Chasing Down A Blue Tarp Special

Road Trip 1

Highway 154 on Harsens Island, Michigan 2013. The road where dreams come true?

OVER THE YEARS, many of us have been involved in chasing down a sketchy lead, with the hope of maybe finding an old wooden boat. Usually those leads take us down rural roads well off the beaten path, searching through barn yards or at a lake sniffing around in a musty old boat house with just a glimmer of hope that we will stumble across that special barn find boat.

Road Trip 2

An old Chris-Craft Utility on Harsens Island patiently waiting her turn at restoration shop. (Notice the blue tarp)

Sometimes the lead goes nowhere. Sometimes it takes years to track down one lead. For years, I have been tracking down a lead on an original 1920s Ditchburn that’s been stored in the basement of a hotel for more than 60 years, but no luck yet. And sometimes the lead ends up being successful, and the old wooden boat gets a second chance at life.

Road Trip 3

It’s amazing what you can find when you get off the Interstate and snoop around.

But these days, the chances of actually finding an old pre-war wooden runabout is becoming less likely. After all, they only produced so many back in the day, and most of them have either made their way to the burn pile or already been found and saved. But never give up hope, because you never know what you will find hiding in a shed or under one of those “blue tarps” off the beaten path. Here’s one of those stories from the Pacific Northwest. – Texx

Those Barn Finds or “The Blue Tarp Specials” still exist!
Story by Karl Hoffman (with help from Ron Stevenson)

Last April I was at a class reunion, visiting with a former classmate and catching up on my recent history, which included telling him about my passion of restoring old wooden runabouts. He said he had a co-worker who has a Chris-Craft Barrelback in need of restoration and that is was possibly available. Of course we have all heard these stories before, but this particular story proved to be true.

This classmate told me about another one of his co-workers that had already seen the barrelback and knew where it was. That second co-worker turned out to be Scott Mason, a fellow Pacific Northwest ACBS Chapter member, who I know very well. (Small world? Six degrees of separation, or one Fathom apart?)

Scott reported seeing the boat three years ago, but decided he needed a classic Shepherd boat for the type of boating he was anticipating, and did not follow through with the Barrelback. Woody Boater readers may recall Scott owns “Rhubarb”, a 1961 22-foot Shepherd he towed back to Gull Lake last fall for the ACBS International, where he won a gold medal for “Classic Utility Preserved”.


“Rhubarb” – 1961 22-foot Shepherd during the ACBS International pre-events. (Dane Anderson photo)

I contacted Scott and he told me it was a 1941 Chris-Craft 17-foot Deluxe Barrelback. He also sent me pictures of it and a phone number. I thought about pursuing it, but considering I currently have a 1940 Chris-Craft 18-foot Deluxe Utility sedan in my shop that I am restoring, a 1937 19-ft Chris-Craft Custom in storage waiting for restoration, and maintenance on my 1941 34-foot Deluxe Sedan Cruiser – I probably have enough to keep me busy as I go into retirement this June.

I was one of the volunteer workers at the ACBS booth at the Seattle Boat Show where the Chris-Craft Rocket “Drs Orders” restored by Jerry Campbell was featured. (If you missed the story about the Seattle Boat Show and the Chris-Craft Rocket you can find it by Clicking Here)


Todays author Karl Hoffman and the Pacific Northwest ACBS gang at the recent Seattle Boat Show.

The Search Begins

Since “Drs Orders” was done, I knew Jerry was looking for another wooden boat project – so I gave Jerry the phone number from Scott. Jerry was very thankful, called the number, which turned out to be disconnected. Scott knew the name of the owner, knew he belonged to the same Tacoma Longshoreman’s Union (co-workers) that he belongs to, but he was not in the directory. Another dead end.

Then he comes up with an address from three years ago that turned out to be incorrect. Finally, Scott drove the streets around North Tacoma until he found the house where the Barrelback had resided, and indeed, there was a boat behind the house covered with plastic tarps. Blue Plastic Tarps! Success! Well, kinda.

