OVER THE YEARS, many of us have been involved in chasing down a sketchy lead, with the hope of maybe finding an old wooden boat. Usually those leads take us down rural roads well off the beaten path, searching through barn yards or at a lake sniffing around in a musty old boat house with just a glimmer of hope that we will stumble across that special barn find boat.
Sometimes the lead goes nowhere. Sometimes it takes years to track down one lead. For years, I have been tracking down a lead on an original 1920s Ditchburn that’s been stored in the basement of a hotel for more than 60 years, but no luck yet. And sometimes the lead ends up being successful, and the old wooden boat gets a second chance at life.
But these days, the chances of actually finding an old pre-war wooden runabout is becoming less likely. After all, they only produced so many back in the day, and most of them have either made their way to the burn pile or already been found and saved. But never give up hope, because you never know what you will find hiding in a shed or under one of those “blue tarps” off the beaten path. Here’s one of those stories from the Pacific Northwest. – Texx
Those Barn Finds or “The Blue Tarp Specials” still exist!
Story by Karl Hoffman (with help from Ron Stevenson)
Last April I was at a class reunion, visiting with a former classmate and catching up on my recent history, which included telling him about my passion of restoring old wooden runabouts. He said he had a co-worker who has a Chris-Craft Barrelback in need of restoration and that is was possibly available. Of course we have all heard these stories before, but this particular story proved to be true.
This classmate told me about another one of his co-workers that had already seen the barrelback and knew where it was. That second co-worker turned out to be Scott Mason, a fellow Pacific Northwest ACBS Chapter member, who I know very well. (Small world? Six degrees of separation, or one Fathom apart?)
Scott reported seeing the boat three years ago, but decided he needed a classic Shepherd boat for the type of boating he was anticipating, and did not follow through with the Barrelback. Woody Boater readers may recall Scott owns “Rhubarb”, a 1961 22-foot Shepherd he towed back to Gull Lake last fall for the ACBS International, where he won a gold medal for “Classic Utility Preserved”.
I contacted Scott and he told me it was a 1941 Chris-Craft 17-foot Deluxe Barrelback. He also sent me pictures of it and a phone number. I thought about pursuing it, but considering I currently have a 1940 Chris-Craft 18-foot Deluxe Utility sedan in my shop that I am restoring, a 1937 19-ft Chris-Craft Custom in storage waiting for restoration, and maintenance on my 1941 34-foot Deluxe Sedan Cruiser – I probably have enough to keep me busy as I go into retirement this June.
I was one of the volunteer workers at the ACBS booth at the Seattle Boat Show where the Chris-Craft Rocket “Drs Orders” restored by Jerry Campbell was featured. (If you missed the story about the Seattle Boat Show and the Chris-Craft Rocket you can find it by Clicking Here)
The Search Begins
Since “Drs Orders” was done, I knew Jerry was looking for another wooden boat project – so I gave Jerry the phone number from Scott. Jerry was very thankful, called the number, which turned out to be disconnected. Scott knew the name of the owner, knew he belonged to the same Tacoma Longshoreman’s Union (co-workers) that he belongs to, but he was not in the directory. Another dead end.
Then he comes up with an address from three years ago that turned out to be incorrect. Finally, Scott drove the streets around North Tacoma until he found the house where the Barrelback had resided, and indeed, there was a boat behind the house covered with plastic tarps. Blue Plastic Tarps! Success! Well, kinda.
Now all Jerry had to do was to stop by unannounced, and find someone at home. Jerry did stop by, and left a note in the mail box. That mail box turned out to be the wrong one, at it was for the renters upstairs in the house. Finally, the owner, who turns out to be the mother of Scott’s co-worker contacted Jerry, and they arranged to meet where the boat was.
So what did Jerry really find?
A 1941 17-foot Chris-Craft Deluxe Runabout (known as a Barrelback) with a Hercules KB engine, Hull number 71810. The records say it left the Chris-Craft factory on April 4th, 1941 for Seattle, shipped to Bryant’s Marine (the legendary Chris-Craft dealer at the time). My part in all of this – other than to encourage us to always keep looking? I helped inventory the boxes of parts that came with the boat.
What else did we find?
Amongst regular cool stuff was the rare triple-carb scoop and silver blue gauges! A deal was made, and on the Presidents Birthday Holiday, the boat left the back yard it had been in (under the blue tarp) for 30 plus years. But not before we had to bail at least 50 gallons of water out of the tarps. Who says it rains here in the Pacific Northwest?
The trailer had no lights, no license plate and two almost flat tires. We put on magnetic lights, put more air in the tires, and headed out. We tried to avoid Tacoma’s Finest (Officer, do we really need a license plate after 30 years?) We had a relatively uneventful trip of 11 miles south of Tacoma to Jerry’s home in Steilacoom.
Now all Jerry needs to do, is sell “Drs Orders” to make room for the new project… after all, isn’t that just what the Dr Ordered?
Special thanks to Karl and Ron for sharing this story with us today.