A Minnesota Boat on a New Jersey Lake

By Tom McGowan, Lake Hoptacong Chapter

Mr Frank is a “preserved” 20-foot 1955 Larson cabin outboard special. His design is straight forward – basically a big canoe with a roof, not fast by any measure.

The Beginning

Like every other classic boat, Mr Frank has a story. His starts in the summer of 1955 in Stillwater, Minnesota when Dr. Frederick H. Lott  bought what is described on the invoice as a ”20-foot Larson C. B. Cabin Cruiser” manufactured by the Larson Boat Works from a dealer for $940 (without the motor).

Larson Boat Works, founded in 1913 by Paul Larson, is best known for its uniquely designed “Falls Flyer” models launched in 1939, but its bread and butter business was building 12- to 16-foot fishing and duck hunting boats. Larson also evolved into building 14- to 20-foot speed runabouts designed for larger outboard motors, marketed as “outboard specials.” The cabin outboard specials were developed from these runabouts as a side business to fulfill a commercial need for all-weather mail boats for use in northern Minnesota and southern Manitoba and Ontario. These “mail boats” were also sold to pleasure users, like Dr Lott.

The 1955 cabin outboards were a transitional boat. In the early 1950s, Larson, who subsequently  became a leader in the development of fiberglass boats, began experimenting with surfacing the bottoms of wooden boats with fiberglass cloth and resin as a replacement for his famous, but expensive, canvas coverings. These fiber glass covered bottoms were used on at least some of the 1955 cabin outboards including the boat that would become Mr Frank.

The Lott Family Years

Dr Lott’s Daughter in the cat bird seat circa 1960.

For 50 years, until his death in 2005, Dr. Lott and his cabin outboard shared summer weekends on the St. Croix River in Minnesota. Dr Lott pretty much kept the boat in its original form, save wider seating with cushions, a mirror to watch the kids water skiing and a pocket watch holder. He also strengthened the transom for a heavier engine. The mirror and pocket watch holder are still on the boat. After Dr. Lott’s death, the boat, which was well worn, was purchased and eventually was sold again. I enter the picture when I saw an ad on Tom Kaul’s Boat Rescue Company website.

Finding Mr Frank- The Name Came First

I am a third generation owner of a small family cottage on Lake Hopatcong in New Jersey.  I grew up in Minnesota and have spent most of my adult life living and working in Korea and Taiwan.

In 2007, I bought a 1931 Chris-Craft triple and named it Lady Mary after my grandmother. That created a challenge: There was a boat named for Grandma one side of the dock and I needed another named for Grandpa. I had no idea what kind of boat would match my image of my grandfather and it took five years before I found the Larson, bought in 2012, and renamed Mr Frank.

The Restoration(s)

Restoration is a process that never really stops. In Mr Frank’s case, the first round of restorations (done by Kirk Lillie) was largely to undo much of what had been done after the boat left the care of the Lott family. However, there was one notable exception. I got carried away and decided to power Mr Frank with a pair of 30hp 1965 Johnson Javelin motors.

Those Johnson motors sure did look pretty but, once I got the boat to New Jersey, I  found that managing their fickle temperament and dual controls was beyond my limited skill set. I also subsequently found a rotted stem. Thus, there have been a few more rounds of work in New Jersey (done by the folks at Katz’s Marina), including replacing the Johnsons with a single 50 hp 1971 Mercury motor. 

Our “to do list” is down to ongoing maintenance work such as oiling the leathers on the air horn, replacing the dome light and trying to come up with a more user friendly cover.

Adventures of Another Kind

Owning one of these cabin outboards is not for folks looking for high speed adventure. Rather, this boat is perfect for a slow paced ride around the lake without my wife getting her hair messed up.

The very best part has been meeting the Lott family and Mr Frank’s siblings and their owners, folks like Paul Mikkelson who, God rest his soul, created a whole museum full of Larson boats, John Monahan, the font of all Larson wisdom, and, most recently, Roger Moberg, a nephew of Paul Larson, who shared personal memories, family oral histories and photos that helped ensure this story’s accuracy.

The Siblings

The Larson cabin outboard family is small. To date, I have been able to verify the existence of 15 Larson cabin outboard specials (9 fully restored boats and 6 project boats). There are 9 in Minnesota, two in Wisconsin, one in each of Illinois, Michigan, and Montreal Canada and Mr Frank in New Jersey. All of these boats seem to have received the Paul Larson treatment so as to be unique boats in their own right. If there are more owners out there, my email address is in the ACBS directory and it would be great to hear from you.

3 Comments

  1. The boating season won’t start in Buffalo NY for a few months. I will say these stories get every ready to launch. Good luck at the show this year in Sunnyland. We will be showing there in the near future!

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