A Big Finned Bell Boy Banshee – Revived By DaPron Marine Restorations


1958 Bell Boy Brochure - 1

1958 Bell Boy brochure featuring the stylish, aggressive looking, big finned Banshee model. And the girl appears nervous – Courtesy of Fiberglassics.com

OUR FRIEND, FELLOW WOODY BOATER AND NOTED CLASSIC BOAT RESTORER Robert DaPron from Seattle, Washington fired up his new Facebook page last week – DaPron Marine Restorations. I stopped by Robert’s new site to review his project photos and came across an interesting restoration that he completed a number of years ago – an iconic 1957 Bell Boy Banshee.

As it turns out, the fiberglass Bell Boy came to Robert’s shop on Woody Boater reporter Ron Stevenson’s trailer hitch… So I asked Robert to give us a short description of project. Like many classic boat restorations, this one started out ugly – and ended up beautiful.

The history of the Bell Boy Boat Company is chronicled in great detail by Al Currier at the Fiberglassics.com website. This is a fantastic site where you can learn about all types of classic boats – here are a few excerpts from the Al Currier story. – Texx

“Construction of both commercial and pleasure boats has long been an important industry on Bellingham Bay. A significant pioneer in pleasure boat manufacturing was Bell Boy Boat Company, generally acknowledged to be the first producer of all-fiberglass boats in the nation. Fiberglass first became commercially available in the late 1930s, and saw only limited use during World War II. After the war, interest in fiberglass greatly increased.”

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Bell Boy “New Look of Motion” themed brochure – Courtesy Fiberglassics.com

“Owner Arch Talbot of the Bellingham Shipyards, intrigued with the potential of this new material in boat construction, committed his company to developing of fiberglass products. During the Korean War, the Shipyard had the opportunity to experiment with construction of fiberglass lifeboats or wherries for use on non-magnetic mine sweepers. The success of these lifeboats showed that fiberglass’ light weight and ability to be shaped when heated made it ideal for mass production of small boats.”

“Fiberglass could also be colored during the production process, eliminating the need for painting. Deciding to apply this new material to the expanding post-war market for pleasure craft, Talbot in 1952 founded the Bell Boy Boat Co. as a division of the Shipyard. Art Nordtvedt and Arvin Olsen of the Shipyard were instrumental for setting up the new company. Bell Boy began producing its fiberglass boats in a building on Squalicum Fill, now the location of Bellingham Cold Storage. Soon production moved into a concrete fireproof building, with an output of 20 boats per week.”

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1957 Bell Boy brochure cover – Courtesy Fiberglassics.com

“Soon (after) the company ranked as one of the top three fiberglass boat producers in the nation. In 1957, Bell Boy’s sales volume reached $3 million, through 200 dealers nation-wide. As many as 2,000 more potential dealers were waiting for their applications to be processed.”

“Slow processing of dealer applications due to the small size of the company proved to be a constant problem for Bell Boy. To expand capacity, Bell Boy in 1957-58 moved its boat production into the former Bloedel-Donovan Box Factory building at the south end of Cornwall Avenue. Eventually more than 200 employees were producing 70 boats per week at this facility.” – Al Currier

To see the full Al Currier Bell Boy story you can Click Here to visit the Fiberglassics website library.

Robert Dapron has been restoring and maintaining classic boats for a number of years in his Mercer Island, WA shop. He is also the recent Past President of the Pacific Northwest Chapter ACBS and is completely dedicated to the hobby of classic boating. – Texx

Robert notes: The 1957 Bell Boy Banshee was restored about 8-9 years ago, and was in my shop for only about 2 months from start to finish. Background is, our friend Ron Stevenson dragged the boat over to my shop and wanted to know if I would be willing to restore the thing, and I (cough) agreed. Restoring a fiberglass boat from the late 1950’s is harder than it looks!

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The weathered and worn 1957 Banshee when it arrived at DaPron Marine Restorations boat shop.

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The boat was of course in rough shape. The floor and framing where rotten. The deck came off. The forward deck had no support and flexed with the slightest pressure. I could imagine the deck flopping around when the boat was run on the lake.

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Most fiberglass runabouts from the late 1950’s era had a “split personality” as a result of the evolving manufacturing process. Time to split the Bell Boy up and see what kind of personality it has…

The fins were stuffed with Styrofoam blocks for what I assume was for floatation. I foamed in the fins with poured foam. The gelcoat was beyond shot. The once vibrant red color was a light pink that was checkered with crazing.

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The temporary wooden frame helps keep the flimsy top section square and firm to work with.

Glass work was crude and questionable with broken matt tabbing on the internal framing. Being a 1957 boat, not all the bugs where worked out on how to lay a boat up in glass. The sides and deck were full of wobbles.

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The bottom section of the 1957 Bell Boy had some issues.

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The early fiberglass structural work on the floor was less than perfect.

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Surprisingly, the transom was not rotted and did not need replacing. Having gelcoated boats in the past I knew that I didn’t want to “re-live” the experience so I painted Ron’s boat with Algrip.

I followed their direction religiously and brushed on the coatings. The results were spectacular. I have used Algrip on several projects and love the results. Algrip is difficult to work with and it takes some skill and practice to get the desired results.

Not only is the paint difficult to apply but small changes in the environment can ruin a coat.

