If you ever happen to come across an old wooden speedboat in a barn or under a tarp in the Worcester, Massachusetts area and are confused about who originally manufactured it, we may just have the answer in todays story – courtesy of fellow Woody Boater Alden Reed.
You see, Alden is a great-grandson of the co-founder of the former Reed & Prince Mfg. Co. – and he shared some information and original photos from 1939 about a wooden kit-boat that until now, we didn’t know even existed.
But first some brief history – The Bay City area of Michigan has a significant maritime history, starting in the late 1860’s with James Davidson’s shipbuilding business. The 100 or so vessels his shipyard built until 1905 included the largest wooden vessels ever built on the Great Lakes – some as long as 350 feet.
Harry J. Defoe took a gamble in 1905 with his new boatbuilding concept of designing & building “knock-down” kit-style boats which were sold through catalogs and word of mouth from the newly formed Defoe Boat and Motor Works yard in Greater Bay City. Defoe went on to build ostentatious yachts during the 1920’s and 1930’s, and over 150 vessels for the military during WWII.
In Ron Bloomfield’s book Maritime Bay County he notes – “Bay City, MI was the king of the kit-boat industry early in the 20th century, including companies like Brooks Manufacturing, Bay City Boat Manufacturing Company, Bay City Boats Inc. and Eddy Boats.”
“Boatbuilder Ben Huskins enjoyed a long and prosperous career along the Saginaw River, building some famous vessels, including the (legendary) “Thunderbird” – now at Lake Tahoe.”
“Famed hydroplane builder Les Staudacher built many famous race boats in his little shop in Kawkawlin on the Kawkawlin River in Bay County.”
Harry J. Defoe started a small company, a spinoff from his shipyard, called Bay City Boats Inc. which produced a number of styles of smaller boat-kits, including runabouts and express cruisers.
After World War II, he sold Bay City Boats Inc. to Russell Beck who continued to sell and improve the designs of the prefab boat-kits including the Express Cruiser Model 1620 as shown above. – Texx
The 22-ft Bay City Boats Inc. Kit-Boat
Built By Reed & Prince
Story & Photos by Alden Reed
In 1938, the same year Reed & Prince perfected the manufacture of the “Reed & Prince Head” recessed screw using the expired 19th century Frearson patent, the company began building a 22-ft speedboat kit supplied by Bay City Boats Inc.
Until then, no other screw manufacturer had been able to make that type of screw head due to the complex nature of both the tooling and the heading operation.
The Reeds were avid boating enthusiasts and believed the process of building a wooden boat would help the 900 or so employees better understand the application of screws in boatbuilding — a large market for the company.
The Bay City kit-boat was assembled in the Carpentry Department at the original Reed & Prince facility (1886-1990) at Worcester, Massachusetts. Named “STREAKY” the boat was launched for the summer of 1939 in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Photographs taken were used by Bay City Boats Inc. in their brochure. “STREAKY” was sold after one season and remained in the area into the 1960s.
One of the reasons Reed & Prince (original company under Reed management 1886-1976) was eager to accommodate the boat building industry is the Reed family were boating enthusiasts. All sorts of boats were owned by various family members – ranging from a 95′ Matthews motoryacht, to Herreshoff NY-50, Herreshoff schooners, Wm Hand schooner, Chris-Craft speedboats / cruisers / kit boats / and fiberglass too, a Gar Wood speedboat, Grady White, Old Town, to custom open launches and one-design daysailers from Boothbay Harbor builders, etc.
The Reed & Prince company was a lot larger than I think people realize. Roughly 900 employees, a 650,000 sq ft factory in Worcester, Mass., with satellite distribution facilities around the country.
The kit from Bay City Boats Inc. and assembled at Reed & Prince was one of about a dozen or so kit-boats sold by a variety of boat building companies. It’s unclear how many pre-war 22-foot Bay City Boats Inc. kit-boat runabouts like this were ever produced and sold.
(Alden Reed is a great-grandson of the co-founder of the former Reed & Prince Mfg. Co., and a wooden boat enthusiast. He enjoys boating along the New England coast.)
Special thanks to Alden Reed for sharing this interesting story with us today.
It’s always fun to learn about these lesser-known wooden boat marques from back in the day. When the story first came in from Alden, I immediately went to my handy Real Runabouts Index by Anthony Mollica, Jr. thinking that I might find some reference to the Bay City Boats Inc. marque in my Bob Speltz Real Runabout series of books – with no luck.
But thankfully we found a great story on Bay City Boats Inc. written by Tim Younkman for The Bay City Times in 2013 that provided some valuable information for our story today.
To learn more about the history of the Dafoe Shipbuilding Company you can Click Here to the always impressive Wikipedia site, and also Click Here to see an absolutely amazing list of Dafoe built boats that were produced at the Dafoe Boat and Motor Works shipyard between 1905 and 1976.
After buying my grey 1952 Chris-Craft Riviera project boat many years ago, during my introduction into the world of wooden boats, one of the first things I quickly learned was the story of the iconic Reed & Price Mfg. Co. and the important connection (literally) they had with the Chris-Craft Corporation and my post-war runabout.
It would be great to find one of these rare 22′ Bay City runabout or express cruiser kit-boats still being used today – we can only hope.