Now all Jerry had to do was to stop by unannounced, and find someone at home. Jerry did stop by, and left a note in the mail box. That mail box turned out to be the wrong one, at it was for the renters upstairs in the house. Finally, the owner, who turns out to be the mother of Scott’s co-worker contacted Jerry, and they arranged to meet where the boat was.

So what did Jerry really find?

Barrelback 1

After living under the blue tarp in Tacoma for over 30 years, the 17-foot Barrelback emerges.

A 1941 17-foot Chris-Craft Deluxe Runabout (known as a Barrelback) with a Hercules KB engine, Hull number 71810. The records say it left the Chris-Craft factory on April 4th, 1941 for Seattle, shipped to Bryant’s Marine (the legendary Chris-Craft dealer at the time). My part in all of this – other than to encourage us to always keep looking? I helped inventory the boxes of parts that came with the boat.

Barrelback 2

Barrelback 3

Hull Number 71810 was found stamped in the wood. More research may be required on this boat to confirm the year, as we believe the Hull numbers for the 17-foot Chris-Craft Barrelback went from 71529 to 71954 for model years between 1940-1942. – Texx

What else did we find?

Amongst regular cool stuff was the rare triple-carb scoop and silver blue gauges! A deal was made, and on the Presidents Birthday Holiday, the boat left the back yard it had been in (under the blue tarp) for 30 plus years. But not before we had to bail at least 50 gallons of water out of the tarps. Who says it rains here in the Pacific Northwest?

Barrelback 4

Before leaving for her new home, the guys had to first bail out the water that had accumulated on the tarps.

The trailer had no lights, no license plate and two almost flat tires. We put on magnetic lights, put more air in the tires, and headed out. We tried to avoid Tacoma’s Finest (Officer, do we really need a license plate after 30 years?) We had a relatively uneventful trip of 11 miles south of Tacoma to Jerry’s home in Steilacoom.

Barrelback 5

For her trip home the old trailer needed some temporary lights and air in the tires. A vintage seat cushion works great to protect her nose. Always remember to pack a floor jack and duct tape just in case.

Barrelback 6

One last inspection of the trailer before hitting the Interstate.

Barrelback 7

With one last look at the “blue tarp” the 17-foot Barrelback is finally ready to make the trip to her new home for some long overdue TLC, and the start of her new life.

Now all Jerry needs to do, is sell “Drs Orders” to make room for the new project… after all, isn’t that just what the Dr Ordered?

Karl Hoffman

Special thanks to Karl and Ron for sharing this story with us today.


30 replies
  1. Greg Lewandowski
    Greg Lewandowski says:

    Great story about a great find on a great boat. The best part is that another one will be saved. Congrats to Jerry and thanks to all involved for sharing this great story.

  2. Troy in ANE
    Troy in ANE says:

    Great Find! Great Story! Persistence usually pays off one way or another.

    Not sure what the concern on the number is, since 71810 falls right between 71529 and 71954.

    Would love to see stories of her progress as time goes on.

  3. cenger
    cenger says:

    My 1929 28’ Gar Wood as found in a barn in the middle of nowhere Minnesota. The best part; She was not alone!!! They are still out there.

  4. Pete DeVito
    Pete DeVito says:

    What a great article to start out the morning and week. It reminded me of a little 17′ sportsman I found in a warehouse.

  5. Greg Wallace
    Greg Wallace says:

    Please try to bottle up some of your luck for the rest of us. I’m not talking about the luck that takes you to a terrific “blue tarp find”. I’m talking about the luck that got you down the interstate with a 30 year old trailer with just air in the old tires and some stick on lights. You must be living right and have big brass ones to boot!

  6. Greg Wallace
    Greg Wallace says:

    Any chance of getting an email copy of the great header photo? I am researching the Chris Craft neon sign hanging on the back wall. A cropped version with the sign as prominent would work as well if there is an issue with sharing….copyrights and all that. If anyone reading this has any info to share I would be grateful. Thanks!

