As it turns out, the fiberglass Bell Boy came to Robert’s shop on Woody Boater reporter Ron Stevenson’s trailer hitch… So I asked Robert to give us a short description of project. Like many classic boat restorations, this one started out ugly – and ended up beautiful.
The history of the Bell Boy Boat Company is chronicled in great detail by Al Currier at the Fiberglassics.com website. This is a fantastic site where you can learn about all types of classic boats – here are a few excerpts from the Al Currier story. – Texx
“Construction of both commercial and pleasure boats has long been an important industry on Bellingham Bay. A significant pioneer in pleasure boat manufacturing was Bell Boy Boat Company, generally acknowledged to be the first producer of all-fiberglass boats in the nation. Fiberglass first became commercially available in the late 1930s, and saw only limited use during World War II. After the war, interest in fiberglass greatly increased.”
“Owner Arch Talbot of the Bellingham Shipyards, intrigued with the potential of this new material in boat construction, committed his company to developing of fiberglass products. During the Korean War, the Shipyard had the opportunity to experiment with construction of fiberglass lifeboats or wherries for use on non-magnetic mine sweepers. The success of these lifeboats showed that fiberglass’ light weight and ability to be shaped when heated made it ideal for mass production of small boats.”
“Fiberglass could also be colored during the production process, eliminating the need for painting. Deciding to apply this new material to the expanding post-war market for pleasure craft, Talbot in 1952 founded the Bell Boy Boat Co. as a division of the Shipyard. Art Nordtvedt and Arvin Olsen of the Shipyard were instrumental for setting up the new company. Bell Boy began producing its fiberglass boats in a building on Squalicum Fill, now the location of Bellingham Cold Storage. Soon production moved into a concrete fireproof building, with an output of 20 boats per week.”
“Soon (after) the company ranked as one of the top three fiberglass boat producers in the nation. In 1957, Bell Boy’s sales volume reached $3 million, through 200 dealers nation-wide. As many as 2,000 more potential dealers were waiting for their applications to be processed.”
“Slow processing of dealer applications due to the small size of the company proved to be a constant problem for Bell Boy. To expand capacity, Bell Boy in 1957-58 moved its boat production into the former Bloedel-Donovan Box Factory building at the south end of Cornwall Avenue. Eventually more than 200 employees were producing 70 boats per week at this facility.” – Al Currier
To see the full Al Currier Bell Boy story you can Click Here to visit the Fiberglassics website library.
Robert Dapron has been restoring and maintaining classic boats for a number of years in his Mercer Island, WA shop. He is also the recent Past President of the Pacific Northwest Chapter ACBS and is completely dedicated to the hobby of classic boating. – Texx
Robert notes: The 1957 Bell Boy Banshee was restored about 8-9 years ago, and was in my shop for only about 2 months from start to finish. Background is, our friend Ron Stevenson dragged the boat over to my shop and wanted to know if I would be willing to restore the thing, and I (cough) agreed. Restoring a fiberglass boat from the late 1950’s is harder than it looks!
The boat was of course in rough shape. The floor and framing where rotten. The deck came off. The forward deck had no support and flexed with the slightest pressure. I could imagine the deck flopping around when the boat was run on the lake.
The fins were stuffed with Styrofoam blocks for what I assume was for floatation. I foamed in the fins with poured foam. The gelcoat was beyond shot. The once vibrant red color was a light pink that was checkered with crazing.
Glass work was crude and questionable with broken matt tabbing on the internal framing. Being a 1957 boat, not all the bugs where worked out on how to lay a boat up in glass. The sides and deck were full of wobbles.
Surprisingly, the transom was not rotted and did not need replacing. Having gelcoated boats in the past I knew that I didn’t want to “re-live” the experience so I painted Ron’s boat with Algrip.
I followed their direction religiously and brushed on the coatings. The results were spectacular. I have used Algrip on several projects and love the results. Algrip is difficult to work with and it takes some skill and practice to get the desired results.
Not only is the paint difficult to apply but small changes in the environment can ruin a coat.
Ron chased down a guy who had the molds for the windscreen and had a new plastic windshield made. Ron can confirm, but I think it was from the company that made the windscreens for Bell Boy back in the day.
Ron had Dick Dow’s wife Kathy do the upholstery work after Ron did the legwork in chasing down a match for the original material. Ron also prepped one of his many 4 cylinder Mercury outboards for the boat.
The glass seats needed extensive work. I made a temporary mold for one of the seats and remolded. The interior was painted in the original gray and we matched the black webbing for a factory look.
All of the hardware was aluminum so I polished all the hardware on a polishing wheel.
It seems like a long time ago now, but we had fun doing the Bell Boy and learned a great deal about restoring early fiberglass runabouts. – Rob DaPron
Thanks Robert – The results speak for themselves. Of course DaPron Marine Restorations primarily specializes in restoration and maintenance of classic wooden boats for his many customers.
This 1964 22′ Riva Ariston was refinished at Robert’s shop a few years ago and returns annually for it’s service and maintenance.
To see more projects from DaParon Marine Restorations you can check out Robert’s new Facebook page HERE.
Thanks to Robert for sharing his Bell Boy story with us today.