Starlight Express – Realizing A Childhood Dream (Part 2 – The Next 22 Years)
In 1956 fellow Woody Boater Randy Mueller’s dream of one day ownig a Matthews Martinique Express began when he received his first set of brochures from the MATTHEWS Company in Port Clinton, Ohio with a nice letter from their sales manager, R.E. Reynolds. Randy was only 11 years old at the time, but now – over 55 years later, his perfectly restored 1956 42′ Martinique “Starlight Express” graces the waters of Gig Harbor, Washington.
In Part 1 of Randy’s Mueller’s story here on Woody Boater, we cover the first 33 years of his dream – up until he finally located and purchased the Matthews in 1989 at a marina in Long Island, New York. Part 1 ended in 1989 as he was preparing to have the boat transported by truck from Montauk, Long Island to her new home in Seattle, Washington. (You can see Part 1 of this story by clicking here)
Here’s what happened during the next 22 years, including an extensive 17-1/2 year restoration and subsequent re-launch of this unique 1956 Matthews Martinique Express.
“Starlight Express” Realizing A Childhood Dream (Part 2)
by Randy Mueller
Of the seven Martinique Express models produced in 1956 and 1957 we were able to locate only two still “alive”, both 1956 models. In retrospect, two ‘survivors’ out of seven is probably a pretty low attrition rate for a rather unusual boat that never shared the popularity of the other MATTHEWS models.
After three years of searching for the Martinique of our dreams, we finally purchased one of the two remaining survivors in 1989 at Montauk, Long Island, NY and had it transported back to Seattle, Washington to begin the long and expensive restoration process. The boat was then named “Knee Deep II”.
The boat arrived in North Bend, WA (just past Snoqualmie Pass) late Saturday afternoon, October 28, 1989. Since I had never seen the boat in person, when the truck driver called me Saturday night we made arrangements to meet at the truck stop on Sunday — his wide load permit did not allow him to travel on Sunday, so he was stuck there until Monday.
The Martinique arrived in Seattle Monday morning, October 30, 1989 at University Boat Service where she was unloaded and launched. That is where the first phase of work occured.
We did a ‘bunch’ of rebuilding at that boat yard for 2+ years until the budget expired. Shortly after the boat got here my wife and I had an opportunity to buy a small waterfront cottage on Gig Harbor Bay. It also needed to be totally rebuilt and a dock installed, so that began to consume our budget. After the Martinique was seaworthy we towed it down and moored it alongside our house.
That first yard replaced the transom banding structure and transom, stem, a few planks, gutted the engine compartment and replaced many frames, sheer & hog clamps, side decks, windshield, side coamings, a few small sections of plywood on the forward deck, reglassed the forward deck, and set the hardtop back on for her upcoming storage ’til the next phase began.
More pictures of the work at University Boat Service. Since the boat was ‘gutted’, a WHOLE bunch of substandard previous work/repairs were removed and absolutely everything was redone to MATTHEWS factory quality — the guys at University Boat Service were great craftsmen.
Some small ply patches were made to the forward deck and then deck glassed and foredeck hatches then reinstalled. We patterned the coaming from a friends MATTHEWS and then started adding the ‘gingerbread’ (coamings and windshield).
All this was completed by mid-1992, at which time the boatyard was being forced to relocate. We were spending $$$’s to rebuild the waterfront house so we decided to have the yard put the hardtop back on. We then towed it down to our place in Gig Harbor Bay and moored it next door until we got the dock finished. I tarped it over from the windshield to the transom, leaving it open aft for airflow. I built hatch dodgers so I could leave the hatches proped open without allowing rain in, plus left the ports open slightly. This allowed a lot of air to flow from bow to stern, and the bilges stayed bone dry.
We worked in the engine room bilges (sanding/cleaning) while the boat was at our dock. I still had my Ranger 37 sailboat (which I bought new in 1973), and finally sold that in 1996. All the while we were saving up $$$’s to continue with the Martinique, and in July 1999 loaded her onto a trailer bound for a yard in Port Townsend, WA. She remained there (indoors) until her relaunching in December 2006.