      • Howard Lehman
        Howard Lehman says:

        Texx, Would it be possible for you to email me this photo too? I’ve restored three 1947 Deluxe Runabouts and have some work to do on the fourth one right now. The details of the factory finished hull is really outstanding. Thank you, Howard Lehman

  7. Alex
    Alex says:

    Use to pray I’d stumble on a 25 Sportsman barn find. But now, I pray I don’t find one. If you catch my drift.

  8. Andy C
    Andy C says:

    Alex, this is one is for you. I found it last year and it has been sitting for 40+ years. New bottom going on right now.

  9. Rick
    Rick says:

    Sometimes they’re right in suburban America also. Found Panther in our local high school wood shop upside down and covered with student projects. Had been there for years.

  10. Mark Edmonson
    Mark Edmonson says:

    The photo of from St, Clair (Auto Parts) is an old school auto parts store. been getting lots of engine parts from him for over 40 years, Also the Riverside Pub has great burgers!!

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Mark – We snapped that shot during one of our visits to the Algonac boat show. Matt & I were cruising the area the Sunday after the show trying to take in as much of the history as possible. Those old Champion Spark Plug signs bring back fond memories for me. Tons of history on Harsens Island too… – Texx

  11. Denis D
    Denis D says:

    I also think that’s a great header photo. That 17′ Deluxe in the foreground proves they came from the factory with the dark covering boards and king plank as well as the step pads breaking the hydem. That is how I would like to finish my 17′ DLX I am restoring. I would love to get a copy of that also.

    Denis D

  12. Russ M
    Russ M says:

    Question about the 17′ Deluxe? All of the topside bungs are so visible I am wondering if they were puttied rather than plugged? Anyone know the CC spec from then? Not visible on the 20′ Custom. My 1931 17′ “Split Cockpit” 99/199 has puttied bungs and I wonder if that was a prewar spec for the smaller and less expensive boats.

    • Steve L
      Steve L says:

      Great story! I saw Dr.’s Orders in Chelan and it was beautiful. Good to see this barrelback is in the hands of someone who knows what their doing.

      Russ, I have a 17′ 1942 special runabout. It was a cheaper boat that promised 36mph. It originally had puttied bungs because of the 1/4″ planks. The diameter of the bungs was slightly smaller than today’s counter sink bits are as well. CC kept them fast by keeping them light.

  13. John Lisicich
    John Lisicich says:

    Aloha Jerry and Happy Monday!
    Wow, CONGRATULATIONS on your blue tarp special! That’s awesome and what a GREAT story, and you have been blessed with a fun project.
    There is nothing like the heart pumping thrill of a treasure hunt like this. Your persistence and determination has paid off. We certainly know about the thrill of the hunt when we went door to door looking for an automatic violin playing machine in the Tacoma area. Being a born and raised Tacoma kid I know that there is tons of stuff buried in basements, garages, and yes, under blue tarps in yards.
    You are very lucky and once more a BIG CONGRATULATIONS. Enjoy your new project and keep making every day the best day ever!

  14. richard gardner
    richard gardner says:

    Hi my name is Richard gardener I live in port orchard 5 years ago I was in California and a friend called me and said there was an old chris on cregs list for sale in a barn on vashon island so I told him to go buy it after I had seen some pictures it had been in the barn for 30 sum years I did need another as I have a 22 ft triple and 85 ft 1929 fantail and a 41 barrel back 19 ft a sickness

  15. Ed S
    Ed S says:

    Dang! I come 3000 miles from Hopatcong and miss seeing that grey ghost chugging down I-5 by a week. Oh well, back to the land of hard-water sailing.

  16. Steve Anderson
    Steve Anderson says:

    Hi all, that utility on harsens Island is about 600 feet from my place. I keep meaning to walk down and meet the neighbor. I guess I will have to. It’s also about 300 feet from where my 56 continental was stored for 30 years before I got it.

    I know of another old Chris craft hanging in a boathouse on Harsens, much more hidden from view. They’re out there still!

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