A Father And A Son. A Classic Boat Story.

One of the wonderful things about Woody Boats is the memories that they hold. Wood not only soaks up water and moisture in the air, but also love, hate, and most any emotion they are surrounded by. That is the magic of wood. It lives with us. Some boats are lucky enough to stay in the same hands for years and thus hold these emotions in a pure way. They have a heart and soul,  and personality.. And for a few Woody Boats nothing is better than being the bond that holds together a Father and Son. Those sorts of relationships are always tough.. A car, or Woody Boat can sometimes be a perfect catalyst for bonding and growing together. This story I am about to tell you is one of the more moving.

It all started at a Thanksgiving Dinner back in 1954, the family had decided to visit Lake George during the off season. To have a quiet rustic Thanksgiving. They rented a house.. One of the few homes on the Lake that was open for the winter. They all gathered and basked in the glory of the mountains and clean water. Of course there were no boats or life out there. The Lake was just pure and nature was in full force. All the leaves had dropped.. It was a fantastic time for a family to just be a family. There were 2 kids in this family. Janice J and Bob,  Dad, Mom and a dog.. A normal family for the 1950’s as I am told.. Bob.. or Bobby as he was known was at that age.. that age were a father and son are still talking. On a long walk they talked about having a summer place on the lake, and Bobby suggested a boat..Father and son agreed.. They loved the idea.. And over Thanksgiving dinner presented the idea to Mom and Janice J… The family was all in.. That’s how the family moved to Lake George and started its wonderful history together.

Christmas morning. Bobby and Janice J all came down to the living room.. And there it was.. Nothing.. Not even a tree.. In this house, the tree was always brought by St Nick on the eve of Christmas.. This was the family tradition since they were of German descent.. NOTHING.. The kids ran up waking up the parents.. “There is no tree, no gifts” What could be wrong? As they went down stairs.. Father said lets look around.. Janice, go look on the porch, Bobby, you look outside.. In the shed.. Your mother and i will look around the house.

In the shed.. Bobby opened the door and there it was.. A magnificent  Chris Craft.. With lights all over it. A tree in the boat and loaded with small gifts.. Bobby could not believe his eyes.. He climbed in and sat behind the wheel.. Slowly the family came out hearing Bobby yelling and blowing the horn… The family had Christmas morning out in the shed, in there slippers and over coats. “It was the best Christmas of my life” Bobby said..

Over the years.. the little Chris Craft, named.. “Elf”… shared in summers on Lake George.. Bobby caught his first fish on “elf” he got his first kiss on Elf, Janice J.. Learned to swim when Elf did not soak up fast enough.. Mom would go out with Dad on sunset trips and come back with big smiles.. All was good. Elf was part of the family. Over the years.. As Bobby and Janice grew up, there time at the lake was less and less. Mom and Dad would go to check up on things. Elf remained in the barn at the home on the lake.. Sometimes now not being used for years on end.. Bobby now a scrapping young man was a young adult and had life to live. He had been drafted and gone for some time. Bobby had become a medic.. And well.. thats another story.. .. But when he came home.. He went to the lake for some R and R.. He needed to be reborn.. to take in all that was good in the world since he had seen so much bad.. After some time sleeping and just watching the water he went out to the barn.. And there was ‘Elf” sitting on its cradle.. Covered in a torn cover.. But still there.. Bobby was flooded with the memory of Christmas morning and all that was good in the world.. How a families love can overcome anything.. All this emotion was tied up in Elf.. just waiting for Bobby to need it.. And Bobby needed it.. For the next month, Bobby and elf worked together to get back on the water.. As Bobby looked back, both elf and Bobby needed to get back to living life.. After some varnish and cleaning up.. Soaking, and rough starts, Elf lit up, and away they went.. Mom and Dad came on the weekends and Dad helped Bobby get the boat ready.. So in a way, elf became Bobbys now…

Over the years, Elf and Bobby would go out once a year.. Mom had passed away, Janice was a teacher in California.. Bobby and Dad would meet at the lake house and get Elf ready for the summer.. Although Elf would never be used after that week.. Until winter.. And so this went on for many years.. Elf took more and more to get back in the water..

It was the week before spring officially starts. the forsythia was just starting to bloom.. And the phone rang.. It was Janice.. Dad had passed away in the night..  Bob, now a dad himself knew this was coming and needed to get things all in order.. The home on Lake George needed to go, Dad had moved into an assisted living place.. But the lake house had stayed because of all the memories tied up in it. It represented the family, the bond and all that was good in the world.. On a trip to the home to meet the Realtor, Bob  went through the barn and there was Elf… sitting there like it had for 50 years.. Bob , said, the boat does not convey.. It took a week to fix the trailer to be transported back to there suburban home in Ohio. And so the next journey of Elf and Bob was underway.. A strange feeling over came Bob on the trip home with Elf behind him coming to a new home.. But Bob had dreams of his son and him working on Elf.. Only his son was older and off to Collage.. So it would have to wait, maybe a grandson.. Elf found her new home sitting in the yard under a cover.. A memory out in the yard waiting to save the soul that needed it.. The years went by and Elf just started to look not so good. Folks would come by and offer to buy Elf.. One day out of the blue a neighbor down the street came down and offered to buy Elf for a surprise Christmas gift for his son and him to restore.. But Bob could not let go..

