Two Best Friends Who Saved An Old Dodge Runabout From A Bulldozer


1930 Horace E. Dodge Boat & Plane Corp Print Ad - Edward Wilson Artwork

Last week our friend and fellow Woody Boater Jim Frechette from Austin, Texas shared a touching story with us about one of his best friends, who he met over 20 years ago. A freindship that began, and grew based on their common interest in the antique & classic boating hobby, and the many memorable experiences they shared together over the last 20 years. It’s a story that needs to be told…

Texx – I am sending you these pictures of a 1930 Dodge runabout with a history that is quite close to me. The pictures were taken just last week.

In about 1980 I had just bought my first classic wooden boat, a 1956 Chris-Craft Holiday. As often happens, soon after I purchased by first boat, I met a fellow Woody Boater who also lived in Texas – his name was Gary. He sold me a 1959 Century Coronado and began teaching me everything one needs to know about how to keep these old beasts running. As our friendship grew, I learned more about the woodworking side of the hobby and Gary was always the go-to guy when it came to the mechanical aspects of the hobby. Gary & I became best friends and together we enjoyed many, many days of classic boating over the years.

We also traveled with his wife and my girlfriend to boat shows in Clayton, NY and Lake Tahoe, CA to see the really nice boats. In 1990 we decided it would be fun to rent a house on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire and attend their big classic boat show. He loaded up his wife and their 1939 Chris-Craft 19′ Custom barrelback and I loaded up my wife, our young daughter Lillie, and my 1949 Chris-Craft Racing Runabout.

Boy did we have a nice looking boat dock at Lake Winnipesaukee, the envy of our cove! While we were there, Gary heard about a 1930 Dodge runabout down the road in Massachusetts and went to take a look. He liked what he saw and drove back to New Hampshire to buy a boat trailer and then went and picked up the boat. I am quite sure the trailer was way more expensive than the boat.

The 1930 Dodge 25’ Triple Cockpit Runabout that Gary bought in Massachusetts was not exactly perfect, but a rare find just the same. The hardware had all been removed and sent to a collector in California but it did still have the original 8 cylinder Lycoming engine that had obviously stopped working many years earlier.

There was a large bracket bolted to the transom for an outboard motor. The boat was about to be bulldozed to make way for a new shopping center, so my friend Gary arranged to have a front-end loader place the boat on the trailer and it was transported back to Austin, Texas were we both live for repairs.

In Anthony Mollica Jr’s book – Dodge Boats he writes – “Dodge’s attractive 25-foot triple-cockpit runabout was offered with a deluxe Kroh sedan top by mid-1930. The open version (Model 3), priced at $2,500.00, was equipped with twin folding windshields, and the standard power was a 125-horsepower Lycoming straight eight producing speeds up to 32 miles per hour. The Model 4 offered the optional 165-horsepower Lycoming straight eight that attained speeds to 38 miles per hour for $3,200.00. The sedan version of the 25-footer was designated as the Model 10 and offered at $3,900.00. In 1930 Gar Wood did not have a runabout in this length, and Chris-Craft’s 26-footer was $700.00 more with similar power and a dated image.”

“The flagship of Dodge’s runabout fleet for 1930 was the beautifully designed and impressively performing 28-footer with a 7-foot, 5-inch beam. With its (optional) 300-horsepower Lycoming V-12 engine, it provided speeds up to 46 miles per hour and remained in production through 1935.”

Tango - A Beautiful Example of a 1930 28' V-12 Lycoming Powered Dodge Triple

I restored the boat off and on for a period of 15 years.

Gary did not have a lot of money so the restoration was completed in small steps. The first time it was in my shop, I pulled all the planking and replaced most of the framework. Gary picked up the boat and stored the framework outside where the tarp kept blowing off and then the trailer collapsed. Two or three years later he brought it back and I rebuilt the frame again. This time he put it back in better storage. A few years later he came back and I re-planked the boat.

All during this time he was searching for the correct original replacement Dodge hardware and eventually bought a lot of it from Al Schinnerer at California Classic Boats.

I believe Jim Staib from Fine Wood Boats in Illinois supplied the correct 1930 instrument panel. Gary was also restoring the engine back to its original condition.

Five or six years ago I stained and varnished the boat, completed the upholstery and pretty much finished the boat except for the engine. We installed the engine a few times but there was always some kind of problem.

Original Duesenberg Steering Wheel

About 2002, Gary and I were partners on a rare Chris-Craft Silver Arrow. We sold it to a man in New York and we were to meet the agent in Nashville, TN which was about halfway between Austin and New York.

Gary and I stopped in Jackson, TN for the night, just a few hours short of Nashville. In the morning, I went to get the truck and boat and he went to the lobby to get us coffee. He was taking a very long time so I went in to see what the delay was. He had had a stroke in the lobby and they had called an ambulance.

