“Rowdy Dow” – 80 Years Later, The Name’s Still Hip! (Part One – A Very Original Model 99)

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“Rowdy Dow” – 80 Years Later, The Name’s Still Hip!

A few weeks ago, we learned of an interesting project underway at Classic and Antique Boats in Hessel, Michigan. We thought our readers would find this story interesting given the boat’s rarity, the comprehensiveness of it’s restoration, and it’s ironic name in our times. Tommy Mertaugh of Classic and Antique Boats wrote this brief story for our readers, with a little input from our Hessel-based reporter, Alex Watson. Take it away Tommy…

Classic and Antique Boats purchased this 1930 Chris-Craft Model 99, 17’ Runabout “Rowdy Dow” from Don Ploetner in Vernon, New Jersey after seeing it on e-Bay. The boat is really petite: a 17’ LOA with a beam of 5’. It is a model we had come to know intimately, after completing a keel up restoration of the same type, just one year earlier. Here are a few photos of that boat, “Serendipity”. As you can see, once restored, the boat is a jewel!

Restoring two of the same model in successive years suggests they are pretty common. In fact, the opposite is true. While 226 were built during the model’s run of 1930-1931 (Hull #s 14000-14225), between ACBS and Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club listings, excluding overlaps, there are only 6 documented survivors. Including “Rowdy Dow”, that makes a total of 7. Anyhow, the one we restored last year drew a lot of attention and so we saw an opportunity to take on another project just like it.

Including info from Don Ploetner, we’ve managed to piece together some history about the boat. It was delivered to Harris G. Leonard of Rowers Point, NY, May 21, 1930. This makes it over 81 years old! The boat’s original name was “Rowdy.” We don’t know why or when “Dow” was added. Perhaps it refers to a person by nickname. Or perhaps it refers to the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Our money’s on this last reason. If you take a look at this Stock Market chart, no period in stock market history was rowdier than the early 1930’s! Today’s ups and downs seem trite by comparison.

From a peak of 380 in 1929, the Dow plummeted to 43 in 1932.

Don told us he bought the boat in 2008 in a little town on the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York. It had been sitting in a farmer’s field. According to the farmer, it had been there a good 20+ years. Prior to that, the boat apparently had been stored in a barn — two stories up. (Try that with a big A-120-powered triple cockpit!) And before that, we understand the boat had been Canadian-owned. Hmmm. Canadians you say? Forerunners of Paul and Karen Harrison, maybe?

What made this boat a survivor, when 98% of its peers didn’t? The boat’s northern life probably played a big part in that. Northern, short seasons lead to limited, cool water use which, as we’ve seen in Hessel, Michigan can lead to long original-wood lives. No question, though, being stored-and-forgotten played a huge role.

This allowed “Rowdy Dow” to survive the decades-long custom of burning old wooden boats for sport or for space. We bought this boat from Don complete, including its original Gray 4-cylinder motor. The only missing component was its bow light — a part we have since obtained. Check out the original engine hand-crank below.

Evidence shows the wood is all original, including the bottom. As you can see, there’s a lot to be done.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 of Alex & Tommy’s story about “Rowdy Dow” as they begin the restoration work and describe the restoration objectives for this rare and unsual Chris-Craft runabout.

Tommy Mertaugh and the crew at Classic and Antique Boats are passionate about what they do, preserving and restoring wooden boats in historic Hessel, Michigan. For more information about Classic and Antique Boats in Hessel, Michigan you can click here.

See Y’all Tomorrow – Texx

24 replies
  1. RiverRat
    RiverRat says:

    Nice save Don. Lots of old barns up there along the River and some newer buildings stuffed with boats. Rowdy Dow will not have a hard time adjusting to Hessel. The water there is similar to the River, all those islands.

  2. Texx
    Texx says:

    Rat – I just love seeing these old 1930’s boats in this condition being respctfully saved. It’s just amazing how original “Rowdy Dow” is…

    Saved from the burn pile to cruise another day.