It was last summer, a thunderstorm came through the area.. and a loud crack from a lightning bolt was heard.. The time between The flash of light and boom was a second. Lighting had struck close.. Out in the yard. There it was .. The big tree in the yard had been struck.. And fallen and crushed Elf.. Elf was now a box of grey splinters.. Gone.. All that was left was the faint name on the transom.. El.. the f was gone.. Bob called the trash people and it was hauled away to the dump.. And thats the end of the story..

Sucks doesn’t it.. Whats the moral of this story that you just wasted a half hour reading? Don’t love your boat to death.. If you are that person hording a boat for the memories as it dies a slow death.. Sell her or restore her.. But for gods sake dont let it rot. Your memories are far richer seeing such a thing live, being restored and living the life it was intended to live. Sitting in a barn or in a field is no way for the Wood to live, it needs you, your memories and life experience to live..

28 replies
  1. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    I hate to be the party pooper, but I am not sure you have the right moral from this tale. Take this alternate eding…

    Bob’s son graduates from Ohio State and finds out no one wants to hire him in a down economy. So, he goes home and works 70-80 hours a week for over a year helping Bob restore Elf to beyond perfect condition. They give it one last polish then wrap it up, ready to hit the road to Clayton where she is sure to win best in show and score at least 99.75 points. That night, a thunderstorm came through the area…

    Does that suck any less? I think the moral of the story is to be careful where you store your boat and to make sure it is insured.

  2. Mike Green
    Mike Green says:

    Wow, great story, it made for an extra good cup of coffee this morning. Memories are embedded in our lives to be pulled out at a later date and then hopefully shared with others. I am glad mine are a lot about old boats.

  3. Mike M
    Mike M says:

    Matt, that must be the longest story you’ve ever written! I was sure it was Texx until the spelling errors started to creep in….ha. Nicely done.

    It reminded me of reading one of those stories at school where you had to answer a bunch of questions at the end about what the story meant. I always got those wrong. Thanks for not having a quiz…m-fine and I probably would have failed it….

  4. Phil Widmer
    Phil Widmer says:

    It’s the journey, not the destination that is important in this case.

    I agree with m-fine, “be careful where you store your boat and to make sure it is insured”

    There is nothing like a woody to bring a father and son together..!

  5. TomT.
    TomT. says:

    Matt great story, brings back memories from my own childhood and a recent event. A few weeks ago i was told of a “boat” that an old guy had sitting in a shed. I called the man and he said I could come out to take a look. Drove out on a beautiful Saturday morning and met him at his house. We walked to the shed which was only 2 blocks from his house and went inside. There she was a 1944 Garwood just sitting in a craddle and in decent shape. He had come upon the boat 40 years earlier when his neighbor was going to cut it up for firewood.. Fifty dollars was offered for the boat and it was accepted!!. Now this man was’nt a boat person but he had dreams of restoring her. He started some stripping and sanding and she has sat in that bare condition to this day. I told him its a shame that she had sat here soooo long and nothing has been done to her, what a waste of history. I offered him 10 times the amount he had paid for her but he wont let her go. Maybe my son will restore her someday.. Well nothing has been done to her for forty years and I guarenty as long as he owns it nothing will. He has visions and has seen how she should look all in her glory and thinks this is what he should be offered for her. I tried to explain to him what that would cost him with the addition of an engine which she doesnt have. Everything else is there, all the chrome and a beautiful cutwater everything. When I left I told him he should be ashamed for letting her a piece of history slowly fade away in a shed. I said my good byes and left kinda broken hearted. I am tempted to print your story and take it to him so he can get a brain. . Tom

    • matt
      matt says:

      Send it to the guy.. I wrote this for that reason.. there is way to much of this going on out there, and the boats end up in the dump or fire place.. Ahhhh.. I call it loving your boat to death

    • Sinked ships
      Sinked ships says:

      I bet he didn’t sell it because that puppy is worth thousands not hundreds. You can’t push people to sell something they don’t want to sell.

