Scan 23

A great photo showing the 35′ Commander’s original Chris-Craft script from 1953.


Here at Woody Boater, we continue to hear stories about classic wooden cruisers that have either been abandoned by their owners, or are offered for bargain basement prices and in some cases for free, or simply to recover past due moorage fees by the marina. Unfortunately, due to the sheer size of these old boats, and the cost of restoration, many of these old classic cruisers remain in a dormant state, rotting away.

But for all the sad stories out there these days, it’s so refreshing to hear a good story about a classic cruiser that’s been saved from the burn pile, and brought back to life by some caring, dedicated owners. This is one of those stories, from fellow Woody Boaters Ron Stevenson and Dick Dow out in the Great Pacific Northwest. And yes, it has a happy ending. – Texx
_________________________

THE $100 DOLLAR CHRIS-CRAFT
Story by Ron Stevenson
Photos by Ron Stevenson & Dick Dow

As you know, or will learn, and even though some of us have gotten one at one time or another, there is never any such thing as a “free boat”. Well getting one for $100 is not much different than “free”. Here’s the story.

100 dollars

Paid in Full – August 1, 1997

The original hull card shows that the Chris-Craft, a 1953 35’ Commander, hull number C35-340, was ready to be shipped on 3/17/1953. It was loaded on a railroad car in its shipping cradle, and shipped to Bryant Marine in Seattle, Washington. It is said that Bryant Marine was the largest Chris-Craft dealer west of the Mississippi at that time.

Commander ad
The story is that new owners were “ITCHIN” to get their boat, and “ITCHIN” to get a bigger boat than what they had, – hence the name on the transom.

Achesons

Mr. & Mrs. Acheson – The early caretakers of ITCHIN’.

We also know that a custom boat lift along the lines of the shipping cradle was built at the owner’s home in a covered boathouse in Medina on Lake Washington, across from Seattle. Chris-Craft knew of the plan to keep the boat on a lift and reinforced the bottom framing with that in mind. The 35′ Commander lived a good life, pulling into the boat house, being lifted out of the water, and after the door closed, she was out of the sun and rain. The owner, Mr. Acheson, re-powered her with Chris-Craft 283’s at some point, keeping the original Chris-o-Matics as was typical in the day.

We heard that after Mr. Acheson died in 1963 his wife Lois didn’t use the boat much, so it literally hung on the cradle unused for at least 30 years. Finally, in the summer of 1997, a cable on the lift failed, dropping everything partially into the lake, compromising the bottom, resulting in ITCHIN’ sinking in the boathouse. Now sinking can be a relative term, in fact, she only took on about a foot of water. But now the boat was a big liability, and it had to be fixed or gotten rid of.

Well, some years before, a friend of ours in the local Antique & Classic Boat Society Chapter, Craig Magnusson, had talked to Mrs. Acheson about the possibility of buying the boat. (Craig has a sister ship Commander named “Take-Off”; so he knows what cool boats these are.) At the time, she was not interested in selling the Chris-Craft.

Now with this turn of events, the call was made to Craig and he was asked if he was still interested in the boat, and would he like to buy it? Craig was very pleased to hear from her, because he had a few friends that he knew would like the boat. We were at her dock 3-1/2 hours later in “Take-Off” to see what was going on. As the salvage divers had made temporary patches and refloated the boat, we towed it away with her permission.

The deal was struck, and on August 1st of 1997, Craig gave Lois $100 dollars, with her knowing that ITCHIN’ would go to new owners (myself and boat buddy Dick Dow) who would restore the boat to its original glory. A good deal right?

We put her on the hard while a third of the bottom was replaced, a new transom beam laminated and installed and other repairs made. Fortunately, there was no structural damage. We bought and rebuilt two Chris-Craft 350 Q motors, rewired, re-tanked, added a holding tank, hot water heater, reupholstered and generally went through every inch of the boat, bringing systems up to current standards while keeping it as true to original in appearance as we could.

Scan 1

The 35’ Commander now at Craig’s house on Mercer Island near Seattle.

 
Scan 2

Note the rubber patches, she had about a foot of water in her when she sank.

 
Scan 3

Dick Dow removing the rubber patches from the bottom of the Commander.

 
scan 6

Damaged bottom planking removed…

 
Scan 7

And a few more damaged bottom planks were removed.

 
Scan 8

Soft transom log – they all do this! (Note the faint outline of the name on the transom)

 
scan 9

Another shot of the Commander’s transom issues.

 
scan 10

Transom issues now being resolved…

 
scan 11

New transom log and knee in place…

 
scan 12

About 1/3 of the bottom is now new planking…

 
scan 15

Shipwright extraordinaire Alan Thomle (left) and Dick Dow, many years younger!

 
Scan 18

No engine….

 
scan 19

New engine…

 
scan 21

We cut open the aft deck lazarette and took out old tanks…

 
scan 22

And installed new tanks…

 
Scan 24

The original Chris-Craft lettering was traced, and Fred Bush hand painted on the new.

 
scan 24

The finished product, thanks to Fred Bush and his magic brush.

