The “Special 25′ Sportsman” of 1949 – Six Legendary Wooden Boats
THREE RARE CHRIS-CRAFT 25′ SPORTSMANS will be on hand for the Woods and Water show this weekend in Minnesota. Three of the original six produced by Chris-Craft at the plant in Holland, Michigan – and finished in the Algonac plant. This is a great story – Texx
The “Special Sportsman” of 1949
Story & Photos by Dave Bortner – Freedom Boat Service
The Chris-Craft 25′ Sportsman is a pretty special model in itself. After all, only 208 examples were built from 1946 to 1950. We know immediate post-war mahogany supplies were scarce, and very few 25′ Sportsmen were built in 1946. The model was temporarily discontinued in 1947. As the flagship of the Chris-Craft line, and the spiritual successor to pre-war triple cockpit boats, Chris-Craft wanted to make sure the quality level of this model, in particular, was maintained at the highest level.
By the 1949 model year, mahogany was again available, and the three Smith brothers, the sons of Christopher Columbus Smith, decided the 25′ Sportsman was the boat for them. Not just any “garden variety” 25′ Sportsman would do, though. Theirs would be special!
Six 25′ hulls were constructed in the Holland, MI plant, one for each Smith brother, and one each for their attorney, lumber supplier, and one for the Ford family. Each was equipped with twin 105 hp KL’s (except for one). Each of the six boats have two hull cards, one from the Holland factory, indicting the boats were “to be completed by factory at Algonac”, and another from Algonac, where very special modifications and equipment were installed. (The following photos are of “Butterfly” – Hull 184, the Ford family boat that still lives in Minnesota and is maintained by out friend Tom Juul).
Each boat received a shock-absorber dampened front seat, said to have been supplied by a friend of Bernard Smith, who manufactured them for the U.S. Army, as used in tanks. Rumor had it the seat did its’ job so well, the Smith’s thought owners would beat the bottoms out of their boats if they made it an option!
Each boat also received the optional aft seat, with a live well (for fishing) under the starboard 2/3 of the seat, and a cooler under the port 1/3.
Each boat had an aft steering tiller installed, and a pre-war single pane folding windshield (except for one), and a fish pole locker with locking door. These guys were serious fishermen!
While production records confirm there were six of these boats built, it’s unclear who got which boat. Hull 179 was the first, but whose it was has been lost. Hull 180 is noted “Owen” on the Algonac hull card, so we assume that belonged to Owen Smith. Hull 181 was unlikely a Smith family boat, as it was delivered to the Wyandotte Boat Basin from Algonac. Hull 182 was special among the specials, with red leather interior, red flooring, and twin ML 145 hp engines. It also had a “standard” vee windshield. Whose was this one? The attorney, of course, Wayne Van Osdel. Hulls 183 and 184 were delivered to Motor Boat Sales in Detroit. Hull 184 was acquired by its’ current owner with unbroken provenance to the Ford family.
So we don’t know exactly who, but the bigger question might by why? It certainly makes sense that the Smith brothers would build themselves whatever boats they wanted to have. Why would the notoriously parsimonious brothers provide such expensive gifts to suppliers, and why did the Ford family get one? We may never know.
Hull 179 (“Uncle Buster”) Known for years as “River Rat”, this boat fell into disrepair, but was rescued by Bob VanOrsdel, restored, and now calls Lake Okoboji in Iowa home.
Hull 181 (“On Point”) was restored by Freedom Boat Service in 2014, and currently lives on Green Lake in Wisconsin.
Hull 184 (“Butterfly”), the Ford family boat, was purchased over 20 years ago by its’ current owner whose family enjoys it each and every summer in the Alexandria, MN area. Note the original upholstery in this one!
What we do know, however, is only three of these boats are known to exist, and all three will be displayed at the 2015 Woods and Water show this week.
Dave Bortner – Freedom Boat Service
Thanks for sharing this story with us here at Woody Boater Dave. Maybe if we are real lucky, we can somehow get all three of these survivors together on Gull Lake for a celebratory photos shoot. Stay tuned, as the big show gets under way.
If the story is that all but one had pre-war windshields installed… Then which one is incorrect? “Uncle Buster” or “Butterfly”??
All three are gorgeous!!
Thanks for the story and photos. WoodyBoater is such a great place to learn the history of these classics.
Good catch on the windshields. Didn’t notice that from the pictures.
Overall, though, Wecatchem interests me more. Love the built-in tackle drawers and other storage places.
Looking forward to more great stories from Minnesota!
2/3 live well and 1/3 cooler? These guys clearly had their priorities backwards!
Great story on some interesting boats.
Are the engine hatches in “On Point” original custom made at the factory? I think that is a nice touch and kind of unique since both “Uncle Buster” and “Butterfly” have boxes.
I was aware that the “spring/shock absorber” seat assemblies were installed in a few “Smith Special” utilities but did not know which ones. Cool feature and cool info for sure.
This mechanism was also installed in one 1942 23 Custom Triple for evaluation. Apparently the 23 provided the engineering feedback resulting in the factory reluctance to offer on production boats. It appears the Smiths were impressed enough to put it in theirs anyway.
There was one of these in Hessel / Cedarville a few years ago. It was a flat windshield model. It was for sale too, at an asking of around $90,000. I believe that boat was called Friendship. So unless one of the three shown in this story has been renamed, the one I saw in Hessel is one of the missing 3.
As my friends know, my boat “Lush Life,” formerly called “Mahogany Run,” is a post-war 22U. Like these big 25’s,mine was also special ordered by the Smiths and their attorney as 1 of 3, equipped with rear controls, a flat, pre-war windshield, and a live well. I was told the flat windshield made the boat easier to fish from and allowed it to pass easier under the Harson’s Island Bridge. Though my windshield remains, the rear controls and live well are long gone, likely removed during some past restoration.
Not sure what happened to the other 2. Here’s “Lush Life” (foreground). If anyone can shed light on her history, or the whereabouts of the other 2, I’d appreciate it. Learning the origins and history of a boat is like fitting pieces of a puzzle.
PS. Her bridge deck was added not long ago. I believe that work was done by The Wooden Runabout Co, down in Holland, MI. (It was before I bought the boat.) They did a super job designing it to integrate with the lines of the boat. Best I’ve ever seen of an aftermarket middle seat in a 22.
Friendship was renamed On Point.
Has anyone seen the ice box / live well combo like this on a U22? Picture? Drawings? I’m working on one now and was looking at incorporating something like this into the rear bench or a bench in front of the engine box.
I have a factory built live well box made of mahogany lined with metal inside and was fed with fresh water through a pump off the front a an M engine and would be glad to send pics to you if needed, It sat in front of the engine box of a 47 22′ whiteside.
Btw, it’s drizzling at gull lake, mn this morning. We are going to the museum by bus, I think it’s a post-war model with a vintage cummins engine and electric windshield wipers.
Better check your boat for an exhaust leak Tommy. Or a lose cap on the glue bottle…. 🙂
Interesting story about these small-batch factory customs!
I live on Green Lake but I’ve yet to see ‘On Point’…Hmm…I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled!
My son JP fell into a Zen-like state of bliss just standing in proximity to ‘Uncle Buster’ last fall in Lake Geneva…(me too- what a spiritual experience!) ?
Another shot of the magnetic ‘Uncle Buster’ from Lake Geneva…I knew she was special, but not HOW special until today! Thanks for the enlightenment!
Thank you Bob for bringing “Uncle Buster” to Torch Lake, Michigan July 2014. An emotional experience for our family too, I got my first boat ride with our very own Uncle Buster.
I saw Uncle Buster during its restoration at Eversomarine! Nice boat!