There’s no question that the early wooden runabouts which were produced in the 1920’s and 1930’s were remarkable in so many ways, with many legendary designers and manufacturers from both the United States and Canada all competing for survival prior to and during the Great Depression.
It’s also amazing that over 70 years later, rare examples of these elegant wooden runabouts are still being discovered, hidden away in barns and boat houses around the country. Today Canadian contributor Cobourg Kid presents the first in a two part story about a rare Canadian built Scott Triple Cockpit Runabout which was recently discovered in a carriage shed in southern Ontario. – Texx
The Saga of the Sleepy Scott- Part I
by Cobourg Kid
Woody Boater viewers may recall that back in early March of this year we took you along on our virtual road trip to the Trent Severn Antique & Classic Boat Association’s Spring Workshop event in Port Perry, Ontario. It was at that event that I met Doug Potts.
Easy-going and self-reliant are two qualities that immediately come to mind when you meet Doug, however, it’s his remarkable, almost instinctive, knowledge and love for, wooden boats and motors that sets him apart. These qualities were likely already in place even before 1964, the year he acquired his first hydroplane. Over the next 13 years, Doug tirelessly campaigned that boat and its five successors, crashing more than once and accidently losing one (Wan-Da-Go II) to the icy depths of the St. Lawrence River at Waddington, New York.
Retiring from the hydro circuit in 1977 Doug was promptly bitten by the wooden boat bug and to staunch that itch quickly picked up a 17 foot 1962 Gravette Sun-Flash (which he named “Potts I”) which he subsequently restored. Several years later, when a “Muskoka Growler” (no it’s not a beer – it’s a submerged rock) damaged Potts I’s bottom during a cruise on Muskoka’s Severn River, Doug swiftly decided to procure a second 1962 17 foot Sun-Flash, that just happened to be two serial numbers apart from the original. Fortunately after an extended stay in Doug’s shop, “Potts I” eventually re-entered service joining “Potts II”.
More recently, drained by all the ongoing restoration and re-restoring of his family’s twin Gravettes, Doug was not overly anxious to take on any more boat projects. He did, however, have one more project gnawing away at him which he occasionally mentioned to a few friends, telling them if they ever came across a restorable pre 1930s triple cockpit that he might be interested.
Never expecting that anything would come of this, one day in April 2010 Doug received a call out of the blue from a contractor friend. His buddy explained that he had recently been engaged to repair a wind damaged barn near Orillia, Ontario and while on-site, happened to notice a 1930s triple cockpit sound asleep in an adjacent carriage house.
Acting quickly, Doug contacted the owner and made arrangements to inspect the boat. Arriving at the farm he was ushered into an old carriage shed and dusty tarps were yanked back unveiling a V bottom 20 foot by 6 foot (beam) runabout with hull lines and aft details that were somewhat reminiscent of a mid-1930s Ditchburn. Closer inspection revealed a stylish maker’s plaque on the firewall ahead of the mother-in-law seat (shown above), it read “Scott Boats – Toronto Canada”.
The owner (who is a marine surveyor) recounted that boat had been built by J. C. Scott Company in Toronto around 1933 or 1934 and advised that he had acquired it in the mid-1980s from Hamer Bay Marina (which is still located on Lake Joseph, the most northerly of the three big Muskoka lakes). Apparently when the old Scott had originally arrived at the marina, it was equipped with a marinized flathead Ford V8 which had been pulled and sold before the surveyor bought it.
The owner also related that the boat had been delivered to him with a nasty 1960s wrap around plastic windshield (which he immediately pitched on the basis of sheer ugliness) and registration plaques on the bow, which had somehow since been misplaced. The owner subsequently provided Doug with a photo of the boat as found, however, the only part of the registration visible was 35 E, which was sufficient to determine that the boat had been originally registered in Parry Sound, Ontario – a location quite close to Lake Joseph. This information hinted that the old Scott had probably been in service on that lake since new.
According to Doug, his inspection revealed a boat that was surprisingly solid despite having endured roughly 25 years of storage. Granted the lower transom, stern frames and bottom harbored the usual amount of rot, but the planking and decking appeared to be in fairly good condition.
Satisfied that this vessel was the grail he had been seeking, a deal was consummated and the sleepy old Scott triple was lifted, jacked on to Doug’s flatbed trailer and hauled into the sunshine close to three decades after it had been sent to bed. Forty five miles later it arrived at Doug’s shop.
With the Scott settled into its new home, Doug began to do the homework to ascertain just exactly what he had acquired.
The J.C. Scott Company of Toronto was originally founded in 1879 and billed itself as being “the leading firm doing the finer woodworking required in the building of expensive homes and office buildings.” The fact that the firm engaged the distinguished architectural firm of Burke and Horwood in 1905 to design new facilities at 108 River Street attests to its success in producing and selling intricate custom architectural millwork and lumber products. These products and services were apparently sold directly to those trades that traditionally required its expertise. Accordingly the firm did not advertise extensively, if at all.
This complacent approach seemed to work well until the onset of the great depression in late 1929. At that point building activity across North America flagged dramatically and at the same time designers began to turn away from intricate woodwork as a common design element. These factors alone would have produced a noticeable weakening in demand for Scott’s traditional products and services. With the (red) writing on the wall (or should I say accounts ledger) the firm found itself in mid-1931 with no option but to find a way to augment its rapidly shrinking revenues. It decided that it could achieve this by introducing a retail line of recreational boats and household furniture and implementing a dynamic advertising campaign for both; all in hope of saving the once prosperous firm.
