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Have you ever looked out your back window and thought to yourself – “I think I’m going to cut down that oak tree and build a boat to take my family cruising on the Great Lakes…”

Well, that’s exactly what Melvin Tibboles decided to do in Bellevue, Ohio. He began the project by sawing the keel from a white oak tree on November 30th, 1955 and after three years, the boat was successfully launched for her maiden voyage on July 16th, 1958. Today we have the fascinating story of “MEL-MAR II” from fellow Woody Boater Dan Clevenger – Melvin’s grandson. – Texx
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The Life & Times of “MEL-MAR II”
by Dan Clevenger

Matt and Texx – I wanted to reach out and share a story about my childhood. My grandfather built a wooden boat by hand which began in 1955. He cut a white oak tree down for the ribs, keel & batons. It has a full mahogany cabin and deck. I have a full history on the boat, including build photos that we found on old 35mm slides. It has cruised on all the Great Lakes back in day, but spent it’s summers primarily in Port Clinton, Ohio on Lake Erie.

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The keel was sawed on November 30, 1955 from the white oak tree. Grandpa was born in 1904, so he would have been 51 yrs old when he started the process.

My Grandfather was not a boat builder, he worked on the railroad and owned a well-drilling business. He could make anything! He also was a watchsmith and repaired many watches. Grandpa made some (12) grandfather clocks during his life. The boat was built in Bellevue, OH.

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My Grandfather was a master of all, he could fix or build anything.

We are not sure if he had hull plans or not for the hull. My Mom thinks there were plans for the hull only – but can’t remember since she was 10-12 yrs old at that time. What I know is that the boat was not a kit. I heard he only had plans for the hull, but this is not verified nor known by any aunts and uncles.

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Note the transom frame set in place and the period hand tools.

He got the Keel, Ribs and Karlings from one white oak tree back in 1955. Here are a few photos of the boat in the early stages of construction, as it evolved – one step at a time, each individual piece cut to fit by my Grandfather.

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The planks are all 1-1/8” Cypress treated with Cuprinol.

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Melvin using a local saw mill owned by Gibb Enders to create the various wood components – Texx

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The hull construction now completed and painted, impressive work for sure. All the ribs are 18″ on center, I’ve heard Chris-Craft, Mathews, etc are spaced out much further.

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Phase 1 complete. The first trailer was a modified hay wagon. Next on to the engine installation.

My Grandfather powered his new boat with a 1957 Oldsmobile 371 V-8 (which we still have).

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A beautiful period photograph of the actual Oldsmoblile Rocket V-8 Melvin used. I asked our friend Jim Staib at Fine Wood Boats to have a look at this photo – He said it appeared to have a Barr Marine conversion kit (then sold for around 175.00 ) with a Paragon direct drive transmission (which then sold for around 315.00). – Texx

 
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Melvin preparing for the engine installation using what he had in an innovative way…

 
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Suspend the new Oldsmobile V-8 from the rafters and back the boat into the shop…

 
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Before long, the engine is lowered into place.

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Next step of the project was the decks, cabin and interior.

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Here’s a shot of the new helm. The steering mechanism (one of the coolest things made on the boat) is made from a 1940’s Chevrolet rack and pinion, and a set of wooden pulleys for adjusting the tension. It’s totally ingenious and still works today!

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Just a few weeks ago, we found the plans for the propeller strut in Grandpa’s old router table. The strut, tiller arm seem to have been cast by a company called, Henry J Dahmer.

The stainless scuppers were made and welded by grandpa. The twin 37 gallon stainless tanks were also made by grandpa, along with the 60 gallon stainless waste tank. He made the fresh water tank and full shore power. My Grandma made all of the upholstery and canvas covers (which we still have).

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The boat is 29.0 feet long x 9.0 feet wide, sleeps 6 people, c/w a head, galley and even had a real working (Freon) ice chest! Grandpa made the boat a left-hand drive (Port) to make it extra original, like a ‘car’.

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After three years of construction, “MEL-MAR II” was hauled to the marina with a Chevrolet one-ton to be launched. The second trailer was made from 4-1/2” well casing. A big day for the family as you can imagine.

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The boats maiden voyage was July 16th, 1958. The big event made the front page in the Bellevue, OH Gazette when it hit the water for its maiden voyage.

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“MEL-MAR II” spent 90% of her life operating out of the West Harbor Club Marina on Catawba Island, Ohio on Lake Erie. She was used to cruise and discover all the Great Lakes back in the day.

