Doebler Collections Building – Photo Courtesy of Antique Boat Museum
Today, in Chapter One of his three part report from the 49th Annual Antique Boat Show & Auction at the Antique Boat Museum, Reporter Cobourg Kid takes us on a very special, very rare tour of the museum’s amazing boat collection at their huge Don Doebler Collections Storage Facility in Clayton, NY. The title says it all… – Texx
Clayton New York Antique Boat Show 2013:
Chapter One, the Magical Mystery Tour
Story & Photos by Cobourg Kid
Although the sun shone bright, the air remained stubbornly cool and breezy late last Friday morning as I headed out from my cousin’s place in Kingston, Ontario. My objective? A presumably one hour trek that would take me east along the north shore of the St Lawrence River to Ivy lea, south across the international bridge and border, then west to Clayton, New York and the opening day of the 49th annual boat show at the Antique Boat Museum.
In retrospect, I had been just a tad optimistic in estimating my ETA, not anticipating the swarm of fellow Canadians who also felt that Friday might be a terrific day to visit the USA. Nevertheless, even though a bridge and boarder delays set me back by about 45 minutes, I remained on track to get to the museum by 2:00 PM therefore providing me with the rare opportunity to check out the Museum’s fabled (but usually closed to the public) Doebler Collections Storage Facility.
Snarled Border Traffic
Crossing the American Channel of the St. Lawrence River.
Having traversed the border, I immediately veered right and headed back up the river following route 12 into Clayton and, to my surprise, almost immediately experienced an attack of GBF (Grey Boat Fever).
Now let me explain. Like much of backwoods Muskoka, the south side of the St. Lawrence appears to be richly endowed with the remains of boats that, in other places, would have long ago disappeared into the burn pile. Perhaps that’s just a normal outcome of a rural population that is endowed with thrift, resourcefulness and ingenuity?
But I digress. So here I am traveling along route 12 minding my own business when suddenly out of the corner of my eye I get a glimpse of what looks like a Lyman falling off a cliff! “What the heck?” I say to myself. Stomping on the binders. Quickly making a U-turn I swerve into the backfield of an old dry land marina, and this is what I see:
A very sad end to Larry the Lyman’s cousin Cruisette.
A 1940’s Hutchinson Brothers runabout teeters on stands, its tarpaulin long lost to the west wind.
A couple turn of the century St. Lawrence skiffs curl up in the weeds with a 1950s cedar strip.
After inspecting the remains and with my GBF now under control, I quickly got myself back on the route 12 and soon found myself in Clayton.
Just one of the Antique Boat Museum’s many promotional signs along Route 12.
The famous “Welcome to Clayton” sign. Not as snazzy as Gravenhurst’s sign mind you but still very cool.
Arriving in Clayton, I immediately set to work trying to find a side street parking spot. Having visited the show in past years I didn’t expect that this would take an inordinate amount of time, however, this time round it proved to be an unexpected challenge suggesting, in advance, that this year’s event was drawing a larger crowd.
After securing a parking spot I eventually arrived at the show’s registration desk where the volunteers provided a warm North Country welcome and then packed me off to meet up with Mike Folsom, Director of Marketing and Communications at the Antique Boat Museum.
Mike proved to be a genial host and I soon found myself being whisked around “campus” in a Gator on a “media tour” with Mike vigorously waiving, pointing and explaining what was happening where and when.
Asked about whether this year’s show was busier than last year Mike confirmed that participation was definitely higher than 2012 with 50 vendors on site, and about 50 boats in the auction (about 25 percent with no reserve). According to Mike, all of the dock spaces had been pre-booked for entrants. Although some boats were still rolling (or floating) in at the time I arrived museum staff anticipated that about 80 boats (not counting the boats to be auctioned or Museum Boats) would ultimately be on display, either in the water or on dry land.
At the end of our mad dash Mike introduced me to Hank Parker, the Museum’s Lead Docent. Learning of my keen interest in visiting the Doebler storage facility, Hank quickly arranged for me to travel there with him and Emmett Smith, the museum’s curator.
Ten minutes later (In circumstances resembling a weird woodstockian dream) I found myself being introduced to Emmett and his assistant while they were in mid pursuit of obscure marine engine parts being offered in the field of dreams.