We still had to replace a bunch of transverse floors/frames throughout the boat and some longitudinal stringers/girders. A lot of the internal fasteners (that never saw water) were just steel and when they were punched out were nearly gone (below the heads). A lot of these were in the engine stringers and transverse floors — structural components! Moisture content in the wood over nearly 50-years had rusted them away. Everything was replaced with silicon bronze, a very large expense but worth it.
This shows the gutted engine compartment and interior to rebuild ALL structure. I didn’t want to be out there crossing a rough stretch of water and have to worry about whether we were going to arrive safely at our destination.
In anticipation to your question, yes, it was expensive. My philosophy is that if you do it right you will only have to do it once.
The ‘artist’ who put the name on Starlight Express was a true old time craftsman. He was an expert at applying gold leaf, and outlined and ‘shaded’ each letter. Since this art has almost disappeared from transoms, he had gold leaf left over from many years ago that was used here. He became a good friend and also painted the name on my 1955 Aristo Craft Torpedo that was at the 2010 Tahoe show. He recenty passed away from cancer — a great loss to the artist community. I was hoping he would be around to do my last restoration — my vintage unlimited hydroplane Miss Madison.
Finally it was time to re-launch “Starlight Express” in December 2006, a day that all Woody Boater’s dream of when their projects are completed.
— and yes, we paid attention to ALL traffic signs!
The only rule that day in December was “NO BREAKING GLASS OVER THE FANCY CHROME!” Oh, that also left a lot more Champagne for us to drink!
She FLOATS!!!!!! “Starlight Express”, my prized Martinique, was re-launched for her second time around in late 2006 –50 years after that childhood dream began, and 17-1/2 years after purchasing her. I had a friend that would do the top and upholstery, but not until we brought the boat home to the boathouse.
I had a pair of Chrysler 318’s totally rebuilt by a local Chrysler expert. The cylinders were not previously bored out — something this mechanic insists upon for anything he will touch. Dyno gave 240 hp each, equivalent to the twin 331 cu. in. Hemi’s that origanally came installed (which were 200 hp each).
Underway, finally, for the first time in MY Martinique!!! Hope you and the rest of WoodyBoaterland derives some inspiration to follow their dream too!
The Matthews Boat Owners Association is still operating, but there is no website as they keep very busy with their travels and MATTHEWS business — no time to maintain a site. Matthews owners can contact: MBOA, P.O. Box 254, Higganum, CT 06441.
Special thanks to Randy Mueller for sharing this remarkable story of patience and perseverance with us here at Woody Boater. Now only one thing left to do… Ride the old Harley-Davidson over to Seattle in the spring and go for a boat ride! (Hint Hint…)
Texx and Randy,
Your story not only made my day, I think it will inspire me for a very long time. Starlight Express will take her place among the top classic cruisers in the country. My only regret is that I may never get to see her in the flesh. I can still dream about some day being out on the St. Clair River and seeing that massive bow making way toward me!
Im glad there was a Randy that could actually afford to save this boat.
This may be the best story of the year. 2011 until now, not just a couple days.. THIS IS INSPIRING, and what we are all about. Aboot for all our Canadian pals.. Dang, Randy. There is a big Woody in this for you.. Thank you..
Absolutely amazing boat!! Beautiful from all angles, inside and out. I “get” the whole lifelong dream thing.
This boat is so worthy of the extensive effort and expensive bills (no doubt). Perhaps some day I will be privileged to see her in person, and… woah, is that a Ford Granada I see in the background? Er, Matt, couldn’t you have photoshopped that out and replaced it with a woody babe, with a nice pair of donzis?
I did not notice the Granada.. I changed my mind.. HA. Honestly I would have driven a Pacer to afford this. UGH..
What a great story and amazing boat. Love the lines and the great craftsmanship, well worth the time and effort. I believe if it is your dream you can’t put a price on it. Thank you Randy for saving a classic.
The hobby needs more Randys.
It is my contention that we are in a very critical moment in time with regard to this hobby (obsession). I completely agree with Matt and the rest, this is a fantastic story. I have been following the Matthews cruisers for several years in awe. To see one brought back to better than new condition is an inspiring way to begin 2012. Which brings me to my point. We are in perilous times my friends. Every day another piece of history gets cut up or burned. All I have left of my 45′ Chris Craft Connie is the 2 mile spotlight. Now the good news!
