by Joe Oliver member of the Penn NE/Harveys Lake chapter
I grew up at Lake Winola, a 185-acre lake in Northeast Pennsylvania where I still live today, in the late 1950’s. I didn’t consider our family boats antique. There was our old Penn Yan with an Evinrude outboard, a plywood sailfish, an Old Town canoe, and a Comet sailboat my Dad bought as a teenager. I looked enviously at my friends whose parents were buying sleek fiberglass boats that could take water skiers and jump waves.
My shift from wanting fiberglass boats to loving wooden boats happened Christmas 1978 when I received Bob Speltz’s book “The Real Runabouts Volume 1.” I had no idea such fantastic boats existed. These boats with beauty and style graced the pages: Hackers, Gar Woods, and boats with futuristic designs. There was a whole world of mahogany runabouts I never knew about.
I was only 24 and didn’t have much money, yet I placed a wanted ad for an “old wooden boat.” I received a lot of calls and looked at bunch of boats, but in the end it was a 1942 Chris-Craft 17’ Special in a farmers field that caught my eye. The boat’s Model K engine had been replaced with the wrong motor, held in place with 2×4’s and drywall screws. It had a trailer and all the parts, including its extracted original engine, and the $500 price tag seemed good. I named her Bongo Cruiser.
Looking back, I realize what a challenge it was learning the boat-repair skills I needed without the internet. I joined the ACBS and the Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club, which were great resources. I sent out postcards to antique boat contacts and asked a lot of questions. Over time, I learned how to rebuild a carburetor, replace a plank, refinish mahogany, and keep her running. The satisfaction of repair and restoration brought me much happiness over the next 40 years.
I retired from my job three years ago as a computer programmer and left the world of office cubicles to work in a garage doing a full restoration. Forty years of floating in the water and heavy use required a new bottom and much more. The local restoration expert James Melton and I replaced all the ribs, the bottom, the sides, basically every board. In September of this year we took Bongo Cruiser from Lake Winola to the ACBS International show in Alexandria Bay and docked her with some of the best boats in the country.
The history, the restoration, the friendships, and, of course, the pleasure of driving a beautiful 80-year-old boat all make antique boating a great hobby. I’m looking forward to many more years cruising in Bongo Cruiser.