at Chris-Craft would either work in the office or in the upholstery department. Her responsibility was in the last stage of production where she would clean all the fixed glass of the freshly completed cruisers before being shipped out.
She would hop between the 9 production lines when a boat was being readied for final inspection. She was known to occasionally take short cuts swinging from ropes attached to the ceiling to get to the various production lines where she was needed. She says that was her favorite job still to this day. She also admits with a grin, how she carved her initials RK on Alli Khan’s toilet seat in his new cruiser. Mr. Khan was husband to actress Rita Hayworth who personally came to the plant to see his boat being constructed.
She would later regret following her sisters to the cost department. She missed being surrounded by the great boats and the skilled craftsmen that made Chris-Craft what it was in its hay day. They all knew they where building something special for special people and they all took great pride in their skills. The girls have vivid memories of the people they worked with and for. They mention Johnny Peterson who was married to Marilyn’s sister in-law at the time. Known for his great skill with wood, he personally carved by hand all the bull noses on the bow of the cruisers.
When Chris-Craft bought Roamer in 1955, they were saddened to see the possibility of Chris-Craft heading away from the traditional skills of these craftsmen.
A highlight for the girls after the purchase of Roamer was, without any warning or preparation, when the twins Marilyn and Marion were asked to pose for a photo shoot on the first Roamer produced under the Chris Craft name. When they showed up for work, they were asked to be at the local marina where they found the new Roamer, piloted by Chris Smith himself. They mentioned you always dressed for work back in those days in a dress or skirt, never slacks. So it was not much to ready yourself for a photo shoot with little notice. The photo shoot would later be used for magazine ads.
Another memory of Chris Smith was when he purchased a new Ford retractable hardtop. As the day progressed, everyone got a chance to walk out to the parking lot to get a better few of this dazzling new car.
It is obvious that these great women loved to work at Chris Craft and still feel it was something special to be a part of but they find it hard to believe that a younger generation would want to hear their story. I clung to every word.
Thanks Jeff for that great story about the Kanera Girls from Chris-Craft, that was certainly an unexpected dinner date with your friends. I’m sure they have a lot of wonderful memories from those early days working at the Holland Plant.
The Roamer Boat Company was founded in Holland, Michigan, by Robert R. Linn, just after World War II. Linn came to Holland from Grand Rapids as a young man, and apprenticed with Ken Campbell of the Campbell Boat Company for two years. Linn built his first Roamer cruiser, a steel-hulled 32-foot express cruiser in 1946. Roamer built many additional yacht designs including express cruisers, deckhouse cruisers, and double cabin cruisers ranging from 33 to 48 feet in length. In addition to pleasure craft, the Roamer Boat Company built commercial craft as well.
The Roamer Boat Company was sold to Chris-Craft in 1955 and was operated as a Division of the Chris-Craft Corporation named the Roamer Steel Boat Division. Roamer production was shifted to Chris-Crafts plant & corporate offices in Pompano Beach, Florida in 1975 and ceased production in 1979.
Vintage images of the Holland, MI Plant and Chris-Craft brochure images for this story are courtesy of the Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club archive. You can click here to check out their web site, popular Boat Buzz Forum and also find information on membership to this fabulous organization.