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Melvin’s brother, Gordon Tibboles at the helm of “MEL-MAR II”. It is believed that my Grandmother allowed my Grandpa to build the boat if he quit smoking his Chesterton cigarettes.

Fast forward to fall 2013. – I recently inherited my Grandfather’s 29 ft. boat that he built with full documented history. Last known oil change was fall of 1985, and has been in storage since. Here’s a few shots of “MEL-MAR II” when we pulled it from my Uncle’s barn in October 2013. Needless to say, the raccoons had a field day in the boat, but nothing that isn’t being fixed now!

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“MEL-MAR II” gets a well deserved bath after many years of storage.

 
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I have every piece of original hardware from the boat (Perko – re-chroming of course).

The boat is currently being worked on to make any necessary repairs and make her seaworthy again after 27 years of storage. I am repowering the boat with a 380 HP QSB5.9 Cummins (purchased – not yet installed), rewiring, refinishing, the whole 9 yards.

I recently had a new Loadmaster new triple axle gooseneck trailer built for her.

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The original Lionel Corporation Navy compass cleaned up and ready to go back in the boat.

 
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The boat was originally named “Mel-Mar II” by my grandparents, Melvin and Martha Tibboles. It was their 2nd boat. Metal letters will be refinished and reinstalled in memory of my Grandparents.

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A photo of the family that built the boat, from left to right: Bill, Melvin, Martha, Jeanette, Jim and Victoria. Victoria is my Mom. The others are her siblings. They are played a part in evolution of “MEL-MAR II”.

The boat is currently is at my house in Batavia, OH for some minor restoration work and will soon be back in the water, to be used and enjoyed on Lake Erie – her home.

Dan Clevenger
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A great story of your family and their wooden boat Dan – thanks for sharing it with us here at Woody Boater today. It’s so cool to have found those old 35mm slides, and the fact that your grandparents had the foresight to photograph every aspect of the original “MEL-MAR II” construction and life on Lake Erie.

We look forward to seeing photos of her re-lauch when you have her done.

Texx
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42 Responses to “The Life & Times Of “MEL-MAR II””
  1. Texx

    Another great vintage photo of the family playing cards in the cabin of “MEL-MAR II” back in the day.

    • Don Palmer

      Great Story! I wish I had half of the abilities that he had.
      Thanks for sharing!
      Enjoy

  2. Greg Lewandowski

    What a great story and part of your Grandfather’s legacy. Men like him went out of existence with Cuprinol! It’s wonderful that you are putting the boat back in use in his memory. Bravo!

  3. Al Benton

    Wonderful story and documentation. That the photos include falling the old oak tree that she was constructed from is amazing. The story of Mel Mar II is most unique and priceless. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Chris B

    now thats some great family history and a wonderful boat as well. the relaunch will be a very exciting time. enjoy her for another 50 years

  5. Chad

    Amazing story. What a treasure to have to have such an intact, documented boat. Melvin was a talented man.

    Good luck!

  6. Troy

    This has to be one of the BEST stories I have read yet.

    What a great history and nice design.

    I will admit I wanted to cut down an oak tree in my yard to fix the keel on American Beauty, but was told that our oaks are red oaks and are not good for boat keels. (need white oak like Melvin had)

  7. Redbeardsraven

    Great family boat. Great family story! love it.

  8. Wilson

    Now I know what they mean when they say, ” Back in the day when men were men.”

  9. oldernowiser

    I agree with Troy. One of the best stories ever! What a wonderful way to start out the week.
    Best of luck with her Dan. A beautiful boat!

  10. Alex

    Dan, what a fun story. Thank you for sharing it. Some people get all the cool grandpas!

  11. Paul H.

    This was great! It is wonderful to see the author’s reverence for his family and the boat, and to see the steps being taken to return her to the water. I think Troy and Wilson nailed it – hared to conceive of someone who is not a hobbyist builder just deciding to build a boat today. It seemed Melvin was doing pretty well back then – good equipment and shop, but there is no reason to think he wouldn’t be, with the innate talent and ability he had. I am looking forward to Part 2 – Re-launch!

  12. Kentucky Wonder

    What a super story! Please let us know when it’s back in the water being used!

    Did someone do some PhotoShop work on the photo with the red truck? There’s only one porthole in that shot, and two on all the rest.

    • Dan Clevenger

      The 2nd Port Hole was added after the first season in the water. No photoshop.