Vintage Marine Parts Drive Thru – Part of the Field of Dreams.
Totally unfazed by finding that he now had to fit a fourth person into his early 1970s Volvo sedan, Emmett immediately set to work transferring a spare tire, a box of bottled water and miscellaneous engine parts from back seat to the truck. Once done Emmett, his assistant, Hank and I all piled-in and headed off for a magical mystery tour of the Doebler Storage Facility.
Appearing rather small and plain Jane on the outside….
The Doebler Storage Facility is anything but small inside.
Shortly after crossing the threshold Hank suggested that we ought to have a look at the plaque mounted at the front entrance of the Doebler building. It was obvious that he wanted me to know the back story of the building before becoming consumed by the collection it held.
Plaque at the entrance of Doebler Building demonstrates the spirit of community and generosity that has gradually vaulted what was a small regional museum to the echelon of National Treasure; in other words, the undeclared Smithsonian of American recreational water craft.
Hank related that the 20,000 square foot Collections Storage Facility building had been funded by the late Don Doebler. The launch of this project accomplished a long term goal of the board, to finally move the bulk of the un-displayed portion of the collection out of the creaky wooden storage barns that the museum had made do with for many years.
An elevated view of the currently un-displayed collection.
Opened in 2006, the Doebler facility provides a secure, clean, structurally sound home for half of the Museum’s growing collection of pleasure boats, making it easier to properly inventory, conserve and rotate the growing fleet in and out of display.
Over the following two hours I explored every square inch of that 20,000 square feet packed full of boats, boat motors and other antique marine exotica. The vast majority of artifacts were tagged with highly detailed descriptions, however, Emmett, Hank and the other ABM staff in the building were always glad to entertain my questions.
The following photos illustrate just some of the discoveries I made as I wandered about the building on a self-guided tour:
Hank Parker ABM’s Lead Docent strokes “Purr-r” a 1939 Chris-Craft Utility that was donated by ABM Trustee Don Babcock of Skaneateles Lake.
Curator Emmett Smith discusses the finer points of marinized Packard aircraft engines with Century boat aficionado Paul Miklos.
A bunch of guys from Illinois measure up “Minken II”, a 30 foot 1928 Chris-Craft Custom Runabout powered by a CC A-70 200 hp engine. Just one of three produced that year. The boys ask Emmett if they can move the back seat out a bit. Sure he says, “Just be careful”!
“Chatahoochee” was built in Clayton in 1929 by Henry Thibault. A transitional design her rounded cedar hull emulates the traditional displacement launch, while her double cockpit layout, with forward helm, and mahogany decks adopts the style of the then newly introduced planing runabouts. “Chatahoochee” still has her original power plant a 90 hp GrayMarine flathead six.
The 99 year old launch “Dorothy” was recently donated by former ABM trustee Bill Feikert. Built by T. S and B Furniture Company of Syracuse NY in in 1914, she is probably the only boat the company produced. One could say she is a piece of Adirondack history having spent her entire operational life on 7th lake and Lake George. Well cared for by her former owners this unusual counter stern launch remains almost 100 percent original, right down to her ancient Kermath engine, custom forged hardware, cedar hull and mahogany decks.
In the depths of the Great Depression “EL Lagarto” reigned supreme on the Gold Cup circuit. Owned and driven by actor George Reis, “The Leaping Lizard of Lake George” became first three-time consecutive winner of the APBA; taking the Cup in 1933, 1934, and again in 1935. While “El Lagarto” is currently enjoying retirement at the Adirondack museum, her younger twin can be found in Clayton snoozing in the shade of the Doebler building.
“Happy Times” is a dimensionally correct replica of the famous racer that was custom built in 1971 by the Late Bill Morgan, the man who engineered the re-genesis of the venerable Hacker Boat Company. Just two months prior to his passing in February 2012 Mr. Morgan decided to donate “Happy Times” and “Miss Los Angeles”, (an original 1929 Gold Cup and Harmsworth challenger) to the Antique Boat Museum.
The view of Happy Times most often seen by competitors.
“Miss Los Angeles” a 1929 Gold Cup Challenger.