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Ron chased down a guy who had the molds for the windscreen and had a new plastic windshield made. Ron can confirm, but I think it was from the company that made the windscreens for Bell Boy back in the day.

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The beautifully restored 1957 Bell Boy Banshee given a second life by Robert DaPron.

Ron had Dick Dow’s wife Kathy do the upholstery work after Ron did the legwork in chasing down a match for the original material. Ron also prepped one of his many 4 cylinder Mercury outboards for the boat.

The glass seats needed extensive work. I made a temporary mold for one of the seats and remolded. The interior was painted in the original gray and we matched the black webbing for a factory look.

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The (then) proud owner Ron Stevenson with his new boat. – Circa 2007-ish

All of the hardware was aluminum so I polished all the hardware on a polishing wheel.

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The freshly restored Bell Boy Banshee back on the water.

It seems like a long time ago now, but we had fun doing the Bell Boy and learned a great deal about restoring early fiberglass runabouts. Rob DaPron

Thanks Robert – The results speak for themselves. Of course DaPron Marine Restorations primarily specializes in restoration and maintenance of classic wooden boats for his many customers.

This 1964 22′ Riva Ariston was refinished at Robert’s shop a few years ago and returns annually for it’s service and maintenance.

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The 1964 Riva Ariston ready for another season of classic boating in the great Pacific Northwest.

To see more projects from DaParon Marine Restorations you can check out Robert’s new Facebook page HERE.

Thanks to Robert for sharing his Bell Boy story with us today.


13 replies
  1. Mike W
    Mike W says:

    Ya I know, glass boats are no brainers. Hardly the case. Same $_it in a different box. The low point of a ’69 SS below. Nice work on both wood and glass by DaPron.

  2. Paul H.
    Paul H. says:

    Great story, Texx and Rob – lovely boat and done in 2 months??!!

    I have seen a number of Bell Boys’ up in the PNW and they had it goin’ on – for awhile, anyway. Great to see this one back in use.

    Concerning early manufacturer’s of glass boats, I believe a company in North Vancouver, BC Canada called Hourston may have beaten Bell Boy to the punch. They claim to have been producing fiberglass boats since 1949 or so, and they are still in business building boats today. I had one as a knockabout – a basic 16′ runabout of early to mid-’70’s vintage. And exceptionally capable small boat, designed for use in the near-shore waters around Vancouver and the coastal areas there. They were heavily built with many still surviving and the larger models remain sought after for their robust construction.

    Woody Boater Tyson Konecncy of Langley, BC is now the proud owner of the 16′ Hourston Glascraft I bought in 2009 for $700 turn-key (complete, boat, trailer and engine), from the marina that sold it new.

  3. Ron Stevenson
    Ron Stevenson says:

    OK Texx, I am humbled! Very nice story you put together, and a bit of a surprise in my morning routine of my WB life. Midi Plastics in Redmond had the original forms for the windshield. The guy even helped me put it together after hours. They were an OE provider for most of the PNW boats for many years until they closed a couple years ago. Somebody should buy their forms and equipment, you would have a nice small business. Krylon still makes the rattle can Splatter paint for the interior, old car trunks, and old fashioned lamp shades!
    And a plug for my friend and neighbor Rob. Amazing detail, show quality work, one at a time, all by himself.
    I guess I better get busy and write a story….
    Thanks Texx!

  4. Martin Feletto
    Martin Feletto says:

    Just to chime in – Gar Wood’s son began producing Garform all fiberglass boats in Tulsa, OK in 1947. They were 16 1/2 foot long inboard runabouts.

    Even though they made something like 2,000 of them there are not many still around. I had a rough one recently, gave it to a friend who said he will restore it in Florida and donate it to a museum once done.

      • Roger Holnback
        Roger Holnback says:

        My cousins have my grandfather’s 1947 garform runabout which he purchased with the optional 60 hp gray marine engine, in a boathouse in the Catskills, New York.
        Hoping to start a restoration shortly.

  5. Al Benton
    Al Benton says:

    Very interesting story today. Thanks for that.

    I had a 1956 Glasspar Club Lido for a while. They were another one of many early producers of fiberglass boats in North America. The Club Lido was only 13 feet long and a bit too small to feel safe in and around larger boats and large wakes. She was fun on small lakes as long as wind didn’t kick up.

    Thanks for the story Texx.

  6. gene porter
    gene porter says:

    Great story

    Looking at the lead-in ad, it would seem that two people may not have been required in a ski boat back in 57, at least in the PNW. As I recall 2 were required on Lake Placid NY in 1952.

    I note with interest that there is a bill before the NH Assembly at the moment that would remove the requirement for an observer as long as the driver has a mirror as specified by some Ski Association.

  7. Randy
    Randy says:

    The CC Cobra looking runabout on the brochure cover page was a 21-ft model with a 3-point bottom design that was supposed to attain speeds of nearly 100 mph. It was designed by famous PNW hydroplane designer Ted Jones. As I remember three hulls were built and one was tested, but deemed too dangerous to put in the general public’s hands. I understand all three boats were destroyed by the factory.

  8. Warren
    Warren says:

    I just want to make a comment on Rob. Boats usually look better in photos but in Rob’s case they look even better in person. You rock Rob, nice work!

  9. Paul Oakley
    Paul Oakley says:

    Great work Rob, I am currently restoring a Banshee here I Tasmania, Australia. I will be happy if mine ends up looking half as good as yours!

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