  6. WAYNE
    WAYNE says:


  7. Al Benton
    Al Benton says:

    My Aunt just passed away, last of her generation, funeral is Saturday. I don’t have a single physical memento that represents her life, just memories. With my present mental ability I can remember many things from when I was just a kid; her kitchen, the chicken shaped cookie jar, her pond thick with cat tails, the tool shed filled with garden tools and the push mower that I was too small to push. My older cousins could push it but not me. We were a close nit family and spent all of the holidays together, even after the family began to thin out as we all got older. The most difficult part of this is that now I and my surviving cousins represent the senior generation of this family, now that Aunt Vera is gone. We’ll get together on Saturday and talk about all of the good memories of growing up, making torches using dry cat tails from the pond soaked in kerosine, burning down the old tool shed (and getting our buts blistered for it). The push mower survived, the wheels were steel. My cousin still has it and I’m sure that now it will be cherished and will be handed down to his grandchildren. They may let it rust away or sell it for scrap metal, We have no real say in what they may do with it. It doesn’t necessarily mean as much to them as it does to my generation. Personally I wish that I could find that chicken shaped cookie jar. It always had fresh cookies in it and would have special meaning to me. If I did have it, I would pass it on to one of my grandchildren but it would not have any special connection to them and would probably be tucked into a closet or sold at a yard sale or thrown out eventually.

    The point here is that mementos (such as an old family boat or a cookie jar) can be a big part of these kind of memories to us but not so much to the generations that follow. Unless, of course, we build new memories with the kids in our lives by keeping the boat going (or keeping fresh cookies in the old ugly jar that would look out of place in a modern kitchen).

    Antique and classic boats usually have a story behind them, memories to someone, somewhere They’re worth digging up if you can. If not, start your own history, your own memories; if this old boat could talk it would, no doubt, tell us of an exciting past, when she left the factory, her first owners, the look on the owner’s face when she was launched the first time, her encounter with the dock leaving a permanent scar on her side, her lonely days waiting for her owner (or anyone else) to give her a new finish and take her out of the barn, give her a new bottom, get her wet, and start afresh.

    Now go hug your old boat (I just did), make promises to her, and keep them.

  8. Tom
    Tom says:

    Matt great story. brought back lots of memories of boating with my dad. Ironic that you wrote this today as I was out last night to the Manotick cruise night with my dad in his boat. We had a great time meeting members of the club that I haven’t seen in over twenty years.
    I look forward to spending more time with my dad and my family passing on more lasting memories.

    One of the best memories I have with my dad, was boating on the Ottawa River behind Parliament Hill (Capitol Hill for us Canadians) then boating behind the house of the Prime Minister of the time Pierre Elliot Trudeau and the next thing I know my dad honks the horn and flips the bird toward the house. I don’t think we would be able to that today!!!!

    • TomT.
      TomT. says:

      Matt I am heading out with your story and all the replies. Wish me luck. I am a WoodyBoat Lover.!!! Tom T.

      • matt
        matt says:

        Wow, thanks, hopefully it helps, this may be the single most harmful thing to woody boats out there. neglect is not good. if you love the memory, at least respect it and do something with it. It kills me seeing this. Once wood is dead, its dead.. And needs to be thrown away. What memory is that. Ahhhh, ugh.. Let us all know and we will let the world know

  9. Al Benton
    Al Benton says:

    Well, I’ve got to stop reading these long stories and writing long, boring replies and get to work on my old boat.

    Your fault, Matt, you told me to throw out my old “Cookies” and start collecting fresh ones so I could get onto Woody Boater. I had to get the old cookie jar into the reply and it took some doing to get the story turned back to old boats.

    FRANCHINI says:

    When I bought my first Woodie it came with a photo album documenting some of the work the last owner had done. At the end of the album, there are several pictures of the finished boat in the water and people standing around with smiles and beers in hand. It always gives me a funny feeling seeing that the boat looks the same, but the people around it change. If only the boats could talk, I am sure they would tell amazing stories. Some of love and care and others of neglect and abuse. Fun post today Matt. Thank you!

  11. Randy Rush-Captain Grumpy
    Randy Rush-Captain Grumpy says:

    Good story Matt. Its almost the same story of my 63 Carver EXCEPT the son tried to do the work, but was wise enough to pass it on to someone who cared and did the work (me). This guy goggled me and Captain Grumpy, looked at all the stuff I posted, boat burning, boat sinking, and still thought I was the right guy for his boat and then basically gave it away to me.

  12. randy & ginger
    randy & ginger says:

    matt & al,

    shame on you both…i am sitting here literally crying over this story…

    not a great way to start your day, i’ll tell you…(should have read the story last night when i first clicked on it, decided i didn’t have time for it…won’t be making that mistake again!)

    al, very sorry about your aunt vera.

    we had my dad’s boat restored and i am grateful for a couple of things…one that we were clueless – (otherwise i would like to think we would have been smart enough to walk away and not let my emotions take control)…and then because of that cluelessness, we are having the time of our lives in that old wooden boat (okay maybe it is more me than anyone else)…

    but you can’t imagine the joy i feel when we sometimes let our son get behind the wheel of his grandpa’s boat, i know right now it doesn’t mean as much to him as it does to me…but i am hopeful one day that this boat will take on a whole new meaning for him.

    at the very least he will grow up with wooden boat memories like i did…

    clueless/priceless = same thing

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