They took him to the hospital with me following the speeding ambulance with the Silver Arrow in tow behind me. They checked him in and he seemed OK, so I went on to Nashville to make the delivery. When I returned to pick him up, he had had another stoke and was in serious condition. I stayed with him for two days until his wife could get there and I then drove home to Texas.

The Aft Cockpit Features a Cigar Lighter and Remote Control for the Vintage Philco Radio

Gary never fully recovered from the stroke and had difficulty walking and talking, but I learned to understand him and he made it clear that the boat was to be completed. He continued working on the engine with the help of neighborhood kids but he could never get it right.

Original Remote Control for the Philco Radio

The Owner Installed Heater For Those Cold Mornings

The Original Lycoming Straight 8 Engine

The last time I saw Gary was when he was towing the Dodge yet again from my shop to go work on the engine again. By this time we had grown a little distant from each other and he seemed to prefer being alone. You can imagine my surprise and sadness when I found out last week that my friend Gary had passed away last fall. I only learned about his death when someone called me about the Dodge and that his widow was selling the boat.

Fortunately, the Dodge runabout was purchased by two very knowledgeable wooden boat guys in Texas, who are planning to ship the old original Lycoming engine to David Van Ness in New Jersey to be properly restored. They will then complete the final details of the restoration project so it can finally see the water again.

Finishing the old Dodge was Gary’s dream and it seems very sad to me that he was never able to see his dream completed and back in the water after all those years.

Gary was going to name the boat “No Hurry” due to how long the restoration lasted and the relative lack of power of the small Lycoming engine. I would like to dedicate this story to the memory of my friend and fellow Woody Boater Gary.

Jim Frechette
Fleetwood Boats – Austin, Texas

1930 Dodge Boat & Plane Corp Ad - Artwork By Edward Wilson

Thanks for sharing your story about your best friend Gary and the cool Dodge Runabout. I can hardly wait to see her back in the water after all those years of time and effort. And Jim, your patience with Gary over the years was remarkable, you were truly a good friend to him.


16 replies
  1. Alex
    Alex says:

    Jim, what an incredibly moving story. Thanks so much for sharing it with us. Gary might not have had the satisfaction of seen his Dodge through to completion, but it seems to me he played the most important role of all. He saved it from almost certain demolition. And by getting its restoration well underway, he gave the boat new wings, figuratively and literally (when he found and installed the iconic winged mermaid bow piece). Please find a way to get us pics of the boat once completed, or to let us know where it will be shown. It would be nice to see the finished product.

    • Jim Frechette
      Jim Frechette says:

      The new owners are hoping to have the Lycoming restored and back in the boat for the International show at Table Rock. Keep your fingers crossed!

      • WoodyGal
        WoodyGal says:

        Great story of a rare boat & a beautiful friendship. Thanks Jim for sharing all of it with us.

  2. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    That was a nice tribute to Gary as will be the Dodge regardless of who owns it. I can’t imagine how he “snaked” that Dodge out of Massachusetts in the heart of the Bay State Woodies chapter and the Lake Winnipesaukee crowd.

    Dodge had such great iconic ads that were the epitome of art deco. I remember getting into a bidding war and paying a hefty $65 for one of their magazine ads on ebay years ago.

    • Jim Frechette
      Jim Frechette says:

      I believe it was George Johnson who told Gary about the boat, thinking no one in their right mind would be interested in a boat in such sad shape. He is the one who sold Gary the trailer, which is still under the boat.

  3. Bill
    Bill says:


  4. Jim Frechette
    Jim Frechette says:

    Gary was also way into Auburns, Cords, and Duesenburgs. At one time he had an L-29 Cord as well as an Auburn. Not sure which one but I think he took it in The Great Race across the country. He also owned and lived in the Cord Mansion in Auburn, Indiana for several years. His attraction to the Dodge boat was the Lycoming engine.

  5. ARRRGH!
    ARRRGH! says:

    What a cool guy! You never know what an interesting life lurks right behind that fleshy facade a person sports around. Your remembering Gary in this special way of sharing his story with us is greatly appreciated!

  6. Cindy
    Cindy says:

    What a wonderful story…I too have been the owner of a 1932 Dodge Watercar…it belonged to my grandfather and my father in turn had it fully restored…all original..but the time has come to sell…..engine needs tweaking but if you know any lovers of these beauties feel free to email me…

    • Ron Lenzner
      Ron Lenzner says:

      All, a truly great story of sharing a Passion and commitment.
      Last year my friend and found an old boat at a great price. It’s a “project” 21′ Dodge with two cockpits. It wasn’t’ in that bad shape we
      thought. No holes. Lots of parts and the front windshield. We’ve been
      Discussing what to do with it. We both daydream of glossy mahogany!
      Our wives think we’re nuts! While not thinking of where to find a Lycoming, we play with our regular boats. Thoughts?
      My email is
      Thanks, Ron

Comments are closed.