WHEN WE VISITED the impressive Mikkelson Collection Museum in Willmar, Minnesota back in 2010 (after the well documented Warner Auction), for me one boat always stood out from rest of the huge collection of Larson boats.
That boat was a very original, mint condition 1955 Larson 18′ Cabin Outboard Special powered by twin 25HP Johnson Seahorse RDE outboards. The late Paul Mikkelson (1937-2019) loved Larson boats and was always willing to share his extensive knowledge and history of the Larson marque. He described the Cabin Special Outboard as an “overnighter” with it’s wooden hardtop, unique retractable picnic table and seating / sleeping area arrangement.
Paul was a wonderful soft spoken man, and that day in 2010 his description of the Cabin Special took me back in time to the 1950s in Minnesota when the boat was truly used as a utility craft. Imagine back in the day, loading up the boat with the wife & kids, some overnight gear, food & supplies for a few days of exploring some of Minnesota’s beautiful 10,000 lakes? Or using the Cabin Special to deliver mail to the isolated cabins situated around the lakes? Or for a two day fishing trip?
Long time fellow Woody Boater and historian Lee Wangstad is also an expert on the Larson Boat marque – we reached out to Lee for his thoughts on the Cabin Outboard Special.
Lee commented – “I believe that to really get to the beginning of the Cabin Outboard Special you have to go back to the pre-war Larson Boat Works inboard line. The first image is from the 1939 catalog and shows a 19-1/2’ inboard utility.”
“The cabin was offered on all utility models and was continued until the war interrupted production. Larson Boat Works built boats of compressed seam cedar strip construction with white oak ribs. The inboards had a patented hull design that allowed a round bilge, yet provided a square chine for better lift at takeoff. That’s another whole story.”
“After the disastrous fire in December 1949, the decision was made to discontinue inboard boat production. With this decision came the dedication to produce a broader line of outboard boats, and the Outboard Special was born. This line included boats in 14, 16, 18, and 20 feet in length. Designed for the largest outboards available, and built with the largest northern Minnesota lakes in mind, they were quite popular with sportsmen and women that were willing to head out into big waters.”
“The cabin option was offered soon after its introduction in the 18 and 20 foot versions. Big and beamy, they were the ideal boat for these endeavors, with an open area at the stern and a cabin that provided protection against any weather situation that might arise. In 1952 the 18 footer had a 65” beam while the 20 foot model measured 74” in beam. In 1953 the beam of the O.S. 18 grew to 73”, while the O.S. 20 remained at 74”.
“I believe that the round “porthole” windows came about in 1955 and continued through 1956, the last year of production for the Cabin Outboard Specials. It was replaced with a larger 21’ flying bridge outboard cruiser.”
“By the time that the Outboard Specials were introduced, Larson Boat Works had grown their market to include the Dakotas, Wisconsin, Iowa, as well as a large dealer in Miami, Oklahoma.”
“There is often a discrepancy in lengths of the boats. In the Larson catalogs it is stated “Lengths of all our outboard boats are taken along the gunwale.” This applies to all the catalogs that I have in my possession, from 1939 through the mid-fifties.”
“As with any Larson boat at the time, it could be ordered to suit both the needs and tastes of the owner, with many leaving the factory with personal custom touches. Paul Larson was very adept at pleasing his customers, as well as his dealers.” – Lee Wangstad
How Many Larson Cabin Outboard Specials Survived?
Recently, a great story was published in the Fall 2020 ACBS Rudder magazine by Tom McGowan featuring “MR FRANK” a well preserved 1955 20′ Cabin Outboard Special that now resides on Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey.
In the story Tom noted the existence of 15 Cabin Boats – 9 in Minnesota, 2 in Wisconsin, 1 of each in Illinois, Michigan, Montreal, Canada and “MR FRANK” in New Jersey.
Our friend and long time Woody Boater Roger Moberg from Minnesota (nephew of boat builder Paul Larson) reached out to us to ask if we could help locate any current Cabin Boat owners. Roger noted that he has tried communicating with owners listed in the ACBS Directory with not much success.
Roger notes: “Please tell the “Woody World” we are looking for sleuth’s. Putting out a BOLO (as the cops would say) to find any and all Larson Cabin Outboard Specials that may be hiding in barns, groves, behind the woodpile, etc..”
“The “gang” has been known to hide in very secure places as well as out in the open. Their old stomping grounds were in areas where they might have found work in the early and mid ‘50’s hauling mail, working for guides or other people in “off road” places like northern Minnesota, Michigan, Maine, Canada, etc..”
“Two sizes 18’ and 20’. Some enclosed, some not. Different window configurations. Cedar strip construction and outboard powered. No reward given for information in locating, but a great deal of satisfaction for the finder and muchly appreciated by the 15-20 owners already out there!”
Soooo, that is my long winded lead-up to asking the Woody Boater community if anyone out there knows the whereabouts of any Larson Cabin Special Outboard boats or has any photos to help fellow Woody Boater Roger Moberg in his Search for the Remaining Siblings?
Special thanks to Lee Wangstad and Dane Anderson for assisting with today’s story.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! and please stay safe.