“Moike” (foreground) is a 37 foot high speed displacement launch constructed by Charles L Seabury Co. (Consolidated shipbuilding) of Morris Heights New Jersey. She was built in 1904 for Frederick Bourne (of Singer Sewing Machine fame) and was transported to the Borne castle on Dark Island in the Thousand Islands where she was presented to the Borne’s daughter Marjory on her 14th birthday. You would think that a skiff-putt would have been sufficient for a 14 year old!
“Red Cloud” is a 36 foot Hutchinson Brothers Launch built in Alexandria Bay in 1921. Sometime around 1924 she was upgraded from long decker to a more modern limousine configuration, which incorporated full-length spray rail, chauffer’s cockpit, half enclosed sedan seating with roll down windows and an open cocktail area in the stern. Just the boat to whisk any well-to-do industrialist to and from the train station at Clayton in style.
“Katz” and “Cadette”. “Katz” is a 1903 raceboat with a vintage 2 cylinder Barber (Syracuse) engine. She is remarkable in that her conventional displacement bow steps up into a tunnel hull which flattens and narrows to a small triangular stern, features that would have been cutting edge at the time. “Cadette” is a first issue 22 foot Chris-Craft Cadet model manufactured by Chris-Craft in 1927 (the introductory year for this new model). With her original 4 cylinder L head engine rated at 70 hp intact, “Cadette” can still move out at speeds approaching 25 MPH.
“Emma Ho II” has to be one of the most unusual and possibly the narrowest motorized boat that I have ever encountered. Built in Northern Kentucky in 1910, she set a speed record the following year traveling down the Ohio River from Cincinnati to Louisville in 265 minutes.
Emmett Smith told me that “The Fox” might well be his favorite boat. Designed and built in Cape Vincent, New York in 1926 by Roy Stanley, who operated a low production shop, this boat was cutting edge for its time. Stanley’s design incorporates a planing hull with highly flared sides, wide covering boards, raked windshields and a barrel back transom that would not be seen in a Chris-Craft for another twelve years.
As “The Fox” was originally powered by a water-cooled Hispano-Suiza V-8 marine engine that probably put out around 220 hp at 2000 rpm, she would have certainly been able to scamper. Emmett believes that the existence of boats like “The Fox” suggest that folks like George Crouch, Chris Smith and Gar Wood, often gleaned new cutting edge ideas from regional builders. My impression: this thing looks like it was purpose built for rum running!
“Suwanee” is a 31 foot custom built “light speed launch” built by the L.E Fry Company of Clayton in 1909 for W.E Owen a summer resident of Thousand Islands Park on Wellesley Island. The boat features a sliding hatch over the engine compartment, a Fry innovation. “Suwanee” has been in the museum collection since 1996.
Built in 1910, “Addie” is a 21 foot “Skiff-Putt” produced by L.E. Fry Company. Skiff-Puts evolved around 1905 when small marine engines became relatively affordable allowing owners to convert rowing skiffs into practical little motor boats. The engine currently in place in Addie is a 2 hp Palmer flat four probably manufactured in the mid-1920s.
A very cool Acme Folding Boat rests on an ancient sloop.
Part of the collection of small boats and canoes.
Still more small boats, canoes, skiffs… well you get he picture!
“Wee Tempo” a 1951 Jacoby Hydroplane waits for a race that isn’t coming.
A recent donation “Little Ginger” is a vintage 1930s hydroplane constructed by John Beckindorf of Pennsylvania.
Part of the massive canoe and antique outboard collection.
A last glimpse of the Doebler building collection.
Two and a half hours literally flew by as I rambled about the Doebler building collection soaking in the atmosphere, the smell of ancient varnish, aged wood and the occasional whiff of old marine grease and gasoline. With history permeating the air, I hunted the stories these boats seemingly wanted to tell me and with the help of Emmett, Hank and the other ABM volunteers I think I found them.
Exhausted, I rode back down to the docks with Emmett in his vintage Volvo and as we rolled along a thought passed through my mind, it really had been a magical mystery tour.
Tune in tomorrow for a photo montage of our trip to the Rock Island lighthouse with the ACBS Champlain Chapter folks.