Who Is Bob Speltz? We’re Glad You Asked.

Bob Speltz one of the greats!

Yesterday we did a fun story regarding the logo change for the Land-O-Lakes  Chapter of the ACBS. of course everyone liked it. We are that sort of crowd. But behind the scenes I got emails and texts asking who Bob Speltz is. Well. As my father used to say….A LOT!! What we have here is a teaching moment. And I promise it will not come with the hour long lecture that ensued. So who is Bob Speltz?

Here is the short bio about Bob on the inside jacket of his books

Bobs books are our guide

Well, to say it simply, Bob Speltz was an Icon in our passion, and one of the key players in why this is a passion at all. Sadly we have lost Bob in 1993. And inducted into the Hagerty Hall Of Fame in 2009. The first year of the Hall Of Fame.

But because of Bobs craft, and ability to put together stuff, we have what are considered the Encyclopedia of Classic Boats.  A wonderful series of books that Bob compiled and wrote.

He signed some of my copies. Not sure how I got these books. But very happy I did.

A rare hatless press photo of Bob from the Albert Lea Tribune

He did an outboard book as well

I see him as a mentor I never knew or met. I wish I had. In an odd way we share one key factor. We love sharing information to make this a better community. Bib did that the best way he could during his time. Pre internet time. Sadly one can only imagine what this Facebook world would have been like for Bob.

Back of Real Runabouts

If you are lucky enough to own his books, they literally cover every boat make made. They are the defining period and pillars of what we all love. The good news, if you are interested in a set, they are available on Amazon and ebay all the time. And a reprint of the Posters that were used to promote the books are available HERE at Freedom Boat Service.

Poster 1

One of the series

Dave Bortner in one of Bob Speltz’s much loved canoes, boats, whatever this is.

So now you know who Bob Speltz is. An enduring resource for information, and icon of whats all good in our small world. And that is why he is on the name of the Land-O-Lakes Chapter. He selflessly made a massive difference for all of us.

A young Bob Speltz

And if you really want to read a wonderful note about Bob Speltz and how he started doing this at age 16! This great read by Fellow Woody Boater Lee Wangstad right HERE called 505 Albert Lea Street.

Bob in full color.

If you know more about Bob, please chime in here. It would be great to have some personal notes about him to remind us all about how we are all really one!


30 replies
  1. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    That thing Bortner is in is not a canoe! Row boat, guide boat, car topper maybe. Canoe? No!

    BTW, I knew who Bob was, but I still don’t know why they named the chapter after a brand of butter. Can we get that story tomorrow?

  2. Jim Staib
    Jim Staib says:

    Bob was “Google” for old boats before the internet. You could mail him questions. In an envelope with a stamp. Maybe a month later you would get a response.

  3. Matt
    Matt says:

    But now we have facebook, you can get an answer in a second, Lots of answers, all different. HA!

    • Mime K
      Mime K says:

      Ha ha ha
      We used to take two of these pictures and cut the knees off one and tape it to the back
      Then we would cut the butter box as a flap to show her boobs
      My me too moment
      The wife wasn’t happy when I showed my son when he was in bath school

      Matt you read my mind
      I too was wondering who Bob Speltz was even though I have one of his books

    • Bilge Rat
      Bilge Rat says:

      I’ll never be able to look at Land O Lakes butter in the store again without seeing this.

  4. Matt
    Matt says:

    And yes, because this is the internet and WoodyBoater can go off the rails, even at 6Am, lets just get this one out of the way. Ugh. I am embarrassed for us all. But we are an equal opportunity offender!

  5. Dave Bortner
    Dave Bortner says:

    The boat is a 1916 Dingle rowboat, built in St Paul, and was the last boat Bob restored. It is now part of the Dane Anderson collection, and is currently on loan to the Legacy of the Lakes Museum in Alexandria, MN. Dane was kind enough to allow me to take it for a row.

  6. Paul H.
    Paul H. says:

    At the ACBS International in Bay Harbor, Bob’s sister Mary Keating donated several scrapbooks containing adverts and sales literature to the live auction to raise money for the ACBS Scholarship fund. Knowing that I like ephemera, my wife pointed these out to me and I ended up being the successful bidder.

    What they turned out to be were the scrapbooks Bob had begun assembling, and where he catalogued the materials he references in the letter to the magazine. We had speculated that these books dated from the mid to late ’50’s and this is now proven correct. They were the prototype to the RR series of books discussed above.