  3. LB
    LB says:

    I have hull 14119….. Shipped May-5-1930 To Harbor Springs MI, interesting that with 12 boat in between they we shipped on the same day. And I know of 12 model 99’s including Don’s 2

  4. Frank Miklos
    Frank Miklos says:

    Love working on untouched boats even ones that need this much work.. It is so much easier to get it back together correctly… I like this model (like a mini version of the triple cockpit Chris Crafts). There is one in Clayton with the folding top…

  5. Alex
    Alex says:

    LB, it’s nice to know there are more 99s out there than Texx and I were able to document via the Chris-Craft Club and ACBS directories.

    This is a little off the Rowdy Dow story, but your revelation illustrates something I was recently wondering about: how many survivor boats there are for a given model vs those registered at the Clubs (those that are documented).

    With the 99’s (admittedly small) sample size, this proves something the Clubs should note: there are unintentionally low-flying classic boat owners out there who either don’t know of the Clubs, or don’t see merit yet in joining them. (I say “yet” because Club members know the nominal cost of membership presents a value in multiple ways.)

    That’s a hidden universe of potential new members. The challenge for the Clubs is: how to find these new member prospects, and how to appeal to them to become part of the community. It’s no small feat.

    In Les Cheneaux (Hessel & Cedarville, MI) for instance, there are many classic boat owners who use their boats for a few weeks seasonally. They don’t show them or trailer them. In fact, some probably don’t even think of their boats as classics or collectibles. Just summer “cottage” boats. Not only are a number of those boats unregistered, I’ll bet many of their owners are not even aware the Clubs exist.

    • LB
      LB says:

      There are so many old boats out there that are in the “Ultra Rare” category that are not in any sort of registry. I think it is the best part of our hobby… its almost like treasure hunting. I love hearing about boats that i didn’t think existed. For example the never restored 1 family since new Green and White Chris that is graces lake Charlevoix I am pretty sure that’s the only one left … or is it! not knowing for sure is what makes the hunting for these old boats fun.

  6. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    Alex, I would agree. I would estimate that at least the boats on our lake have never been in a show and we have one on the lake every year. I bet even fewer are in our database. So far none of the ones I have looked for showed up.

  7. DonD
    DonD says:

    I’ve met a number of people who have far more boats in their collection than they list.

    I niaevly asked one fellow from California why he only listed 2 of his 20+ boats in the ACBS Directory?

    He said; ‘Property taxes my boy.., property taxes…’

    There could very well be as many boats as the Chris-Craft Corp thinks there are?

  8. Bruce M
    Bruce M says:

    Funny – we hadn’t seen one of these other than in pictures and now there’s one in our shop for a quick varnish and detailing. It’s hull # 14032 and was recently restored from a similar ‘as found’ condition by Jon and team at MBBW. Sold and now residing in Paul’s and our neck of the woods. So as it sounds there are a few of them around.

  9. Alex
    Alex says:

    LB, you wrote about discovering another boat you never knew existed. Had one of those experiences this summer. I thought Paul Harrison, Tom Whowell, and I owned the only three 1946-1950 Scripps-powered 25′ Sportsmans in existence, of the 38 made with that power choice (this from a total of 208 25′ SPs of that era). Then, in a totally casual conversation with Dennis Spillane (owner of “New Old Stock”), I learned of a 4th Scripps boat on Torch Lake, MI being restored bit-by-bit. A totally off-radar classic that quietly (well, not really, since we’re talking Scripps here) enjoys year after year of short summers in Northern MI. What fun.

