Today we have a great report from fellow Woody Boater John Baas, who was up in Chetek, Wisconsin last weekend with his classic boat. As you will see in his story, this local boat show is different from your standard show, and could be a candidate for the smallest boat show in the country.
But regardless of the size, what’s significant about this show is the fact that folks are gathering together to celebrate classic boats, specifically the Chetek Boat Company, and the contribution they made to the wooden boat industry for 20 years. – Texx
Chetek Fly-In and Boat Show
Story & Photos by John Baas
Where the heck is Chetek and why should anyone care? For those of us with varnish in our veins, Chetek is a small town in northwest Wisconsin where, 66 years ago, two guys and two dozen or so of the local citizenry invested money, sweat and knowhow in a new wooden boat company.
For anyone else, this sleepy lake country town some 100 miles east of Minneapolis is a northwoods playground of fishing, boating and watching sunsets. On this Sunday it was also host to the 4th annual Chetek Fly-In and Boat Show. Emil Mix and Vern Larsen made a lot of wooden boats here. Plywood, cedar strip and lapstrake boats flowed from the factory. The last of them left the finishing room in the mid 1960’s. Mine, a 17’ lapstrake outboard was built in 1959.
I became an official Woody Boater on June 25th, 2006 when I bid $380.00 at a farm auction for a cool looking old boat with a McCulloch Flying Scott motor all sitting on a Sterling Self Centering trailer. I wasn’t looking for a boat. I was looking for implements to use with our vintage Massey Ferguson tractor. Turns out I had purchased a Chetek Duchess. The most terrifying aspect of buying an old wooden boat was how to tell my wife. But that’s another story.
Several years ago I contacted John Banks at the Chetek, WI museum looking for some information about the Chetek Boat Company. I’d just completed a cosmetic update that included a lot of sanding and a lot of varnish. But I didn’t know anything about Chetek boats or the city in northwest Wisconsin from whence they came.
John filled me in on some of the history, including the fact that the company began making wooden boats in 1947 and continued into 1965 when a second fire at the factory put the boat building side of the business out of business. The company built wooden toboggans and dog sleds for a short time but by 1967 the Chetek Boat Company was no more. I thanked John for the history lesson and almost jokingly said how neat it would be to have a Chetek boat reunion in, of all places, Chetek!
With absolutely no help from yours truly, John Banks partnered up with the local airport which was hosting a fly-in for vintage aircraft. Since airports typically don’t have boat ramps, ours was a “dry show”. There were a handful of Chetek boats the first year. My wife Pam and I took our Chetek Duchess utility on a five hour trailer ride “back home”. One of the locals told me he had “two, three of these boats at home but didn’t think it was such a big deal.” There are some pretty big and fancy vintage boat shows around the country, but Chetek’s could be among the smallest.
Sponsored by the Chetek Historical Society, the show is now open to any Wisconsin boat builder (any vintage boat, really). Previous shows saw Shell Lake, Thompson, Cruisers Inc and Dunphy boats among the Chetek vessels.
The kids can ride an antique fire truck. This 1940 Chevy was purchased new by the Chetek Fire Department. The firefighters did the restoration themselves. The truck is the hit of every local event.
Everyone enjoys an old fashioned chicken dinner complete with ice cream for dessert. You’d swear Sheriff Andy Taylor and Opie would be sauntering by any minute.
This year’s show stopper was William Wivell’s cool original 14’ 1953 Chetek Aqua Flyer (shown below).
This boat is legendary in that it has never been in the water! Bill owns 6 Chetek boats, but this one is the prize of the fleet. Not only has this boat never been wet, it has never been off its original Montgomery Ward’s trailer.
This year’s show was a success for all involved but especially for our ’59 Chetek Duchess. She took the “People’s Choice Award”. And just yesterday, our ’59 Chetek won Best Wood Outboard at the Pewaukee Glacier Lakes ACBS Chapter show.
We named our boat the “Middy Mae” in memory of my wife’s mother, Middy, and my mother, Mae. She turns heads where ever we go. Oh, and by the way, we sold the tractor.
Thanks John for taking the time to prepare this great story and send it to us here at Woody Boater. I have to admit that beyond the Chetek Boat Company name, I didn’t know anything about the history of the Chetek marque. But I do now thanks to John.