    These were exceptionally detailed and contained information on a staggering variety of craft. Remember, he assembled this information by writing away and asking for material, or filling our response cards – unfathomable today and certainly tedious, but he was seized with the passion early. Recall though that when he was doing this, it was not only what we today consider classics that he was seeking info on, it was also boats that were contemporary or near contemporary to his time. They are classics to us, but they were new or “modern” at the time. He clearly started out as a boater! This is something to recall the next time some stuffed-shirt dilettante expresses disdain for a hull type or material that is not to his/her particular liking.

    After a few years of owning and enjoying these interesting artifacts, I donated them to the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum, where they would be accessible to those with an interest in seeing them.

  7. Matt
    Matt says:

    I recall that moment. It was a very kind gesture and way to keep his passion alive. I cannot even imagine the effort he put into this. That body of work is jaw dropping and literally kept our history alive. After all if no one documents things, did they ever happen?

  8. Syd
    Syd says:

    I meet him many years ago when I was still a teenager. I have all his books and some of mine are also signed. I do know that he would send out signed books to clubs and other places for them to sell his books. There were also unsigned ones. I remember when he sent some to the Finger Lakes Chapter to do this with. This is what started me on getting the collection. I have used them countless times to find info out on a builder.

  9. Royce Humphreys
    Royce Humphreys says:

    I had the great opportunity to meet with Bob back in the Fall of 1988. A fellow boat collector and I simply stopped in Albert Lea one Sunday morning and called him from a phone booth and were graciously invited into his home across from Fountain Lake in Albert Lea. He showed us his toy motor collection and we left after buying books and show posters!

  10. Wilson
    Wilson says:

    I was lucky to know Bob back in the ’80’s. Bob was always very helpful to me when I was a fledgling Editor of The Brass Bell. We talked many times on the phone, that was easier for Bob than writing letters which he oftn did.

    I recall too that in the early ’80’s we were invited to be co Honorary Judges at the Tahoe show so I got to spend an entire weekend with him. Bob was a dialisis patient and had to leave Sunday for treatment in Minneapolis that afternoon. I thought that plane carring him off the lake would never break water and become airborne.
    I remember Todd Warner taking me to the Speltz house to see Bob’s mother after Bob died. I thought it would be a 10 minute visit…As it turned out we took her to the Albert Lea Airport for dinner and then by the Holiday Inn where “her boys” were having one of the Bob Speltz toy boat shows in the motel pool. We got her home well after midnight and she was a “hoot” all the way.

    There are more Speltz stories when you have time.

  11. Briant
    Briant says:

    If Mr Speltz got a chapter named after him in honour of all that he did for wood boating….

    In all sincerety and with no disrespect to Mr Speltz, I think a chapter needs to step up to the plate and name their chapter after Mr Matt Smith, who has done an incredible amount of work for over ten years for our beloved hobby of wood boating, babysitting a venue that allows for the exchange of information, bio stories, helping in keeping many sane during the winter months, and so much more.

    Matt would have my vote in a millisecond. And now, not in memoriam.

  12. George Emmanuel
    George Emmanuel says:

    Sunnyland member Bob Peterson acquired Bob’s Chetek boat and Johnson motor and displayed it at one of the last shows in Mt. Dora. When I saw it I immediately recognized it. Classic Boating was there that weekend and wanted to do a photo op on it running. Bob asked Steve Wood and me to see if we could get it running and after some minor tinkering, the old Johnson ran. I skippered the boat and the Wangard’s photographed it. It was featured in Classic Boating. What a privilege that was and what a comfort it was knowing it would be cherished and properly cared for by Bob Peterson. I felt like Bob Speltz was in the boat with me.

    • Royce Humphreys
      Royce Humphreys says:

      George, Thank you for getting the old Johnson running for Stan Peterson! We had the pleasure of having the Chetek on loan for a time at our Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum here in Arnolds Park on Lake Okoboji courtesy of Stan Peterson. Stan was very influential in getting me into the ACBS and inviting me on the 1995 St. Johns River Cruise aboard his 1937 Chris Craft 17′ Deluxe Runabout. I missed seeing Stan at the show this year! So many great people have and continue to give their talents to this great hobby.

      • floyd r turbo
        floyd r turbo says:

        Knowing that I moved boats around the country for a small circle of ACBS members, Stan Peterson asked if I could get Bob’s Chetek back to Minn/Iowa from Mount Dora to hand off to someone I can’t remember now so it could be put on display. That being over 20 years ago, closer to 30, Stan had to instruct me as to the proper pronunciation of Chetek.