      Good eye. There are other suttle differences too.

      🙂

      Dan

  13. charleyquimby

    Cuprinol and Penta. Only poisons like these will do a great fungicidal job of wood preservation…Still have several gallons left. Hmmm, goood. Like Homer and donuts…

  14. m-fine

    Most of us girly men these days can’t restore a runabout in three years. He converted a tree into a scratch built cruiser in that time. I feel vastly inferior.

    • jim g

      Sure you can. Get rid of the computer, cable tv and cellphone. Then no kids baseball, soccer, or football after school and a host of other things that take up our time nowadays that weren’t around in the 50’s.

      Get rid of all of that and imagine all the free time you would have.

  15. RiverRat

    Gotta have White Oak it has Tyloses that makes the wood water tight for boats and cooperage, wine and whiskey barrels.

  16. brian t

    A Chevy one-ton huh. Matt, are you taking notes? That truck in a nice shade of Pumpkin Orange would look mighty cool…..

  17. Randy

    Wow, what an incredible experience to be involved with.

    And boy, do I recognize that Cuprinol green — I went through gallons soaking all the boats built with my dad’s help back in the mid-50’s! He knew what was needed to keep them alive.

  18. red dog

    nice story dan great boat design back in the day if somebody wanted something built somebody would just say ” i can build that ” your gramps must have been one of those guys my dad was a great builder also he remodeled a schoolbus and a large bread van into campers also remodeled our house attic into a big bedroom with a bathroom for my brothers and i and many other outdoor projects all without written plans he was a 9 th grade dropout he had no training for this he was a telephone repairman by trade people back then just had ??? WAY TO GO MEL good luck with your new project dan please update us when you relaunch we all want to see the new MEL MAR I I thanks for sharing

  19. jim g

    Imagine what people could build for themselves if we still had good industrial arts class in school teaching the basics woodworking, electrical, etc.

    • Dan Clevenger

      Jim – You got that right. My kids are now in the same school where I went. I had woodworking starting in 6th & 7th grade and thru high school. The program completely gone. Shop class made going to school something to look forward too.

      • jim g

        I went to a private school that still had a very intensive industrial arts in the early 80’s. 9th grade I made a black powder .32 cal kentucky percussion rifle. We also made full size furniture and a lot of other stuff.

  20. tuobanur

    Great story, reminds me of some of my past experiences on building my on boat. What I find most remarkable is the time it took to complete, he had to have been working on that project every spare minute,,Amazing!!

  21. Cobourg Kid

    Amazing story Dan.

    Given that treasure-trove of high-quality original build photos I am left with the distinct impression that that Melvin was actually contemplating publishing this story almost 60 years ago .

    The bitter truth is that the vast majority of homebuilt and name brand cruisers from that era have long since evaporated into sawdust .

    The fact that Mel-Mar has survived all of these years in remarkable shape (despite the troop of marauding racoons) is a testament to your grandfather’s eye for picking high quality timber, his obvious mechanical ingenuity and his exceptional craftsmanship and attention to detail .

    Hopefully you too will take Mel-Mar on a grand voyage around the Great lakes some day. I for one would love to see her moored in the Cobourg Harbour

  22. Justin Heidtman

    Very cool story. Talk about a one-of-a-kind boat. Very cool that it made it through all these years and stayed in the family.

  23. John Rothert

    Best story ever…or close!
    To have that linage and legacy is unreal.
    Sadly I knew of a similar story that went bad.
    Guy I know had a classic sail boat, built 1912, 65 footer or so.
    Had pics of folks picking the trees and sawing the lumber right down to launch day a few years thereafter. Two huge albums of early snapshots.
    Owner I knew let her sink at the dock once, then got drunk and dropped one of the albums…the trees to part way through construction…overboard. Buddy and I stole the other album. That boat was bought for a song by some rich dreamer docs from the west coast…..ran out of $ and faith.
    She ended up on the back cover of WoodenBoat in that save a classic column…and story goes she was cut up thereafter.
    To have all the history on this great boat featured here today is history at its rare best. Great family story….great boat…happy ending.
    John in Va.

    • Texx

      Thanks John. The fact that these historical photos of “MEL-MAR II” exist today is wonderful. And now the fact that it’s being saved to cruise another day (thanks to Dan) is spectacular.

      Dan sent us more than 100 old 35mm slide photos, which we sorted through for the story. It was a challenge to get it down to around 40 vintage photos for the story.