 
SCAN 28

ITCHIN’ was totally disassembled…

Scan 29 scan 30
Mercer Island

Mercer Island, where ITCHIN’ was reborn – The home of my dear friend Karen Phillips, she rests in peace, September 13, 2010.

Dick and I spent three years, almost every night and every weekend restoring and putting ITCHIN’ back together.

scan 32

Chrome taken to Canada, $800.00 Canadian!

We learned about the acronym for BOAT (“Break Out Another Thousand”). She passed her survey with flying colors. Once again she is cruising these Pacific Northwest waters. Since that time Dick and his wife have moved on to another, bigger boat.

Itchin Helm 2

The restored helm of ITCHIN’ (an example of Dick Dow’s magic touch)

After completing the restoration, ITCHIN’ picked up a few trophies here and there at various shows, but the real fun is in using the boat. With twin 350 “Q” motors, we cruise at about 20 knots at 2,500 RPM – burning about 10-12 gallons per hour. She is nothing more than a big 35′ runabout with a cabin, and loves to go fast.

scan 34

Cruising in the San Juan Islands, Mt. Baker in the background. Since then, we changed the cabin top color to Bristol Biege.

Does she get used? During the summer of 2010 my wife and I proudly took ITCHIN’ to the Classic Yacht Association’s Bell Street Boat Show on Father’s Day weekend in Seattle, to the Center for Wooden Boats Fourth of July Boat Show, (again in Seattle) to the Chris Craft Rendezvous in Port Orchard, to the La Conner Classic Yacht and Car Show and ended up in Victoria, British Columbia, for their Classic Boat Show on Labor Day weekend.

ITCHIN home

Her original boathouse.

After the restoration was done, we would occasionally do an “honor pass” – cruise by the Acheson home on Lake Washington – hoping that Lois might be looking out the window and see the her old boat go past, freshly painted and varnished, totally restored inside and out, “ITCHIN’” to head out on another adventure. (Sadly, Lois Acheson passed away August 29, 2004)

scan 36

Proudly back in service, and looking fantastic – Glenthorn Passage, Gulf Islands, BC, Canada.

Fast forward to May 2014 – After all those years of blood, sweat, and tears, and 14 years of wonderful adventures… I got a call from an old acquaintance of mine, F. Todd Warner, who has a customer who has to have my Pride and Joy. ITCHIN’ was not for sale, but for the right price, can’t anything be bought? The interested parties flew out for our Opening Day ceremonies in Seattle on May 3rd. Both myself and the new owner are very pleased with the new agreed value.

ITCHIN’ will start its new life on Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota in a few weeks.

She will be missed? – Which brings up a question… “How do you say goodbye to a true love?”

MCraft_ITCHIN

My daughter and her Mom on a final cruise aboard ITCHIN’. Photo courtesy Michael Craft Photography (Official Photographer for LeMay – America’s Car Museum)

 
final

My friend Dick Dow and myself with ITCHIN’ – Photo courtesy of Michael Abrejera

Ron Stevenson & Dick Dow
Passionate people who save classic boats.
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Special thanks to Ron & Dick for sharing this wonderful story of ITCHIN’ with us today – you both deserve credit for not only saving, but restoring this beautiful 60 year-old classic Chris-Craft cruiser. Giving her a new lease on life.

Texx
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32 Responses to “ITCHIN’ – The $100 Dollar Chris-Craft”
  1. JFunk

    Great story…and pix. Thank you. Wish more of these truly beautiful boats could be saved.

  2. Troy

    YAHOO!!

    More Cruiser Love!

    What a GREAT looking boat, and a wonderful story. Reminds me that I have not heard back from Jack Irwin on the original owner of American Beauty. Will need to send off another e-mail.

  3. matt

    This story is going to cost me a ton of money! Thanks Ron… Thanks for that!

    • m-fine

      Don’t do it, you know better. Just take a few deep breaths and count to a million and this shall pass. If that fails, think about all the fun you could have trailering a cruiser across the continent with Paul H. That should set you straight.

      • Troy in ANE

        Don’t listen to M-FINE!

        What the hell does he know anyway.

        You have a place on Chesapeake Bay, what a GREAT place for a cruiser.

        You can be Matt in AME.

  4. Rick

    Love the pictures and story behind this beautiful yacht. In the picture of the helm it appears that the shifters instead of moving forward and back that they are mounted to shift side to side. Optical illusion? Also neat that the knobs are color coded red and green. Thanks for sharing.

    • Dick Dow

      Rick, the shifters are the Chris-O-Matic pieces, originally electric switches, they rotate about 45 degrees forward and aft to shift. I reworked them so that they mechanically operate the cables for the Velvet Drive gearboxes – no electronics involved. Chris-O-Matic electro-hydraulic shift option was quickly dubbed “Crash-O-Matic” after it was introduced, which is a story in itself…

    • Cobourg Kid

      Lets hope that you will see her Bob . After all that work and effort to save and restore her it would be a unfortunate if she ended up in a private museum.

  5. Cobourg Kid

    Ron, the incredible amount of work you and Dick put into restoring and maintaining ITCHIN over the years is truly extraordinary. Thank you for chronicling and telling her story .