  13. Lee Wangstad
    Lee Wangstad says:

    Bob Speltz was much more than just an author of books about old boats. He was an inspiration to those who believe passionately in anything. He went that extra mile. He walked the walk. He was a game changer. However you want to say it. To anyone who didn’t like his writing style, I have to tell you he wrote just like he talked. When I read his books and articles, my mind hears his voice. He was humble beyond words. Any research or writing that I’ve done, I owe to Bob. Name a chapter for him? This is a small honor in comparison to his huge impact on our hobby. Bob cleared the path for other writers to follow.

  14. Andreas Jordahl Rhude
    Andreas Jordahl Rhude says:

    I never met Bob but certainly heard a great deal about him and I was on the Board of the Land-O-Lakes chapter in MN when we honored him by adding his name to our chapter. He is more than an author, as Lee Wangstad mentioned. I have gotten to know his sister Mary Keating. She has given me some of Bob’s posessions including his “Real Runabouts” windbreaker and baseball hat.

  15. Kevin F
    Kevin F says:

    When I first got into wooden boats as an adult, I immediately found his books and ordered all of them. I will have to check to see if they were signed. I am thinking I must have contacted him directly to get them back then…must have been ’90 or ’91. They were/are a wealth of information. They sit on my boat book shelf today.

    I purchased my boat from Charlie Cross of upstate NY. He was also an encyclopedia of boar knowledge having been a Chris Craft dealer and marina owner since the end of the war. I spoke with him many times a week and visited him a number of times, up until his death. He gave me the back light pole from Lucy Balls boat (one of his customers).

    He was a founding member (I believe) of the a few clubs. He made the upholstery for many boat builders an consulted for others to design a “rot free” fiberglass boat. The upholstery he put in my boat just gave out, after being abused pretty well by my cleaning it with bleach (oops), after 25 years.

    Since we are talking about luminaries, he may be one to profile as well (I know Wilson knew him well, and he always had the best things to say about Wilson)

  16. tom
    tom says:

    I first saw Speltz’s books sometime in the mid 80’s. As a Shepherd owner, seeing pictures and reading any info on brands other than chris craft was hard to come by,especially over 30 years ago.I would be curious to know what boats he owned himself.

  17. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    What’s is also amazing about Bob and the Real Runabout Series is how he got anyone to publish these books because it was damn hard to get anyone to do such a thing back in those days. Hell, now, its much easier, but back then, I can’t imagine taking this to any publisher and getting anywhere with his presentation. I can hear the publisher now, “who’s going to buy these books?”

  18. Tommy Holm
    Tommy Holm says:

    Bob Speltz was a very early member of the Century Boat Club back in the 1980s. He became President & Secretary over the ensuing years. He spent many a hour sending mail, newsletters, etc. to eagerly awaiting club members. To say Bob gave birth to the club is an understatement. Speltz journey a few times to Manistee, Michigan to host the Century Club Show. He and his family owned Century boats back in the day. Mary Keating is a valued member of the club today. His newsletters have been digitized by the Century Boat Club. I digitized his scrapbooks for Harrison and the ACBS. Antique Boat America sells his real runabout books. Each year the Century Boat Club presents the Bob Speltz Real Runabout award to a deserving member. Bob Spletz remains a Thoroughbred to this day.

  19. Ken MacStephen
    Ken MacStephen says:

    We, of the Toronto Chapter sold many cases of Bob’s books starting in the early eighties and I recall one of our directors saying that the market would be saturated, I’m not sure that it is saturated yet, may years later…

  20. Stan Petersen
    Stan Petersen says:

    The Speltz Chetek is presently on loan to the Minn. Lakes Maritime Museum in Alexandria, MN. It is part of the Bob Speltz Land O Lakes Chapter display. I had the honor and pleasure of restoring it here in The Temple in Mount Dora. , Bob and his mother, Angie, became friends when we lived in Forest City, IA, just 35 miles south of Albert Lea. Someone mentioned how his first book came about. He told me that he approached a publisher/printer located in Lake Mills, IA by the name of Gordon Asgaard. Bob told him up front that he didn’t have any money to pay him but promised that when he sold a book, he would be the first to get paid. , They shook hands on it and the deal was made. A graphic artist working for Asgaard by the name of Floyd Thomas, did the artwork for the paper book covers. If you have a copy of RR VII, you can read The Preface Ray and Mary Keating, brother-in-law and sister of Bob, asked me to write. There is also a photo of the urn made of mahogany (of course) in which I cut deck stripes at Bob’s request.
    Bob was one of those fellows you wish you had met earlier in life so that you could enjoy his friendship. He was a dear friend.

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