At the same time about 100 miles north of Toronto the once redoubtable Ditchburn Boat Company of Gravenhurst was just completing its first of three depression induced spirals into ultimate bankruptcy. Caught in the turmoil a number of highly skilled and experienced boatwrights suddenly found themselves without employment. Scott seized on this opportunity to secure highly qualified talent and immediately retained Bert Hawker, Ditchburn’s head designer and plant supervisor, to create an exclusive array of recreational water craft for Scott Boats. Similarly Dave Fettes, a former lead hand at Ditchburn was quickly recruited to manage Scott’s boat division. Given the scarcity of jobs in the early 1930s and Fettes’ connections it’s reasonable to assume that he too took the opportunity to entice a few of Ditchburn’s elite builders to take positions with Scott.
To maximize their customer base J. C. Scott settled on a rather unique business model that offered customers “four remarkably inexpensive ways to own a Scott fine Motorboat”. According to advertisements that Scott began placing in boat magazines around January 1932, buyers had the option to;
(1) Obtain a complete kit that included pre-cut “assembly tested frames” planking decking and all fasteners,
(2) Acquire a completed bare hull,
(3) Buy a fully finished hull, or
(4) For those who had no interest in DYI – a fourth option was offered, that of ordering a customized fully finished and water tested boat.
To build confidence in their product, Scott ads customarily emphasized that their boats had been “authoritatively” designed by Bert Hawker and were built using “unusually sturdy construction, selected materials and were water tested proven”. At that time Hawker’s name was resonant in the boating community, not only was he well-known as a designer he had also piloted Bette (Joe) Carstairs second boat, “Estelle V” in the 1929 Harmsworth race in Detroit, taking on the eminent Gar Wood and other well known “speed boat kings”. Not surprisingly, images of Bert Hawker “testing” various production models on Lake Muskoka frequently appeared in Scott’s advertising materials.
Clients had a variety of models to choose from. The initial lineup for 1932 included a 20 foot triple cockpit V bottom eight passenger inboard model called the Ranger, a 17 foot dual cockpit five passenger V bottom inboard model named the Gadabout, a 17.5 foot inboard rough water boat branded the Sinbad, a 16 foot outboard fishing boat dubbed the Playboy and a 10 foot canvas covered dingy kit that sold for $65 dollars.
The following year a 14 foot inboard 42 MPH hydroplane called the Hornet joined the line up as did the Snipe, a 15 foot sailboat, the Scout, a round bottom family outboard, the Allouette, a 17.5 foot split cockpit “economy” inboard and the Imp an innovative 10 foot girder type sea flea.
In 1935, the last year that ads for Scott Boats appeared, two additional models were added to the line-up, the Dart a 15.5 foot V bottom family inboard runabout and the Pilot an 18.5 foot round bilge runabout.
In a 1932 advertisement in Power Boating Magazine, Scott described Doug’s Model as follows:
“Ranger… beautiful 30 mph mahogany runabout for $1895. What a boat to drive over the sparkling waves! One glance… quickly exemplifies the beauty, contour and dignity of this true performing Hawker designed 20 foot V bottom mahogany runabout. Carrying eight people with ease this ultra-smart craft solicits admiration, with its rich blue upholstery wonderful equipment and finish. What more could be desired for wonderful boating!”
Specifications for the Ranger published in 1933 indicated that it was available with a choice of three engines. The top of the line was a 95 HP Farr (a rebranded Kermath Sea Master six) which would supposedly produce a 36 MPH top speed. Second choice was an 85 HP Chrysler, which would drive the boat at an estimated 35 MPH and the economical option, a Buchannan 72 HP motor that would propel the craft at 30 MPH.
As revealed, Doug’s Ranger did not come with an engine, nor was the original flathead Ford available for inspection. Similarly the registration number was missing and there was no builder’s specification tag on the boat, other than the builder’s plaque, which was located on the fire-wall facing the mother-in–law seat. Without this data determining the exact date of manufacture is a difficult proposition.
There are, however, a few clues. Turns out that the original bottom of the boat was constructed of plywood, in fact it was seamless, running the full length of the hull on each side with no joints or scarfs. Later, when disassembling the Scott, Doug found no evidence to suggest that that plywood was not original. My research indicates that while plywood was being used in manufacturing from the mid-1920s onwards, it was not until 1934 that a waterproof adhesive was developed that could allow it to be used in outdoor and marine applications.
Is it possible that Scott Boats was one of the first boat builders to experiment with this new material? As J. C. Scott was a well-established wood specialist firm with plenty of industry contacts, this conclusion seems (no pun intended) possible.
The prior existence of a marinized Ford V8 also provides some clues. Doug always assumed that the flat head replaced one of the three engines specified in the Scott Catalog, and that could very well be the case. Nevertheless, in researching this story I came across a Scripps Motor Co. ad in the November 1934 issue of MotorBoating magazine. That ad announced the introduction of a marinized version of the Ford flat head. Accordingly, it is possible that the Scott was ordered as a finished hull and on delivery the buyer installed their own engine, which just might have been the V8 that was extracted in the 1980s.
Of course without conclusive evidence in the form of the original boat registration, (which is almost impossible to extract from Transport Canada who use the Privacy Act to deny such requests) we may never know the exact build date of the Ranger. Nevertheless, given the evidence it is likely that Doug’s boat was probably built in 1934 or early 1935.
Tomorrow, in Part II of “The Saga of the Sleepy Scott” – we will carry on with our story, revealing Doug’s restoration methodology, his engine choice and some other tales. Stay tuned.