Technology and chemists have made tremendous strides in the last 15 years. It is now feasible to take on dream project of this magnitude and have a piece of art that actually lasts! This is one of the critical components needed. Up till the last few years you could undergo a massive project like this only to have the elements tear it down in just a few seasons. Without a doubt, the no-soak bottom is the greatest advancement this hobby has EVER seen! Our future would be bleak without it. My concern is that the public doesn’t know that.
So, why the concern over time now? Once preserved and cared for, the boats should last a lifetime. We’re losing our EXTREMELY knowledgeable friends! And I’m not talking about the boats. Each day it seems one less person is here with us that had extensive knowledge. Either about the boats themselves or how to preserve them. The actual collecting of boats or hobby didn’t really begin till the 20s and 30s. The ladies and gentlemen who founded all the clubs are slipping away, and along with it, there legacy and the future of the hobby.
We have a unique moment in time to make a difference here. And it all dovetails together nicely.
1. Start a program to video interview these folks. With today’s technology that is a no brainer.
2. Engage the masses with the knowledge that these boats don’t sink at the dock anymore! Establish the understanding of new technology and the investment grade opportunity.
3. Leverage the historic aspect told by the experts on video and current grace of these incredible boats like Randy’s to inspire new people to enjoy them.
The balance we’re looking for has been elusive to date. It is when the cost of restoration is slightly less than the value when completed. As we all know this scenario is rare today. More often than not, the total preservation of any wood boat is an embarrassing financial project. The values have to go up to bridge this gap. And the only way that will ever happen is abiding by the laws of supply and demand. The danger is, having lost the knowledge and supply right after the demand arrives! Let’s get it in gear!
Anyone interested in being video recorded at the Sunnyland show for history?
I agree with Scott’s assessment, I kept my Elco in Los Angeles harbor, saw boats being broken up every day, it was so sad. Fortunately for me my boat sold to a gentleman from Toronto who is going to take her to show condition. I always talk to the “old timers” their knowledge is invaluable. Keep up the great work you all, Scooter
I agree with the loss of boats. A couple of seasons ago the were a few woody cruisers in a sad state both docked and high and dry on Forge River here on LI. Next they were resting on the bottom and last season they were gone completely. I don’t know if they were parted out or just broken up and shipped to the dump but either way that was probably 6 or 7 that are now gone for good. Unless the value is there though this will continue to happen.
What a great story!! This is the passion that lives stronger in our lifestyle than almost any other. Some great points by Scott as well. This may truely be the time of oppertunity, there are still a fair amount of vessels in the 35′ – 45′ range with enough structural intregrity to warrent the investment. Aquiring the boat and transport of course will be the smallest part of the proposition, but worh it in the long run. But he is right, at the rate these are disappearing, only the best of the rest will be around in the next 7-10 years….then they will all be six figure boats.
As a part of your Hall of Fame program wouldn’t it be good to have video interviews of the recipients to get this concept started? Even if it is archived video it would be cool.
Congratulations to Randy for successfully completing a journey chasing a childhood dream. My late ex-Father-in-law–a boat mechanic for forty years in City Island, NY–loved Matthews. He said most of the others looked more like “floating motel rooms.”
Regarding the “dying breed:” I just don’t think it’s so. There seem to be a lot of died-in-the-wool wooden boat people, ranging from rich owners (or boat-poor owners like me) to boatyard folks who cherish the old boats and the skills to build them and restore them. During last year’s haulout of Bay lady at the yard that built her (Tiffany in Burgess, VA), I was gladdened to find that the man replacing the rudder post block had participated in her keel-laying in 1962.
Many folks are immune to the wooden boat bug, but once you’re infected, it’s kinda like Herpes. Or something.
BACK IN 1994 I REFINISHED A 42 ‘ MATHEWS SEDAN FOR A GENTILMAN THAT NEVER PUT IT IN THE WATER . IT NOW IS SETTING IN FRONT OF THE NEW OWNERS HOUSE , WHICH WAS TAKEN . THE BOAT COULD PROBABLY BE GOTTEN FOR A SONG AND A DANCE.
Good Job! I love the restoration. Ready to sail again, Captain!