  10. Tom Mertaugh
    Tom Mertaugh says:

    I agree totally. Hull numbers are fun to track, trace and find. I do this with 22’U’s. My most fun hull number find was one day after buying another 26′ Flat deck, I was backing it into one of our storage sheds, next to the “venture” a totally 100% original one sold in Hessel by Grandpa Gene, I thought I would see what the hull numbers were. I climbed into the “gray” boat we just bought and found out it was hull number 449, then I climbed into the “Venture” the totally original one and to my surprize I found it to be 448. What a shcok to see sister boats 80 years later. Ironically they both had the Kermath engine in them too. I nearly burned up the truck to get back to the shop to report my find!! Now the rest of the story, 448 was purched by a customer here in our area, and we restored it totally original for him, then the next year he said “what are we going to do this year?” So I said well, you could buy the sister to what is now known as “Sugar” and restore that one. You could be possible the only man that owns a consecutive pair of 26′ flatdecks. He agreed and took the bait. We restored this boat a little custom for him, including a 725 HP Ilmor V-10 engine. It runs pretty fast!! It is a handful to drive. This year these “twins” are going to be featured at the Les Cheneaux Islands Antique Boat Show, as twins and capitalizing on the history of t he Twins. 449 was named “Miss Tennessee” and was delivered there. MAybe a future story in Woody Boater??

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Tommy – I would like to call “Dibbs” on that story!

      Can we do it when we are in Hessel next summer and we can see if Alex can be our assistant writer / photographer… Maybe we can find some Twins for the shoot.

    • Grant Stanfield
      Grant Stanfield says:

      I just found this post while searching out info re: Model 99.

      It’s 2014, and, while I missed the pleasure of knowing Tommy Mertaugh, his beautiful work lives on…

      I just saw the Viper V10-powered ‘SNIPS’ in Hessel a week ago and she’s simply amazing to see and hear. She was the first boat out of the harbor after the awards ceremony, and she can run like a scalded cat!

  11. don vogt
    don vogt says:

    A cool, historic boat. I believe it was the first 17′ size boat made by cc, and also the first split cockpit runabout made by cc. Beam of 5’7″ according to conrad. a somewhat shrunken version of the 20′ runabout of that time frame (a triple). Would make a great article to get together pictures of the very few that are still around.

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Great idea Don, but you always have great ideas!

      With around a dozen 17′ Model 99 survivors out there, that is a very do-able thing. Please send your Model 99 Chris-Craft photos & information to texx@woodyboater.com and we will try to make that story idea happen.

  12. steve bunda
    steve bunda says:

    The early 30,s Chris Craft smaller runabouts are some of the nicest boats and have very rare power plants. Here in northern wisconsin I know of 4 model 100’s the 20 foot triple. steve

  13. Alex
    Alex says:

    Nuts to me being assistant writer photographer! I gotta kick that old boat’s butt!

    Tommy, what can we shove in that other XK-18 that’ll do the trick?

    Of course, we’ll also need a day BEYOND calm for the race. One when even the fish aren’t jumping. Cause that 18 sits like a slipper on the water, and a fish in the face at about 70 would… er… not be proper.

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      OK Alex – You are in charge of the “Twin Flat Deck” story and I will be your helper…. Alex can I get you a coffee, muffin, beer?

  14. thomas d.
    thomas d. says:

    on ebay, how and when could i have missed this one. i check ebay every night. if i had seen it you would definitely paid more. great find.

  15. riverpeople65
    riverpeople65 says:

    Texx: I found this classic boat site a few days ago, GREAT SITE. I’m intrigued by your articles on the cc model 99. I acquired one about 20 years ago, a barn find a hole in a plank on the side lots of bird droppings and dust. The previous owner said it was put in the barn in the early 50’s, he remembered water skiing behind it in the 30’s and 40’s . The boat is completely original except for 1 plank and a piece of combing. I started to restore it in the early 90’s I got discussed with it when the plank I replaced split as I was screwing it in place,I replaced a small portion and when I stained the boat it stood out like a sore thumb. I put the boat aside as I had 2 other classics to use. After reading the articles I have renewed interest in the project. It’s no. 1 on my bucket list when I return from Fl in April Its a cute little boat not very well constructed, thin bottom and side planking,puttied screw holes in the side planks (to save expenses during the depression) I have a rebuilt Model B 60 hp ,just right for 2 people more than that take it easy. Hull # 14013 shipped to CC in NYC April 12/1930. I’ll keep in touch as I progress’
    Tom B

  16. Jane
    Jane says:

    An FYI “Rowdy Dow” is old slang for a noisiness or something that makes a lot of noise. I don’t know the origin but my late father b. 1912, used to shout it at us.

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