    While it’s sad that after 61 years she is slipping out of Seattle’s back door and hitching a ride east I trust that her new owner is intending to retain her iconic name, honor her history and love and exercise her just as much and as often as you and Dick so obviously did…

  6. WoodyGal

    Wonderful story! Itchin’ has such great lines, one of CC best designs. Hope the new owners are worthy.

  7. Alex

    Very nice read. Kudos to you folks for taking on such a daunting project. And what a handsome boat!

    One thing I noticed. Be sure to chain together your jack stands next time you have a boat on the hard.

    These boats are way too nice to use in a viking funeral.

    • Cobourg Kid

      Ryan from what I am hearing the price of Canadian chrome services are now on par with most US shops, however, the presently weak ( 91 cent US exchange) Canadian Dollar could currently net you some financial benefits. That is provided that you can find a cheap way to get the parts back and forth across the border. Unfortunately the courier companies usually charge extortionist rates (particularly on small items) to move goods between Canada and the US.

  8. Ron Stevenson

    Thanks Texx & Matt for doing the article.
    Alex, the boat yards here don’t chain vertical stands on horizontal surfaces, they only chain sailboat stands. And only yard crew can touch/move them.
    The chrome was done in ’99, and not to “Pebble Beach standards”, but “cruiser quality”.

  9. Ryan Nagel

    CK,

    Can you suggest any places in Ontario for Chrome? I travel from southern Ontario all the way out to Thunder Bay quite a bit for work.

    Thanks!

    • Sean

      Cambridge Custom Chrome does a great job but, not the cheapest. I have also had good experience with The Plating House in Concord.

  10. Brian Robinson

    Great boat! Love the beige top color… what was it originally?

    What is the little oval part in front of the large side ventilator underneath the C in Chris~Craft? brown in the unrestored photo, chrome now.

    Thanks!

    • Dick Dow

      Brian, the boat was delivered with a white top, which Mr. Acheson changed to the grey you see in some of the pics. We changed it to beige after a few years of our wives saying they hated people thinking they were in the Navy… 🙂 The little ovals cover the drain holes at the end of the window tracks. There are four of them – (I’m actually looking for a couple of those to chrome and put on my Tolly in place of the cast aluminum ones they used for the same purpose.) Acheson was a commercial ship owner and ordered the boat with bronze rub rails instead of chromed, which you can see in that pic as well. We changed up to stainless.

      • Texx

        Thanks Dick. I love the look of the beige color on the top.

  11. Phillip Jones

    John & Mary Kearns 1 (416) 661-3964 they have done some great work for me with my Shepherd parts. They are not just dippers, they can turn rough castings into jewelry, repair parts, harder to find these types of plater,, and they are very fair priced. The Plating House

  12. Sean

    ITCHIN’ is a FABULOUS boat with a wonderful history. If I ever had a cruiser I’d want one just like her! Happy she’s saved, well loved, exercised and heading for more of the same.

  13. Texx

    Let’s not forget that Graves Plating is a new sponsor here at Woody Boater. They have a great reputation in the hobby and have been around a long time.

    You can check them out on the Woody Boater home page banner or click here for more info.

    http://gravesplating.com/index.html

  14. Randy Rush Captain Grumpy

    Go I guess I over paid at $300 for my loss leader

  15. John Rothert

    One of the best stories of the year! Mfine is right…but right is not everything!….Also with all the rain they had today in Penn yan……his brain may be wet…everything else is….
    Cruiser stories are the absolute best!
    But how do you part with one after so much work?
    I will face that decision some day….not tomorrow though…I am going boating!!!
    John in Va.

  16. Grant Stanfield

    Beautiful restoration and a great story…

    KUDOS to those who made it happen. The Commander is a really stylish model and will always be remembered fondly.

    Another of my favorite models is a relative: the Chris-Craft CORVETTE; she’s basically a Commander with an aft owners stateroom with en-suite head. Voluptuous as hell.

    Here’s a pretty sad one I found in Marine City, MI last time I went to the Algonac ACBS show.

    Maybe if I offered $100…hmm..?

    • Greg

      Where is this boat ? I have found it on different web site for example, Is it still around? How much ?

    • Greg

      Where is this boat ? I have found it on different web site , Is it still around? How much ? Is there a Chris craft corvette in Ithaca NY for sale?

  17. Dick Dow

    There are three for sale in the Seattle area at this time. All on the water and operational… Definately a favorite of mine, but not nearly as nimble or efficient as the Commander series.

  18. Nautilus

    Restoring a vintage cruiser is requires vision, dedication and very deep pockets. If you estimate what it will cost and then double it, you’ll be half right! Back in 2004-2005, I restored a 1940 Elco 57. Many people bet that it would never see the water again. 8,000 man/hours later, they all lost.

    This was all done as a “hobby” while I was a general contractor. However, the hobby soon became a business and the rest is history. I have posted a “restoration photo log” on my website. http://www.nautilusrestorations.com/main/1940-elco-57/

  19. Paul

    Great read Ron and an even better story. Some may think “Why would anyobody go to the trouble to bring her back?” The rest of us say “How could you not?” Beautiful boat and fantastic restoration.